Global Entry for families costs $100? Save money and time in the airports!

Over the years we have flown quite a bit with our brood of 3 kids.  We try to take them to as many different countries, cultures, and continents as we can before they shove off into the real world to lead their own lives.  Any parent who travels a lot with younger kids can likely agree the most stressful times during each trip boils down to one challening part – security.  The joys of trying to herd three little minions without shoes or jackets through a metal detector all the while making sure all laptops are out of bags, no liquids, no random metal object (typically, the most recent facination) is buried in one of the kids pockets, AND managing to not misplace passports, wallets, and purses can be quite a daunting task.  But there is a solution!
Global Entry for families / TSA Precheck

How do you get it?  Go to Canada!

Well technically you don’t have to go into Canada but you do sign up for the NEXUS program!  Nexus is a trusted traveler program that is a partnership between the USA and Canada.  Although it has great benefits for traveling between the US and Canada it also come with inclusion in the Global Entry and TSA PreCheck programs. After you join NEXUS you will have Global Entry for families and will be able to use the Global Entry kiosks whenever you arrive in the USA by plane.  You also will be able to utilize TSA PreCheck for a smoother experience through security in airports in the USA.

What is it?

Per the Canada Border Service Agency: NEXUS is a bi-national, Canada-United States program for pre-approved, low-risk travelers entering Canada or the United States (U.S.) at designated air, land and marine ports of entry.

For our use it gains us access to use Global Entry kiosks and TSA PreCheck when traveling into the USA on airlines!

What are the benefits?

  • Use of Global Entry kiosks when traveling into USA
  • Enrollment in TSA PreCheck
  • Simplified border crossing between US and Canada while on land
  • Access to Trusted Traveller CATSA Security Line in Canadian airports
  • Only parents have to pay registration fee KIDS ARE FREE!

How do you sign up?

If you are a US citizen you need to start your application in the Global Online Enrollment System (GOES).

Create a TTP account here.

Log into your account and complete the application for NEXUS (you have to make an account for each of your family members including the kids).

After you complete the application and pay the $50 USD fee for each adult, (you pay for only the adults) you make an appointment to be interviewed at a NEXUS Enrollment Center. This is the only place that can be inconvenient as most of the enrollment centers are near the Canadian border.  We live in Idaho and do not have an enrollment center, but Seattle does.  So we took an overnight trip to Seattle to visit the enrollment center.  The available enrollment appointments can be booked quite a ways out, so schedule your appointment and if you can not find a good appointment time, try looking at a different enrollment center.

The entire family gets interviewed at the same time, it took us about an hour and a half to get all our paperwork and interviews done.  Make sure all your kids get finger printed so they can also use the Global Entry.  We made the mistake of NOT getting our kids finger printed, so had to visit an enrollment center in DFW (we luckily had a long layover) to get the kiddos fingerprinted.  A week later our NEXUS cards came in the mail (used only for land crossing and Trusted Traveller CATSA Security Line in Canadian airports) and we now can use our NEXUS number in the Trusted Traveller Program for TSA PreCheck and Global Entry! Make sure you put your Nexus number in the Known Traveler Number field during your reservation process to ensure you get TSA PreCheck.

Now going through security is WAY easier, laptops stay in bags, shoes stay on feet, and we save a few more gray hairs from sprouting on my head.

Save some time, keep this in your bag!

Looking for more tips to travel with your kids? Check out our post on packing and preparing for air travel!

Africa for 5 – Family travel to Africa – Part 2 trip report

my youngest making a new friend at the Elephant Sanctuary in South Africa

Africa Trip with Kids

Part 2 of our Africa trip with kids report will cover how we navigate time in the airport on the trip to Africa. We will cover the flights, the lounges, and what we did to mitigate the pain of flying with kids 24,000 miles!  If you missed part 1, we covered how we booked our flights, cars, and accommodations for a family of 5 for $555 per person! Looking for a primer on the basics of traveling with kids? Check out our post covering most everything you need to know!

Outbound Flights:

A map of our outbound journey.

Our outbound flight map.

As you read in part one we had a somewhat indirect flight out to JNB.  I was excited to try Qatar Airways but it was a lot of 8-9 hour flights in a row.  The first three legs were serviced by American Airline and the last two by Qatar.

BOI-DFW

The checking with the AA desk was easy as we managed to pack everything in 2 roller board carry on bags thus needed to check no luggage much to the surprise of our check in agent.  After confirming our paperwork (to travel to South Africa with minors you are required to have original birth certificates with the traveling parents names) we were off on the quickest and easiest way to get to DFW.  Its a very easy 3-4 hour flight and we were able to snag Main Cabin Extra seats as a perk of my Platinum Status with AA.  Standard service from American which we have found to be great!

DFW- Centurion

One of our favorite clubs is the Centurion Lounge by Amex in DFW.  Access is by our American Express Platinum card.  Until recently one card could get access for an entire family to the club, but since that has changed to the card member plus up to 2 guests.  As we are a family of 5 our solution was to add my wife as an authorized user (which costs $175 for up to 3 additional card members per year) which then allowed our entire family access to the lounge.
The lounge itself is great for kids- it has a specific kids room which is fully equipped with toys for younger kids and a Xbox 360 for the bigger ones.  The food offerings are top notch with a wonderful spread of real food setup in buffet form.  There are also shower stalls and free 15 minute massages (my wife’s favorite amenity).

DFW-LHR

I typically fly through other airports into Europe so this was my first time taking the flight through LHR.  The flight itself was uneventful and again the Main Cabin Extra seats provided a bit extra comfort!  The costs for these seats if you do not have any status on most airlines is $75-$150 but depending on the length of the flight can be worth the extra expense.  Since our kids are a bit older and can sit by themselves we find a row of the Main Cabin Extra with a row of regular seats behind.  We put the parents in the Main Cabin Extra seats and the kids the row behind in the free seats since for them space is not quite as important.

LHR – Plaza Premium

When you arrive at LHR each terminal is a bus ride away.  So unless you next flight is in the same terminal as where you arrived you will be taking some sort of shuttle to get to your departure terminal.  Since we were changing from American Airlines to Qatar we ended up on a 20 minute bus ride to terminal 4 where we checked out the Plaza Premium Lounge.  There was plenty of seating when we were there.  It from the layout it seemed like there would be lots of room for a crowd and the showers were clean and spacious.  There was limited shampoo but plenty of hot water.  The culinary offerings were ethnic with a lot of curries, rice and cream of something, but the quality of the food was great and the kiddos were happy to eat chicken and rice so we were good for the 6 hours.  There was plenty of room for sitting and the furniture was quite comfortable.  We found it to be very quiet and tranquil.  There were no kids rooms or anything tailored for the kiddos but the wifi was fast enough for Netflix and naps.  Access to the lounge was through our Priority Pass cards which is a benefit of our American Express Platinum card.  Like other clubs you can only get the card holder plus 2 guests on each membership card, but when you get an additional card holder on the Amex Platinum you also get additional Priority Pass membership.

LHR-DOH

This was our first leg on Qatar Air.  Boarding was typical, and we got settled into our seats.  The seats themselves were quite comfortable with a large touch screen in the seat-back.  The flight attendants were extremely friendly and we settled into the flight.  The dinner service was good I would rate it as a step above most other carriers.  I had curry chicken which tasted very good and the bread that came with the meal was warm!  My favorite part about Qatar flight was the screen entertainment.  Qatar had edited all of the screen offerings and there was nary a curse word to be heard on any of the movies I watched.  I checked in on quite a few movies and I believe they had edited them all.  It was great for the kids because they got to watch a few movies I would not of otherwise let them watch based on the fact it was edited.  I know for many its annoying for things to be bleeped out, but when you travel with kids it can be a huge relief!

DOH

We had a pretty short layover in Doha and were unable to take advantage of any lounge access, but there was a lounge with access from our Priority Pass card.

DOH-JNB

By this point in our trip everyone was pretty tired. Two 8+ hour flights in a row had us all fighting to keep our eyes open.  I don’t think a single on of us turned on a screen or abided in any meal or drink service.  We were out to the world!

In Country

We flew from JNB-DUR and back to visit the oceanside town of Scottsburgh.  The flights were on British Airways provided by ComAir.  In both directions we found the service to be great.  It was a quick flight so service was only provided on our outbound flight, which consisted of a drink and a scone (which was not very fresh but edible).

JNB – Bidvest

We arrived early at the airport planning to feed the kids breakfast at the airport but were pleasantly surprised to find that there was in fact a club in Johannesburg.  It was called the Bidvest Premium club and it quickly became one of our favorite clubs to date.  The food was plentiful with lots of tasty options.  Roasted beef, croissant sandwiches, pastries, fruit, yogurt, they had a great, diverse spread.  While it was not very spacious it was very quiet when we were there.  I image there was only seating for about 50 people so I assume it can get pretty full.  No specific rooms or anything special for the kids but the food offerings were basic and the kids loved it.  Access came again from our Priority Pass card from the Amex Platinum.

DUR-Bidvest

Again we were shocked to find another Bidvest Lounge in Durban that we stopped in on our way back to JNB.  The food offerings were the same as the other Bidvest Lounge but what impressed me was the power outlets.  There was power everywhere and even more impressive was that they had not just South African plugs, but also European, and North American.

Bidvest Lounge DUR
Bidvest Lounge DUR
Inside security up three floors to the right!
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Homeward

Johannesburg

What happens when you show up 2 hours before the check in desk opens? School!

We were sad to be leaving South Africa but alas all great things must come to an end.  We arrived pretty early to the airport as we had to drive from Kruger Park and I gave us 6 hours of extra time in case of traffic.  Luckily there was no traffic, unluckily we got there 2 hours before the check in desk opened.  We had to check a bag since we had purchased some wine and could not carry it on.  So we found a quiet nook in the airport and got a bit of school work done.  After 1.5 hours of school we headed back to the check in desk.  We were first in line and quickly got checked in, through security, then immigration, and we were set!  We started out in another Bidvest Premium Lounge which had an even more varied food options then before as this was the first time we had been in the lounge around dinner time.  The same quality of food and drinks were found in this lounge at it was quite spacious.  There was PLENTY of room, but there were no kid specific areas.  Access was provided by our Priority Pass cards.

Bidvest Lounge JNB
Bidvest Lounge JNB
Just upstairs in the international terminal in JNB
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With an abundance of time we opted to head out early and check out another lounge before boarding. The Shongololo Lounge proved to be, like its name, a quirky funky layout lounge.  While we were there it was PACKED and unlike the Bidvest lounge there was not space anywhere.  After standing around for 10 minutes a few seats opened up and we were able to settle in.  The food offerings were also quite quirky with supermarket sushi sitting right next to macaroni and cheese servings as well as pre-made sandwiches tasting  very much like gas station fare.  For us the Shangololo lounge is a hard pass, there are way better lounge options in JNB that have better space, better food, and less people. Access was provided by our Priority Pass cards.

Sandwiches
Sandwiches
We call them gas station sandwiches; premade, prepackaged.
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JNB-ATL Delta Flight

After travel hack our flights were better!

After using my schedule change rerouting hack our flights were much better.

What do you do with yourself and your kids for a 17 hour flight??!  That is the question we asked ourselves as we settle into the long haul home.  We were split up a bit with our 11 year old son sitting alone, my wife with our daughter and our youngest son sitting with me a few rows ahead.  This was my first experience with Delta on a long haul flight and I was not very impressed.  During the haul home the flight attendants were quite short tempered with the kids and seem more interested in clearing as quickly as possible rather than customer service.  We are pretty strict with the kids to make sure they are attentive to the flight attendants (no headphones or screens on during food or drink service) but by the time the cart got to us there was only one food option which was unceremoniously plopped down in front of us before they moved on.  I realize that flight attendants have an incredibly challenging job and I do not envy them, but we have taken trips of similar length before on other airlines and the quality of service has been night and day.  As this was our first experience with Delta on long haul flights I can not speak to this being an isolated quality of service, but I do know we will try to avoid Delta in the future.

Menu
Menu
A menu in coach? We felt classy!
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After we arrived in ATL we had very short layovers and were unable to take advantage of any more lounge access and had an unremarkable completion of our journey home.  The only thing of note was how great the rest of the Delta crew was on the regional flights.  We flew from ATL to SLC then to BOI and all the crews were friendly, attentive, and patient.

Look out for Part 3 coming out soon with the low down on what the heck to do with kids in South Africa!

Packing and preparing to travel with kids

How to travel with kids

Travel with kids

So you have done it, booked that amazing trip, waited for travel day to come and now its time to head out and travel with kids!  What can you do to best prepare yourself, your luggage, and your kids for a successful journey?

Yourself

Be rested!  There is always the flurry of last minute packing, things to buy, prescriptions to fill, house to clean, a long sundry lists of “to-dos”.  We are very strict with ourselves about having our TRIP COUNTDOWN

  • 14 DAYS OUT – Find your papers! Double check the location and expiration date of your passports, and any required documentation for travel with kids.  This is especially important if one parent is traveling alone. Many countries require notarized affidavits to allow one parent to take a child without the other parent.  This is a great time to double check your itinerary and make sure no flight changes have happened to your trip.  Also make 2 color copies of your passports if you are traveling outside of the country (each parent should have one set).
  • 7 DAYS OUT – go online and order electrical adapters if you are going out of the country.  These adapters will convert the wall plugs in your destination country to those of your home country.  If you’re heading to a new country make sure you are prepared!  Typically travel accessories are much cheaper online than at your local market.  We lay out all the electronics we plan to travel with and make sure we have enough chargers, cords, and adapters.  Next call whatever credit cards you plan to travel with and tell them your travel plans so they don’t ping your account for fraud protection.  You can do this online or by calling the number on the back of your credit card.
  • 4 DAYS OUT – today we do our first packing of bags.  This is when we do all the “big bags”.  Pay special attention to the weight of your luggage and try to keep it around 45 pounds.  The max for most airlines is 50 but a 5 pound buffer allows for a discrepancy between your scale and the one at the check in desk.  Make sure you know what the luggage allowance is on your flights! Most carriers allow 1 free checked bag if flying international and charge for the second. Some credit cards also can get you a free checked bag for yourself and others traveling on your reservation.
  • 3 DAYS OUT – now is the time to go out and find/buy all the stuff you realized you didn’t have when you packed.  This is especially important for personal amenities when you travel with kids.  The kids need diaper rash cream (if your going to the beach as they WILL get a sand rash), Tylenol, parents need ibuprofen or whatever your preferred pain reliever, allergy medication, and sunscreen.  We try to always buy medication in tablet form to ease the hassle of TSA with liquids.  If you’re going to the beach; swimmer ear solution.  All those things you realized you don’t have but will make the trip and travel with kids much more enjoyable.
  • 2 DAYS OUT – today you pack your carry on.  For us, each adult has a roller bag and a personal backpack.  Each roller bag gets a change of clothes for each kid, pain management for kids and adults and any of the lithium batteries we need to take with us (lithium batteries can not go in your checked luggage), and snacks.  Dried fruit, nuts, anything that is easy to eat that doesn’t melt is a good idea.  If your traveling internationally make sure all nuts/fruits are eaten or thrown away before customs.  Next goes in the family electronics.  We allow each kid to travel with 1 electronic device that is stored in the communal roller board.  Our personal backpacks have our computers, toiletries, a portable recharging battery bank for the electronics, and little else.  We learned quickly that letting the kids pack their own carry on eventually meant that we would be dragging an overstuffed heavy backpack around for the entire trip after they got bored of carrying it.  Since then during travel with kids we allow the kids each a small backpack with 1 book, one personal item, a pair of headphones (each kids has a pair of over the ear headphones), and a change of clothes that match the climate you are arriving in (if we are going from hot climate to cold climate or vice versa).  The last thing we do is put an empty water bottle in each carry on.  You can not carry water through security but you can take an empty water bottle, then fill it up after security.  Before the kids could read we would allow a coloring book with an 8 pack of crayons instead of a book.  When the kids were still in diapers we would pack a diaper kit in EVERY carry on! That way we could easily get to a diaper and wipes no matter where we were.   Once carry ons are packed we do a final cleaning of our house and prepare it for our absence.
  • 1 DAY OUT – nothing.  The goal here is to have everything packed, cleaned and ready.  If there are any chores left on the list the morning is the time to get it done.  Wake the kids up early and in the afternoon take them out for a physical activity. We always do dinner out the last meal so that the house stays clean and go to bed early!
  • TRAVEL DAY – Get there early! Standing with kids in line for an hour is way more difficult than sitting with kids for an hour.  Get there early before the lines and spend that extra time waiting by the gate instead of trying to corral a herd of your children in line.  For international flights we always arrive 2.5-3 hours before the flight time.  We happily travel with TSA PreCheck which helps with security lines because we travel with kids a lot, but if you do not travel a lot that may not be worth the expense.  Look for the kids/handicap/crew line if possible to get through a bit faster.  We frisk the kids before we get in the security line and make sure that everything is in their backpack with nothing in their pockets so there are no surprises.  Upon arrival (if in a foreign country) we always either convert $100USD to the local currency, or find an ATM to get out around the same amount in local cash.  You will likely pay a bit more in conversion fees by not using the ATM but either way getting local cash in your pocket is important as many smaller shops, taxi, food, and tips don’t accept USD.

Get a good night sleep the night before so you are rested and ready to go! To travel with kids can try your patience but if you approach it correctly it can be great.  Prepare yourself to do what we call “tending the flock”.  As soon as we start our traveling we realize for the kids its a new environment and things that they normally proficient at can be challenging (like tying their shoes, going to the bathroom, remembering their backpack, ect.) so we pay extra attention to make sure they have their stuff, are not hungry or thirsty, and don’t need to go to the bathroom!  Cause if you don’t all three things somehow simultaneously become an issue moments into boarding your flight.

Your luggage

For a very long time we found ourselves dreading the airport as we had to drag around nine 50 pound bags (and often a 12 foot kayak).  Since then we have honed our packing skills to try to make our travels easier.  Don’t take too much with you.  If you are taking an extended trip and have laundry service, plan on less clothes for yourselves and your kids and do laundry while abroad.  We pack shoes and let the kids travel in flip flops as they are infinitely easier to slip on and off.

Your kids

Be prepared and plan.

Who is ready to board a 17 hour flight?

When they were infants/toddlers we would take shifts tending to the child/ren (our kids are all 2 years apart in age).  So if we had 2 flights in a trip, we would have the parent in charge for each of the flights while the other was able to try to relax.  Obviously if needed the other parent would come in to help but we both realized how important the relaxing time was so we would do our best to leave the other parent alone.  When they are toddlers the center seats become your friend! If there are three seats across the middle putting your child in the center allows them to stand and move around with out getting ran over by other passengers or the beverage cart.  If you can get the front row (on the bulkhead) you will have way more room for the kiddos to stand and move.  Most airlines now up-charge you for the premium seats at the bulkhead, but they can be worth while to have the space for your child.  If you are traveling with an infant some bulkhead seats have a bassinet that actually affixes to the bulkhead itself and your infant can sleep away on their back.  If you’re taking an overnight flight and can get the bassinet seats your life will be drastically improved by allowing your baby to sleep comfortably all night!  When the kids were toddlers we would go to the dollar store and buy a few new toys that we would let them play with for the first time on the plane. But still, less is more, if you take 20 tiny toys in your carry on, you will likely lose half of them and your child will only play with one!  For the infants and toddlers be certain to have plenty of sippy cups with water or juice as the drinking motion can help them clear their ears during takeoff and landing.

Once they are about 5 travel with kids become much easier.  For our brood we try to find a balance of screen time vs book time vs sit in your seat without bothering everyone time.  We are pretty strict on them NOT kicking the seat, yelling, standing and generally making themselves be heard.  We try to be as courteous to other passengers as possible.  We allow them to watch screens or play with their electronic device after take off, but they must pause or put down their device (including taking out headphones) ANY time the flight attendants are providing service (lunch, dinner, beverage).  Most long haul flights have in seat entertainment systems, in those systems there are kids movie and TV sections which allow the kids to choose movies and TV shows that are age appropriate.  On shorter flights where there are no inflight entertainment options the personal electronic device or book comes into play.  If we are taking an overnight flight then screens are off after dinner until the breakfast cart comes around. DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS WATCH MOVIES ALL NIGHT!  They can and will do it, then proceed to fall dead asleep while you are standing in the long slow moving lines to immigration or customs!  We make each child try to use the restroom right before we board and right after the inflight service to avoid the rush on the restroom that happens an hour or two after the food cart comes around.  When they make the call for prep for landing we send the kids for one last try before landing.

This is by no means an end all guide to travel with kids but these guidelines have gotten us to be able to travel pretty happily with our kiddos!

Africa for 5 – Family Travel to Africa – Part 1

A herd of giraffes.

What do you call a herd of giraffes? A journey!

What got us set on family travel to Africa?

Our family travel to Africa got started a few years ago at a the zoo just outside of Charlotte, North Carolina.  It was an amazing place and my daughter absolutely loved it! We were watching the African exhibit and my daughter turned to me and asked if we could go to every zoo in the US.  Clever me, thinking on my feet, said “how about instead we just go see all the animals in the wild instead”.
“Sure. You are taking us to Africa then” was her reply.
Luckily I have always wanted to try family travel in Africa, and I did not want to go to a zoo in every city we visited so I said yes- and our family travel to Africa began.

While there are quite a few amazing places to visit in Africa we settled on South Africa, specifically Kruger National Park.  Kruger Park is an amazing place and very accessible (more on that in part 3).  We also wanted to see the Indian Ocean and chose Scottsburgh a town just south of Durban four our second destination in South Africa.

Getting there:

We did not have enough miles in any one account to get a round trip ticket to Johannesburg (JNB) thus we did 2 one way trips.  Flying out we used American Airlines miles.  AA is a codeshare partner with British Airways which showed a ton of availablity to JNB, but when you fly British even on an award fare you are charged a “fuel surcharge” which ended up pricing out at $570 per ticket in fees plus 40k AA miles.  Traveling with 5 we would have been WAY over budget if we had to pay that fare.  After some research I discovered that AA also partners with Qatar Air.  If you fly on a Qatar flight then there are minimal fees and the ticket price was in the $60 range.  The hard part was finding award space on Qatar Air.  Their award space doesn’t show up on a search from the AA.com but it does show up if you use the British Airway’s award searching tool. So the task began to find space in a Qatar flight to Doha (DOH) then from DOH-JNB.  Once I found that space (via the British Airway site) I had to find space on an AA flight from our hometown of Boise (BOI).  Qatar has flights from the USA to DOH leaving from a few airport but I had to focus on the ones we could get to on AA, so my search narrowed down to DFW-DOH or LAX-DOH.  We lucked out and found award space from DFW-DOH and then DOH-JNB so I immediatly called the AA reseration desk as you cannot make reservations for Qatar flights online.  Once I explained what I wanted with what routing and route numbers the agent found the space and we began the booking process, all to find out that all award space from BOI-DFW was gone.  No way to get to DFW or LAX to hop on the Qatar flights…
Back to the drawing board we went this time also looking for available dates on Qatar leaving from London, England (LHR).  Sure enough found space again from LHR-DOH-JNB on Qatar and I was back on the phone to AA reservations.  Same intro and explination about the routing and avoiding using British Airways.  And we stuck gold; found room BOI-DFW-LHR all on AA planes and then Qatar from LHR-DOH-JNB.  The routing was a bit long at 13,130 miles it was gonna be a long trip.  But I had always wanted to fly Qatar Airlines and our kids are pretty durable so we booked it! 200k in AA miles and just under $250 in fees and we were set for our family travel to Africa.  Even better this year I held Platinum status with AA and we were able to get the Main Cabin Extra seats free of charge!

In Country:

We wanted very much to visit the coast and hang out at the ocean and found a great town to visit, the problem was it would have been a 12 hour drive to get from the beach town to Kruger Park for our game drives.  Any drive past the 10 hour mark in foreign countries that we have never traveled to before makes us a bit anxious so we opted to fly from JNB to Durban (DUR).  A quick pass through google flights we found round trip tickets on a British Airways code share called ComAir for $120 per ticket.  I thought about using miles for the journey but the tickets were cheap enough we opted to pay in cash.  Of course we used our Amex Platinum credit card to get the 5x bonus on airline purchases directly from the airline.

Getting home:

After travel hack our flights were better!

After using my schedule change rerouting hack our flights were much better.

Original booking from Africa

Our original booking home from Africa.

For our trip home we had to get creative as we had used up most of the AA miles we had at the time.  There was a bonus at transferring Delta miles from Amex Membership Rewards so we opted to move over a bunch of AMEX points for our return trip.  Delta also has one of the few direct flights from JNB to Atlanta (ATL) which we really wanted to get to cut down on the length of the journey home.  The hard part with Delta miles is that they do not have any published award chart.  So you can pay any range of miles per ticket depending on how they choose to calculate it that day.  After some browsing I found it possible to get from JNB-BOI on Delta for 40k in miles as well.  The hard part was finding the availability.  By this time we had a pretty firm time table on when we needed to fly home.  Delta opens the availabity 331 days in advance and I wanted to make sure to get the cheaper 40k flight option so exactly 331 days before our trip I jumped on the web and Eureka! I found 5 available seats JNB-BOI on Delta for 40k miles per person.  That was the good news, the bad news was that the availability on the JNB-ATL flight was 200k miles per person.  The flights we were able to book were on Virgin Atlantic JNB-LHR-SEA-BOI.  But we had to get home and had to keep to the mile budget so we booked them!  200k Delta miles and just under $275 in taxes and we were booked home.  During our time in Africa I discovered we had a schedule change on our homebound flights and was able to use one of my favorite travel hacks to get us the direct JNB-ATL-SLC-BOI routing!

Cars:

There was nothing too special about our car booking, after checking around prices we found Avis to give a great value and as a perk of my Citi Executive AA Card I have Avis “Preferred” status.  We rented a car for the week in DUR for $130 and a week at Kruger Park (rented at JNB) for $120 for a total of $250 in rental cars.

Accommodations:

This one we got lucky- a great friend of our family had some time shares that she graciously offered us to use for both the weeks we were in South Africa.  The costs was minimal to us which obviously was a huge savings, but we checked around both on AirBnB and VRBO.com to see comparable costs and you can easily stay for under $100 per night for a 2 bedroom apartment.

Total travel costs
Flights (including in country flights): $1125
Car Rental: $250
Accommodation: $0 (approx $1400 if booked at AirBnB)
Total Costs: $2775
Cost Per Person: $555

Rental Car travel hack – finding a car when company is sold out!

If you have ever been stuck making last minute arrangements for flights it can be incredibly frustrating, especially around holidays.  Rentals cars can be even worse.  Limited availability, holiday rushes, and high prices can keep you stuck at the airport or relying on public transportation for your surface travel needs.  Use this rental car travel hack to find hidden availability!

The Problem

I have found on more than one occasion I am unable to find ANY rental availability for required dates to accommodate my travel needs.  I search each carriers website, then search the broader websites (rentalcars.com ect), and even still I have been in situations (especially in Latin and South American countries) where there is NO cars available.

The Solution

Search better! Instead of using a US based search engine, or a multi agency search engine, I will use the search engine for the brand of rental car in the host country.  A perfect example is in Chile.  I needed to book a one way car rental and checked Hertz.  I had to call in to request the car and 4 days later I was told nothing was available.  Then I tried EuropCar (the only other rental agency that I could pick up in Santiago and return to an airport in southern Chile.  Same problem with no cars available.  Once I searched europcar.cl I was able to find exactly what I needed and it was actually cheaper than the price was typically listed on the US based sites.  It did not require a Chilean license or passport.  Luckily I can read Spanish, but Google translate could of taken care of that as well!

So next time you can’t find a rental car use this rental car travel hack, check the local version of the site!

Don’t get stuck up the creek with a big boat and a tiny car!

What is a mistake fare and how to use it to travel with your Family

Mistake fares can make your family travel money go further and help you travel to those exotic destinations across the globe! There is a lot of jargon that gets thrown around in the frequent flyer game and our goal as travelers is to utilize every tool available to us to get our family to the far flung places across the globe.  One tool we have been able to use with great success is the concept known as a “mistake fare”.  This is a hot button word and rarely do true “mistake fares” come around but if you have travel goals and don’t mind monitoring the internet you can use some low cost mistake fares to accomplish your goals.

What is a mistake fare?

Mistake fares come up for a very short period of time when the pricing algorithm gets an error and prices normally much more expensive flights for much cheaper.  Most extreme mistake fares are cancelled as you are paying pennies on the dollar and per the Department of Transportation (DOT) US carriers do NOT have to honor obviously mismatched fares.  But we have had some luck with higher cost mistake fares being honored.  With any possible mistake fare you do not immediately want to make additional reservations for hotels, cars, ect until you feel confident your fare will not get cancelled (typically if they get cancelled it happens within a week).

How do you find mistake fares?

Luckily for all of us travelers there are plenty of websites out there who do most of the hard work for you.  Our favorite hands down is Secret Flying.  They have a great email subscription program which can send you flight alerts, and if you are a Facebook user you can like them and have their posts come up first on your feed. Other options include Fly4Free and AirfareWatchdog.
In our family we have a standing list of places we want to travel that I am constantly searching for, if a mistake fare comes up for one of those we go ahead and try to book.  Fares are often for travel within a few months of the posting so you need to be flexible and prepared to travel on alternate dates.
Lastly, unless you live in hub cities (San Fransisco, LA, Seattle, Washington DC, Miami, Atlanta, New York, and Dallas) you will likely need to “position” to get your flights.  That means you will need to travel to an alternate airport (one of the airports that has the mistake fare) from your home airport.  For example, we fly out of Boise, ID (BOI).  So we are always looking for flight departing from SEA and SFO as both of those cities we can easily drive to or fly on cheaper regional airlines.

How do you confirm your mistake fares?

So you found and booked your fare?! How long do you wait till you make additional travel accommodations? I always wait 2 weeks after I get a confirmation email with confirmed seats.  After the two weeks I actually call into the airlines call center and ask for help changing seats and confirming my flight.  If that all goes through with out a hitch then I have always felt confident enough to make additional travel reservations.

Example:

Amazing beaches!

One of the many AMAZING beaches of Australia.

One of our greatest mistake fares came about last fall.  We had been wanting to travel back to Australia because the family loved the place and it has a great slalom kayak course (site of the 2000 Olympic Games).  Flight costs were quite high for a family of 5 and the cheapest we could find for the family was around $1800pp.  During my coffee hour one morning I got my email alert from Secret Flying showing tickets from LAX-SYD-SFO for $370pp!  Without even asking my wife I booked the entire family for a 7 week trip to SYD for the fall.  I waited a week and called the airline to change seats and confirm my flights.  They confirmed, moved our seats and we were good to go!

Have you had a mistake fare for your family? Tell us below!

France for Five: Part 2

A tale of 2 trips

If you read Part 1 of this trip report you know that my daughter and I flew out a few weeks before the rest of the family for some additional kayak races.  Both trips were on different airlines and different routes so here are the lounges and flights for each one.

Tren plus 1
SFO-YVR-MXP-FRA-SFO-BOI

Getting ready to take off!

We got a free upgrade to business class from my status (Gold) with United on our first Air Canada flight.

My trip started with a drive.  As we booked a mistake fare from SFO and were unable to find cheap enough flights to get to SFO so a one way car rental from Avis was the first leg of our trip.  Check in was easy as I chose a time that didn’t have any arriving flights and after chatting with Avis agent we decided on the most fuel efficient car they had in their lot.  I wanted to keep fuel costs as low as possible and they kindly gave us an upgrade to a hybrid car with 80MPG!  The drive to SFO was easy and under 10 hours, typically when we position to SFO we stay in an airport hotel, but a friend of mine lives nearby so we did some couch surfing as we had a very early departure in the morning.

We checked in early enough to get use of the Centurion Lounge from our American Express Platinum card.  The Centurion lounges are my favorite brand of lounge and this one didn’t disappoint.  They have a good breakfast buffet with sausage, potatoes, granola, yogurt, toast, bagels, ect.  The kids always hear the same thing “eat your fill cause you have no idea when you are going to eat again”.  After enough caffine to hop up a race horse we were off.  We flew AirCanada from San Fransico (SFO) to Vancouver (YVR) which was a pleasant short flight.  We had a 5 hour layover in Vancouver so we made our way to the Maple Leaf Lounge.  It is Air Canada’s branded lounge and we used the Priority Pass benefit from the Amex Platinum card.  This Maple Leaf Lounge is fantastic.  It is quite large with solid buffet option. Macaroni and cheese, nachos, and a few protein choices plus quite a few beers on tap (Tren+Guiness=Happy days).  And we were lucky because our YRV-MXP flight was delayed by 5 hours.  We both were well fed and watered and didn’t need any more food but I did check with the customer service desk and they were offering food vouchers for everyone on our flight.  If you delay is more than 3-4 hours its always a good idea to check with customer service to see if any food vouchers are available.  Finally 5 hours late were boarded from the YRV-MXP flight which was comfortable, well serviced, and not super crowded.

Lounges make delays MUCH more comfy.

After HOURS of delay, my daughter resorted to candy bars and Netflix in the Maple Leaf Lounge.

For the return trip the fare we purchased ended putting us on Luftansa the whole way home.  First flight was MXP-FRA and we did not have much time after a lengthy check-in to use a lounge and we went straight to the gate.  During check in I was surprised to be told that I was allowed only one carry on (I carry a small laptop backpack and a rollerboard) and would have to check and pay for my slim backpack.  I explained that we had booked the flight as a codeshare with United and per my confirmation email I was allowed a personal item plus a carry on bag.  After about 20 minutes of slow motion we finally got the bags checked, the carry on bags weighed and labeled as “approved”, and we were off for the gate.  The first opportunity for a lounge was the Lufthansa lounge in FRA.  They are currently renovating the terminal we were in and finding the lounge was a bit of a labyrinth but finally we found it.  Frankfurt is a big airport for Lufthansa and the lounge was packed.  We stood around for about 10 minutes until a table opened up and we slid in.  The food offerings were quite limited to bratwurst, soup, and crackers.  Olivia was thrilled because they did have gummy bears for the kids.  The food was not very good and we opted to get a few cups of coffee/hot chocolate then head out to the terminal to await our flight to SFO.  In SFO we paid a visit back to the Centurion Lounge for some hydration and got our last flight to BOI.

My wife and the boys

BOI-PHX-DFW-LHR-TLS BCN-JFK-PHX-BOI

My wife’s trip had less layover time with only layovers long enough for lounges in DFW, LHR and JFK.
DFW- Is one of the better Centurion Lounges in the US.  It is large, has a kids room with a bunch of Xbox 360 games, and has great food offerings.  she likes it in particular because you get free massages.
LHR-  London is a VERY big airport and if you are arriving by an international flight you have to choose your departure terminal.  It does not seem that you can easily move between terminals and Linzie’s connecting flight was via terminal 5 which brought her to an Aspire Lounge with access from the Priority Pass benefit from our Amex Platinum card.  This was any of ours first time in an Aspire Lounge and it did not disappoint.  The food offering was during the lunch time with mini sandwiches, pasta, sausage, dessert platter, fruits, and soups.  There was a premium menu which came with its own costs, but the free options were plenty to recharge while they waited for our last flight.  It was SUPER busy and there was a 20 minute wait list before being allowed in as well as a 3 hour maximum time you are allowed in the club. She and the boys had a 5 hour layover however they were graciously allowed to stay the entire time. With it being so crowded it was hard to stretch out and my youngest son fell asleep which made space quite difficult as they had no kid room.
JFK- On the way home it was a shorter layover in JFK and there was an Admirals Club near the gate.  They had access via the Citi AAdvantage Executive card which comes with a full Admirals Club membership.  The offerings of the Admirals Club are very consistent; soup, cheese, veggies, desserts, coffee, soda, water, and everyones favorite guacamole bar in the afternoon.  The best part of the Admirals Club is the kids room and the helpfulness of the front desk staff if you have any flight problems.  The front desk staff have always been very helpful and informative for flight changes, and have always gone the extra mile in helping us solve our travel problems.

If you missed it check out Part 1 showing you how to book a family of 5 with frequent flyer miles.
Stay tuned for part 3:
What to do with three kids in the South of France!

Family Travel Hack – Less points = better routing on award tickets

Family travel hacks can take long haul international trips and make them shorter, easier, and get you home faster.  We once took a flight from Chile, to Miami, to North Carolina, to California, to Sydney Australia.  Look at that on a map and its a terrible idea.  We recently booked an award trip to get us home from South Africa (JNB) on Delta airlines hoping to get the direct flight from Johannesburg (JNB) to Atlanta (ATL).  Sadly when checked for award availability, the only flights possible for the cheap award fare were via Johannesburg (JNB) – London Heathrow (LHR) – Seattle (SEA) on Virgin Atlantic. Having two overnight flights in a row can be a challenge for the kids, but the difference in award fare was substantial.  It was 40k Delta miles per ticket to fly via LHR and 110k Delta miles to fly via ATL. To make matters more complicated there are no free seat assignments on Virgin Atlantic flights and to ensure we sat together we ended up spending over $600 to get preassigned seats on the flights.

Caution - Schedule Change Ahead

The Option

We always book our flights out as much as possible, in this case it was exactly 340 days before our trip.  Because we booked so early between the time we booked the trip and flew there was a schedule change.  Typically when there is a schedule change of more than 90 minutes you can take the option to change your ticket.  Most of the time they will allow you to change departure times and sometimes even your route to accommodate your schedule.

The Solution

As soon as I realized we had a schedule change (the last leg of our flight home was 90 minutes later that we originally booked) on our flight I though of this family travel hack!  The problem was; we figured it out while in South Africa and were unable to call Delta to get a change.  Then we tried to change our flight using the web portal with no success.  Without being able to call or change online I emailed them via the contact us page.  Linzie then had the genius idea of contacting Delta via Twitter.  Sure enough within minutes someone from Delta responded on twitter.  We began to direct message and I asked them if it was possible to reroute our tickets because the new itinerary did not work for our schedule.

The Outcome

Success!  Within an hour of back and forth twitter messages the extremely helpful Delta rep was able to rebook us on the much shorter and more direct JNB-ATL flight!  Although the JNB-ATL flight is 16 hours 45 minutes long, it gets us home 14 hours faster and eliminates a second overnight flight.  Even better we were able to contact Virgin Atlantic about getting a refund on the preassigned seat fees!  Keep this family travel trip hack in mind if you have a change in

We will post the joys and comfort of a 16 hour 45 minute flight with kids aged 11,9, and 7 in our next trip report that will be out next week:
Family Travel for 5 to Africa!

France for Five: Part 1

We were lucky enough to get to spend 10 days of family travel together in France this past summer and had a blast.  We managed to accomplish the entire trip on a limited budget both in the air and on the land.

We LOVE to visit castles during family travel trips.

The beautiful castle overlooking the cathedral in Lourdes, France.

Here is how we did it:

Flights:

Tren (plus 1)

For this trip we did not travel to Europe together as my daughter and I were already in Europe due to my competing in slalom kayak races.  We flew out much earlier than my wife and the boys.  My flights were purchased after finding a mistake fare on a great website for finding mistake fares; “Secret Flying“.  A fare popped up with round trip tickets from San Francisco (SFO) to Milan, Italy (MXP).  Why fly from San Francisco when we live in Boise you say?  It’s our favorite word in the family travel cheap mistake fare game called “positioning”.  Positioning is basically finding a larger market to originate your overseas flights from.  We searched from SFO – MXP instead of BOI – MXP because the reservation systems will not let you access the cheaper fares when you start from a smaller hub.  I find often it’s cheaper to buy a regional ticket on a discount carrier to get to a positioning city for the long haul tickets.  We used this with great success last year to get to Australia for less than $400 per ticket! Luckily for us I had a race a few hours north of Milan in a town called Ivrea which made Milan a very convenient place to start.  The fare was $602 per person with taxes for a total of $1204 for both myself and my daughter to get to Europe. After this was booked we watched one way or round trip fare sales from BOI to SFO and found a one way special for $49 each that had seats for the return flight.  We never could find a cheap enough flight to get to SFO so we were off to the car rental agency.  A cheap Avis one way rental for $80 got us from BOI to SFO for our international flights.  In Europe we traveled from MXP to Barcelona Spain (BCN ) for additional kayak races on Easy Jet which cost $175 round trip for both passengers.

My wife and the boys

For the rest of the family travel we used AA miles. Originally finding a round trip for our ideal dates did not work.  The AA “Saver” award level sometimes can be hard to find and we needed to make sure we booked on the cheaper “Saver” award level so we did not overspend in miles.  Finally we found a “Saver” level award for 2 one way tickets.  We flew the family from Boise (BOI) to Toulouse France (TLS) which was close to our destination town of Pau.  The outbound tickets were 30k miles per passenger plus about $60 in fees so a total of 90k miles and $180 in fees.  To give you an idea of how you can come up with that number of miles you can currently sign up for a Barclays Aviator card and get 60k miles after your first transaction and pay the yearly fee of $95.  If you got a his and hers cards you will have 120k miles just after the first purchase.  There are also some Citi branded AA card that also have a signup bonus of 60k each (if you utilize the his and hers PLUS a business card you can easily get another 180k in miles).
For the return leg we could not find ANY “Saver” award space out of TLS so I opened the net a bit and discovered that there was plenty of room from Barcelona Spain (BCN) to BOI!  We quickly booked Linzie, Merle and Isaac home for another 90k in AA miles and $180 in fees.

Our total flight costs were $1744 ($1204 SFO-MXP, $99 SFO-BOI, $80 BOI-SFO + $180 BOI-TLS, $180 BCN-BOI) and 180k in AA miles.

Rental Cars

You probably noticed that my wife and the boys departed from a different airport then they arrived.  We did this for a few reasons, one of which being that was the only place we could get an award ticket.  The other reason is that rental cars are WAY cheaper in BCN as opposed to anywhere else we could find in France.  The best rental options we could find for our family travel to France were over $500 for the 10 days, where a booking from BCN was around $150 for the 10 day rental.  BCN is about a 4 hour drive from where we were staying in France and the drive was quite beautiful and enjoyable.  In the past we have used the third party booking sites to try to get cheaper rental car rates, but we soon discovered when you book with a third party it eliminates any option to change or cancel your rental car reservation.  Because our plans seem to change a lot we have stuck to booking directly with the agency.  We always check the prices against the 3rd party booking sites (we like www.rentalcars.com) and mostly can find similar rates.  We always check Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, and EuropCar.  So by booking our rental car out of BCN instead of TLS we saved a few hundred dollars and got to enjoy an amazing drive through the Pyrenees Mountains!

Accommodations

This one can be the big money burner.  Family travel with a group of 5 on the road, we always try to save money and learn about local culture by cooking our own food.  In order to have access to a kitchen that mostly means finding an apartment on AirBnB.  If you are unfamiliar with the peer to peer accommodations at first it can seem a bit daunting.  The idea is that you rent either a room or an entire house directly from the owner of the property.  That person meets you at the property to give you keys and show you how everything works.  Most of the time in family travel this works out fantastically.  We have stayed in AirBnB places for many, many trips and there has only been once where a place wasn’t as described (it didn’t have WiFi when it stated that it did.  AirBNB paid for me to get a local hotspot and paid for the data use while I was there).  This allows a family to get a lot more room and have a kitchen which allows cooking to save a TON of money on food.  We also try to key into what is cheap at the local supermarket.  We find what seems cheaper and plentiful at the local super gives you a bit of insight into how the local people eat.  Doing so we often eat a bit out of our comfort zone (Kangaroo in Australia and Chicken Liver in Africa) and save money.  In Pau we found a lovely 2 bedroom apartment close to downtown for under $70 per night.  It had WIFI (our kids’ school is online), was super close to downtown, and the host was super helpful on local things to do.  Our total for the 10 days with fees was $820.

Total Travel Expenses:

This trip was a bit more expensive as we bought 2 out of the 5 airline tickets, but they were a mistake fare which helped keep the travel cheaper.
Airfare: $1744
Rental Car: $150
Accommodations: $820
Total Travel Costs: $2714
Family travel price per person: $542.80

For 10 days of family travel in France in the end of the summer we were pretty happy with our total costs in this trip. Obviously we did not include fuel or food costs, but we find we have to pay for gas and food no matter where in the world we are.

Check out Part 2 which will include the trip report with reviews of the airport lounges and flights we took in both directions.

Looking for your own family travel adventure?? Contact Us in the comments below and we would love to help you track down some good flight deals!

Easy trick to protect from fraudulent charges AND convert currency

When you travel we should alway protect your credit card from fraudulent charges should always been on your mind. All to often when we travel we struggle with the conversion.  Most of the time it is pretty straight forward but for whatever reason South African Rand conversions evades my ability to comprehend in math.  Luckily there is a really easy workaround to at least give you a good idea what you are spending AND will alert you quickly if your credit card has been hacked and ran for fraudulent charges (or ran multiple times for the same charge).

You messenger app can provide fraudulent charge protection.

AmexBot and Facebook Messager making fraud protection and currency conversions easy!

What you need:

As of now the only credit card brand that I know that links this way is American Express.

What you do:

Link your amex account to your Facebook messenger account: Connect your Card to the Amex bot for Messenger by downloading the Messenger app on your mobile device and typing “AmericanExpressUS” into the search bar to locate the Amex bot. Then, select “Get Started” and log into your American Express online account.

We always travel with data on one of our phones for the purpose of maps, and emergency contact.  Using messenger keeps you from having to keep a SMS or MMS account active as it uses data.  Whenever your Amex card is ran you will (typically within 10 seconds) get a message telling you how much you spend (in USD) and where.  I have had a few anxious moments when a cashier has repeatedly swiped my card, or even worse, disappeared into the back with my card in tow.  This way you know exactly what has been charged without any active participation from you and if there are fraudulent charges you can deal with them then and there.

For us our Amex Platinum card has been irreplaceable as far as travel benefits and membership rewards.  If your interested contact us and we can send you a referral for some extra signup bonus points!