My friends who visited for four days in February 2011 spent over $630 each in round trip tickets from Sacramento to Kahului, Maui. They had booked well in advance for the best fares possible. I had seen fares as low as $378 round trip from Portland, Oregon to Kahului (airport code: OGG). The reason? As full-time working citizens, the earliest they could depart was a Saturday — and prices were highest then.
Back in August and September 2010, when off-peak fare deals were on offer, I decided to book British Airways from Amsterdam (AMS) to the USA. Correct me if I’m wrong, I could not find affordable one-way tickets (which were at least ten times the price of a return ticket!) So I had to book a return (or multi-city) ticket to Amsterdam from a different departing point. Without knowing if I’d get a job in the USA and whether moving to Maui would pan out, I decided to fly to Boston (BOS) in October and return from Newark (EWR), New Jersey in late May. It was the cheapest return ticket I could find at that time for AMS-BOS, EWR-AMS: euro 470 total. [Current exchange rates are $1.40 = euro 1.00]
Given the flexibility in my present life, I could afford to plan my travels around airfare deals. When Southwest Airlines offered cheap deals to and from Denver (DEN), I immediately started contacting my friends to see if they would entertain a visit from me. The deadline of 10th March coincided with the Tsunami in Japan, which swept away all my plans. When I checked again recently, the airfares from San Francisco to Denver had climbed $30 to $50, and even more from Denver.
The choice of booking air travel is complicated by additional fees such as the checked-in baggage fee and rebooking fees. Southwest Airlines is the only one that does not charge for 2 check-ins. If you are making multiple stops, the $20 to $30 baggage fees add up. Like Southwest, Alaska Airlines does not charge for changing your flight (i.e. rebooking). Some airlines don’t allow you to change at all — i.e. use it or lose it. Hawaiian Airlines charges $30 per change. British Airways charged my husband euro 150 equivalent for changing any part of his return travel to Amsterdam, plus tax and fare class change difference (if any).
Given that airfares from the Hawaiian islands to the west coast USA are the least flexible in terms of price fluctuation and affordability, I decided to book the outbound ticket as soon as an opportunity (for engagement) came up. In mid-January 2011, I booked OGG to OAK for about $300 one-way inclusive taxes on Alaskan Air. [The same flight is now $417.] Back in late October 2010, when I booked our Sacramento flight to Kahului on Hawaiian Airlines, I had considered booking a return ticket instead of a one way. That would have been considerably cheaper, even with the $30 change fee.
Concerned that I might not be able to get affordable flights from San Francisco to Newark in May, I decided to check 1) if it’s possible to change the point of departure to San Francisco instead of Newark, and 2) how much it would cost. Each call to British Airways Executive Club required a lengthy wait. For an additional fee of $346 I could leave from San Francisco to London and spend several days in London before catching the connecting flight to Amsterdam.
After several phone calls, text messages, and websites, I booked two one-way air tickets (SFO-DEN, COS-EWR) and a one-way Greyhound bus ticket (DEN to COS at $13) for at total of $298. Although that is $50 less than the change fee on British Airways, I would need to add the additional ground transportation fees from the airports to the cities. But then I will get to see my friends in Denver, Colorado Springs, and New York City instead of missing out on the direct flight from San Francisco to London.
Arranging my travels took a long time for the following reasons.
- I find it very difficult to leave Maui because it’s so wonderful here.
- I don’t really need to be anywhere else.
- It would be very expensive to return in the peak season.
- If and when I return, I would have to start all over again: looking for a place to live, etc.
Lurking in the back of my mind is the question of how to return. If my job were to start in August 2011, before the off-peak airfares, I would have to use airmiles or buy a round-the-world ticket if I don’t want to fork out four-digit $$.
Does anyone else face such decision dilemmas?