Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Airport Series - Checking In Luggage

1. Packing
2. Getting to the Airport
3. Checking In Luggage
4. TSA Security Screening
5. Boarding Gate
6. Immigration

Before we got sidetracked with my father's last minute work trip to British Columbia, we were in the middle of my series on Getting Through Airports with a lap child.

Some parents find getting through airports super stressful (like how I find getting through a jungle gym), especially when they have a young child with them.

But hopefully by knowing what to expect, you can be better prepared and keep your parents calm and relaxed through the whole process.


Well, now that you've finally arrived to the airport (1 hour early for domestic flights, 2 hours early for international), you'll have to find your way to the check in line to get your boarding passes and check your luggage.

As you may know, many US carriers have the technology to allow you to check in online up to 24 hours before the flight. This feature is helpful for many of us, but you still have to get to the airport early enough to check your luggage.

Now if you're an infrequent flyer flying in economy class, then you'll have to wait in the long line to drop off your bags with all the other people who don't know how to use the internet, mobile apps or kiosks. This line is one of the 2 that can really delay you (the other being the security line), which is why they recommend you arrive so early to the airport before your flight.

When you do make it to the front, you'll be asked how many bags you want to check and the agent will tag your luggage (sort of like a boarding pass for bags). Make sure the tag has the correct arrival airport code.

For example, when we flew from Newark to Prince Rupert (via Vancouver), our baggage tag said YVR/YPR which tells the baggage handlers where our stuff was heading (YVR = Vancouver, YPR = Prince Rupert; highlight meaning final destination).

If we wanted to pick up our bags at Vancouver, though, our tag would have just said EWR/YVR. Then we could check it again in Vancouver with a new tag that said YVR/YPR.

You'll receive a baggage claim ticket that they'll usually stick to the back of your boarding pass. It will have the same information as the luggage tag with an individual serial code that matches your specific bag. Just in case your luggage gets lost, this code will help the airline track it. I always make my father double check that it has the right airport codes. The last thing I need is for the airline to send my onesies and baby jeans to Toronto (YYZ) when I'm heading to Vancouver (YVR).

Elite Status

However, if you have elite status, you can go to the Business Class check in line (which is always shorter, if not empty) and check your luggage there. In addition to the speedy service, you're bags will get tagged with a Priority Tag that theoretically means your bags get unloaded first when you land.

Elite Status (You Pay For)

You COULD also pay an airport skycap outside at the curb (where the taxi drops you off) to check your bags for you. They're an independent company that works with the airlines. The skycaps will save you from having to wait in line, but cost you a few bucks (usually $1-2/bag).

However, if you're like my parents, every dollar saved is another dollar to spend on future travel.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Next Town in British Columbia

Sometimes I completely forget that I was born on an island. Walking around the City, I often get overwhelmed by all shops, restaurants, and busy pedestrians walking by me and smiling when I wave hello to them with my tiny hand. I never really see the water unless we're really making an effort to find it.

In our Flatiron neighborhood back home, within a 10 minute walk, you can get to just about every kind of store or restaurant you can imagine (except for In-N-Out Burger). The density of people and places is just amazing. But at the same time, sometimes I feel like I'm trapped in a concrete jungle and want to venture out to the boonies (aka, Brooklyn/Jersey).

However, crossing a bridge or tunnel never really gets you that far from the world we know and love. So we decided to take advantage of being out on the Northwest Coast this past weekend. We had no real plans on Saturday, so we were deciding between exploring the island town of Prince Rupert (population of 13,000) or drive to the closest town on the mainland, Terrace.

As exciting as the downtown Prince Rupert scene is with their 1 movie theater, McDonalds and new Walmart, I voted to drive out to the next town. But for those of you LCD readers who live in the Northeast, getting from one town to the next isn't the same as it would be going from Hoboken to Jersey City.

No no no. We were in the real boonies. Being 18 months old, I still don't have a great sense of time or distance, but my father tells me that the 150 km (93 mile) drive takes about 1.5 hours. Yes, you heard me right. Almost 100 miles to the next closest town!

Not only does the drive take 90 minutes, but there are no gas stations at all until you reach Terrace. Also, along most of the drive, there's absolutely no cell phone service. And I'm not talking "1 bar, I'm in an elevator" kind of no service. I'm talking "this phone is useless" kind of no service. So yeah, not a place you want to run out of gas or have a flat tire.

And to be honest, even when you get to Terrace after making such an effort, it's not all that impressive. While, they do have a Staples, Tim Hortons, and a Taco Bell, we found that the cosmopolitan Terrace wasn't going to be confused for Paris or Hong Kong anytime soon. Though, I did get to enjoy some nice kiddie rides at the "shopping mall" (if you can call 7 stores connected by an interior walkway a mall). And did I mention that they close at 6PM?

However, what made our day amazing wasn't the destination, but the journey itself. Taking a closer look on the map, you can see that the route is right along the river through a range of mountainous terrain.

Along those 93 miles of highway, was some of the most stunning natural scenery you can imagine. As my mom would say, it was just like the background in the Twilight movies! 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Prince Rupert - View From Our Room

I'll follow up with a more formal hotel review, but just thought I'd share the following view from our hotel room here in Prince Rupert, British Columbia.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lunch in Vancouver

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent all Wednesday in transit making our way from New York City to Prince Rupert in northern British Columbia (Canada).

Along the way, we had a 7 hour layover in Vancouver Airport (YVR), so we decided to spend most of it in beautiful downtown Vancouver instead of the mediocre Air Canada airport lounge.

Getting from the airport to the city center was remarkably easy. We could have taken a taxi (about $35-40 one way), but we had checked my car seat all the way through to Prince Rupert. Besides, adding $75-80 in cab fare to your lunch makes it one very expensive meal!

But luckily, Canada is very green and social-minded, so the Airport had a shuttle SkyTrain that took you to the Vancouver Waterfront in about 30 minutes for C$8.75 (or about $9 USD) per person each way.

However, because Canadians are such amazingly friendly & helpful people, a few of them gave us a tip before we bought SkyTrain tickets.

Apparently, if you head down to the 1st floor (Gates are 3rd floor and Baggage Claim/Exit is on the 2nd floor), you'll find a 7-11. Inside, you can purchase a SkyTrain Day Pass for only $9.75/person that will let you ride the metro all day for as much as you want.

So instead of spending ~$80 for a roundtrip taxi ride or $36 for a roundtrip SkyTrain shuttle, we bought 2 Day Passes for less than $20 total. You know how my parents love  to save money! Having such a cheap way of going into Vancouver for lunch made eating overpriced restaurant sandwiches that much more attractive.

But when we arrived to the station, we found that the gates didn't have anywhere to swipe the passes. In fact, the gates were wide open allowing anyone to just walk through. Maybe they were all broken, but more than likely I suspected that these Canadians had some sort of Honor Code thing going on.

But we were told that you had to (A) validate your Day Pass at one of the machines so the "24 hr clock would start" and (B) hang onto our Day Pass while on the train in case the police started checking you while on board.

So after getting off at Waterfront station, we started to walk around aimlessly looking for what my father would call a "local Vancouver favorite" place to eat. Unfortunately, our Verizon international roaming data package was expensive enough to limit my father's blackberry usage so we were a bit lost.

Again, the friendly Canadians come to the rescue. As soon as we opened our map, we had no less than 2 older gentlemen rush up to my father to see how they could offer help. That's exactly what happens in our home city, right New Yorkers?

The first elderly man shoo'ed away the 2nd elderly man. The stranger was nice enough, but his good intentions overshadowed his ability to give us a solid recommendation. Despite my father clearly looking Asian, the man suggested we go for Asian food, claiming Vancouver food was very Asian-centric.

My father hung his head a little in disappointment, because he was hoping Vancouver had it's own special food. He loves eating the local food wherever he goes (ribs in Memphis, chili in Cincinnati, gumbo in New Orleans, TexMex in Texas, lobster in Maine), but doesn't care for generic food that he can easily find in NYC. After hearing the gentlemen rattle off some Chinese/Sushi/Thai options, my father thanked him and started walking towards the water.

After taking a few photos, we turned around and head back to the busy street we walked up when low and behold, the grandfatherly gentleman saw us and smiled. He said he was happy to run into us again, because he remembered a "very Vancouver" restaurant called Cactus Club Cafe. He raved about the salmon dish (even though salmon harvest isn't for another month or so).

We were getting hungry, so we decided to go to Cactus Club Cafe. The man said there was one near the Vancouver Convention Center by the water (D on the map below). My parents thanked him and started heading in that general vicinity, but then my father opened up his Google Maps on his Blackberry and found another location in the other direction (A on the map).

I didn't have anything, but my parents said the food was indeed pretty good. Overall, it reminded me of a Houston's (aka Hillstone for my NYC friends). My father had the Soy Dijon Ocean Wise Salmon and my mother had a BBQ Duck Clubhouse Sandwich & fries. The salmon tasted quite fresh, and the pieces just fell off your fork. The tangy sauce really complimented the fish and made for quite a flavorful taste. My mother's savory duck sandwich was excellent as well. It was so tasty that my father tried a bite even though the bread had raisins in it (one of his ultimate food enemies).

As we left, I started to think about why my father made us go to the Cactus Club Cafe on Burrard St instead of at the Convention Center. He didn't really explain why, but I surmised that it was to avoid having the now creepy old man know where we'd be eating.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Planes, Trains and Automobiles...and Ferries

Wow, I'm exhausted.

As I mentioned yesterday, we were starting another month long trip starting with British Columbia, Canada.

The town we were going to (Prince Rupert) was so remote that it took a full day to get there given the inconvenient flight schedules from NYC.

While I did enjoy seeing a little of Vancouver this afternoon, being in transit for so long really took it out of my 18 month old body.

So here was our Wednesday (all times Eastern).

3:30AM - Wake up

4:30AM - Car pick up to take us to Newark Airport

5:00AM - Arrive at EWR and check in, but the Air Canada lounge was closed (ugh)

6:30AM - Board our flight to Vancouver

1:00PM - Land in Vancouver Airport and get interrogated by Canadian Immigration

2:00PM - Rest up in the Air Canada Lounge

3:00PM - Take Canada SkyTrain into Downtown to get a late lunch

6:00PM - Head back to Vancouver Airport

7:00PM - Returned to Air Canada Lounge

8:00PM - Board our flight to Prince Rupert

11:00PM - Land in Prince Rupert Airport (which is on another island from the actual town)

12:00AM - Board a bus that goes onto a ferry to Kaien Island

12:30AM - Check into our hotel

1:00AM - Have room service for dinner

So yeah, long day.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Oh, Canada...

Flight #47 & 48 – Air Canada 549 & 8280
Newark (EWR) – Prince Rupert (YPR)
Wednesday, Apr 24, 2013
Depart: 7:00AM / Arrive: 7:19PM
Duration: 7hr 56min flights + 7hr 23min layover
Aircraft: Airbus 319
Seat: 14E and 14F (Economy)
Earned: 2,899 miles
Lifetime Miles: 99,274 miles

So just when I thought my parents were going to let me get settled at home (I even started sleeping through the night in my crib again), we're off traveling for another few weeks. This time around, however, it's more business than pleasure as my father will be working most of the time.

I won't go into all the details, but basically, my father's going to be working on the road from today through May 23rd. Since it's such a long time to be away from my favorite parent, I told him that I wanted to come too. But my mother didn't want to feel left out, so she's tagging along as well. Besides, I need someone to feed/change me while my father's doing his thing during the day.

The exact details of the next few weeks are still up in the air, but here's what it might look like based on the early plans:  Newark - Prince Rupert (Canada) - Boise, Idaho - Los Angeles, California - Vancouver (Canada) - Newark.

Of course, this pre-supposes that there are direct flights to remote places like Prince Rupert, Canada (YPR) and Boise, Idaho (BOI). So in reality, we're probably taking a lot more flights over the month of May. Then on May 24th, we're leaving for our European Adventure (Munich and Paris).

Looks like we'll need more entries in on Lap Child Diaries. I better get to work!

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Airport Series - Getting to the Airport

1. Packing
2. Getting to the Airport
3. Checking In Luggage
4. TSA Security Screening
5. Boarding Gate
6. Immigration

Yesterday, I taught you lap children how to pack as the intro post of my Airport Series. In this second installment, we'll talk about how to take your parents to the airport.


We live in The City, so we have access to 3 major commercial airports (LaGuardia, JFK and Newark). As you can see from the map above, from our apartment, it's about 10 miles to LGA, 15 miles to EWR and 18 miles to JFK. Depending on traffic, it takes anywhere from 20-60+ minutes if you drive.

Taxi vs. Car Service

Since my parents don't keep a car in the city, we usually hop in a regular taxi but lately we've been using a car service (Dial 7, 212-777-7777, www.dial7.com) more and more because the price differential isn't that much, especially when you factor in the fact that the car service will be ready and waiting for you at your desired time, which can be a huge blessing if you're trying to make a 5:30PM flight and desperately need a cab at 4PM when their shift changes.

For the non-New Yorkers out there, many/most taxi drivers are independent workers that rent the car from a larger taxi company that owns the "medallion" (the regulatory license to operate as a NYC taxi). The driver's shift runs either from 4AM-4PM and from 4PM-4AM. At the end of their shift, the taxi drivers must return the car to the garage on time or else face stiff penalties from the company they work for. That's why you'll see so many "off duty" taxi drivers around 3:30PM because they're very reluctant to take on a fare that will make them late for their car drop off.

Furthermore, if you take a NYC taxi to Newark Airport in New Jersey, the taxi driver has crossed state lines and cannot legally pick up a NJ passenger to bring them back into New York. Because of this NJ-NY rule, a New York taxi will charge you for their return trip back into Manhattan (basically double your cost). So being a frequent flyer on United Airlines that has their major hub at Newark, we're 100% more inclined to go with a car service over a taxi.

Some tips for taxis and car services:
  • Just assume that you won't find an open taxi anytime between 3PM-7PM because of the shift change and general after-work rush hour. So if you have a flight departing between 4PM-9PM, a car service is your best bet.
  • Dial 7 and other car services have tons of coupons for $3-5 off your fare to/from the airport. It won't save you that much, but it really does add up, especially when you travel as much as we do.
  • NYC taxis take credit cards. Some other cities are following suit, but many still use cash (especially the airport you're probably landing at) so make sure you're prepared.
  • Paying with a credit card might give you bonuses on travel spending that includes taxis and car services. I can't speak for all of them, but I know the Chase Sapphire Preferred gives 2x on taxis and car services.
  • The larger NYC car services will claim they have "infant car seats available upon request" but 99% of the time, they won't, because it's usually a dispatcher giving out a job to one of 1,000 different drivers. Some car services may actually match your family up with a specific car fitted with a car seat, but if it's important to you, play it safe and bring your own.

Car Costs

A NYC taxi has a flat $52 base fare to/from JFK Airport (not including tolls/tip). LaGuardia doesn't have a fixed fare so it really depends on which way the driver takes and how much traffic there is, but in our experience, it usually comes out around $25-30.

For car services, here's a link for the Dial 7 rates to the airport, but basically for about $5-10 more (and sometimes actually less), you can get a reserved car (with your selected car size/type) instead of a random taxi that may have a broken credit card machine. I only mention Dial 7, but there's a bunch of comparable car services out there at the same competitive price points.

In addition to the base fare, whether you take a taxi or car service, you still need to pay for the any bridge & tunnel tolls ($6-8) and a tip for the driver. I really don't know what other people do, but my parents usually tip about 10-15% depending on the level of service the driver provides (showing up on time, helping us with our luggage, not taking phone calls, driving safely, etc).

All in (tips, tolls, etc), it usually costs us around $60-70 on a fare to/from JFK Airport or Newark Airport and around $35 for LaGuardia.

Car Seats

As I mentioned yesterday, in New York City, taxis and limos are exempt from the seatbelt and child car seat laws you'd normally find in other states. But even my father (who as a small child, used to lay down in the small rear windshield space behind the passenger headrests) is overly protective of me riding on the highways without being secured in a car seat.

So when we get into the car, he takes off my coat and straps me into my car seat. All our jackets go into our car seat travel bag which goes in the trunk with the rest of our luggage. Then a few clicks of the seat belt, and we're off!

Buses, Trains and Subway

If you have more time on your hands, then some other cheaper options we use include taking the Airport Express Bus to Newark Airport or the Subway (E Train) to JFK Airport.

The Newark Airport Express Bus is run by Coach Bus and costs $16/person each way or $28/person round trip. Buses depart every 15 minutes from 3 different Manhattan locations (Grand Central Station, Bryant Park and Port Authority). Kids under 12 ride free if they're with a paying adult. Otherwise, $10/child, but if you're sending a lap child by herself on the bus, you've got bigger issues to worry about than $10.

It takes about 45-60 minutes to Newark Airport. My father often uses this when he's traveling by himself because they charge per person. You'll see that this option isn't that much longer than driving, because the Lincoln Tunnel has a special lane for buses during rush hours.

Another option to Newark Airport is the NJ Transit train from NY Penn Station and transferring at Newark to the Airport Train (only $5.50/person each way), but if you've ever been to Penn Station, it can be a madhouse at times - which is quite horrible for a traveling family carrying lots of luggage because there are no luggage carts and very few elevators in Penn Station.

The Subway is another cost-effective way to get to JFK Airport. It can take up to 1-1.5 hours depending on where you're getting on, but it's very affordable. My father uses the Subway whenever he needs to pick up someone from JFK (like my mother's relatives flying in from Israel).

If you catch the E train anywhere in Midtown ($2.50/person each way) to Sutphin Boulevard station, you can take the elevator up a floor and connect to the AirTran JFK at Jamaica Station ($5/person each way). Remember, you don't have to go outside at all, you can walk through the terminal and connect staying inside the entire time.

For LaGuardia Airport, the M60 bus takes you from upper Manhattan (West 106th Street) to the Airport and back, but you really need to have a lot of extra time. While it only costs $2.50 / person each way, you're looking at at least 1.5-2 hours of bus travel time not including how long it takes you to get to West 106th.

But given we live in lower Midtown, we generally just use a taxi/car service whenever we go to LGA (about 20 minutes without traffic).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Airport Series - Packing

Later this morning, I have my 18 month checkup at my pediatrician. Even though it's a few weeks before my actual 18 month date, we're going today because it looks like we're going to be off traveling again for a little while.

It's been a wild year and a half of life with over 45 flights under my baby belt so far, but I can still clearly remember my very first flight in February 2012 as a 3 month old lap child.

I was reminded of my inaugural flight because this past weekend, my new friend Ava came over the other day with her father and had a few questions ahead of her first flight coming up in a few weeks.

Now, I won't pretend that I'm an expert (despite my 96,375 miles flown before turning 18 months old), but I have trained my parents well on getting to/through an airport as seamlessly as possible. Well, actually, let me stop there for a minute.

As any obsessive New Yorker mother will tell you, every child is different and unique. So our way may not be the best for everyone, but it works great for us and may give you some guidance if you're a new lap child flying with your parents soon. Because there's a lot to take in (and since I need to fill a few days worth of blog posts), I'll break it up into a series over the next few days.

1. Packing
2. Getting to the Airport
3. Checking In Luggage
4. TSA Security Screening
5. Boarding Gate
6. Immigration


For anyone who's familiar with flying, it's a huge PITA to check your luggage. First, most people need to pay a checked bag fee on domestic flights ($25/bag each way unless you have Elite frequent flyer status or a co-branded airline credit card). Second, there's always the risk of your checked bag not meeting you at your destination either from your bag not making it onto your flight or from it getting sent to another destination by mistake. Third, you have to wait around the baggage carousel with all the over-entitled passengers who feel they should push their way to the front to get a better view of the bags coming out. But another (and biggest) issue is that it means you have that much more stuff to carry around.

But when you're flying with children, it's hard to get everything you need to fit nicely into a few carry-on bags, especially when you're a lap child and don't get your own seat. Fortunately, my family is pretty good about packing (relatively) light. For our 5 week trip to Thailand earlier this year, we only needed two suitcases and a pair of backpacks in addition to my umbrella (fold up) stroller and infant car seat.

We like to travel casual and don't often find ourselves needing evening gowns or suits, so we have little trouble finding a local laundry service wherever we're traveling to. Worst case scenario, we can have the hotel wash something in a real pinch, but at $8 for each t-shirt, we're thankfully never that desperate.

As you can see, the suitcases weren't all that big either (the big one was 25"x15"x12" and the smaller one could have been carried on). If we were traveling for only 1 week or less, however, we'd only use 1 suitcase. Why pack so light? Well, first, my father hates excess, especially since he's the one that needs to carry everything. But also importantly, you'll discover that not every taxi (especially in foreign countries) can hold much more than what we brought.

At the airport, we generally check both suitcases (since if you have to check 1, might as well check everything), but the two backpacks are carry ons, since anything important or valuable should never be placed in checked luggage.
  • Father's backpack: passports, cash, cameras, cell phones, laptop, photocopy of my birth certificate 
  • Mother's backpack: diapers/wipes, baby food, extra change of clothes, photocopy of our passports

Baby Supplies

It's very important to note that while there's no official TSA rule exemption there is an official TSA rule exemption for traveling with formula, breast milk and juice for babies. In our experience, we've always been allowed to bring 1 bottle of water and baby food (jars, bottles, juice boxes, etc.) through security because infants and their handlers get VIP treatment.

The "3 oz liquid" limit doesn't apply to us, because what kind of cold heartless SOB will deny a little kid their food? However, while you'll be cleared to pass with all that stuff, you and your parent may still get detained a few minutes to scan the baby food separately. Even though technically, you may be exempt from a separate screening if you're bringing things below 4 oz per the official rules, not every TSA employee is always aware of every rule and exemption. But that's much better than dealing with a hungry lap child on a 5 hour flight.

How much baby stuff do we bring? Well, that depends on your lap child, but just remember that it's not just the scheduled flight time. You probably need to arrive at the airport 1 hour before your departure time (2 hours if it's international) and the drive may take 30-60 minutes. Then assuming you take off on time, you'll have all that time on board your flight and then another 30-60 minutes to get your luggage and rental car/taxi. Then probably another 30-45 minute drive to your hotel. So a simple 2 hour flight from NYC-Chicago would actually be 5-6 hours of transit, so pack accordingly.

Aside from the usual things I make my parents bring for me, they always bring a few small plastic bags (the kind you get from the pharmacy / grocery store). As soon as we're seated, my father hangs up one of these bags so we have an impromptu "garbage."

Apparently I go through a lot of stuff and seem to generate a lot of trash. The flight attendants usually do their job, but they're too busy to come by often enough to accommodate us.  Those tight little seat pockets can't hold much more than a few magazines and maybe a bottle or two.


As I mentioned, we also bring a convenient umbrella stroller (we like the the First Years Jet Stroller, $45 at Kohls) to keep me from running around at the airport. I can't say that this policy applies for all airlines, but on the 9 different airlines we've flown so far, we could gate check our umbrella stroller without any problems or any fees.

When we land at our destination, my father waits by the plane door, and the crew returns the stroller there. However, some airports (Phoenix and Rio de Janiero, for example) have a policy where strollers need to be picked up at the baggage carousel.

Infant Car Seats

And I would be irresponsible if I didn't also mention infant car seats. To be honest, whether we bring one or not seems to change for each trip, though lately, we've been bringing our own more and more, especially since in most of the US, the law requires a car seat for any small children in a car. But to avoid taking sides, I'll talk about both scenarios:

1. If you don't want to bring your own, then it will save you some sweat by having 1 less large item to carry and check in. You can also rent one at the car rental place (usually around $12 / day) but you should always call ahead to reserve one. And in NYC, the taxis and limos are exempt from the seatbelt and car seat laws that govern all other passenger vehicles, and let's be honest, who brings a car seat when taking a taxi crosstown?

2. If you do want to bring your own, then you'll be glad to know that airlines don't charge fees for checking in a car seat. Also, you'll know what condition your own car seat is in when you strap in your DC into the back of a rental car. And finally, the ride to/from the airports (both departure and arrival) can be quite long and involve driving quite fast on the highways.

If you do use plan to bring a car seat, I highly recommend getting a car seat travel bag to cover the car seat when it's checked in. Unless you get the fancy ones, it's not much more than a cover for the car seat to protect against getting dirty.

For the past 18 months, we've been using our J.L. Childress Wheelie Car Seat Travel Bag (seen here to the left; $34.99 at Target.com). We loved it because it was large enough to hold bigger infant car seats and had wheels at the bottom to roll - though it wasn't the smoothest to actually pull across the airport. After 45 flights though, it finally started ripping at the bottom and we needed a new one.

So last week, we bought a Jeep Car Seat Travel Bag ($14.99 at Drugstore.com) because well, it's cheaper and we didn't need the wheels.

The big hidden benefit of the car seat travel bag is that you can stuff your winter jackets inside since (hopefully) you're not putting your infant lap child in your checked luggage bag.

Additional Notes

Here are some additional general tips to keep in mind whenever you're packing. I know my father get some of these restrictions waived because he has elite frequent flyer status on United, but I'll just stick to the rules for the non-elite flyers.
  • Airlines limit the weight of each checked bag. United Airlines, for example, has a max weight of 50 lbs (23kg) per bag. Most of the U.S. airlines have the same restrictions, but you should double check your airline before you pack. For example, some international airlines (Turkish Airlines, for example) have a 44 lb (20 kg) limit unless you have a premium economy/business/first class ticket.
  • If you plan on checking bags, you need to make sure you're not running late to the airport. The check in deadline for checked baggage is earlier than for just issuing boarding passes.
  • Large, non-collapsible strollers cannot be checked at the gate and must be checked along with regular luggage. 
  • Strollers and car seats may sometimes be considered "irregular sized" and will need to be picked up at the special baggage area instead of the normal baggage carousel. It depends on the arrival airport policy, not the airline. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

New Friend Update: Abigail

Another month, another new baby friend. This time around, it's my parents' friends, Jacob and Tomi who had their daughter Abigail earlier this week.

My father met Jacob about 7 years ago when Jacob was one of the pastors at the church my father attended, and they became friends and colleagues over the years.

Jacob and his wife are some of the kindest, most open, and insightful people we've ever met. He also probably matches my father in knowledge of credit card and living large for little money schemes. Their new daughter is lucky to have them as parents.

I'm looking forward to meeting my new friend soon, but til then, I'll just have to get updates from Jacob's blog, Exegete.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Hyatt Diamond Challenge Update

2013 is the year my father's trying out Hyatt Hotels instead of focusing only on his beloved Starwood. My previous Hyatt posts included:

1. Looking Hard at Hyatt
2. Dad's Hyatt Challenge
3. Hyatt - Suite Upgrades with Points

As you may recall, to optimize his experience, my father timed his 60-day Diamond Status Challenge to coincide with both (a) Hyatt's "More Possibilities Promotion" of 3,000 Hyatt points after every 3rd night from March 1-May 31 and (b) his Hyatt credit card application that would give him 2 free nights in a suite at any Hyatt Hotel in the world.

He had a choice to simply take 60 days of Hyatt Diamond status and not complete the challenge (which helped us get upgraded to suites at both the Park Hyatt Mendoza and the Park Hyatt Buenos Aires a few weeks ago) or to complete 12 paid nights and keep Diamond status through February 28, 2014.

As you probably guessed, he went for the latter. Remember, he had 7 of the 12 nights "in the bag" since he was already planning on staying 1 night in South Korea, 2 nights in California and 4 nights in Argentina. But now he needed 5 more paid nights by April 26.

But we didn't really have any more need for hotels, so my father ran the numbers. Interestingly enough, he concluded that it was "worth it" to book 5 nights at lower cost Hyatts ($80-100/night) and let his friends/family use them instead. Perhaps it was cheating, but Hyatt got 5 more paid nights, our friends got a few fun staycations in a hotel, and my father got Diamond Status for the rest of the year. Win-Win-Win.

And while my father spent an additional $550 for those extra nights, he got enough Hyatt points for those stays to make it worth his while because all Hyatt Gold Passport members receive 5 Hyatt points for every (pre-tax) dollar spent at Hyatt, and Diamonds get an additional 30%. Additionally, by paying for the hotels using his Chase Sapphire Preferred credit card, he received 2x on all travel spend. But in March, he received his Chase Hyatt Visa which gave him 3x on all Hyatt spend.

As far as Hyatt knows, my father stayed at all these hotels in the past 60 days. This is what his travels would have looked like if he didn't have friends in key suburban locations willing to participate in the scheme.

Here's the math ($ cost includes taxes; bold for nights given to friends/family):
  1. Seoul Incheon Hyatt Regency - $273 cost, 1,769 Hyatt points + 546 credit card (2x) points
  2. Riverside, CA Hyatt Place - $122 cost, 708 Hyatt points + 244 credit card (2x) points
  3. Ontario, CA Hyatt Place - $104 cost, 604 Hyatt points + 208 credit card (2x) points
  4. Schaumberg, IL Hyatt Regency - $108 cost, 562 Hyatt points + 323 credit card (3x) points
  5. Schaumberg, IL Hyatt Regency - $108 cost, 562 Hyatt points + 323 credit card (3x) points
  6. Mendoza, Argentina Park Hyatt - $219 cost, 1,243 Hyatt points + 638 credit card (3x) points
  7. Mendoza, Argentina Park Hyatt - $219 cost, 1,243 Hyatt points + 638 credit card (3x) points
  8. Mendoza, Argentina Park Hyatt - $219 cost, 1,243 Hyatt points + 638 credit card (3x) points
  9. Mendoza, Argentina Park Hyatt - $219 cost, 1,243 Hyatt points + 638 credit card (3x) points
  10. Sorrento, CA Hyatt House - $118 cost, 683 Hyatt Points + 354 credit card (3x) points
  11. Sorrento, CA Hyatt House - $118 cost, 683 Hyatt Points + 354 credit card (3x) points
  12. Morristown, NJ Hyatt - $100 cost, 567 Hyatt Points + 300 credit card (3x) points
And now, my father has Diamond status for the rest of the year! And in addition to the 11,109 stay points and the 5,205 credit card points, he received a bunch of Hyatt point bonuses:
  • Promotion Points:  For staying 12 nights during the Promotion Period (12,000 points)
  • Hyatt Visa: During the promotion, he received another 20% (2,400 points)
  • Diamond Amenity:  500-1,000 amenity points per stay for Diamonds (5,500 points)
  • Retro Bonus: if a hotel forgets to give you the Diamond Amenity, 50% more amenity (250 points)
  • Diamond Status Challenge Bonus: first 6 nights, get 1,000 points each night (6,000 points)
Overall, he cleared 40,759 Hyatt points for the 12 nights. Additionally...
  • For having Diamond Status, he was also given 4 suite upgrade awards. 
  • For getting the Chase Hyatt Visa, he received 2 free nights at any Hyatt in the world (being a Diamond, those free nights come in a suite).
Wondering what we'll do with 40,759 Hyatt points? With just 3,241 more Hyatt points, we're looking at 2 more free nights at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome in May (valued at about $800/night).

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

United Airline Awards - Free Stopover

Some of you have been asking me what's the next trip I'm going to take my parents on.

Well, we've been to a few places in the United States, the Middle East, the Caribbean, Asia and South America. The remaining major regions are the 3 A's (Antarctica, Australia & Africa) and Europe.

Now, my father's always said that "you can always go to Europe, but you can't always go to ____." For the most part, I have to agree. But at the same time, I feel like my infant passport isn't real until it has a few European Union stamps in them.

So after a long discussion with my parents, I made the case for a European vacation over Memorial Day week. I know it's over a month away, but after being home for 2 weeks, I'm getting pretty excited to look forward to a new trip - 8 nights in Munich & Paris.

We booked this trip using our United Mileage Plus miles but made sure to use a few of the United features available for international round-trip awards, like the Free Stopover. Normally, a saver fare award for US-Europe round trip costs 60,000 United miles in economy class, 100,000 miles in business class, or 135,000 miles for first class.

Free Stopover

So if I wanted to just fly New York (JFK)-Paris (CDG) then it would cost me 60,000 United miles. But for the same number of miles, I can stop stop anywhere in Europe (within reason) I want for up to a year then continue on my award trip to my final destination. You can use this feature either on the outbound or the return. I'll give you our itinerary to give you an example.

As you see here, we're flying out of New York (JFK) and heading to Munich (MUC) for 3 nights then continuing on to Paris (CDG) for 5 nights before returning to New York.

Now, our actual "destination" city is Paris (where we're actually trying to go & spend time) and we decided to stop in Munich first.

JFK - MUC (stopover) - CDG (destination) - JFK

But the way United's IT logic engine works, our official itinerary's destination is Munich followed by a stopover in Paris on the way back. In either case, it ends up being the same # of miles.

JFK - MUC (destination) - CDG (stopover) - JFK

So now we get to see 2 cities for the price of 1 round trip award ticket.

Open Jaw

United also allows for you to fly out of 1 airport and back from another for the same price in miles. For example, we could have done our trip this way:  outbound JFK-MUC and return CDG-JFK.

Of course, since we wouldn't save anything doing it this way, it makes no sense to exclude the "free" flight between MUC-CDG in our case. But this strategy can make sense if you really wanted to drive through the Alps or take the overnight train. Where an Open Jaw comes in especially handy is when you don't want to go back to the first airport to get back home. Examples include:
  • If you were backpacking through Europe for the summer (starting in Warsaw, ending in Barcelona) and didn't want to return to Warsaw to get back home. 

  • If you were island hopping in Hawaii with your parents and wanted to fly into the Big Island (ITO) but fly out of Kauai (LIH). Yes, I did just say "but fly."


Double Open Jaw

United lets you combine both of these two features to get maximum value out of your mile redemption. Let's say that instead of coming back to New York, my father wanted to take my mother and I to Chicago to visit my friend Jack and his parents. Then we can just change our final destination to be Chicago (ORD) instead of New York (JFK).

Since ORD and JFK are in the same Region (North America), it doesn't cost any more miles - same 60,000 miles for economy round-trip. Why? Because it's now just 2 different one-way tickets on the same itinerary.

This feature comes in handy when you need to go somewhere immediately after your primary trip (like a friend's wedding or bachelorette party). But doing a double open jaw means you don't get another free stopover. You still get to stay as long as you want in either Munich or Paris (because you're on your own getting from one to the other), but you don't get to stop anywhere else on your way from JFK-MUC or on your way back from CDG-ORD.

Also, you're on your own from getting from Chicago back to New York.

Stopover + 1 Open Jaw

This is essentially treated 100% same as a Double Open Jaw, except you're flying from MUC-CDG. Whether you fly or not, United Airlines doesn't care. It's up to you based on what your travel plans are.

Free One Way

And finally, there's another permutation of these features commonly called a Free One Way, but it's basically a Stopover... in your home city.

So let's say that I find out that Paris is very close to EuroDisney World and I'd rather spend all 8 nights in Paris as opposed to splitting time with Munich. We could eliminate Munich altogether and then we'd have a regular boring round trip award ticket this coming May.


BUT, I know that my father's friend Ryan is getting married in Denver in late August. Now, we could combine the flights into a single round trip open jaw itinerary with a stopover in New York.

JFK - CDG (destination) - JFK (3 month stopover) - DEN (final destination)

So now I have a free one-way flight JFK-DEN without paying any additional miles. While I'd still have to find my own way back home DEN-JFK, domestic one way tickets usually price out at 50% of roundtrip tickets. So this way, I've saved my father a bit of cash.

If you're interested in learning more and how to actually book these Stopover, Open Jaw, Free One Way award itineraries, then you should check out Hack My Trip's post "Maximize Your Miles: Stopovers and Open Jaws on United."