I’m sure most people can relate – planning a vacation (especially using points and miles), sure does take a lot of time and work. Maybe it’s just me, but after putting my heart in soul into the fine details of an itinerary, it certainly does sting a bit when I have to cancel or make changes to the trip, but sometimes “life happens” and you have to do your best to keep calm and carry on.
I’m the type who likes to plan my trips way ahead of time because it gives me something to look forward to, and I love the excitement of counting down the days until the big getaway. I remember vividly in November 2011 when Hawaiian Airlines announced their new non-stop service between JFK and HNL which is commencing next month in June 2012. As part of their new service launch, they offered pretty incredible fares of $224 each way. As tempted as I was, I didn’t quite jump on the offer immediately because I was down in Philadelphia working many days and long hours on a film project, and I needed that extra push to convince me to move forward and buy the tickets.
To help steer me in the right direction, I played a little game with myself and said, “if we make golden time today, then I will book a flight to Hawaii for Kevin and I”. In the acting world, “golden time” is defined as receiving a full day’s pay for every consecutive hour worked after the sixteenth hour. Yes, the 16th consecutive hour. Long story short, we worked 20 hours straight that night. Let me just tell you that there’s nothing more rewarding than buying yourself a flight to Hawaii after deliriously working 20 hours straight.
…but since I wasn’t my usual self jumping on the offer at the very second it came out, I was not able to secure a return flight from HNL to JFK since the deal sold out as quickly as expected. I felt lucky enough that I was able to purchase two tickets to Honolulu at $224 each, but the return sector would have to be booked using miles. For 30,000 American Airlines AAdvantage miles (using my Citi AAdvantage® Visa Signature® Card sign-up bonus), I found a discount mile saver ticket from HNL to LHR (London) with a “stop over” (AA allows one free domestic stop over on International tickets) in New York. Essentially the ticket was leaving HNL on June 17, arriving in EWR on June 18, and “continuing on” to London on October 17.
My original trip was scheduled to be 10 days long with stops in Waikiki, Maui, and Kauai, but due to sudden work-scheduling conflicts for Kevin and I, we realized that 10 days away in June would probably not work out very well. Ugh. Naturally, we considered postponing the entire trip to a later time, but since Hawaiian Airlines’ had that fantastic promotional sale, it was strictly a non refundable fare. American Airlines does allow free date changes on award flights as long as the origin and destination remain the same, but no matter how I routed the return, it was nearly impossible for me to find open award space for an earlier date on American Airlines without including any partner airlines (I had booked a non-partner award with AA).
These circumstances forced me to explore other creative options in order to bring the trip to life, and I did learn quite a bit during the process (though frustrating at times). In the end, there was a very bright light at the end of the tunnel for us. Instead of ditching the trip all together, we were able to shorten the trip to an “extended weekend”, while also avoiding all of the pesky change fees I initially anticipated and braced myself for.
Here are the fees I avoided:
American Airlines’ Fee to Redeposit/Reinstate Award Miles: This was the fee I dreaded the most, and frankly at the end of day, I thought there was no other option for me but to take the loss and pay the $175 fee ($150 for the first ticket, $25 for additional passenger on the same itinerary), and then rebook the a new award ticket with AA which included partner airlines (such as Hawaiian Airlines). Timing was everything with this one – literally a day before I almost bit the bullet and gave into the fee, Bonnie (yes, the Frugal Travel Lawyer saves the day again) calls me while I’m on my way to work and tells me that American Airlines will waive the redeposit fee if there have been any schedule changes to any of your flights that differ from your original itinerary confirmed at the time of booking. A light bulb went off in my head! There had been a schedule change! About a month after I booked my award flight, I noticed that I received a schedule change notification via email. My connection in Chicago was now departing 30 minutes earlier than my original itinerary. When I received this email, my first thought was “oh okay, shorter layover… fantastic!” Little did I know that this email would be worth $175! I quickly called AA and told the agent that leaving Chicago 30 minutes earlier was “no longer convenient for me” and that I had no other choice but to redeposit my miles and rebuild my itinerary from scratch. Apparently that was all that needed to be said for the agent to go ahead and cancel my entire itinerary and refund the miles and prepaid taxes without penalty. I think that phone conversation was the best news of the day for me (now there’s concrete evidence that my life is clearly not that exciting).
United Airlines’ Change Fee: As you probably already know, Scott (Hack My Trip), really came to the rescue by generously extending his United Airlines Premier 1k elite status perks to me when it came to helping me find a new return flight home. One of the benefits of Premier 1k status with United is the ability to make changes to/cancel an award bookings without penalty. This became extremely helpful because I was able to book a “back-up” fight with United in case I was unable to find an itinerary that worked for us with American Airlines. Luckily, I found a great discount economy itinerary departing right from Kauai (instead of having to go back to HNL) to Newark via a red-eye connection through LAX departing on June 11. Even though I knew that leaving Hawaii on June 11 would leave us with practically no time to enjoy the beautiful state, I told Scott to go ahead and book it anyway because that would essentially mean that I had secured a flight home with nothing to lose, and I had high hopes of award space opening up for the following day. Scott booked the flight for me using from his United MileagePlus balance, and I went ahead and transferred 40,000 Chase Ultimate Rewards points to him (from my Chase Sapphire Preferred Visa), which he could transfer directly into his United account, or even transfer back to me if I decided to cancel my itinerary for whatever reason. There was really no risk for either of us in this transaction. After a day of having my “back up” flight, I did notice that award space for the same itinerary opened up for June 12, and I was successful in changing the itinerary by simply calling United. I’m really happy everything worked out as planned with our new return flight! Thanks, Scott!
Hyatt Place’s Early-Departure Rate Change: As you might recall, I felt pretty accomplished about scoring a great deal at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach via Hyatt’s best rate guarantee back in February (related post). Well, with our new flight itinerary, it literally meant that we cut the trip in half and had no other choice but to spend less time on each of the two islands. My original booking including 3 nights at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach at the rate of $119 (regular room rate is $294). When I called Hyatt to inform them that I’d be only needing the room for 2 nights instead of 3, the agent told me that any change in the reservation would result in a rate change of $294 per night. Yikes. But… there was good news! She said that because I was staying at a Hyatt Place, I was not subject to an “early departure fee”, meaning that I could simply tell the front desk at check-in that I would be checking out after 2 nights, not 3, and I would only be charged my original room rate of $119 per night! How fitting! I’ll admit, I felt kind of skeptical about this – I didn’t want to have to wait until to check in to see if this would really work, so I went ahead and voiced my situation by creating a thread on Flyertalk. Within minutes, a Hyatt representative commented and told me that the agent on the phone was correct, and I was in the clear; having that in writing eased my nerves and heightened my excitement. Thanks to my Hyatt phone rep, Amy, for teaching me about Hyatt Place’s “early departure” policy!
Hyatt’s Resort Fee: Back in April, I applied for the Hyatt Credit Card with my Hawaii trip in mind because I was attracted to the fact that I’d get two free night certificates after my first purchase. Well saying that Hawaii is pretty darn expensive is old news, and with the Grand Hyatt Kauai selling for $560 a night, I figured this was my window of opportunity to use the free nights. Not only did I save over $1100 on the standard rate, the Hyatt booking rep told me that free nights certificates are exempt from the resort fee. Well, it’s getting close to my bed time now, so I’m not going to elaborate and tell you how great it felt to save $50 (though it looks more exciting now that I see the words “save $50” next to each other in a sentence), but it just happened to coincidently fit so perfectly into my day of “avoiding fees”. I definitely hung up with a smirk on my face.
In conclusion, I’m beyond excited that Hawaii is two weeks away (those who have been following me on Twitter and Facebook have already experienced the countdown), and I couldn’t be happier that everything worked out beyond my expectations when it came to shuffling my itinerary around. Even though we will only be in Hawaii for 5 short days, I’m excited for my first taste of Hawaii, and I can’t wait to sit my bum on the beach!
As you can see I sometimes get so excited when writing a blog post, that I forget how long the post actually is. I hope this served as a worthy bed-time novel… LOL