I sent this post to Angelina in April, and she kept “losing” it in her email, kinda like how her “phone dies” when I call her, lol.
Finally, I get a call from her this weekend while she’s at the Seattle session. Turns out that her blogger friend Dia, The Deal Mommy, is en route to Puglia this week. Now my “hard work” is finally getting published, ha!
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a “Dad Post”, even though my loyal reader Dan from Brooklyn always gives me shout-out in the comments (Hi Dan!).
First off, my [late] condolences for those of you still mourning the CVS “reloads”.
I knew the end was near when I finally bought my first “reload”. I jumped on the bandwagon a little too late, and now I will have a very hungry “bluebird” that will die from starvation.
Starvation does not exist in our household. Like most Italians, we love to eat, drink , and then eat and drink some more, especially during the holidays.
After drinking some great home-made wine, one of my three sisters suggested that we book a vacation to Puglia, Italy. We have a 90+ year old aunt and other family members that we wanted to visit, probably for the last time.
During my research, I found a Mediterranean cruise that leaves from Bari, Italy. Bari is the capital of Puglia, and a gateway to Greece by ferry. It is also 90 minutes away from our relatives.
Puglia, or Apulia in English, is a very special place for me. It is my birthplace. It’s also home to some of the best olive oil in the world, produces over 40% of Italy’s wine, is home of the trulli houses in Alberobello, has unspoiled beaches, great scenery, is a foodies paradise, and home to many UNESCO sites.
I was looking forward to booking a trip, but I knew traveling with my 3 crazy sisters and my niece (who has never been on an airplane) would be a challenge.
Actually, there were several challenges:
- Sister one: The first challenge was working with my older sister who had no miles and was afraid to use the internet to apply for a credit card. We ended up with a solution – she purchased miles from me (20K AA miles, 30K UA miles, and 4.5K Avios).
- Sister two: One of my other sisters had the miles and wanted to try a business class experience for the first time (55k UA miles & 75K AA miles). She was easy because she could use her own miles. She ended up spending a total of 30K AA miles and 50K UA miles (for business class).
- Sister three: Lastly, my youngest sister had a nice stash of Membership Rewards (100K) and 20K AA miles. She also wanted to fly business class for the first time. Her solution was to transfer 38K MR to Aeroplan (for business class), and she spent 20K AA miles and 4.5K Avios for the coach portions of the trip.
- After all the adults were booked, my sister wanted to bring her 9-year old daughter since we found out that children under 12 years old cruise free. Since finding the award space was difficult later on, we ended up using cash for one way and spending 20K aa miles for her return (which included a free one-way to Disney for a later date).
- My ticket was easy. I spent a total of 40K AA miles (and got a free one way to Chicago for a later date).
The hardest part was figuring out how we would get to Puglia.
Getting to the solutions
I checked multiple routings and found 4 AA saver awards for 20k each and minimal fees in economy for April 11.
The routing: Air Berlin JFK-TXL and then TXL-BRI. After we booked the itinerary, we found out kids under 12 cruise free. We all felt this would be a great experience for our favorite 9-year-old to discover her roots and have a life changing experience.
The problem was that there was no more award space. After seeing the look of disappointment on my niece’s face, I was determined to make it work.
I logged into airberlin.com, and I was able to recreate our award itinerary for a whopping $800 one way. Just as we were ready to give up, I read that children under 12 get a 25% discount. Now the new price was $600 and we booked it (eek!).
The return itinerary was a little more complex.
Two of us used 4,500 BA Avios for BDS-ZRH on airberlin. One of us used 10K AA miles, and my niece and I were able to use 20k AA miles to fly home in economy + get a free free one way.
We had an overnight in Zurich, had some tours planned and used Club Carlson points for one room, and paid cash for another room. I was able to find 2 business class awards ZRH-BRU with Zurich Airlines and BRU-JFK on Brussels Airlines.
Awards did not show on United’s website, so I logged in to Aeroplan and was able to book that way. My third sister was able to get economy saver on the same flight.
So when do we see our family?
One problem still remained- we did not have time to visit our family at the beginning of the trip. We would be able to spend 10 hours on Easter Sunday, but we would have to leave on the 4am train to catch our flight.
A week later, my prayers were answered. I received a schedule change email from airberlin. Everyone was upset except for me.
Because of the change, I was able to convince airberlin to route us through Naples the day before, and I explained that my niece bought a cash ticket and she would need same itinerary.
With the change, we were able to spend two nights visiting relatives.
This post illustrates the importance of having diversified points programs – especially for hard to reach places.
As Angelina can tell you, I spent a good month on booking this trip. Angelina kept reminding me I should have paid an award booking person since time is money. My response to her was – “look how much I learned”.
I also have no problem traveling in the back of the plane. Speaking of which, Angelina said she will one day teach me how to have a blog of my own so I don’t have to use her as a middleman. I have the domain – that’s a start, right?