Beware of discount Asian airlines

If you’ve searched for an airfare to or from a destination in Asia, I’m sure you’ve seen the low priced options from JetStar, AirAsia or one of those other discount airlines. If you’ve never actually booked a flight with one of these airlines, it sure looks like a great deal. However, if you’re used to all-inclusive fares (checked baggage exempted) like you get in the U.S., you’re in for a surprise. All the prices I mention are per person, and since there’s two of us, the costs double.

Compared to the next lowest fare at $150 with a competitor, the nearly half-priced $79 ticket to Jakarta from Bangkok on Jetstar looked like a great deal, so I went ahead and started the booking process. The first thing I noticed was that there are three tiers of service and the low priced fare was the bottom tier. This basic service included very little and had severe restrictions, such as non-refundable, change fees, and no baggage allowance. With a 7 kg. limit for carry-on, that didn’t allow us to carry much onboard. For $42 more, the next higher service tier still didn’t offer checked bags, but you do get to change your booking with no change fee. But for $289 more, you get the highest tier of service which has 20 kg. of checked luggage allowed, refundable tickets, no change fees and the ability to select a seat anywhere on the plane. Continue reading

Mark Twain

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

—Mark Twain
1835-1910, author and humorist

Around-the-world (RTW) award fares, and why they may not work for you.

This is a really long post, so if you just want the summary, jump directly to TL; DR.

I spent nearly two weeks planning our route, figuring out dates and determining how long we plan to stay abroad, but one call to United Airlines and everything changed. The call to United Airline deserves a post all to itself, but the short story is: we called three times, and by our third call, we finally knew the questions to ask and got someone on the line who knew what she was doing. After just a few minutes, it was obvious that we needed to do more planning after hearing the restrictions on the RTW fare. Restrictions that are not clearly posted on their website.

RTW Rules and Regs

There are a myriad of rules for the RTW airfare. One of the rules is that our direction of travel must remain in one general direction, east or west. The airline divides the world into three regions for the RTW fare: Americas, Europe/Africa/Middle East, and Asia/Oceania. We must start and end in the same country. We can cross into each region only once. The crossing between regions cannot be via a surface route, i.e., we must travel between regions by air. We can travel in any direction within the regions. We cannot go through our starting country on the way to another one. We are limited to 16 segments, 15 stopovers, and 39,000 total miles. Segments using surface transport count as one segment even though we’re not flying, which seems unfair. Separate legs of a flight—connecting flights—count as multiple segments. Stopovers are any place we stay more than 24 hours. We are limited to 5 legs that use surface transportation. All travel must be completed in one year.

This all sounds fairly straightforward until you get on the phone with someone from United. Then you find out the rules are a bit different for award travel and all your best laid plans turn to, well, you know what. With over 430,000 airline award miles saved in preparation for this trip, what we didn’t count on was that the RTW award fare was damn near impossible to use for a long trip. Continue reading

Mark Twain

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

—Mark Twain
1835-1910, author and humorist

American banking FAIL: chip and pin


Last year, Sheri and I went on vacation in the U.K. and France. Our previous trip to Europe together was back in 2010 to Italy and our credit cards worked fine. However, we had our share of difficulties back then with our ATM card, but that didn’t prepare me for the frustration I had in London and France last year.

We stayed with friends on the outskirts of London and took the commuter train into London one morning. After getting off the commuter train, we planned to take the underground to our tourist sites, but quickly found that our credit card didn’t work in the automated machines. There should have been someone there to help us, but nobody was around. So we went back up to the street and walked around until we found a place to exchange some U.S. dollars to British pounds sterling. Back underground, we finally got our subway tickets and were on our way. We were inconvenienced, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as what happened in France.

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