Travel Planning Challenges: Madagascar

Remote, out-of-way, and hard to reach, Madagascar is quite a challenge for travel planning.

It’s Sheri’s desire to visit this unique home to lemurs and other exotic creatures, so I did a lot of research to find a way to make it happen. In the process, I came upon some interesting hurdles while trying to make flight arrangements for our trip to this large island in the Indian Ocean. Just like the characters in the animated film with the same name found out, it may be harder to get off the island than it is to get there.

Antananarivo (TNR) is the destination airport for international flights to Madagascar. Most flights connect through Paris (CDG), Nairobi (NBO), Johannesburg (JNB), or Seychelles (SEZ). Surprisingly, it’s easier to get a flight to one of the small islands surrounding Madagascar, such as Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, and Réunion. And sometimes, it’s even cheaper.

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Quick Tip: Clean Your Cookies

I spend a lot of time searching airline sites for the lowest fare. I often use Google Flights to get an idea of which locations offer the best savings and go directly to the airline web site. However, I started to notice that I would run a search at an airline site, find a great deal, and later, come back to show my wife and the deal would be gone. At first, I thought the low priced seats had sold out. This happened so many times that I was starting to think I was losing my mind, until I decided to go into my browser and clear all the cookies that the browser stores. Voila, those fares showed up again, and this time I didn’t take a chance and bought it. It would appear that the airlines want to encourage you to buy right away, so they offer the lowest price only on your first visit to their web site. They store a cookie in your browser that says you’re a repeat visitor so you won’t get the first-time deal on subsequent visits. Lesson learned: clear your cache and cookies in your browser to get the best deals.

Quick Tip: Don’t settle for the first answer you get.

When you call to talk to the airlines, don’t settle for the first answer you get, especially if it isn’t the answer you’re looking for. Some agents on the phone just aren’t as skilled as others in finding what you need, so call back and speak to someone different. If necessary, keep doing this until you get what you need. This is especially true for airlines, but this can work with hotels and car rental agencies too.

For example, we tried to book our flight to Sydney through United, but were told that no award seats were available because we were booking them so late. After two more phone calls, we got someone who looked at all the partner airlines and found two seats leaving from Vancouver on Air Canada, a partner airline. It cost the same award miles and wasn’t as convenient as flying out of Seattle, but the benefit was that we now have a direct flight with no layovers.

 

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

A date has been set

It’s been nearly 14 years in the planning, but we’ve finally decided we are going on our around-the-world trip. We have set a date, but I don’t want to reveal the exact date just yet. No need to alarm our employers and clients. Some may ask: why now? All the signs seem to point in the same direction: the road. Here are a few of the reasons:

1. Airline Policies Change

Originally, we were going to purchase two around-the-world (RTW) tickets, but since my wife traveled so much for work, we decided to start saving up her airline miles for those tickets. Using reward miles would save us over $10,000. That was over 10 years ago, and since then we’ve used some of those miles for trips to Africa, Italy, and the Middle East. I had some miles also and we used some of those for our trip to the U.K. and France last year. Even after all those other trips, we still have enough airline miles for two RTW tickets.

Last month, my wife received an email with some policy changes from one of the larger airlines where she has accumulated some miles. It indicated that they would no longer be offering an RTW ticket. Since it wasn’t the airline with which we had the majority of our miles, it didn’t affect us directly. However, airlines tend to follow the lead of other airlines, especially the larger ones. In the past, we saw that when a couple of the airlines started to charge extra for checked baggage, it wasn’t long before all the other airlines charged for checked baggage. So if one of the major airlines discontinued their RTW offering, we figure it won’t be long before the other two airlines also stop offering it. Time to use those accumulated miles. Continue reading