To see my tribute to Flo, go here

See about helping Flo's Haitian artist friends at Jakmel Ekspresyon


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Travel planning for memorial

I am looking ahead to being in New England for a memorial show for Flo and to bury his ashes. There are emotions around that, but I'd like to report about the travel planning.

Airfares for the trip on Southwest were getting borderline high; I got two Southwest awards for getting their credit card, and I was thinking of booking an award, which I could cancel if good fare sales turned up. In a matter that I mishandled, I thought I'd wait for the right time to ask my parents about the right dates to travel. I did this when they visited me; then I found that paid fares were getting much higher, and it was very difficult to find any award availability. Although Manchester, N.H., is the closer airport to my parents' home, the only award I could find on the outbound arrived in Boston, and too late to catch the last bus to my parents' area. I booked that, hoping something better could turn up, but there were no awards to find for the return.

So there were the options of making tentative bookings with Southwest, who allows for flexibility, booking an expensive return but hoping for a lower fare or award to turn up, and I could keep the extra funds for future travel. Or I could book a paid trip with another airline, and I'd be committed to whatever I booked (those would entail big change fees). Or, while I kept checking for Southwest Standard Awards, consider my Plan B to convert two awards to a Freedom Award, which I could use on any flight that wasn't completely sold out. I committed to nothing, and kept that as my ultimate back-up, until...

In one forum, someone brought to my attention that American and United now had one-way awards. I don't have much activity with flights on those airlines, but let myself get bonuses and thought they might eventually get to some useful level. It happens that because of a bonus, I'd recently switched my dining miles earning from Delta (which was a merge from Northwest) to United. I was getting very close to the 12,500 miles needed for a one-way award. While Delta had posted dining miles once a month, I figured out that United posted them weekly, on Tuesday. To be sure of reaching the needed miles, I bought a gift card from a local restaurant. A one-way award was showing; I wasn't that confident that it would still be there this week, but I aimed for it in case it was available. Lo and behold, it was, for a flight out of Manchester at a decent time. I also looked at United one-way awards from Burlington, Vt.: they had one with a routing Burlington-Washington Dulles-Detroit-Chicago-Kansas City, all on regional jets, not too appealing if one isn't earning miles and getting status by flying many segments. So I have that United return out of Manchester and, unless something better opens up, a Southwest outbound to Boston at an inconvenient time, but something can be worked out around it.

On Southwest, it used to be that a Standard Award could be used on any flight that had seats available. My experience using the current capacity-controlled awards around the year-end holidays has been that there was good availability; now it's disappointing that awards are unavailable for a big block of time, and Southwest's fares are higher than on other airlines. It would have given me pause to have to use two awards for the type of unrestricted travel that until recently was available with one; it looks like Southwest is very popular with its "Bags Fly Free" and generally good performance.

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