Flying to Palau, Mexico & the Galapagos for under $1500

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Yup. That’s right. Return trip to Palau in Micronesia, one way to Cancun, Mexico and a return trip in business class to San Cristobal, Equador. All in 2016.

All for less than $1500 combined to cover taxes, airport improvement and other air travel related fees.

Last year, I flew to Roatan, Honduras, business class. As well, I did a return trip to Edmonton in economy. The year before that I flew to Roatan and the year before that it was Grand Cayman. Both in economy.

How am I doing it? Airline points.

I accumulate some points from personal travel, but most are from charging on a credit card with rewards that can be taken on Star Alliance flights.

The trick is to use the points when you get enough for a trip. Banking them is a mug’s game, because the airlines routinely downgrading their value = more points needed to travel to destinations.

My Star Alliance-points piggy bank is pretty empty right now thanks to the trip to Equador to dive the Galapagos later this year. As well, my focus, right now, is on building points elsewhere.

I’m trying to accumulate enough rewards for my return trip from Cozumel (or Cancun) on Canada’s ‘low cost’ airline. That means the credit card for Star Alliance flights has been put away. Instead, I’m charging everything on a different credit card that will allow me to accumulate ‘dollars’ on the ‘low cost’ airline, dollars I can use to buy a cheaper plane ticket.

I collect Air Canada Aeroplan Miles, United and American Airline miles, and Westjet dollars. I’m also enrolled in the Air Asia frequent flyer program.

One downside to points flights. You often get the crummiest connections with the occasional long and overnight layover. This doesn’t bother me. Booking in business class means access free access to airline lounges in airports. As well, I’m happy to camp on an air mattress in an airport I deem to be safe, if necessary.

There are points advisors on the internet with lots of recommendations. Many of them, though, are for U.S. credit cards, with huge points rewards when enrolling. We in Canada can’t access those cards or the sign-up rewards. Our choices are more limited. But, it’s still possible to fly on points.

PS: A few days ago, United changed my points flight to Mexico – cancelled the flight I was on and rebooked me onto a flight that left Houston BEFORE I flew out of Vancouver.  I had originally booked to fly to Cozumel. Now, the only way to make it work was to fly into Cancun. That’s fine. Been looking for a reason to dive cenotes (underwater caverns) near Playa Del Carmen. Now, I can do that (the photos will be amazing) on my way to Cozumel.

 

@Doubletree hotel in Dallas RIPPED ME OFF (upd)

dt1

Shocked to see these two charges on my credit statement. The lesser one was reversed (a deposit connected to my Hotel Tonight booking).  The other is for movies  I DIDN’T watch. They think I’m lying.

So, when a former customer calls you long distance – on their dime – to question a credit card charge, why do you tell them to piss off? Suggest the person is lying?

That’s what happened to me at the Doubletree Hotel in Irving, Texas, near DFW airport.

According to the accounting guy, I watched two movies. A charge of $50 CDN on my credit card.

This is crap.

I didn’t even turn on the TV during my two day stay. Why? There was no remote in the room. Couldn’t turn the bloody TV on. I’ve NEVER watched a movie in a hotel and haven’t a clue how to order one.

Nope, says accounting guy. “I checked our equipment and the movies were watched in that room.” = basically, he’s saying, “lady, you’re a liar.”

Two movies I’ve never heard of, “The Visit” and “Straight out of Compton?”. Porn maybe? I’ve no idea.

I’ve better things to do than make up lies about movies and then call hotels in an effort to have them reverse the charge.

Their system to record which movies have been purchased is flawed. They won’t accept this. Nor should you. Avoid Doubletree by Hilton at all costs.

I’ve left a message for the hotel’s general manager. No response.

Here’s how good customer relations works: when someone calls you from another country on their dime and their time to tell you she didn’t watch movies during their stay, you reverse the charge on her credit card. You believe her.

The big lie on Trip Advisor (update – January 13)

I wrote a scathing review on Trip Advisor. The hotel responded with a lie. The hotel has NOT addressed my issue. There have been emails and Facebook messages regarding the need to address the issue, but no action has been taken on their part. The hotel has had my phone number since last week, when I left it with both the accounting department and the general manager. Plus, I responded to an email from the operations director, letting him know when I would be available to speak by phone. ZERO response. I note the management response was composed on January 11.

Addressed? In what way?

Update #2 (January 14)

The operations manager just called from Texas, after I emailed again this morning. Apologized. Admits there was a problem with the movie system, whereby movies were charged to the wrong room. Apparently, there were issues in other rooms as well. Repairs are being done and they’re sorry. The charges will be reversed.

Still out long distance phone charges. Plus, they wasted my time. Should have reversed at least one night’s stay at the hotel.

Three days in Texas: surviving cancelled flights

Home. Wore the same shirt for three days. The scarf is one of my must-have travel pieces.

Home. Wore the same shirt for three days. Note the scarf. I never travel without my Encircled multi-purpose garment, the Chrysalis Cardi.

You’re on your own.

That’s the first thing you’ve got to understand when an airline cancels your flight and tells you to rebook.

YOU have to be proactive, regardless of what they say about rebooking you. They’ll rebook you, but it could be many days hence. (Mine was three days).

Just one of many lineups at DFW airport of people needing to rebook cancelled flights.

Just one of many lineups at DFW airport of people needing to rebook cancelled flights.

I learned a lot from my recent ‘stranding’ at Dallas-Fort Worth airport after tornadoes and other beastly weather cancelled hundreds of flights. I was supposed to be home on Saturday night. I got home on Tuesday morning.

In the interim, I got myself rebooked out of DFW several times, only to see those flights cancelled. Flights to Vancouver – cancelled twice. Flights to Chicago – cancelled twice. Flight to Seattle – delayed with a strong chance of being cancelled.

I took rebooking into my own hands. I went to the airport and stood for hours in line to speak to customer service agents. During that time, I was also on the phone to the airline’s customer service agents. I was polite. I joked and laughed with fellow travellers in the lineups. I thanked the customer service agents over and over again. I suggested ways for them to get me out of Texas: “can you book me to Vancouver through Mexico?”

What got me out of Dallas in the end, on a flight to Vail, Colorado of all places, was pieces falling into place:

  • DFW has free airport wifi. It cuts you off after a while, but I kept reconnecting. I would’ve paid for wifi access had it not been free. Another option is to go to an airport restaurant with free wifi and order the cheapest thing on the menu. Park yourself there for as long as you can.
    My portable charger. Paid about $30 US for this last year. Kept my smartphone charged so I could stay connected to the airline app and ticket agents.

    My portable charger. Paid about $30 US for this last year. Kept my smartphone charged so I could stay connected to the airline app and ticket agents.

  • Kept my Iphone charged using charging stations and my portable charger, “Mycharge“.
  • Frequent checking of the American Airlines app on my smartphone thanks to the free wifi. This is how I learned I’d been mysteriously booked on the Vail flight, while I awaited a flight to Chicago. The Vail booking just popped up on my phone. When the Chicago flight was cancelled, I RAN to the other side of the terminal to try to get on the Vail flight. With 30 people on a standby list and the plane already boarding, I didn’t think I’d get on. The agent recognized my name, handed me a boarding pass from Los Angeles to Vancouver for the next morning and then put me on the Vail flight, which continued onto LA.
  • It’s a good idea to get familiar with the airport. DFW has a number of terminals and moving between them is time-consuming. I would’ve missed the Vail flight had it been in a different terminal.
  • TSA-Pre/Global Entry. Get a pre-check designation. In Canada, this is achieved with a NEXUS card. Make sure there’s a pre-check logo on your boarding pass. This will save you lots of time by avoiding general security lineups. Many airports have designated pre-check security lines that are ALWAYS shorter.
    The best travel piece I own. I don't travel without it.

    The best travel piece I own. I don’t travel without it.

  • My scarf-dress-pullover-pillow-blanket-lifesaver garment. I won’t travel anywhere without it. Bought it online from Encircled.
  • Good underwear. Exofficio. I wanna be cremated in this underwear so I can spend eternity wearing it.
  • Hotel Tonight app. Was able to book hotels while I stood in customer service lineups at the airport. Used it to book hotel rooms in Dallas and LA. Takes no time at all. Airlines DON’T pay for rooms when cancellations are weather-related.

I was reunited with my suitcase in Vancouver when I arrived. I wasn’t able to retrieve it in Texas, which is why I had no clothes. The airline elected to put it on a flight to Vancouver, which arrived a day and a half before I did.

About to land in Vancouver.

About to land in Vancouver.


Me on flight to LA via Vail.

Me on flight to LA via Vail.

My inconvenience was minor. A few vacation days lost and about $350 USD I didn’t expect to have to spend. Three hotel nights, food, long distance phone charges.

Many people lost their homes and personal belongings in the crazy winter weather that caused the delays. Some lost their lives. Their suffering was profound.

Airplane + bus to #LaPaz, #Mexico – saving $ getting there

Take a look at the price. This is why I'm flying and busing - to save money.

Take a look at the price. This is why I’m flying to San Jose del Cabo and busing – to save money.

There are often cheaper ways to travel, if you’re willing to hunt around.

Recently, I outlined how I came to purchase airfare to Mexico for a scuba diving trip in October.

I’m diving in La Paz, a 3-hour drive from San Jose del Cabo. SJD is home to the state’s large tourism-focused international airport. An airport served by many airlines. The airport I’ve elected to use. La Paz also has a airport. It’s smaller, but would be more convenient.

Doesn't get me all the way to my destination, but a lot cheaper.

Doesn’t get me all the way to my destination, but a lot cheaper.

There’s the catch. I’ll need to spend a night in San Jose del Cabo and take a bus to La Paz. Here’s the cost breakdown in CDN dollars.

  • Airfare: $490.91.
  • Cab fare to downtown San Jose Del Cabo hotel: $20 or city bus: $4.
  • One night hotel in San Jose del Cabo: $73 (Walking distance to bus station and La Paz bus the following day.)
  • La Paz bus fare return to San Jose del Cabo: $40
  • Total: $624 CDN, if I take a cab from the airport. $604, if I take the city bus.

Price to fly directly to La Paz:

  • Airfare: $815 (two stops each way – longer travel time than flight to SJD with one stop)
  • Hotel: $140 (for an extra night, in hotel where I’m booked for the remainder of my stay).
  • Airport transfers: $30
  • Total: $985 CDN

I’ll pay for convenience when it makes sense. In this case it doesn’t. Firstly, the difference in price is staggering. Secondly, I’m looking forward to the bus ride – during day time hours – so I can see more of Baja California’s countryside.

In this case, price and experience trump convenience.

One #Mexican destination – #airline prices SO varied

flights

What a range of prices, routes and times. Yikes. (Prices in CDN dollars.)

Here was the plan:

Scuba diving trip to La Paz, Mexico in October. Leaving on a Tuesday (one of the cheapest days of the week to fly). Returning the next Wednesday (also a cheaper day to fly). Flying Vancouver, Canada to San Jose Del Cabo, then taking the bus north.

Sunwing, a Canadian charter airline, doesn’t fly there on those days of the week. On the days it does fly, the price was $760 CDN. As well, Sunwing is a bit of a crapshoot. The flights always seem to be delayed or making unexpected stops to refuel etc. Not, IMHO, a reliable airline.

Westjet, another Canadian airline, doesn’t offer flights on those days. On the days it does fly, the flights ranged from about $700 CDN to more than $1000 CDN.

So, I began searching the scheduled airlines.

You get used to making connections when you travel out of Vancouver. There are limited non-stops and direct flights when travelling outside of Canada.

I collect Aeroplan points, so my first choice is always with Star Alliance airlines, such as Air Canada and United. But, only when the price is right and the timing works.

In this case, Air Canada was stupidly expensive (this was NO surprise) and United’s return flight was stupidly long.

So, American won my business. It offered the best price with the best travel times. I flew with American to Grand Cayman a few years ago, with three connections (LA, Miami, George Town) to get there. Planes were new and service good.

I’ve also booked a flight to Cozumel on American Airlines for December, so I’m now committed to building air miles with American and the One World Alliance.

One thing. I’ll have to stay one night in a hotel in Cabo before taking a multi-hour bus ride to La Paz. This option was still cheaper than flying into La Paz’s airport. I’ll price that out for you next week.

#Vacation in #Tadjikistan anyone?

Guy in photo

This guy needs a vacation. To a place with cheap beer. Syria? Congo DC?

He may look creepy and menacing under all the Photoshop filtering. But, this is a smart guy. With a great tip on finding an inexpensive place in the world to travel.

Based on the price of a bottle of beer.

Pint Price  (Find out the price of beer before you travel)

According to guy in photo, (pintprice.com, actually) you can determine if a city will be cheap or expensive to visit based on the price of a lager.

I cannot tell you the price of a bottle of beer in Canada. “$8.00?”, I guessed. “WRONG”, guy in photo said, snickering at my ignorance. WTF do I know about beer? Last (and first) sip of beer I had was in the late 1960s in Montreal.

In case you’re wondering, a bottle of beer in Canada costs $4.56, according to Pint Price.

Here’s what you need to know. Beer is pretty cheap in Tadjikistan (.45 CDN), Congo DR (.67 CDN) and in Burkina Faso (.79 CDN). Countries that end with ‘stan’ seem to have among the cheapest beer. It’s .73 CDN in Kazakhstan.

But, in Turkmenistan a bottle of beer will cost you the equivalent of $4.09 CDN. You’ll pay quite a bit less in tourist-friendly (!) Afghanistan where a bottle of beer is $1.74 CDN.

If you’ve got money to burn on beer, head to Greenland. There, you’ll pay $11.00 CDN for a bottle of lager. Iceland seems a bargain at $5.36 CDN. And over in Vatican City – who knew those Catholic dudes were guzzling beer at a cost of $5.86 CDN per bottle?

If you like a bit of danger with your cheap-ish bottle of lager, I recommend a trip to the world’s most dangerous country at the moment. In Syria, you’ll pay $1.58 CDN a bottle.

Even though I don’t drink beer and never will, here’s what a bottle will cost in the destinations I’ll soon visit:

  • Malaysia:  $4.73
  • La Paz, Mexico: $1.87
  • Cozumel, Mexico: $1.87
  • Palau: no listing – maybe there’s no beer there.

Bottoms up my friends. Where ever you decide to park your bottom on vacation.


Currency conversions: $1.24 CDN = $1 USD;    $1.90 CDN = $1 GBP;    $1.37 CDN = $1 EUR

(Sorry, my Canadian keyboard doesn’t make the pound or euro symbols. Or, I’m too dumb to find them.)

Cheated by Amazon merchant “Zooom” aka Center Drone  – be warned

WTF Canon? You ripped me off.

WTF Zooom and Canon? You ripped me off.

If you don’t care to read the entire post, just read this. DO NOT do business with an Amazon .ca and .com retailer called Zooom Electronics. As of Spring 2017, Zooom is now doing business as Center Drone.

Why? They sold me a camera housing that leaked the first time out. Now, they’re refusing to take it back and refund me.

Why? Because they say they don’t do returns on housings after one month post-sale. They said “it’s not defective ma’am” and that I should have “tested it in the bathtub as soon as I got it in September.” What nerve.

Here’s the thing. I don’t scuba dive in my bathtub. And, it needed to be tested at depth. That means in more than 5 inches of water. I tested the housing twice, without the camera in it, as soon as I arrived on my dive trip to Mexico in mid-December. It leaked both times.

Here’s the timeline.

  • I bought the housing in September from Zooom directly (gave CC over the phone) because they’d also sold me the Canon camera for which the housing was built via Amazon.ca. This was the easiest solution to their first misdeed, which was advertising a camera they didn’t have in stock. The original one I bought via Amazon.ca before I received a panicked phone call from their rep in New York telling me they didn’t actually have the camera I bought.
  • I didn’t scuba dive until December. Which means by the time I discovered the housing leaked, I was not longer able to access their arbitrary ‘one month’ return policy.
  • Last week, I sent Zooom an email outlining the problem, for which I received this response:
  • Karen,

    contact me on monday and I will rectify this for you

    This email and the information it contains are confidential and may be privileged. If you have received this email in error please notify me immediately. You should not copy it for any purpose, or disclose its contents to any other person. Internet communications are not secure and, therefore, Zooom Electronics  does not accept legal responsibility for the contents of this message as it has been transmitted over a public network. If you suspect the message may have been intercepted or amended please contact us.

  • When I called, the way Zooom ‘rectified’ this was to tell me they wouldn’t do a thing for me. That I should call Canon USA (which I did. They told me to call Canon Canada, which told me there is no warranty on ‘merchandise’ and to call Canon USA since I bought the housing from a US retailer).

  • So, the moral of this story is:
    • Zooom has abysmal customer relations. They advertise products they don’t have in stock. They won’t stand by the things they sell. Do not buy from Zooom on Amazon.

(UPDATE January 20, 2015: Canon Canada has offered me a replacement housing for my camera. My warning about doing business with ZOOOM still stands remains.
UPDATE: May 15, 2015: Canon Canada did come through for me with a new housing. It doesn’t leak. You can read more here…)