Monthly Archives: December 2009

In the Suitcase: Debunking the “Tuesday” ticket-release theory

It’s one of those old wives’ tales of the airline industry: on Tuesday nights, airlines release their lower fares and tickets! Book on Wednesday mornings!

I never really bought into it, partly because I just didn’t see how it was possible. But last night, we learned this theory was utterly not true. (I only use the word “utterly” when I need to emphasize just how not true something is).

How we learned this: because I decided not to harp on Jon (he calls it “nag”) about booking tickets to a wedding in January to Los Angeles, he didn’t book them, and now the fares jumped from $250 to $450. And since this was a Tuesday night when all this went down, he decided we should wait until Wednesday morning (now) to check if airlines would “release” some mystery tickets to the public to pounce upon this morning.

But being the skeptics that we were, we did a little research to find out if this theory held any water, and the long version made shorter – it doesn’t. Tickets are released every day, and they are not necessarily the lowest or the best. (and I just checked Kayak.com- and I am correct).

What does hold true, however, is that if you travel on a Tuesday, chances are your flight will cost less and the flight will be less full. In addition, many airlines send out their last-minute fares for weekend travel on Tuesday, so it only works if you’re planning to jet off that very weekend.

How else to find better airline deals? Keep watching. Booking too early can be expensive, but so is booking too late. You can also subscribe to Yapta.com, which will alert you when your fare drops. Note, however, that Yapta does not include every airline yet. Alternatively, you can book a ticket, and if the fare drops, you can request a refund for the difference. Yapta provides instructions on how to get a refund, or for $15, will do it for you.

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On My Itinerary: I’m going skiing, somewhere, this winter

Jon took off to Tahoe for the weekend for a friend’s bachelor party. All week, it had been storming snow in the Tahoe/ Reno area, and he flew right into one and managed to hop a free shuttle from Reno to Harrah’s in South Tahoe. From there, someone picked him up to the giant ski house they rented. Swift little maneuver to avoid paying whatever it usually is for the shuttle to Tahoe – which isn’t steep, about $26 one-way, but a clever idea nonetheless that I heartily applauded. He managed to get one day in, but he did report back that many of the runs at Heavenly were closed, despite all the snow, and that the winds were pretty high at the top. Nonetheless, I was sincerely jealous.

As a result, I spent much time surfing for ski deals for myself because I am just as much an avid snow-player, and I am looking forward to some decent conditions on the East Coast this winter, thanks to unseasonal cool temperatures this summer and early snowfall this December (the one that caused our accident).

The key to finding a good ski deal really depends on a few things: 1. the amount of snowfall at that mountain so far, 2. current weather conditions, 3. the road conditions, 4. whether your flight will make it to the destination without being cancelled or you spending the night in O’Hare airport, and 5. if the only time you have available is a holiday or not.

Now I’m not a mountain expert, but I’ve visited my small share of them. Here are some tips I’ve learned:

1. If you’ve got your own wheels, take advantage. In snow country, sometimes the smaller mountains are less expensive and less crowded than the major ones – and therefore, more snow. In Calgary, I went to the slopes used by the Olympics for a warm-up day trip before heading out to Banff and Lake Louise (which are marvelous mounds of powder, too). Similarly, I often like visiting Stratton over Mt. Snow or Killington in Vermont. In Colorado, which I’m aiming to visit for the first time this winter, lift tickets are often less expensive and also available on discount site liftopia.com at Crested Butte or similar mountains that are more difficult to reach.

2. Many hotels will provide a stay-and-ski package complete with lift tickets, and in lots of cases, free breakfast. Some will also come with kitchennettes so you don’t have to eat out every night and wait for a table when you’re starving after a day of skiing. Check hotel Web sites for deals.

3. If you’re with a big group, a condo makes things very inexpensive. Look on Craigslist for vacation homes in the area and contact the owners. Book early for holidays and weekends.

4. If you have vacation time to kill, mid-week skiing is a great option. No lift lines, cheaper tickets, and lots of hotel deals.

5. REI and local supermarkets sometimes participate in area mountain discounts, but you have to go to specific outlets to purchase. For example, REI and Albertsons supermarket will sell discounted tickets in Tahoe, but you have to either go to the REI in San Francisco or northern California or to an Albertsons nearby. We used to pass both on the way up to Tahoe, so stopping in for a few minutes will knock off about $12-$15 off your ticket.

6. Be prepared if you get snowed in. I’ve been stuck halfway up mountains due to heavy snowfall and trapped in a ski house for an extra night because 12 feet fell – and couldn’t even enjoy the fresh powder because the mountain had closed.  (I’ve also driven most of the way home, only to turn around and head back because it had been blizzarding the whole way, meaning fresh powder and a Monday with nobody on the slopes).  Fortunately both times we took cars, but if you had a flight scheduled, you – and hundreds others – will be scrambling to leave on the next available flight.

See you on the slopes!

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Now Boarding: Deals to Paradise

My California friends like to give me grief about moving back East, particularly now that it’s cold, gray and threatening to rain ice so much that Virginia schools closed today for… an otherwise sunny day. ? Nice excuse by the superintendent who probably got some super saver flight to the Caribbean departing today.

However, I think I could use a sunny vacation right about now. Between buying a house, painting, moving, and all the other adventures I’ve been unfortunate to experience, getting away with nothing but a swimsuit and a good book sounds just about right. To top it off, Jon is ditching me to go to some bachelor party in Tahoe this weekend, which just received several inches of fresh powder. If I act quickly, I could be on a beach by the weekend. Here are some deals I found.

TODAY ONLY: a “Fare Crusher” sale of $18 and up to the Caribbean on Spirit Airlines. Of course, the catch is that if you live in Ft. Lauderdale, you get a wealth of paradise options at hand. However, if you live elsewhere, you can fly to Ft. Lauderdale for $9 (yes, NINE dollars) and then catch another flight to somewhere like the Bahamas or Jamaica. It may take a little detective work and coordinating the scheduling, but who wouldn’t want a $36 vacation??

ENDS TOMORROW: Airtran has some lovely low flights going to the Caribbean from around the U.S. For example: Chicago Midway to Aruba for $169 one-way. New York to Montego Bay, Jamaica for $129 one-way. San Francisco to Cancun for $124 one-way (although I never liked Cancun – the key is to leave Cancun as soon as possible and get to one of its neighboring secluded islands, like Isla Mujeras, away from the obnoxious partying 50-year-old Americans with their footlong beers.)

Latin America: For $278 roundtrip from Washington, D.C., I can jet off to Punta Cana on Lan Airlines before December 30. Never heard of the airline, but it gets me to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, and then somehow I make my way to the beachy shores.  

Need more ideas? Keep checking back! It’s a bad economy out there, which makes it great vacation time. Happy sunshine!

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In the Suitcase: Winter driving

totalcarcrashes.com (note: NOT our car)

This weekend Jon and I got into a bad accident in his SUV (note: the picture  is NOT our accident. Ours really doesn’t look this bad). Fortunately and miraculously, everyone involved walked away unharmed. The Northeast got its first snowfall of the season and with it froze black ice on the I-95. We slipped, swerved and hit a Honda Civic coming up the on-ramp. While waiting for the cops to arrive, another five or so cars slipped on the same patch of ice and joined our growing pile of crunched-up cars on the side of the road.

My friend remarked that I seemed remarkably calm and unshaken after this event. I told her, while the car was swerving and Jon went plowing off the road, over the grassy patch and into the on-ramp, with absolutely no idea where we were headed, all I knew was that we had no other option than to walk away unharmed. And considering my stubbornness, which is extreme, I would like to think I had extended some great powers that left us with nothing more than a bruise on my knee and a slightly sore back the next day (but I’m really not a believer of supernatural forces). So why freak out over what might have been (a total disaster) when it wasn’t? Yes, we could have hit a semi-truck, or the Civic could have hit us a few seconds earlier in the driver’s side, or we could have hit the Civic a few seconds later in the passenger side. But, we didn’t.

However, I have to count myself lucky in this case: it was one of the first few times I actually put on my seat belt in the back seat. I haven’t sat in the back seat very often and I haven’t buckled it since I was 12 years old or so. I always buckle in the front, but something about the snowy day made me buckle in, and I am more than relieved that I did. I am pretty sure I would have been tossed straight out the window if I hadn’t.

Lessons learned:

1. Bridges do actually freeze. I never knew what that meant, but now I do. Jon vows to slow down during rain and snow and winter when crossing overpasses and brides. I hope other drivers do, too.

2. Wear your seatbelt, always.

3. If the weather is bad out, just don’t try to go anywhere.

4. Drive slower, in the right lane, and take as long as you need to get somewhere.

Some helpful tips I found from the Michigan State Police web site. If you’re going to find snow, Michigan is a good place.

“If you find yourself beginning to slide on snow or ice, DON’T PANIC. Take your foot off the gas and DO NOT hit the brakes. Steer the front of your vehicle into the skid (the same direction you are sliding). This technique is used in both front- and rear-wheel-drive vehicles. If you must use the brakes, do not allow them to lock up; gently pump the brake pedal, unless your car is equipped with anti-lock brakes. If your car has anti-lock brakes, use a firm, steady pressure WITHOUT pumping. The grinding noise you hear and the surging you feel in the pedal is normal and indicates the brakes are working properly, allowing you to continue to steer and control the vehicle. And for you 4-wheel-drive enthusiasts, always remember that a 4-wheel-drive vehicle provides additional traction that is useful for going through deep snow, but it does not stop any faster.”

Other winter safety that are practical and common-sensed, but not always practiced:

5. Don’t drive after drinking – even if you’re not drunk, you’re impaired. Even if you’re not impaired, you could get sleepy. Sleepy driver = bad driver.

6. Intersections tend to be more frozen from exhaust moisture in stopped cars that quickly freezes on the pavement after cars leave. Approach slowly.

7. Keep an emergency kit in the car. It should include flares, flashlight with working batteries, a shovel, first-aid kit, kitty litter or sand (for traction), blankets, hat, gloves and other items to keep you warm. I really wished I had a hat that night while waiting on the side of the road. (During the few moments when the car was veering off the road, I also kind of wished I had a hat on in case my head went through the glass).

8. Seriously, DON’T TEXT AND DRIVE. It is unbelievable how many people I’ve passed doing this. It’s as bad as TALKING ON THE CELL PHONE WHILE DRIVING. Is it so hard to get a head set? I have a great one that makes me look like I’m a telemarketer in my car. Also, make sure your phone has enough charge in case of emergencies.

9. I like to apply RainX to my windshield in winter. It basically repels all water and dirt, mud, salt, the works which create a mess on your windshield (which you try to clean off every 20 seconds with your wiper fluid, which freezes or runs out). RainX keeps your windshield clean and your visibility clear.

10. While you’re at it, please clear the snow off your car as well. It sucks to have big chunks of snow and ice blowing off the car in front of you onto your windshield.

11. Don’t tailgate, even if it’s 80 and sunny. It’s just obnoxious and not safe for anyone. To get a tailgater off your back, just move over to the next lane. Don’t even bother trying to “teach” them a lesson by putting the brakes on. That just gets it madder and more reckless. If you are a road raging driver, perhaps listening to holiday music on the radio will cheer you up more. Try singing along, like this other guy we saw on the road who rolled down his window to belt out along with Bruce Springsteen that “Santa Claus is coming to town.”

12. Lastly, if you’re in the market for a new car, re-think the fun-ness of the Mini Cooper or a convertible for something safe and practical. Believe me, I love the Mini and I have fun renting convertibles – but I sure am glad I had Jon’s trusty Xterra to shield me that night. (Nothing wrong with his Xterra other than it was starting to get on the junky side of maintenance and the trunk fabric was peeling off and the bumper never stayed on properly. Plus it seemed permanently dirty).

Please pass this along to all your winter drivers, and be safe!

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