Planning A Vacation!!!

My wife and I enjoy traveling from time to time.  Since we really didn’t go anywhere last year since Baby Beagle was just a newborn, we were looking at options for something to do this year.  Initially, we had thought about going somewhere in Michigan along a lake, renting a cottage or something along those lines.

However, my in-laws brought up a trip that they were planning, and that changed our plans.  My wife and her family had gone down to the Tampa Bay area (Maderia Beach / John’s Pass) a few times over the years.  They hadn’t gone for a couple of years but mentioned that they were going to plan a trip this year.  My wife got to talking to my in-laws and soon we started looking into doing that.  They know the area and have had wonderful times down there.

We’re going to go in late spring.

There was some back and forth on:

  • Whether to go – Initially, my in-laws weren’t 100% sure that they were going.  We were interested but only when everybody had committed did we finally make the final decision to make that our big trip for 2010
  • Where to say – My in-laws and family had always stayed at a particular hotel along the beach.  We looked into that, but they came up with the idea of splitting the costs of a two bedroom condo.  The place that they found looked nice, is on the water, and is actually cheaper than a hotel would have been.
  • How to get there – We had talked about driving.  My in-laws drive pretty much straight through (it’s an 18 hour or so drive) but we had concerns about sticking Baby Beagle in the backseat for that long.  Even if we drove overnight and he slept through, the waking hours would leave a lot of time for him to be confined in the backseat and we knew the trip would be further extended with more frequent stops to take care of his feeding and changing schedule, and just to give him time to avoid being cooped up.  When we looked at some flights, we found that the extra cost to fly was only about $100 versus what we would have paid in gas costs.  Those are using today’s gas prices, so the difference would probably be negligable by the time it was all said and done.  So, we have decided to fly.

My in-laws are going to take most of our luggage while they drive, so we won’t have to pay the excessive luggage fees that are now the industry standard.  We might have to check Baby Beagle’s car seat, but we’re not sure of that.  We want to take his stroller and car seat.  The website says tha they don’t charge, but it’s vague as to whether that’s just for the first item or if we can take both at no charge.  Even so, one item charge wouldn’t be too horrible considering.  Everything else we’re taking will either go with my in-laws or be put as carry-ons.

So, right now, we have estimated the following costs:

  • Our share of the condo for one week – $400
  • Two round trip airline tickets (Baby Beagle will sit on our laps since he’s under two) – $359
  • Boarding of our two cats (they can’t come) – $144

We’ll have some additional costs for food and activities once we get down there, but right now it’s shaping up to be a pretty reasonable trip for what is hopefully a great week of fun in the sun!

Keeping Our Dormant Frequent Flier Miles On Ice

I used to fly quite a bit.  In my single days, I would try to do at least one trip per year. I got to see destinations like New York, Las Vegas, San Diego and Florida.  Having purchased a more expensive house and now with a baby, we have limited our travel to where flying has been significantly reduced.

I’m not going to lie, the multiple rate hikes and fees imposed for such things as picking your seat or checking baggage makes me less inclined to fly as well.

But, with the slowdown in our flying, we haven’t been accumulating frequent flier miles.

With Delta, at one point I had a significant amount of miles banked after having done a six month stint where I was flying back and forth to Florida every week for work.  At the time it was Northwest.  But, all that traveling actually got me and my wife free tickets on two trips, one to New York in 2005 and another to Orlando in 2008.

That was our last flight, and in doing so I had used up all of the miles that would give us free flights, but there was still a significant amount left.

Enter in the latest and greatest ‘great idea’ by the airlines, and that is where they will take away your miles after two years of non-use.

Great way to encourage flying.  Take away the carrot that might encourage people to fly more.  But, anyways, I digress.

Well, I received the notice that my miles were about to expire so I logged in to take a look. I had about 13,000 miles, which was about halfway to a flight.  I didn’t want to lose them, so I looked at the options.  Turns out I didn’t have to fly, but I could basically do any activity on my account to keep them active, including redeeming miles.

I’ll note that one suggestion I’ve heard is to have a rewards credit card that logs miles.  I actually did have one of those back when I was flying to Florida, and with charging all of the flights and travel costs to that card, then getting reimbursed, I was able to accumulate miles quickly.  However, when I stopped traveling as much, I determined that I would get better use out of our Citi Dividends cash back card.  When Northwest simply canceled my card (after a year of non-use), that sealed the deal and I decided that unless I started flying again regularly, I was not going to cave in and get a rewards card.

So, I looked at other options, and I decided to look at their magazine subscription program.  You can get subscriptions to many magazines for the cost of some of your miles.

One of my favorite magazines for years and years was Entertainment Weekly. I always like knowing what movies, music, books, and other things are coming out, and they’ve always written some pretty good articles about movies, TV shows, and the like.  I had a subscription for over ten years.  When a renewal came up that I felt was way overpriced, I let it lapse.  Over time, I remarked a few times that I missed reading it, but that paying for a subscription didn’t seem like something I wanted to do.

Since using my miles represented no out-of-pocket costs (well, actually a small amount, but I’ll get into that in a second), and it actually perhaps will lead to saving me in the future should we get a free flight from the miles we avoided losing, I decided to use 1,500 miles for a one-year subscription.

I’m still left with a majority of my miles.  I get a year subscription for no out of pocket costs, and I get two more years before I have to do anything again to avoid losing the miles (assuming they don’t tighten the program again, which I wouldn’t put it past them to do).

When I went to enter my subscription, it presented me with a great offer.  Add a second year subscription for an additional fee.  The additional fee?

Two dollars.

I jumped on that one without even thinking about it.  The way I looked at it, that actually got me right to the point where my two year inactivity fee would come up, and assuming they still had magazine deals, I could just re-up.

We’ll see what happens between now and then, but in the mean time, I am loving having my subscription back and loving even more that my out of pocket costs are less than two pennies per magazine for the next two years!