Air “pain” Bookings
This is the farthest in advance I have ever planned a trip.
I got the idea in February of last year. I bought my shoes in June. But when do you buy airline tickets?
Purchasing international air travel is always a challenge. So many airlines, so many routes! Fortunately, I am a frequent flyer on USAirways. Last year I was Chairman Preferred, which means I flew 100,000 miles the year before. Being Chairman, I have access to special phone numbers on USAirways dedicated specifically to Chairman Preferred members only. Also, having flown so many miles in the previous years, I had enough miles to offer anyone who wanted to come with me a free ticket. Susie and Mary bit. Yay! I had travel partners. Then Morgan decided he wanted to go and with him, his best bud Dominic.
So, the choice of airline was set. USAirways. That was the easy part. I don’t know how many of you are frequent flyers out there, or have ever had to make a reservation using frequent flyer miles, but it’s not always easy finding the days of travel that you want. For some destinations, you need to book up to a year in advance. Forget about booking flights to Europe using miles if it’s after Christmas. So in September, I called the Chairman Preferred number and got some idea of what was available.
We chose a May departure because that’s when Susie was done with her teaching job at the local community college. We knew that it was going to take about 4 weeks to walk the Camino and needed about a week on top of that for getting there and going home. I called the Chairman’s Preferred number with some possible dates, crossed my fingers, and hoped for the best. Somehow, I got transferred over to “regular” reservations. The agent did not seem very experienced, but after about an hour, we had seats on dates that worked with our schedule. It was somewhat complicated, since Morgan and Dominic were on one record, Susie and I were on another record, and Mary, coming from Portland, was on a third. Instead of flying internationally on USAir, we were on Lufthansa and Spanair, airlines which are in the same StarAlliance as USAir and therefore will let us travel on them for free with miles as well.
Our schedule is traveling from Norfolk (and for Mary, Portland) to Bilbao (the closest Star Alliance town to St Jean de Pied de Port, where we begin our walk), and depart from La Coruna (a 30 minute bus ride from our end point at Santiago de Compostela) to Madrid, where we overnight before heading home the next day. I’m not sure if the agent did it right, because I was expecting to have to take an 8 hour train ride to Madrid from Santiago instead of a 30 minute flight, but hey, it was included in the ticket, so we took it.
So, everything was peachy keen and in the meantime, we bought packs, started looking at packing lists, and did some local walking. I even had the opportunity to fly Spanair when we went on our European cruise in January. I was not impressed with Spainair at all – they had a very unorganized boarding system, and even though they put us in first class, everyone else in the first class cabin got chocolate and churros, but we got nothing, I guess because they put us on last minute. (I know, the problems of the rich and famous!)
Then, one week after we got back, Spanair went out of business. Yikes! Although it did not affect our flights getting to Bilbao or going back to the US from Madrid, it did affect just the leg at the end of our journey from La Coruna to Madrid. It looked like we have to take that 8 hour train ride after all, because there were no more StarAlliance carriers available from anywhere close to Santiago going to Madrid, and since the tickets were free, we could not use any other airline that was not in StarAlliance (like the national airline of Spain, Iberian Airlines.)
Two months later, as if by miracle, I called to reconfirm the flights and found out that some misguided soul at USAir booked us seats for that La Coruna to Madrid flight on Iberian Airlines. The only problem was that we were not all on the same flight. I won’t bore you with the number of times I called to try to get us all together and how some of the USAir agents said that we were lucky to get this flight at all, but finally, about 3 weeks ago, I was able to confirm us all on the same flight. Hooray!
This week, I reconfirmed all of the flights (again!) and entered our passport and address information to the Lufthansa web site. We are ready to go!