Megan and I are flying this morning, off to Branson, MO, by way of Chicago. In the last couple days I’ve been keeping tabs on our reservations, checking them frequently to make improvements and catch any glitches. Here’s an list of what I had to do, not uncommon for this or other recent trips:
To Upgrade or Not to Upgrade?
Megan likes it when we sit together. In fact, she could care less if we get an upgrade as long as we still sit together in economy. I’m okay with economy, too, but I really want my upgrade if we’re on a longer flight that includes a meal. Airport breakfasts tend to be either greasy diner food or a bagel. I hate bagels.
Lately I have been having a lot of difficulty with companion upgrades not clearing in advance on United, so I have to strategize whether it makes sense to request an upgrade at check-in. The new Continental dba United likes to split your reservation at check-in and place each person on the upgrade list separately, and this is your only option to stay on the upgrade standby list once the 24-hour check-in window opens. This is sometimes okay, but it screws with my upgrade chances on the way back and makes it more likely that I will be upgraded and Megan will be left in economy. I could give Megan my first class seat, but that would still leave us sitting separately, an unacceptable option.
ExpertFlyer was showings F and RN space as 3, indicating that only three first class seats remained and all were available for upgrades. Plus it was a smaller 737-700, so the fact any seats remained was good news for a Premier 1K with a companion. I just wish they’d moved us up sooner. I convinced Megan to allow a split, and we were upgraded less than 30 minutes later.
The Art of Seat Assignments
Now we had to worry about seats, because at this point there are no pairs of first class seats left available. Fortunately we appeared to be the only people upgraded at that moment because other F seats remained open, giving me the opportunity to play some musical chairs. (There was still one seat for sale, and apparently one that had been purchased but not selected.)
The 737-700 has a small cutout in the bulkhead on the left side and no cutout on the right. Megan was already in 1A and I got 2A. Fortunately 1E (aisle seat) was open, so I moved over there. If you look at this image from SeatGuru, Megan has a green seat, and my neighbor and I have yellow seats. My logic is that Mr./Ms. 1F will be happy to keep their window seat but switch with Megan to get the extra legroom provided by the cutout. If not, at least we’re in the same row.
As a note on etiquette when trying to change seats, always remember many of the people in the first cabin are more likely to be familiar with the aircraft type and likely paid more than you to sit there. Right there. Your best bet is that the person was upgraded and automatically assigned to a bad seat. So find a better one and offer to trade.
Our connecting flight is a tiny Embraer RJ145, but we picked the two exit row seats months ago when we booked. Only yesterday, some glitch kicked us out. I panicked and was able to put us back. United.com wouldn’t confirm the seat change immediately, but we were back in row 12 this morning when I checked in. If this happens to you, just be patient and hope it sticks.
Schizophrenic Rental Car Rates
I hate renting a car. I always feel like I’m being cheated unless I luck out and pay ~$10 a day. Then there are the dozens of taxes and fees. And then I’m still stuck with a rattling compact. The biggest annoyance is the upsells at the counter, where you have to go through a list of charges that you already declined during the original reservation.
The biggest benefit of elite status with a rental car agency is bypassing these lines and up-sells, along a good chance of an upgrade. Obviously, I don’t earn such status. I try to keep costs down by visiting places with public transportation, or begging friends to pick me up at the airport. What status I have I get through promos affiliated with my airline status or credit cards. But that doesn’t do you any good when you’re flying into Springfield, MO, and the best price you can get for four days is $140. I’m not even sure Dollar has a loyalty program. Fortunately you can cancel a reservation at any time for no penalty with most rental agencies.
I got Executive status with National a few months ago and have come to love them even more than Hertz. So I took another crack at it on Monday. On my first try, I got a car for $160, or $20 more than my original $140 with Dollar. Second try: $180. I had a coupon and several discount codes but none were working (another complaint about renting a car: too many codes and fields to enter them). I’m really bad at trying all my options, but you should remember that most agencies won’t check if you’re entitled to use a discount. Get a whole list of rental discounts at FatWallet.
I finally got an American Airlines code to work (I’m a new EXP, which I keep forgetting) and that brought it down to $140. Same price that I started with, but now I am renting from my preferred vendor and will get an upgrade. A Camry sounds much better than a Focus. Is there an Emerald Aisle in Springfield? I’m going to guess not…
Megan’s parents rented a cabin near the lake for a few nights, but we still needed a room on the last night because the cabin wouldn’t be available. So I used my AAA discount and took advantage of a few Priority Club promos to book three rooms at the Holiday Inn. I think it will actually be cheaper to stay there than at the cabin. And maybe we’ll get something better than two Dum Dums and a tube of toothpaste.
But there’s also a Radisson nearby for about the same $100 rate. I am running out of time to take advantage of Club Carlson’s Big Night Giveaway, so this was the perfect opportunity. We’ll stay an extra night at the Radisson so I can get more work done on my dissertation (it’s just hard to concentrate when staying with family) and pick up 50,000 Club Carlson points along with it. Those will turn out into a tidy bundle of airline miles once they’re transferred.
And, of course, since I have status matches at Club Carlson and Priority Club, we’ll probably get some upgrades there, too. Just as we got upgrades from United and National. The only thing better than a discount or an upgrade is discounts + upgrades!
But now I have to worry about our return flight through Denver. Because our reservation is split, I’m worrying again that Megan is going to be left behind in economy. The front cabin still looks pretty empty, and it’s been a year since I’ve faced this problem. I’m hopeful that she’ll clear, but this is also a reminder to always book one-way trips if you can manage. It came in handy when we visited California a couple times in spring. They usually don’t cost more than roundtrip travel on domestic flights, and they allow you to split reservations individually so you don’t screw with your upgrade chances on the return.
Or you could just fly American and buy your companion upgrade. Good and bad, but we’ll see how I handle that when I get to it. Readers, what last-minute steps do you take to make sure your travel plans go off without a hitch?