My real day job is a travel agent, and I have performed this job (with different companies) for the last 10 years. I have spent those 10 years planning and organizing other people’s vacations. When I make a booking for a client, it means that when they go on vacation and there is no stress for them. From the moment that they wake up on the day they leave, until the day they return, all their bookings are handled.
Being an AvGeek helps with this job, so much so that I thoroughly enjoy finding the best routing and deals for people, and I have to admit, while I spend all that time doing other people’s vacations, I can spend as much time planning my own. This planning phase to me is as much fun as going on vacation (sad, I know). So how is it that I found myself, the ultimate vacation planner, going on a weekend away with no plans?
Well, a friend of mine had access to some buddy passes and there were due to expire before the end of June. What does one do with expiring non-rev buddy passes? You use them, of course!
I had never flown on a standby ticket before. Sure, I have tried to stand by for a flight change or something similar, but never have I entered an airport for a flight without at least some form of seat for my journey. My friend told me that rather than commit to any plans for the weekend, we would pick a general destination and then as soon as we knew we had a seat on the flight, we would only then book a hotel, car, etc. I was about to become the person I dreaded the most in life — an on the fly kind of guy!
Prior to our travel day, I spent my time going through all of the usual sites that you would expect, checking on all the best deals that were available. But I could not book anything, as if there were cancellation fees and we did not want to be out money. So I had a general idea of what prices and availability would be like, but I couldn’t make any commitments – it was killing me.
Luckily we were able to get seats onto the first flight to San Diego of the day. Our intended destination after arriving in San Diego was to head up to Legoland, so I needed a car, a hotel for the night, and some tickets. 2 hours, 12 minutes of flight time should be enough time to get it done.
Thankfully, our 737-900ER was fitted with GoGo in-flight internet. Once we reached 10,000ft, out came the laptop & phone and I got started booking. The car was easy, as I generally tend to use one company, and had checked into the best discount codes, etc. to use the few days before.
Second step was the Legoland tickets, but I needed to make sure I didn’t need to print them out. Thankfully, I had found a 2-for-1 offer (purchase a piece of Lego from the Lego Store online and you get a voucher good for a free entry) and about 10 minutes after that I had managed to get email copies of my tickets, along with a good extra portion of Chase points thanks to referral sites. Even while on the fly, I am finding the best possible way to earn points!
The hotel was the killer for me. I had heard people say they had good experience with an app that specializes in getting hotel rooms last minute. It is an opaque booking website (like Hotwire or Priceline) where you don’t know what you are in for; however, they generally give some really good rates. For some unknown reason, though, I was unable to download the app on GoGo – it just would not work.
So I went back to my usual sources of finding good hotel deals: a mixture of the hotel chains websites, Kayak, and sometimes sites like Gilt, Jetsetter, or Vacationist. While I had a few options, I really didn’t have the time to research each in depth. I had about an hour of WiFi left at this point (if it didn’t drop out) and one would think that is a enough time, but generally when I am doing this, it can take me hours to find the right hotel.
My main worry was finding somewhere to sleep that night that would keep us both happy. I had the field narrowed down to three hotels: the Sheraton, The W, or the US Grant. I really liked the idea of the Grant, as the price was good, the location great, and it had a good reputation. Sadly, though, due to double-checking my deals a few more times, that slipped through my grasp – as soon as I tried to book it, the site had timed out, and i had to check it all over again. Deal gone!
I had to settle for the W, and although it was more expensive (by about $30 for the night) it was still pretty good.
By the time we started final descent, I had a confirmed hotel room, a car, and tickets to Legoland for that day. My Tripit details had gone from nothing to a full outline in the duration it took to get to Southern California from Seattle.
Although it was not a perfect booking process, I got done with enough time left over to eat the breakfast I had bought on board before we landed. Although I have a habit of finding some great deals to get away (if I can find them, anyone can) I was pleasantly surprised by what I was able to achieve in this fly by the pants experience.
As for my time in San Diego — it was awesome and had a great time in Legoland!