Flying Non Rev on an Alaska 737-900ER..... hopefully

Flying non-rev on an Alaska 737-900ER….. hopefully

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!

Spending all day looking at this screen, working out the best routes & fares for people - Image: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

Spending all day looking at this screen, working out the best routes & fares for people – Image: Mal Muir | AirlineReporter

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.

Using GoGo online meant that I could book my travel on the way to the destination

Using GoGo wireless meant that I could book my travel on the way to the destination

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!

Thanks to National Car Rental as soon as we arrived in San Diego I could hop right into this

Thanks to National Car Rental, as soon as we arrived in San Diego I could hop right into this

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.

The whole reason for heading to San Diego was for this

The whole reason for heading to San Diego

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.

Yep... Pretty dang Awesome!

Pretty dang awesome!

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!

CORRESPONDENT - SEATTLE, WA. Mal is an Australian native who has been a huge fan of airlines and aviation and currently works in airport-related operations. Email:
Exploring the Newly Renovated Delta Flight Museum

Working for an airline, I’am flying standby quite often these days, and somehow it’s just so much nicer. Of course you can’t plan everything in detail and have to add some wiggle room, but the possibility to just get to the airport and take a flight on short notice is great. On top of that, you get much more in contact with the staff from check-in to the gate, since you have to check with them in order to get a seat in the end. Really feels different to fly that way…


Thanks for the FUN post, Mal! Oh, how I hear your travails… That’s why I use a talented travel agent for most of my arrangements, points, miles, cash or any combination. With a , I think I’ll pass on Lego Land (or certainly build an entire trip around it), but each to his own. (OK, I confess, it has been >50 since my first experience with Disneyland’s semi-guided mini-freeway cars. They were fun then and they still are!
San Diego can be a fun, non-resident city to visit; been their countless times. For the typical flyer, the Eastern approach to their airport is of no concern. For the AvGeek and plane spotter, every approach includes some pucker factor… Approach, crest the hill, DIVE for the runway, but avoid that parking garage and plant it on the numbers and use 3-4-MAX auto-brake, depending upon the aircraft type. The professionals do it every day, but San Diego is not the place for a junior jet pilot to explore a complicated landing. (If in doubt, Geek a few dozen landings and your respect for seriously good pilots will increase. I’m sure that you’ve seen it before.)
I hope you had a grand time in San Diego. And heck yes; an experienced travel agent is always the Best Friend that I carry in some pocket, for a 400 mile road trip or a two-week, 40,000 mile trip through the clouds. You and your experienced associates are not worth much for the on clod hopper from Slippery Rock to the local edition of Inner Slobovia, but when something goes amiss, (it eventually does) worth far more that you can carry. In other words, I ALWAYS consult an experienced agent! I’ve used the same agent for nearly 30 years, with no regrets. On rare occasions, I’m told to book it on my own, but in nearly all situations, I continue to book the works via my agent. My advice is to find an agent (over 40?) or with 20+ year’s experience, tell them exactly what is expected, let them do their magic and tip when appropriate. At least for me, while cost remains important, I’m far more interested in hassle-free travel and only an experienced agent can make that happen. The idea that skilled travel agents are a dying breed is balderdash. When my agent finds the right options FOR ME, I hear about them. If the commissions and fees are not as expected, I also hear about it and I make the necessary adjustments. In short, my agent is honest with me, offers me the best possible choices and understands that in doing so, he won’t suffer, will probably profit and that I’ll continue. **Honesty is the always the best policy** and I’m happy to enjoy a long-standing relationship with an agent that has always been honest with me, even when some details may have cost a bit more. (If this fellow decides to retire before I quit traveling, I’ll be in serious trouble ).
[Rant Mode=OFF] Thanks again for a great trip report. IMO, travel agents are NOT a dying breed. Life and income are more difficult, but with the right portfolio of clients, a *great* agent can still earn a comfortable living. It is about the details… Always about the details – and the good ones just take care of them. -C.

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