Week in Review: Free Delta Flights, American Premium Bonus and More

Here’s a 35,000 foot view of travel news from around the Internet and a recap of my weekly posts…

News Around the Interwebs

It’s been a somewhat slow week in the points and miles world, but here were some of the highlights of the week that I saw pass through:

Delta Free Flights for Displaced DC-NYC passengers

After various reports of $2300+ airfare from DC to New York, MJ on Travel reports that Delta Airlines has come out to honor Amtrak customers displaced by the effects of the May 12th Derailment of Amtrak Train 188. Continue Reading →

How to Book a Flight on Ryanair and Avoid Hidden Fees

Flying on Ryanair is often one of the cheapest ways to fly point-to-point in Europe.  However, the major complaint people always have regarding Ryanair is their never-ending pursuit of ancillary revenue — they nickel and dime the passenger for seemingly everything.  After all, Ryanair is the airline that infamously once tried to charge for use of the toilet, and has floated the idea of standing room only seats on its aircraft, just to fit more passengers onboard.  Another major complaint about Ryanair is the somewhat predatory booking process on their website.    Though the website has a much friendlier user interface than it used to, the booking process can be downright cumbersome!

Ryanair B737-800 at Kerry, Ireland (KIR)

Ryanair B737-800 at Kerry, Ireland (KIR)

This post is meant to walk you through the booking procedure with Ryanair, so you can avoid accidentally paying for extra things that you don’t want!  Once you successfully do this, Ryanair can fly you for really, really cheap within Europe.  I had a decent flight with them last May from Venice-Treviso to Dublin, and again a few weeks ago from County Kerry, Ireland to London-Stansted.    Continue Reading →

How to Navigate the Ryanair Website and Avoid Hidden Fees

Flying on Ryanair is often one of the cheapest ways to fly point-to-point in Europe.  However, the major complain people always have regarding Ryanair is their never-ending pursuit of ancillary revenue — they nickel and dime the passenger for seemingly everything.  After all, Ryanair is the airline that infamously once tried to charge for use of the toilet, and has floated the idea of standing room only seats on its aircraft, just to fit more passengers onboard.  Another major complaint about Ryanair is the rather predatory booking process on their website.    Though the website has a much friendlier user interface than it used to, the booking process is downright cumbersome!IMG_7570

This post is meant to walk you through the booking procedure with Ryanair, so you can avoid accidentally paying for extra things that you don’t want!  Once you successfully do this, Ryanair can fly you for really, really cheap within Europe.  I had a decent flight with them last month.

1.  To book travel, visit Ryanair’s website at www.ryanair.com  For simplicity’s sake, I will search for a flight that I just took with Ryanair — a one-way flight from Venice-Treviso to Dublin.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.31.46 PM

2.  Pick the date that works for you.  For purposes of this exercise, I will select Wednesday, September 17.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.32.48 PM

3.  Notice on the right that it will cost you a 2% fee to book by credit card.  Select whichever method you’re comfortable with and click “continue”Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.32.58 PM

4.  Enter your name

5.  Select your Travel Insurance.  I never select this option.  However, Ryanair hides the “Don’t Insure Me” option in the middle of the drop-down list.  It’s really petty, but that’s what they do!Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.36.43 PM

6.  If you’re checking bags, you’re going to want to pay for it earlier rather than later.  Select “Add” and then choose your baggage selection.  Please note that it is NOT possible to pay for a bag that weighs more than 20kg.  You MUST pay for two bags if your bag weight more than 20kg.  I experienced this frustration on my recent flight with Ryanair, and boy was it an obnoxious experience!

Though their policy states that you can buy up to two bags for a maximum combined weight of 35kg, no single bag can be in excess of 20kg — at least that’s the way the policy was enforced at Treviso Airport.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.38.00 PM

Cabin bags are permitted to be up to 10kg, and if they’re deemed over-sized by the gate agent, they will not just gate-check them for free like US airlines.  They will gate-check your bag after charging you €50! Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.40.01 PM

7.  Choose assigned seats if you choose.  It costs €5 for an assigned seat, and €10 for a “Premium” Seat.  Priority boarding is included with the “Premium” seat, and with the long queues that often build up with Ryanair flights, it’s not a bad idea.  Interestingly enough, extra leg-room seats cost the same as “premium” seats, so I would recommend on selecting one of those if you choose to pay for a seat assignment.  I sat in seat 1C on my flight, and had plenty of room.  If you choose not to pick an assigned seat, you will be automatically assigned one by the airline.  If you’re traveling with someone, or with children, it maybe best to pick seats to ensure that you’re seated together.

Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.42.26 PM

Plenty of leg room in row 1

Plenty of leg room in row 1

8.  Ryanair charges €2.49 for a SMS text for flight details… really?   No, thanks.  This is a service that US airlines provide for free.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.46.49 PM

9.  Navigate through the barrage of parking, transfers, and sport/musical/baby equipment.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.47.01 PM

10.  Say “no” to rental car sponsored by Hertz (unless you want it)Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.48.21 PM

11.  Same goes with hotels, powered by Booking.com — I can usually find a better rate on my own.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 3.49.43 PM

12.  It’s not over yet — you could PLAY to WIN!   Or not… it sneakily adds a €2 charge to your account if you choose to PLAY to WIN.  In perusing the Terms & Conditions, it’s interesting to note that the user may be charged anywhere between 1 and 10 euros to PLAY to WIN… wow!  And they only pick one winner per week — this is the largest airline in Europe, people — those odds just ain’t that great.

Play to Win?  Sounds like a great idea!

Play to Win? Sounds like a great idea!

There's a fee to play?  Sneaky!

There’s a fee to play? Sneaky!

PLAY to WIN's T&C's -- they can charge you anywhere between 1-10 euros!

PLAY to WIN’s T&C’s — they can charge you anywhere between 1-10 euros!

13.  Once you put in your contact and payment info, check out the text that says, “Your debit/credit card will now be charged 157.17 USD (108.11 EUR more information), you will be redirected to the next page for confirmation of this transaction.”  Call me crazy, but the foreign exchange rate sounds a bit off.  I’ll click for more info, thank you!

Click on the "more information" link

Click on the “more information” link

 

14.  Click “more information” and you will see that Ryanair is doing you the favor of royally screwing you in your foreign exchange rate.  They are charging a rate of $1.45USD: €1  when the going rate is $1.36USD:  €1.  On a purchase as large as this one, that would cost you about $10!

15.  To ensure you don’t get screwed by this ridiculous exchange rate, uncheck the box in the disclaimer.  You usually get the best rate if you just let your credit card / bank do the conversion for you since it will be billing in euros.  If you have a credit card that does not charge foreign transaction fees, you’re good to go.  If your card or bank DOES charge foreign transaction fees, it’ll likely cost you around 3% — still less than this bad exchange rate that’s proposed by Ryanair.

Uncheck the box

Uncheck the box

16.  Review your charges.  I decided on checking a 20kg bag and getting an assigned seat in row 1.  I also opted to use a credit card.  Those things upped my ticket price significantly, so you can see how Ryanair thrives on ancillary revenue like this.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.03.16 PM

17.  Finally — Book the darned thing!

18.  Important reminder:  you MUST check-in online AND print out your boarding pass PRIOR to arriving at the airport.  You are able to do this up to 30 days prior to your flight.  Failure to do so results in either a €70 check-in fee at the airport or at €15 “boarding card re-issue fee” at the airport.  Seriously.Screen Shot 2014-06-06 at 4.10.07 PM

As long as you are aware of these extra potential fees on Ryanair’s website, you shouldn’t have too much of a problem booking your ticket.  After all, their tickets are many times exponentially less expensive than the next cheapest option.  If you master the caveats of their booking process, you can really travel cheaply within Europe on Ryanair!

 

Review: Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


We awoke to a beautiful, Venetian morning where we disembarked the ship early and had our driver waiting to take my Aunt and Uncle to Venice-Marco Polo airport for their Lufthansa flights to Frankfurt and London before a United flight back to Washington-Dulles.  The driver of the private mini-bus then took my girlfriend and I out to Treviso airport for our Ryanair flight to Dublin!

First, a little background for those not familiar with Ryanair.  Based out of Dublin, with hubs at Dublin and London-Stansted, Ryanair is Europe’s largest discount carrier, and Europe’s largest airline in general based on passengers carried.  Ryanair is a no-frills carrier that operates extremely cheap flights throughout Europe, and really makes its profit with ancillary revenue, such as bag fees, seat assignments, and an aggressive buy-on-board campaign featuring food, beverages, gift items, and lottery / raffle tickets.  Many are critical of its charges, but if you successfully navigate their website, you can really get an awesome deal on airfare within Europe.IMG_7570

Ryanair (FR) 9451
Venice-Treviso (TSF) – Dublin (Dub)
Aircraft:  Boeing 737-800
Seat:  1C
Wednesday, May 14
10:10AM – 12:25PM
Duration:  2:15

As this was my first flight on Ryanair, I was expecting the worst.  Check-in certainly did not disappoint.

Since I consider myself a somewhat savvy traveler, I thought I understood Ryanair’s checked bag policy.  After the following experience, it became clear to me that I did not.

I’d previously purchased each of us 20kg worth of luggage, and the night before the flight, I bought and additional 15kg for myself since I anticipated my checked bag to be more than 20kg.  Check-in and bag drop at Treviso is contracted out, and the experience was abysmal.

Ryanair utilizes an extremely glitchy automated bag-drop machine at Treviso.  After finally getting my girlfriend’s bag checked, the machine could not process my bag, so I was directed to wait in a massive queue to work with a human being.  At this time, there was only ONE desk being worked by a real human, despite three Ryanair flights departing during this timeframe.  So, as you can imagine, it was pure chaos.  After about a thirty minute wait in line, I was advised by the contract check-in agent that though I had gladly paid the €20 fee for the extra 15kg of luggage, it could only be accepted AS A SEPARATE BAG – a separate bag that I did NOT have.    My bag ultimately weighted 23kg, and I’d intended on the extra weight I’d purchased to pay for the overage.  Alas, this was not how the agent saw it.  She said that I must split the contents of my 23kg bag into two bags – one weighing 20kg or less, and the other 15kg or less.

Um… really?

Since we did not have another bag in which to put the extra 3kg of luggage, I tried taking my suits our of my checked bag and putting them in a hang-up garment bag.  This decreased the weight of my big bag to 19.8kg.  I then asked if I could hand carry the suits in the garment bag onboard, and I was denied that privilege as it was deemed “oversized.”   A hangup / garment bag – deemed over-sized.

Seriously?  I take this as a “personal item” on domestic US carriers, and they even offer to hang it in the closet 90% of the time.

The agent then asked while rolling her eyes, “Is this seriously the best thing you can come up with?”  I replied in the affirmative, to which she responded that they would be happy to check the hang-up / garment bag, but would have to label it as over-sized and as such, I’d have to pay an additional €50 fee.  I was not having this, since I’d paid €20 + €20 for my bags already, so I naturally argued this.  Eventually, the agent succumbed to reason and agreed that I had a valid point.  She allowed me to check this “oversized” hangup bag without an extra fee.

This ordeal finally was resolved after about an hour and 15 minutes.  Thankfully, the rest of the boarding process was uneventful.

Going to Dublin!

Going to Dublin!

Since I’d purchased seats with additional leg room, they included priority boarding, which was nice since the queue was pretty long.  The flight itself was fine.  Plenty of leg room in row 1, so I can’t comment on what others claim is terrible seat pitch throughout the rest of the cabin — it was worth the €10, for sure.  The crew was friendly, attentive, and very pleasant.  The flight was on time, too despite a delayed departure.  The constant sales pitches for scratch off lotto tickets, bus transfers, and everything else were indeed cheesy, but expected.  I did not purchase any food, but did partake in a drink after my luggage ordeal.  In other words, if ancillary revenue is the goal, Ryanair certainly made some money off me.

Overall,  the price and timing were both right for this flight.  At only €49 a piece, and a wonderfully timed schedule, we were really left with no other option.  Even after the extra €40 in bag fees and €10 for additional leg room, this option was still less than half the price of the next cheapest alternative, so it was clearly the best option for us.  The abysmal ground services along with the deceptive and terrible booking process would make me think twice before flying Ryanair again, but if the price differential is anywhere near as vast as it was for this trip, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly with them — the price is just too cheap to totally avoid them.

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Planning the Flights

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


When the Aunt and Uncle invited us on the cruise, it didn’t take too long to accept their invitation.  The good thing about this vacation is that the cruise itinerary is set… so right there, I didn’t need to worry about planning the bulk of the vacation.  The variables that I had to contend with were now arriving and departing Venice (VCE) around the cruise dates, vacation time, and finding air deals and/or redeeming miles.

Planning the flight USA to Italy

As soon as we accepted the invitation to take the cruise, I assessed my mileage balances on  various airlines.  At that time, my United balance was pretty much zero-ed out since I’d just burned a whopping 320,000 miles for a trip to Australia over Christmas and New Years.  However, I had just enough American miles for two, one-way flights from the USA to Europe in economy class for the girlfriend and me.  As luck would have it, there was availability flying economy on American for the dates that we wanted DCA-LGA/JFK-MXP.  This would put us into Milan(MXP) the day before our cruise.  We then planned to take a train Venice in time for our cruise.

US Airways Envoy Suite

US Airways Envoy Suite

Fast forward to two weeks ago.  As the months dragged on, I began to dread the long flight in economy on American.  My last two experiences on American in the back were not too pleasant, so I had reason to be concerned.  At 6’4″, I’m uncomfortable in pretty much any economy seat, but the B767-300s on American seem to be extra brutal and cramped.  Around that same time, my mileage bonus from the Citi AAdvantage Executive card posted, increasing my balance to a cool 120,000 miles.

Out of sheer curiosity, I checked the American website for business class availability — just in case.  Sure enough, there was availability on a flight directly into Venice, AND it arrived a day earlier, allowing us an extra day in Venice.  Upon further review, this entire flight was on US Airways from DCA-PHL-VCE in their Envoy Suites business class cabin.  This is the same basic hard business product that I enjoyed on Cathay Pacific last summer (here and here).   For an extra 30,000 miles per person, this seemed like a no-brainer.  The ability to stretch out and get some sleep on our flight, an extra day in Venice, and the fact that I prefer to burn my miles instead of hoarding them made it an easy move — we were going business class to Venice!

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways:  50K AA miles per person in Business Class

DCA-PHL-VCE on US Airways: 50K AA miles per person in Business Class

Getting Home After the Cruise

At the time I initially planned the cruise, I didn’t have a big point balance to work with, since I tend to burn my miles pretty soon after earning them, simply because airlines tend to devalue their programs as time goes by.   Knowing my point limitations, I knew that a sweet spot in the British Airways Avios award chart was Ireland to Boston on BA’s partner, Aer Lingus for only12,500 Avios per person in economy, or 25,000 per persons in business, each way.  This is an incredible value, and may be the single most valuable use of points in any program.  The existence of this award made it apparent that we needed to transit Ireland on the way home, so we decided to spend a few days in the Emerald Isle en route. My girlfriend and I are both Irish, after all!

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways:  12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business)  + $90 for the US Airways segment

SNN-BOS-DCA on Aer Lingus and US Airways: 12,500 BA Avios per person in Economy (25k in Business) + $90 for the US Airways segment

We decided that we wanted to spend a couple days in Dublin before driving across the country to Galway and the Aran Islands.  After a trip to the Inis Mor on Aer Aran Islands, we plan to visit Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher before ending our trip in Shannon.  After checking for availability and spending an hour on the phone with British Airways, we were able to book our return tickets at the aforementioned price point of only 12,500 per person in economy from Shannon to Boston.  At the end of the day, 25,000 total for TWO people to fly Transatlantic is a STEAL.  So return trip home, booked.

First, I needed to get to Ireland from Venice.

After a brief Internet search, it was immediately clear that European discount carrier, Ryanair was the way to go.  They offered a perfectly timed flight from Venice-Treviso Airport (TSF) to Dublin for under 50euros per person.  Even after we selected seats and paid for checked bags, this option was still about 100euro per person cheaper than the next cheapest option.  No brainer.

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

TSF-DUB on Ryanair for under 50euros per person

The last piece of the puzzle was getting from Boston to Washington at the end of the trip.   After monitoring for cheap rates via various methods, I noticed a cheap ($90 one-way) fare between Boston and Washington-National airport with perfect timings, so I pulled the trigger on that, and viola!  We had ourselves an itinerary!

Red:  US AIrways Yellow:  Ryanair Green:  Aer Lingus

The Whole Enchilada:  Red: US AIrways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

 

 

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland – Introduction

A Mediterranean Cruise and Four Days in Ireland

Introduction
Planning
US Airways Business Class (Envoy) Philadelphia to Venice
Two Magical Days in Venice
Boscolo Venezia Hotel in Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Introduction, Itinerary, and the Pinnacle Suite
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Katakolon and Athens
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Istanbul, Mitilini, and Kusadasi
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Santorini and Argostoli
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Sailing into Venice
Holland America Line’s Nieuw Amsterdam:  Cruise Review
Ryanair Economy Class Venice-Treviso to Dublin
Two Days in Dublin
The Aran Islands and Galway, Ireland
Driving the West Coast of County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher, and Bunratty Meadows B&B
Aer Lingus 757 Business Class Shannon to Boston


A few months ago, I had a tentative trip to Europe planned over St. Patrick’s Day when my Aunt and Uncle invited my girlfriend and I to take a cruise with them in May.  Since vacation has become a somewhat limited commodity for me lately (I’ve burnt almost all my vacation time), I decided to nix the trip in March in favor of this cruise.

In my previous life, I worked for a major cruise line, and was borderline obsessed with cruises.  When I was young, my family typically took cruise vacations since it was just easy, everyone enjoyed it, and the family could have dinner together every night.  All these cruises added up, and now looking back, it’s pretty clear that I’ve taken an obscene amount of cruises — this will be my thirty-fourth cruise.  With that said, it’s been about two and a half years since my last one, so I guess I’m due for another one.

12-Day Mediterranean Empires cruise from Holland America Line

This particular cruise is on Holland America Line’s newest ship, the Nieuw Amsterdam.    Having sailed with Holland America on three previous occasions, I know to expect impeccable service, good food, a beautiful ship, and generally an older crowd.  The thing that popped out to me about this cruise was the great 12-night itinerary — out of the eight ports of call, I’ve only previously been to one — Istanbul.

I’ve always wanted to sample some of the Greek Islands, so this cruise will really allow me to do so!  Another cool thing about this particular itinerary is that it spends the night in both Istanbul and Venice at the tail end of the trip.  This is somewhat unusual for a cruise, and it’s an aspect that I really do like since it  allows us to sample some of the great nightlife in Istanbul,and to spend a relaxed final evening in Venice.  An added bonus is that I have a very generous Aunt and Uncle who invited us to stay in the Pinnacle Suite — the largest room on the ship.  I’ve never stayed in a suite on a cruise before, so this will be extra-special.

 

Pinnacle Suite Photo Credit:  Holland America Line

Pinnacle Suite
Photo Credit: Holland America Line

Tomorrow, we will depart Washington-National Airport for Venice via Philadelphia on US Airways in their Envoy Suites business class.  We will spend two days before the cruise in Venice, and will stay at the Boscolo Venezia, thanks to a low rate, and the use of some Marriott points.  Following the cruise, we decided to spend some time in Ireland before flying back to the States.  During our four days in Ireland, we plan to hit up Dublin, Galway, the Arann Islands, Cliffs of Mohr, and Shannon.  Since I am using British Airways Avios for our Trans-Atlantic segment on, I am exploiting one of the sweet-spots on their award chart by flying home from Ireland on Aer Lingus — in this case, Shannon to Boston.

Over the next couple weeks, I will be making a number of posts covering various aspects of this trip.  Of course, I’ll hit on US Airways Envoy Suites, the Boscolo Venezia, the cruise itself along with the ports of call, our experience on Ryanair from Treviso to Dublin, our Ireland Adventure, and the flight back to the States on Aer Lingus.   As Internet is limited on board (I’m not going to pay the absurd Internet charges on the ship), my blog posts will be somewhat intermittent over the next couple of weeks.  Here’s a pretty picture of our flights:

DCA-PHL-VCE, TSF-DUB, SNN-BOS-DCA    Red: US Airways; Yellow: Ryanair; Green: Aer Lingus

Stay tuned for a post on what it took to plan this trip, as well as several posts that will log our journey!