Compulsive Vacation Planning

United Airlines   Thank You for Choosing United Airlines

I mentioned the other day that many portions of our upcoming trip to Russia will be free.  This is all thanks to what I call “compulsive vacation planning” and “extreme credit carding.”

United Airlines Thank You for Choosing United Airlines

You see, I grew up flying for free. My dad worked for US Airways for nearly 40 years and, because of that, I had free flying privileges until I turned 23. In most cases, this privilege was awesome and allowed me to visit places I would not have been able to see otherwise. In other cases, because employees fly at the bottom of the bottom of the standby list, I would be stuck at an airport for days on end trying to figure out the best route that would get me home.

So, when I started having to pay for airfare and started a full time job that required occasional travel, I knew that things like signing up for frequent flyer miles and hotel reward programs were important. So I did that. And I collected some miles. I fly Southwest and US Airways most frequently, so I signed up for both their credit cards sometime around 2007. The Southwest credit card had been exceptionally kind. I’ve managed to redeem miles to Las Vegas in 2008, San Diego in 2009, two tickets to Orlando in 2010, two tickets to Las Vegas (again) for our honeymoon in 2011, and two tickets last year to Albuquerque for our two week-long southwest USA road trip. So I definitely earned miles and cashed them in, but I never gave it much additional thought.

But within the last 18 months or so, I’ve literally become obsessed with learning about the points world and all its intricacies. Two years ago, when we were spending lots of money on wedding-related expenses, I decided to sign up for a new credit card that offered 100,000 British Airways miles after just $3000 in purchases in the first three months. That kind of minimum spending limit is easy peasy to achieve when planning a wedding!

But then, I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. I had 100,000 British Airways miles to spend, which is about enough for two round trip coach class tickets to Europe. But I couldn’t figure out how to redeem my miles without paying exorbitant fees! Taxes and fees alone from, say, Washington Dulles to any city in Europe would cost like $500. I see deals on Travelzoo all the time for that amount of money and I wouldn’t have to fork over all those points!

So I started researching. Reading blogs like the Points Guy, Boarding Area, and also stalking the FlyerTalk forums. I started to learn all sorts of fun and useful tips for the best ways to redeem those miles without the high fees. I learned about another great credit card deal and applied for an AAdvantage Citi Card that netted me 75,000 bonus points (enough for a round trip first class ticket to Hawaii!). Then I applied for a Chase Ultimate Rewards card and I earned 50,000 bonus points that I can redeem on different airline and hotel partners.

And now, my friends, I am OBSESSED. Calculating CPM (cents per mile) and determining EQM (elite qualifying miles). I’m strategizing credit card app-o-ramas and am going to involve my husband in all of this so that we can space out our individual applications to make sure we can meet the minimum spending requirements. I’m learning about what hotel points transfer to airline miles and at what rates. I’ve become a snob when comparing different airlines’ first class service and seating arrangements.  While I’ve almost always used shopping portals to earn points, I’m now encouraging my husband to do the same.  I’ve learned about which airlines allow stopovers and which ones don’t so that you can really maximize the number of destinations you visit on the same amount of miles!

But the best part is seeing what we can experience for not that much time and money!You get the idea. The possibilities are really endless!

Searching for Hotels in Sochi

sochi-hotels-meme

Recently, as soon as I boot up my computer in the morning, my routine goes like this:

  1. Check Radisson’s website
  2. Check Hyatt’s website
  3. Check Marriott’s website
  4. Check Travelocity
  5. Check BookingBuddy
  6. Check Accor Hotels website
  7. Check Chase Ultimate Rewards Travel
  8. Check American Express Travel
  9. Check TripAdvisor Forums

What, you might ask, am I doing?

Looking for some freakin’ availability for hotels in Sochi during our upcoming trip to Russia for the Olympics.  It’s not just in the morning that I do this.  Waiting for a conference call to start?  Let’s check the TripAdvisor Forum.  About to go to bed?  Let’s check the hotels one more time.

I bang my head on my desk, ponder whether we should just cancel our whole trip to Russia, and then tell myself to relax.  Then I Google some keyword search terms like “Marriott Sochi” and “Hyatt Sochi” to see if folks on other blogs or forums have posted updates about whether they have been able to book hotel rooms.  (Hint: It’s a no).  The apprehension sets back in, then I just tell myself that I am worrying about a first worldliest of many first world problems.

Here’s some back story.

 

sochi-hotels-meme

Attending an Olympics is a strange planning experience.  I was slightly panicked at first about how things worked, but after a bit of research, I realized this is just how it works.  Every Olympics.

First and foremost, the event tickets are released for sale more than a year prior to the Olympics.  And you pretty much have to buy the tickets the day they are released for sale, because they sell out within an hour.  Olympic event ticket sales occur WELL before flights are available to book. Generally speaking, you cannot book a plane ticket more than 330 days in advance.  (There are a small handful of airlines that are 365 days, and some airlines, like Southwest and AirTran, that are 180 days or so.)  To add to this already complex situation, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) retains “ownership” of all hotel rooms in an Olympic host city until shortly before the Olympic games commence.  Meaning you cannot book any hotel room in any host Olympic city during the Olympics, until the IOC say so.  In the past, it looks like hotels have been released to the public about five or six months prior to the start of the games.

As you can see, buying Olympic event tickets takes a huge leap of faith.  Sure, I could get an idea of how much it will cost to fly to Sochi on a normal day, but I have no idea what it will cost to get there during the Olympics!  So, after spending about $700 on four different event tickets for me and Ken (Snowboard halfpipe, speed skating, luge, and ski jumping), we waited about two months before we could begin booking any sort of flights.  Once March rolled around, and we were able to secure Business class flights using United miles. (Score!  More on that in a future post.) We also planned stops in Moscow and St. Petersburg.  So our Russia trip plans were looking up as of March.  We had Sochi Olympic event tickets, we booked flights, booked the Park Hyatt in Moscow for free using points, researched that hotel availability is aplenty in St. Petersburg, and now we just had to wait for hotels in Sochi to become available.

And here we are. It’s September.  Every day since March, many times multiple times per day, I perform those searches I listed at the top of the post.  We have just over four months until we depart for Sochi.  And we do not have a place to stay.  I am trying not to panic.  But I am.  I thought my panic might be due to my compulsive need to plan things, but I am not alone in my worries about this situation.  No one has been able to book any hotel rooms in Sochi for the Olympics.  Adding to this complicated situation is that many hotels in Sochi are still under construction.  There have been rumors on various forums that many of the hotels won’t even be completed in time.

So, we continue to wait.  And wait. And wait.  Ken says that we can just go over there and wing it if hotels never open up, but I’m not really into that.  I don’t want to find myself sleeping in a car … in Russia … in the winter months.

Has anyone else ever attended an Olympics and found themselves in a similar situation?

Camping? You mean like in a tent? In the woods?

First-Camping-Trip-Planning-Advice---SuperNoVAwife

Ken has been trying to convince me to go camping over the years.  And by “trying to convince,” he’s brought it up about once or twice a year.  He was shocked to learn that I had never been camping.  I mean, sure, I spent nights in cabins during Girl Scout retreats or during a high school club outing, but with my family?  Never.  And I certainly never considered any sort of “tent” camping.  That just sounded like something crazy hippie people do.

First-Camping-Trip-Planning-Advice---SuperNoVAwife

I learned that I had some incorrect (waaayyy off base) preconceived notions of camping.

1) I thought that camping involved unloading all of your supplies from your vehicle and them having to lug them several miles down some wooded trail to get to your campsite.  When Ken finally realized this was my understanding of camping, he looked confused and said, “No, that’s backpacking!”  He then proceeded to show me photographs from one of his previous camping trips.  The car is literally 10 feet from the tent.  Ooops.

2) I do not function well without a daily shower.  There’s just something about letting water stream down my face in the mornings that makes me feel all clean and shiny and ready for the day.  Ken proceeded to point out that many campsites have shower facilities. Many with hot water shower facilities.

And lo and behold, my preconceived notions about camping being unenjoyable started to fade, but I still wasn’t ready to make the plunge.  There was one final push that made me realize I wanted to give camping a try.

Over these past few years, I’ve really grown to like cooking.  Trying new recipes and tweaking them, mastering charcoal grilling (Ken says I’ve ruined restaurant steaks for him because mine are so much better), experimenting with baking artisan breads and layered cakes, among other things.

I’m not even sure where I found it (Pinterest probably), but I tripped across some collection of camping recipes, and I was all like SOLD!  You mean camping food didn’t just revolve around hot dogs and s’mores?  I mean, not that I don’t like hot dogs and s’mores, but there were just all these fun new cooking techniques and recipes to try.  Dutch oven cooking, foil packet grilling, pie iron cooking.  The list just went on and on.

So, yes.  I am going camping to try some new recipes.  Well, not really.  I’m going camping to try camping.  The fun new cooking techniques and recipes are just an added benefit.

I’ve started Googling camping supply lists, and my oh my, that got overwhelming really fast.  I thought to myself, “I thought camping was supposed to be cheap!”  Sleeping bags, LED lanterns, bear mace, folding chairs, and campfire-friendly cookware?  Luckily Ken already has a tent and his own sleeping bag, but yikes, that’s a lot of equipment!  Plus, I’m really trying to strike a balance between comfort and not wanting to go overboard on camping-related purchases.

My reasoning on the comfort issue has been floating around in my head like this:  I really hope that I enjoy my first camping experience enough that I’ll want to do it two or three times a year.  But, if I hate it, I’m going to be mad that I made all these specific camping purchases.  But, I probably WILL hate camping if I can’t get comfortable enough to sleep, so does that justify purchasing a $50 self inflating sleeping pad in addition to a new sleeping bag for my first camping trip ever?

A lot of helpful camping-related websites and blog posts say that camping becomes infinitely easier when you have dedicated camping supply bins, but for my first camping trip, I’m just going to gather up some existing supplies from around the house and pack them.  If I happen to like camping, then we can transition to having bins full of supplies just for camping.  For instance, I’ll just pack our kitchen spatula and wooden mixing spoons, and our flashlights under our sinks, and the bug repellant I keep in the linen closet.

I think that it’s a fair tradeoff.  Yes, it will be more annoying to pack like this and have to put stuff back around the house when we return, but this way, if I really don’t like camping, I don’t have to have the added annoyance of having purchased all these supplies we already have just so we can have “camping supplies.”

With that “money saving” mantra in mind, I think I will purchase some added comforts like a sleeping pad and comfortable folding lounge chairs.  If I don’t like camping, we can probably sell the stuff on Craigslist for a decent price.  I’ll also develop a detailed meal plan for our camping trip so that I don’t purchase any unnecessary camping cookware.

What do you think?  Did you have a first time camping trip as an adult?  What did you bring and decide to leave at home?