Mature Travel

Flying on the cheap (or as cheap as possible!) (5/10/2018)

As a 40-year Airline employee, everyone is always asking me about good ticket deals for their next trip.  I mean, ALWAYS.  Like I have pricing power.  (I don’t!)  But I have been around long enough to know how the cadence of the game goes, how to get a good deal, how NOT to get a great deal, and how to successfully double-dip if the price goes down AFTER you purchase.  And let’s face it, as we get a little older, that wanderlust just gets more intense—and when the kids are finally out of the house we might just have a little extra money to spend on travel!

Here are my top tips on how to get the best bang for your airline buck for upcoming travels.

1.       Plan early but not TOO early.  Airlines practice revenue management, which means they analyze and parcel out their cheapest seats based on highly complicated mathematical algorithms supported by sophisticated and expensive software systems.  However—if you’re looking waaay out before departure, like 120-plus days, cheap seat availability may not be updated super frequently.  So START looking early…but watch for a few days before you make your purchase. **UNLESS**….

2.       ….you are flying on points.  If you’re going to a dream destination, the free seats are gone pretty much as soon as they open.  Most airlines begin selling 331 days before departure (others, like Jetblue and Southwest, are a little closer-in), but if you’re wanting to book seats to Hawaii or Europe or Asia using your miles, start looking almost at the stroke after midnight 331 days before you want to depart.  If you don’t know how far your airline is booking into the future—just call their reservations line and ask.

3.       DO NOT wait until the last second, but if you have to, still look for good deals.  Sometimes airline will dump cheap seats the week of departure to fill up empty markets.  Plus, if you’re “of age” some airlines still offer Senior Citizen Discounts.  Unfortunately, there is no way to predict this, but sometimes the “Travel Gods” will just smile on your last-minute trip!

4.       Pic the time of day of your booking intentionally.  Fares are usually filed early in the day and again around noon, and the number of cheap seats typically are adjusted overnight, so keep both of those facts in mind when you’re trying to find the bargain of a lifetime for your trip of a lifetime!

5.       You will almost always get the cheapest prices in coach on the airline’s own website.  Sorry, all those other guys.  If you’re looking for cheaper up-front seats, then some of the consolidator websites are definitely worth a look. 

6.       The “common wisdom” that Tuesdays are the cheapest days to fly AND the cheapest days on which to book your tickets.  Neither are always true; it all depends on what’s going on.  The best way to get a cheap deal is to “stalk” your airline(s) and use their tools.  Most airlines have “bargain finder” tools on their websites to actually help you find the best days and prices for your trip.

7.       Watch, or read, the news.  If a fare war breaks out, you could easily benefit by taking advantage of the sale fares for your trip!

8.       Join the frequent flyer programs for the airlines you are most likely to use to your destination, AND sign up for their email updates.  Yes, you may get a lot of spam in your inbox, but airlines are very intentional in communicating fare sales with their frequent flier members.

9.       Check your airline’s change policies very carefully.  What you want to be able to do, without a lot of hassel, is downgrade your ticket if a better price comes along.  Some airlines will charge their full change fees for that downgrade; so if your fare has gone down by $120, but your airline charges a $200 “change” fee (which is so ridiculously bogus I still don’t know why the DOT allows them), you’d still end up paying $80 to get a cheaper fare.  That’s stupid.  Other airlines don’t charge change fees, so you always have a great shot at getting the cheapest fare available as long as (1) you find out about it! and (2) there is inventory available.

10.   Frequent Traveller points behave just like cash purchases, so all of these suggestions work without regard to whether you’re paying with cash or with points.

After all that, once you’re buckled into your seat and in the air, celebrate all the money you’ve saved by enjoying a beverage.  *CLINK*  Enjoy, folks.  Next time:  tips for my absolute, all-time favorite big-city international destination:  LONDON!



The Case for Las Vega$

Vegas is a love-it-or-hate-it proposition.  And what’s always astounded me is how the dividing issue so often is gambling.  “Oh, I love to play the slots!” or “I’m a craps man, myself!” will put you in the “love it” camp.  “I don’t gamble at all” or “I work too hard for my money to waste it at a casino” usually puts you in the “hate it” camp.  And “you have to walk too far” or “too many kids running around” puts you in the Mature camp!

WAKE UP, PEOPLE!  Vegas has SO MANY MORE THINGS to do than sit in a casino all day and night.  I can fill a couple of days just people watching!  I kid you not, last time I was there at a Stripside outdoor restaurant, I looked up and saw an Elvis impersonator (the old, large Elvis) riding up the sidewalk on a Hoveround scooter.  You just don’t see that in LA or NYC.  I nearly choked on my nachos!

It’s easy to find cheap travel options (land *or* air) to Las Vegas, so it’s worth a trip.  Airport transit is either rental car, cabs, or a transit service (like Bell Transit).  Once you get to your resort, especially if you’re on the Strip, don’t bother with the monorail (expensive and inconvenient).  Many hotels are connected by their own monorails which are free, the bus is inexpensive, and you can always walk (note:  wear comfortable walking shoes!)

Here are some great ideas of what to do in Vegas that doesn’t involve gambling.  And if you like to gamble, to quote Effie from “Hunger Games”—“May the odds ever be in your favor!”

  1. The Pools. Most all of the huge resorts have amazing pools, from the tropical paradise pool at Mandalay Bay to the sand-bottom pool at the Rio to the Roman pool experience at Caesar, and everything in-between.  You can find Lazy Rivers, wave pools, or —you can find a pool more shallow “splash” pools—so any taste can be satisfied.  And let’s not forget downtown, where the Golden Nugget has a glass-enclosed water slide that actually shoots you safely through a real shark tank (and I’m not talking Mr. Wonderful or Mark Cuban here!).  Some of the more upscale resorts that cater to a younger crowd throw bona-fide pool parties, complete with DJ’s, during peak periods.  But if you’re a sun-seeker and it’s pool season (which in Vegas can range from March through October), grab the sunscreen and head down for some water-borne fun.
  2. The Shows. I’ve seen everyone from Cher to Elton to Celine to Rod in Vegas.  World-class staging and music.  But other shows cater to any interest—Comedy, Stage Hypnotism, Musicals, the traditional Vegas-style review, and the famous Cirque-style shows.  But not all shows cost, and that’s one of the recurring themes in Vegas.  If you just want a drink or several while listening to some good live music, you can find that in nearly every resort by just walking around and following the sound of the tunes.  The best shows and bands tend to perform later in the evening, but you can find it almost anytime—and if you’re there for a special event (i.e., Rodeo in December), they adjust the performers accordingly.  In every way possible, Las Vegas has your number.
  3. The Shopping. Vegas used to have shopping limited to schlocky evening-wear for ladies in the high-price resort shops accompanied by endless t-shirt and curio shops.  Not anymore.  Resorts like Caesar’s, Planet Hollywood, and the Venetian/Palazzo have world-class and architecturally awesome malls right in the resorts.  But if you want bargains, head to the far South of the Strip (take your car or just the bus) just south of Sunset you’ll find great outlet and discount shopping of every variety, on both sides of I-15.  And if you’re going to hunt bargains, make sure to either leave room, or plan to ship your new treasures home!
  4. Get out of town. Vegas sits right near some AMAZING sights. Thirty minutes out of town is Hoover Dam—one of the technical wonders of the world—and you can spend a lot of time just touring and exploring the dam.  But if you’re not wanting to follow the herd, rent a boat at one of the many marinas on the shores of Lake Mead and spend a day gliding on the surface of a lapis-blue 700-foot-deep lake!  Pack a lunch, set sail, pull up into a canyon and enjoy a little lunch with your solitude. And if you really want a lake adventure, grab some friends and share a houseboat on the lake for a few days.  It’ll change your perspective of Southern Nevada!
  5. Get out of town, part II. The Grand Canyon is about 250 miles from Las Vegas, making a day trip a little extreme.  However, there are tons of air and helicopter tours that will whisk you down, fly you through the canyon, and bring you back to McCarran by dinnertime.  Some offer ground transport around the canyon, others offer lunch, but all have the beauty of the Grand Canyon to offer.  Check with your hotel, or just look at one of the dozens of “what to do” magazines available.  However, be warned:  use your phone, tablet or computer to check the safety record of whichever company you choose for this.
  6. Get out of town, part III. If you want some mountain beauty that’s really close, head just northwest of Las Vegas and wind your way up the roads to Mt. Charleston.  Incredible views, great hiking, and best of all it’s about 20 to 30 degrees cooler that it is on the Strip.  Best of all it’s an inexpensive use of your rental car!
  7. Thrill yourself. Vegas has no shortage of ways to get that heart rate up.  If you’re a roller-coaster fan, there is an awesome one at the New York New York that takes you Stripside and then turns you upside down at blinding speeds.  Two others are in the Adventuredome, the pink-glass-covered adventure park behind the Circus Circus on the North end of the Strip.  The top of the Stratosphere tower has several thrill rides which, at nearly 1,000 feet above Las Vegas Blvd. are *guaranteed* to give you your aerobic burst of the day.  Or, get off the strip for numerous Bungee Towers or Zip Lines from which to get your hollers in.  These are all guaranteed to get you to scream louder than a high-stakes Craps game!
  8. THE FOOD. Las Vegas food is no longer an endless stream of all-you-can-eat buffets.  Almost every major chef and upscale restaurant in America, and increasingly the world, has an outlet in Vegas.  Bobby Flay, Emeril, Morimoto, Wolfgang Puck, Giada DeLaurentis, Gordon Ramsay, they’re all represented here, as well as are East Coast stallwarts like Carmine’s, Rao’s, even the venerable and recently departed Manhattan restaurant Le Cirque.  But Las Vegas restaurants on the Strip and off the Strip are awesome, unique, and worth a visit.  You can get food from anywhere in the world in in this city—the hard part is deciding where to eat!  Here are a few of my favorites:
    1. Mon Ami Gabi (Paris Hotel)—excellent French bistro food. Prices are not cheap for dinner but French food is seldom inexpensive!  However, to lower the bill a bit, arrive and order from the lunch menu before 5pm (when the menu, and prices, change to dinner).  The selection is basically the same and it’s about one-third less expensive.  If the weather is nice (meaning under 100 degrees in Vegas!), sit outside and enjoy the view of the Strip walkers and the Bellagio across the street.
    2. Canaletto (Venetian Hotel)—wonderful Italian with a view of the inside “canal.” Killer smoked swordfish carpaccio and the Zuppa di Pesci (which would be Cioppino in San Francisco) was one of the best I’ve ever had!
    3. LobsterME (locations in Shops at Miracle Mile in the Planet Hollywood and in the Venetian)—this place is just so unexpectedly good. The star here is the lobster, and if you want the best lobster roll this side of the Pine Tree State, pay LobsterME a visit!
    4. The Buffet at Wynn (Wynn Resort and Casino)—if you absolutely must have a Vegas buffet, this one is the best. Opulent setting, and surprisingly good food, await.  The brunch on Saturdays and Sundays is astounding as well (although I ate so much smoked salmon I’m not sure I’ll be allowed back!).  This one is not cheap but you pay for what you get, and what you get here—be sides quantity—is quality.
  9. Nightlife. Some of the hottest nightspots in the world are in Las Vegas.  Most all of the larger resorts on the Strip have one, from the Marquee at the Cosmopolitan, Omnia at Caesar’s, XS at the Wynn, or Tao at the Venetian.  Shades of Studio 54!  Get your bling on and dance, dance, dance, dance!
  10. The People. Just walk around.  LOOK around.  You can see people from all over the world in lots of cities in this country but nowhere are they all unified a plan to have a “what happens here, stays here” time like in Las Vegas.  Get out and just enjoy!

Vegas has something for everyone, for sure.  They’ve gotten away from the 90’s focus on the family, but there is MORE than enough to keep a family with kids of any age occupied. Adults?  OH wow do they have us covered.  Luxury or budget?  No problem on either end.  Visit!  It’s like nowhere else on our planet!




Ready for takeoff—let’s go somewhere, dammit! (4/23/2018)

Nothing, except perhaps a face-time call from my grandbabies, gives me as much sheer pleasure and excitement as travel.  Which is probably a good thing, as I’m just about to complete 40 years of employment in the airline industry.  During those 4 decades, I’ve been to a lot of amazing places.  But WOW what changes I’ve seen.  Travel can be difficult these days.  Harried at its best, and stressful at its worst.  I get it.  Everyone in the industry gets it.  But before I start sharing incredible destinations, hotels, resorts, and restaurants that I’ve visited, let me give you a few tips from a pro how to travel much more stress-free!


1.       If you can afford it, the best way to get right through the security lines—and one you have to plan well ahead to obtain—is enrolling in TSA Precheck.   With TSA Pre, shoes and belts stay on; pockets still must be emptied, but laptop(s) can stay in your bag, and the wait times are usually MUCH shorter.  Now, depending on how often you travel, there may not be a price-to-value return here.  TSA Pre costs $85 for 5 years, requires an in-person interview, and isn’t in use at *all* US airports (although it’s at all the big ones).  According to the TSA website it cuts wait times to no more than 5 minutes for all TSA Pre Customers.   However, warning:  at super-heavy-business-traveler airports, like the LaGuardia Flight Delay Machine in NYC, it’s not unheard of for the TSA Pre line to be longer than the standard line.  Just ask an attendant which one is quicker, and usually it’ll be the TSA Pre line despite the added length.

2.       Print out your boarding documents before you get to the airport.  Every airline that I’m aware of has that functionality on their website, and the paybacks are enormous, as your goal is avoiding the ticket counter lines at all cost!  Even if you can’t print your boarding pass out in advance, at least go to your airline’s website and write your confirmation number (some will call it a PNR number) down and take it with you.  Armed with this info and your credit card and/or Driver’s License or Passport, you can use the self-service kiosk for your airline.

3.       3.5 ounces per bottle of liquid in carry-on luggage is the max.  They mean it.  However, if you insist on taking your 20-oz. bottle of super-expensive shampoo or sun block with you, there are two choices.  One, pack it in your checked luggage, if you’re going to have a checked bag anyway (and note that some airlines don’t charge for checked bags).  But if not—pack the liquids up in suitable bubble-wrap, and overnight your treasure to your hotel, marked “hold for expected guest arrival.”  Your hair, or skin, will thank you.

4.       Pack light.  I’ve done seven-day trips through Europe, including dress dinners, with just a roll-aboard bag.  But if you need things only for the destination—such as tux, or even a wedding dress—and want them to arrive in pristine condition, ship them ahead.  Make sure you insure them, but most major shippers like Purple and Brown have clothing shipping bags that will minimize wrinkleage.  Take advantage of this if possible, because it’s all about getting you AND your belongings there with the fewest new wrinkles possible!


1.       Charge your electronics BEFORE you leave the house.  Some airports have charging stations; some airlines have onboard power.  Not all do.  Why worry about it?  Charge everything you have up to 100%, then take your USB cords in your carryon so you can “share” power between your devices if need be.

2.       Big laptop charging apparatus is best put into checked bags.  Let’s face it—for anything larger than a tablet, the chargers can be bulky, heavy, and a pain.  If you’re going to check a bag anyway, just put the heavy charger in the checked bag (but always be mindful of the maximum poundage allowed per checked bag!)

3.       WEIGH and MEASURE your bags.  Only so much will fit in the overheads, or under the seat in front of you—and you don’t want to have to gate-check and risk THAT hoo-hoo.  Be smart.  Plan ahead!  The allowed dimensions for carryons can be found on your airline’s website.

4.       Thirsty?  You get that way at 41,000 feet, and it’s extremely dry in an aircraft cabin at altitude.  Some airlines offer free, non-alcoholic drinks in the main cabin, but some don’t, so it’s best to BYOW.  But you can’t carry a filled water bottle through TSA.  What to do?  One of two things.

a.       Carry an empty water bottle with a cap through security, then fill it before you board.  Boom.  Problem solved.

b.       Take a regular, plastic water bottle, fill it ¾ full.  Then freeze it solid.  Frozen water doesn’t count as liquid, it’ll get through security, and then it melts you can enjoy ice cold water during flight. Note:  please don’t try this with alcohol or with super-fizzy sodas. 

5.       SMILE at your crew as your board.  Do what your grandma told you—be nice.  If you’re really thoughtful bring wrapped candies (little mini-Snickers or Reeses are always a hit!) and just hand them out with a smile and a thank you.  Look, they’re not just there to show you their underarms as they come through the cabin checking to see if your seatbelt is on and your cellphone is off.  They’re there to save your butt if something bad happens, and you’re going to spend quite a while with them in charge, so why not just be nice?  You’d be surprised how much easier it makes your trip!

After that—board, sit, buckle, and have a great flight.  And I’ll be talking about WHERE to fly, and how to find good DEALS, soon!