Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Our First Time Flying with Kids

On Saturday my wife and I *finally* returned to the U.S. with our kids. The adoption trip was long, and we almost didn’t get to come home on the Southwest flights we booked. But in the end it all worked out exactly as we hoped.

The trip was our first time flying with kids. We’ve traveled plenty as a couple, and at this point the process is routine. But traveling with three children is an entirely different experience. We were a bit worried how our kids would react to their first time on a plane. Overall, our trip went quite well, something for which I am extremely grateful.

Much of our success is likely due to the fact that our children (thankfully) didn’t have any severe anxiety about flying and are well behaved on the whole. But part of our success can likely be attributed to some proactive measure we took. Here is the rundown on our first time flying with kids.

Combating kids’ fears of flying

Our kids were a bit nervous about their first flight, but they were also excited. I tried to play off the latter as much as possible. Over a few weeks before the trip, I took some time to show them some photos of us on previous flights, some YouTube videos of takeoff, and pictures of airports.

Even with those measures, they still expressed some doubts and fears. The question at the forefront of their minds was the safety of the experience. They seemed a bit incredulous when I explained to them that flying is safer than driving in a car. That age-old issue of perceived versus actual risk.

Since statistics are impossible for them to fully comprehend, I switched to relying on personal experience. I told them that I have flown a good amount (LOL – a mere 120,000 miles) and have never been on a flight that has had serious problems. My one diverted flight doesn’t really count since it was due to a medical emergency.

Checking all the baggage and navigating security

We arrived at SJO airport with our six checked bags, one carry on, and five personal items. This was waaaay more luggage than I’ve ever wanted. We brought FOUR checked bags to Costa Rica. Sadly, we had to buy one more to fit all our kids’ stuff. Adding in my mother-in-law’s bag finished the half dozen. I hope to never, ever travel with this much luggage again.

Fortunately, we were flying Southwest, so the ridiculous amount of luggage didn’t cost us anything. The kids were eager to roll around a bag, so that took one off our hands. The toddler worked against us, though, as he insisted on carrying the backpack we’d (over)packed for him, but needed mom to help hold it up with one hand.

The kids curiosity morphed into restlessness at the check-in counter since things took so long. One bag was 55 pounds, so we had to do the last-minute shuffle with the contents (I’m sure everyone else in line hated us). Since the three kids were pretty much only getting in the way, I finally had them go wait with grandma. This is when I reminded myself that I needed to talk them through everything.

Taking time to explain things

Kids definitely do best when you explain the plan to them ahead of time. It was amazing how much better things went once we got all of us into a routine during our stay in Costa Rica. Knowing what is coming next helps them immensely.

When we are about to do something new (such as flying), I try to explain the situation and experience as much as possible. I also try to brief them on potential problems we may encounter. This is a great thing to do for activities beyond flying, but it definitely helped us during our first time flying with kids.

As we navigated the airport and plane, I did my best to explain each part of the process to them. First, it was the security experience. Then waiting at the gate (or going on little walks in the terminal) before boarding. Finally, boarding the aircraft. Talking them through things really helped everything go smoothly and made our first time flying with kids much easier.

 

Boarding our first flight!

One of the benefits of flying Southwest is the family boarding process. Even though we were assigned boarding positions in the high Bs, we still took advantage of the Family Boarding offered between the A and B groups. Our kids were 3, 7 (barely), and 10, and going by the book, they should have only let one of us board with the youngest. However, the gate agent was very gracious, and we all boarded together.

The kids were super excited as we walked the jetway.

first time flying with kids

I was ecstatic that this was the dominant reaction instead of fear.

Since there were plenty of empty seats when we boarded, we were able to settle into a single row across the plane. Arranging seats as a group of six on a 737 is easy. I sat with the older two while mom and grandma managed the toddler.

first time flying with kids

The kids oohed and aahed a bit at the other planes, especially any they saw moving. San José airport isn’t all that busy (compared to say, SFO), so we only really got to see one other plane take off.

Taxi and takeoff

The kids’ excitement went up a few more notches the instant we started moving. They were both glued to the window. I was just as excited, but more so because taking off meant we were actually headed home.

Our three-year-old was hands-down the most excited. He didn’t take his eyes off the window. Every single plane he saw as we taxied was just as exciting as the previous one. He probably shouted “avión!” a dozen times.

No, he was not seated like this for takeoff

The looks on the kids’ faces was priceless when the plane started accelerating down the runway. Like with everything else, I tried to give the kids a little heads up that we were about to take off and what it would feel like. When the engines spooled up and we started hurtling down the runway, they were all smiles.

Once we were airborne, there was even more excitement as they pointed at the buildings below and at the hills of their beautiful country. With all the change that had happened to them in so short a time, I was thankful to see them smiling and laughing.

Soon we’d climbed into the clouds. With nothing left to view, the kids started digging through their bags for stuff with which to play.

What can you pack besides electronics?

This may be a hard road, but we’re trying to heavily limit our kids’ electronics intake in general. We had an iPad on hand with a couple movies loaded on it, but we hoped the kids could entertain themselves with other things for most of the flight.

My wife packed all three kids’ backpacks with various toys, drawing pads, and snacks. We made sure to hide them so that they would be a surprise for the trip. As we were leaving the hotel, we gave them the backpacks. Even then we made them wait to open them until we were seated at the gate.

The whole idea worked quite well. They *loved* discovering what we had packed for them, and their new toys kept them entertained for quite a while on our flight to Houston. I did break out the iPad for music.

A definite winner was the Boogie Board drawing pad (which I guess is technically electronic). The kids could draw as much as they liked, but without the hassle of pens or pencils and paper. It even allowed us to play several rounds of tic-tac-toe and other games.

In the air – our first time flying with kids

My biggest concern was our *very* active three-year-old who has trouble sitting still for anything. Two 4-hours flights might have been a very long day.

Things started out well.  The little man had two adults to help entertain him, and he had snacks to eat. I got my hopes up that it might be smooth sailing the whole trip.

Alas, this was too much to ask. About an hour into the flight we had our first round of tears. He was getting squirmy, and mom finally had to hold him for a bit. How upsetting that is. Luckily, he doesn’t usually throw a fit for more than minute or two, and soon he was back to playing with his stuffed dinosaur.

There were a couple more incidents of excessive squirming and a few more bouts of tears due to making him sit so long. Fortunately, his crying is subdued enough that I wasn’t worried about it bothering other people too much. It wasn’t an intentional choice, but we’d also managed to sandwich ourselves between two other families, one of which had a lap child. I’m sure they understood completely, if they even noticed.

When a patch of turbulence hit, I got a bit worried. I thought our kids might freak out. But they really didn’t react at all. Granted, it wasn’t all that strong, but I was thankful that this wasn’t an issue (NOTE: on our second flight, a patch of turbulence did end up making our ten-year-old scream). The more frequent comment we got was that it didn’t feel like we were moving at all.

The fact that Southwest also loaded us up with snacks every chance they could (I don’t remember this from previous experiences?) really made the kids’ day. Sure, we didn’t think that a diet of chips and coke is the best thing for them, but hey, we wanted them to enjoy the experience.

My daughter did remark that she enjoyed flying much more than driving (yay!). Why? Apparently, it was because I wasn’t telling them “I can’t talk right now” at all. San José traffic and Costa Rica’s mountain roads often required all my concentration, and this is my standard response when they barrage me with questions.

Teaching our kids basic flying etiquette

I couldn’t help myself on this one. As things seemed to be going smoothly enough (i.e. our first time flying with kids was in fun mode and not survival mode), I figured it would be good to start teaching the kids good flying etiquette.

We ran through the basic stuff first: getting out of the aisle, stowing under-seat luggage, not reclining the seat before takeoff. I also ran through seat items such as seatbelt use, air vents (I had to help them, obviously), and the reading light and flight attendant call buttons. I instructed them not to tough the latter.  The older two listened well and did just fine.

Later on, I tackled some other items, such as being gentle when opening and closing the tray table and not using the seats in front of you as a hand hold getting up or down. The latter is a major pet peeve of mine. It turned out that the kids never asked to recline the seat (nor did the people in front of us), so we didn’t have to deal with that at all.

They did well, and I’m sure they will get even better on subsequent fights. But on Day 1, I already feel like they are air travel all-stars.

Landing in Houston

The kids became excited as we started to descend. This quickly turned to a bit of anxiety for our eldest. She did *not* like the feeling of descending in the airplane.

We had a brief freak-out moment as the plane touched down, but this quickly turned to relief as we were now back on terra firma. I failed to explain that taxiing and waiting to deplane part, so we did endure some complaining about not getting off the airplane all that quickly.

We did end up with a dirty toddler diaper on the final part of the flight. I figured we could change this quickly before we got to customs. We had no such luck. As this was our kids’ formal entry into the U.S., the process took quite a while. Customs at Houston Hobby Airport is still worlds better than customs at George Bush Intercontinental. I’m thankful a 3-hour customs ordeal was *not* part of our first time flying with kids. We’ll have to save that for later (or get them all Global Entry).

The final part of our adventure included navigating security, chowing down some pizza, and then rushing to catch our connection to the Bay Area. Five hours later we touched down in California. I never thought I’d ever say I was happy to be back in Oakland.

Final thoughts

Overall, our first time flying with kids ended up going about as smoothly as I’d hoped. We prepped them pretty well, and it paid off. The older two thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and I’m certainly not afraid to take our toddler on another flight, either.

Most of all I hope that this means they’ll all quickly become great little travelers!

Endings and New Beginnings

Today our fledgling family is finally making the trek back to the U.S. after our several weeks in Costa Rica. It’s been a fun, exciting, and soul-searching experience. It’s been frustrating at times. But also joyous. So much change in so little time.

Leaving as two, returning as five

Adoption is definitely the toughest thing we’ve ever done. It is hard to describe the mix of feelings. The kids are a joy, yet it is hard to go from having tons of time together to having literally all of it demanded from you. In the end, it it totally worth it.

Our last couple weeks here were a nail-biting experience. I became anxious as our projected travel date loomed nearer and nearer, and we didn’t yet have all the documents we needed. Fortunately, our in-country liaisons went to bat for us and we were able to receive the final visas on Wednesday.

They told us we could travel Thursday, but there was really no reason to go through booking last minute flights (besides saving two days). It would have been a real challenge to hack six tickets. I almost wanted to do it just for the experience.

So today, Saturday, November 4th is the day. You should have seen how much we had to pack. And how long it took. We’re never traveling with this much stuff again.

Southwest is the best

It’s been a while since I’ve flown the busiest domestic airline in the States. Southwest used to be my first luv in the world of flying, but I’ve since found that I’m pretty keen on most airlines.

Somewhere along the way I forgot just how stellar Southwest’s customer service is. I guess time made my memory a bit fuzzy. Previously, I’d detailed how I was banking on Southwest to get us home by locking in fully refundable award tickets at a good price. Through Twitter I’d confirmed that they would change the names of our kids to what appeared on their passports.

Yesterday I finally got around to confirming this with them and providing them with the necessary info. Things went at smooth as butter, even when they messed up our middle son’s middle name. The Twitter rep had that fixed within 3 minutes. At the end I was able to easily input all the passport details and check us in successfully. We even got a decent boarding position.

Praise the Lord for reasonable companies that look out for customers. I’m so happy our flights today worked out.

Always looking forward

Today is the end of one chapter for our children and the beginning of a new one. Even as we wait for our first flight as a family, I’m already dreaming of taking my kids to other far off places around the world. But this may not come for a while. We need a period of adjustment at home, and they need to learn English. It’ll be a little while before we do any serious globe-trotting.

Still, here’s hoping today is the first step toward our kids becoming great travelers.

Best Airline Miles to Europe in Economy

After idyllic Hawaii vacation for cheap (SEE: Best Miles to Hawaii), consider putting your miles to use for a visit to Europe.

With numerous fare sales to Europe, I don’t typically recommend burning miles to fly economy. You can score sub-$500 fares from many major hubs these days, and fare sales are frequent.

Still, there can definitely be reasons to burn miles over flexible points. For example, if you live a good distance from a large airport (such is the case with me), tickets can be prohibitively expensive, sometimes well over $1,000. In this case, miles are often the way to go. Here are some of the best airline miles to Europe in economy:

American Airlines for 22,500 miles off-peak

American Airlines has long had great prices for off-peak travel to Europe. During much of the year, their prices are a standard 30,000 miles. But there are plenty of periods where awards are only 22,500 AA miles each way.

That is, if you can find saver space to use those AAdvantage miles. American has been terrible about releasing award space over the past several months. You might find a reasonable amount of space out of their hubs to Europe, but you’ll often have issues with domestic connecting flights. Or you’ll find that the award that are available are awful red-eyes, have terrible routing, and/or require long layovers.

But it can be done. If you’re patient, plan ahead of time, and flexible with your dates, you’ll almost certainly find the space you need. Or there may be plenty. Here is off-peak space next month from SFO to LHR:

best airline miles to Europe

One thing to note is that there the American Airlines award search engine will return a lot of options on British Airways, a Oneworld partner. Avoid these like the plague. All British Airways flights to Europe have hefty fuel surcharges. Fees will be less if you fly on other Oneworld partners, such as Iberia or Finnair.

All things considered, American AAdvantage can be some of the best airline miles to Europe on economy.

Alaska Airlines for 20,000 miles off-peak

Mimicking American Airlines’ prices, Alaska has an attractive off-peak chart for a couple partners (Alaska does not fly to Europe themselves).  You can fly American Airlines flights to Europe for only 20,000 miles during off-peak times.

Again, award space on American Airlines will be a limiting factor here, since you’ll be using your Alaska miles to book their flights. At least your connections can be on Alaska, which may make it easier to get to an American hub, especially if you live on the west coast.

best airline miles to europe alaska

You can also fly Iceland Air to Iceland for 22,500 Alaska miles one-way and 27,500 miles to Europe at times. Iceland Air has multiple tiers of pricing, based on season, however. Another option is Condor for 25,000 miles in economy. Condor flies some unique routes from the U.S. to their Frankfurt hub.

A couple cool ideas: plan a stopover in Alaska before continuing on to Iceland or Europe. Alaska’s generous award rules allow a stopover on one-way awards. Or when returning, plan a stopover in one of Alaska Airlines east coast destinations before flying back across the country.

It might seem weird that Alaska miles aren’t the first on the list of the best airline miles to Europe since the Alaska (on AA) off-peak award require the fewest out of any currency. But there are simply too many other great uses for Alaska miles that I would hesitate to burn them on this.

Asiana Airlines for 25,000 miles

Asiana is a carrier that many people probably do not recognize, but don’t overlook their program. They are one of the best options for StarAlliance flights to Europe. They are also one of the best Asian carriers overall (SEE: Asiana Business Class Review Seoul to Sydney).

You can accrue Asiana miles a couple of ways. They are a 1:1 transfer partner of Starwood Preferred Guest, so you will have enough miles for a round-trip flight to Europe with only 40,000 SPG Starpoints (factoring in the 25% bonus on transfers in 20,000 point increments).

Another option is the Asiana Visa card issued by Bank of America. If you find yourself attracted to the Asiana program, this card is a must-have. The perks include a 30,000 mile sign up bonus,

One thing to keep in mind is that Asiana has a very attractive award chart for premium cabins to Europe. Business class is a mere 40,000 Asiana miles. So it could easily be worth saving up a bit longer to fly in comfort and style. Just remember that Asiana passes along fuel surcharges. If you fly on United metal, though, there won’t be any fuel surcharges to pass on, making them the best airline miles to Europe for flying United.

Korean Air SkyPass for 50,000 miles round-trip

Delving into SkyTeam territory we have Korean Air Skypass as a great option. One of the difficulties with SkyTeam awards is that fuel surcharges are passed on in all cases. You can minimize these when flying *to* Europe, but expect to pay high airport fees and moderate surcharges when returning to the U.S.

You can book a round-trip award to Europe for 50,000 miles. Delta charges 60,000 miles for the same ticket. As far as I am aware, Korean Air does not allow one-way awards on partners. But this is still a good deal at 25,000 miles each way.

You can earn Korean SkyPass points by transferring Chase Ultimate Rewards to SkyPass miles, or through Starwood Preferred Guest. There is also a co-branded SkyPass credit card issued by U.S. Bank.

FlyingBlue promo awards

The FlyingBlue promo awards come out every couple months. They are a discount (typically 25%) off of the standard award price of 25,000 miles. Economy will therefore cost you 18,750 FlyingBlue miles each way, plus taxes and surcharges. One downside is that they only apply to AirFrance and KLM flights, so you have to fly out of a large hub served by one of these carriers.

Given that both KLM and AirFrance charge significant fuel surcharges, using miles will only make sense if the cash price of the flight is quite high. But there are instances where even redeeming for the full 25,000 miles could make sense.

delta flying blue award

Flying out of a tiny regional airport might warrant using miles for economy

Still, I’d personally wait until the promo awards included a city near me, since a price of 18,750 miles each way is pretty phenomenal, and the main reason FlyingBlue makes the list of best airline miles to Europe.

British Airways Avios

British Airways is far down the list of best airline miles to Europe for two reasons: they charge hefty fuel surcharges on their own flights, and their use as a reasonable currency is pretty situational.

One of the best sweet spots, if not one of the most well known, is the 12,500 mile price for flights between Boston and Dublin (or Shannon), Ireland. Since this rings in at just under 3,000 flown miles on British Airways distance-based award chart, you pay the same as most domestic U.S. flights.

The only other good options are honestly flying non-stop out of an AA hub to a destination in Europe. Most of the U.S. will be 20,000 to 25,000 miles each way. But because BA charges you per segment, connections really drive up the price.

Other best airline miles to Europe in economy?

A couple honorable mentions are Lufthansa Miles & More for 25,000 Miles each way. Barclaycard issues a Miles & More co-branded card if you’re interested in collecting those miles. Singapore will run you 27,500 miles one-way, which is a slight discount over many other airlines’ 30,000 miles in each direction.

I’ll also mention United for 30,000 miles, mainly due to the high number of Star Alliance partners available in Europe, and the fact that MileagePlus doesn’t apply fuel surcharges.

Honestly, I wouldn’t worry about investigating these other programs, as there is an even better solution.

Best option: Use flexible points

I will argue that if you are flexible with carrier, dates, and routing, using a flexible points currency will honestly be the best airline “miles” to Europe for economy flights. With either the Chase Sapphire Preferred card or a Citi ThankYou Premier, your flexible points are worth 1.25 cents each when you book through each bank’s travel portal.

If you hold the Chase Sapphire Reserve card, your points are worth 1.5 cents each through the travel portal. Similarly, if you hold a Citi Prestige card, your points are worth 1.33 cents each when booking American Airlines flights.

In my experience, you can fly to most major European destinations for less than $750 these days on full-service carriers, if you plan in advance. You should really be shooting for $500 fares if you live in any sizable hub. Even for your $750 ticket, you’ll be spending 60,000 points, which is standard in many programs, plus you will owe a whopping $0 in extra fees.

If you catch a $500 fare sale, you’ll be spending a mere 40,000 points. Since these flights will also be earning you miles (nor will you be dependent on available award space), this will likely be the way to go. Research all your options before you transfer your points.

Conclusion

Using flexible points for tickets to Europe will usually be your best option. But if you’re intent on using miles for coach travel across the pond, these are pretty much the best airline miles to Europe in economy.

Crazy Deal! Get a Southwest Companion Pass after only one purchase!

For a limited time, California residents have access to a phenomenal deal. Southwest has an open offer to all California residents that allows them to earn the amazing Southwest Companion Pass after opening a new Southwest credit card and making a single purchase.

I’ve previously written about Southwest Airlines being my favorite airline  (honestly, this is not really true anymore, but they are pretty amazing). We’ve even leveraged the amazing Southwest cancellation policy for some recent bookings.

Targeted Southwest Companion Pass California offer

Last week there were reports of a targeted credit card offer being sent to *some* CA residents where they could earn a companion pass after only one purchase. The amazing news is that this is now being extended to all residents of California.

Here is the link to the personal Southwest Companion Pass California card offer. The welcome bonus also offers 40,000 points after spending $1,000 in the first 3 months.

Here is the link to the business Southwest Companion Pass California card offer. The welcome bonus also offers 60,000 points after spending $3,000 in the first 3 months.

(Neither of these are affiliate links)

Obviously, if you aren’t a resident of California, you won’t qualify for the Companion Pass offer.

Why the Companion Pass is *totally* worth getting

The Southwest Companion Pass is considered by many to be the “holy grail” of domestic (and some international) travel. It essentially gives you a 2 for 1 deal for both paid travel *and* award travel on Southwest airlines. It essentially doubles the value of all your Southwest RapidRewards points.

If you’re a traveling couple, you’ll only pay the points or fare for one person, plus the $5.60 TSA fee for both. If you’re a traveling family, you could fly 4 people for the price of 2 if *both* parents obtain a Southwest Companion Pass through this offer. This would be a mere $44.80 plus points for 2 tickets for a family of 4 round-trip anywhere in the U.S. Southwest flies! Talk about a phenomenal deal!

You can read up on the fine print of the Companion Pass here. But it honestly is as good as it sounds.

Southwest Companion Pass California offer targeted

Qualifying for the Southwest Companion Pass

Typically, you need to either fly 100(!) qualifying Southwest one-way segments in a year, or you need to accrue 110,000 qualifying points. Sound difficult? It certainly is for most people without a way to generate extra spending or without a business with significant expenses to charge. Here is the rundown on qualifying for the pass the traditional way.

The typical back door to getting the Southwest Companion Pass has been opening a new Southwest card and then spending the rest, or opening two Southwest cards in a year to meet, or nearly meet, the qualifying points requirement. The sign-up bonus for the card(s) counts toward the 110,000 point total needed.

Conclusion

If you’re interested in taking even a couple vacations next year, I guarantee that these offers will pay off the card fees required. Don’t pass up this Southwest Companion Pass California card offer!

Header image courtesy of BriYYZ under CC 2.0 license.

The Shortest Flight in the U.S. is at Our Doorstep

Did you know that the shortest flight in the U.S. is in northern California? I didn’t either until I saw the headline in a news piece recently.

United is connecting to Santa Rosa?!

When I first read about United adding the SFO-STS hop to their schedule, I thought they were insane. Are you really going to fly a route that people can drive in 90 minutes?

But then I sat back and thought about the market they are attacking. Sure, it is a super short flight. But it lets you avoid the hassle of driving (often in bad traffic) and paying for parking. Plus, if you’re local to Sonoma County, it’s an easy Uber ride to the airport. I can definitely see the appeal.

Not to mention Sonoma County is growing and demand for air service is increasing. The Charles M. Shulz Airport is looking at a desperately-needed expansion coming in 2019.

The flight time of the shortest flight in the United States? A mere 16 minutes in the air. United blocks it at 51 minutes. You spend more time taxiing than actually flying.

The shortest flight in the U.S. offers some great deals!

In contrast to flying out of Arcata, something that requires taking out a second mortgage on your house, there are actually some good deals out of STS. Not directly to SFO, but you can connect to a number of destinations cheaply. Examples, all one-way:

  • STS to LAX for $74
  • STS to SAN for $74
  • STS to SNA for $74
  • STS to PDX for $87

Most of those aren’t even United basic economy!

I’ve also looked at international flights that have either an outbound or return leg to STS rather than SFO. Generally, the price doesn’t jump too much if you decide to touch down among the vineyards instead of alongside the Bay. I’m hoping this holds out long enough for us to take advantage of it a couple times.

The flight above to Beijing is currently $489 flying nonstop from SFO. Adding the outbound from Santa Rosa only brings the price up to $538. Pretty sweet deal!

Next time you want to get out of Humboldt, consider taking the shortest flight in the U.S. out of Santa Rosa!

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