Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Work

I’ve Been Accepted as a Points-with-a-Crew Contributor!

A few weeks ago, Dan Miller over at Points with a Crew (PWAC) started taking applications for writer positions for his blog. His site is part of the collection of Boarding Area blogs and has decent readership.

Dan has written many good pieces on family travel, detailing his own experiences from the unique perspective of a father of 6. He also regularly posts on credit card and reselling deals, interesting travel stories, and general tips on how to make cheap travel happen with a large family.

When he announced that he would be taking on contributors, I was eager to apply. I figured that I might actually have a shot at the position, having been developing my own blog over the past year, albeit I have nowhere near his readership. I jumped at the opportunity to write for a larger audience.

After writing up my “travel hacking resume” and sending it in along with some links to my work here, I soon got an email from Dan. We cleared up a few things about my interest in the position via email, and he then informed me I had made the second round of picks.

The final round of “interview” required me to write a few sample pieces. I submitted the final of my three samples last Sunday, and anxiously waited for an email. In my head I gave myself a 10-20% chance of actually being selected.

Thus I was floored when I received Dan’s email congratulating me on my selection!

I’ll now be writing multiple articles per week for PWAC, mainly focusing on  travel deals and news. My first one went live today!

Allegiant Ambivalence

Several months ago I stumbled upon the uber budget Allegiant Air. Their prices are cheap, and I noticed that they have decent U.S. coverage, albeit sometimes in and out of atypical airports (examples: Mesa Gateway rather than Phoenix Sky Harbor, and Orlando Sanford rather than Orlando International). I messed around with their online booking system for a while, filing away the experience in my head. Little did I know that I would be booking a flight with them in a matter of months.

This past week United wanted ~$950 to get from Arcata, California to Phoenix, Arizona on a round-trip ticket, booked roughly eight days out. A whopping $950. Like, I could fly to Africa and back for $950. Although work was footing the bill, I couldn’t justify it. This is well above what I consider to be the breakeven point of flying out of Arcata versus flying out of the Bay Area, so I decided to look at my other options. With Google Flights as my friend, I searched flights from STS, SFO, and OAK to Phoenix area airports. To my utter and complete shock, a cheap flight showed for Sunday, June 5th, available for $68! And there was Allegiant’s logo right beside it.

The flight was between Sonoma County Airport and Mesa Gateway Airport, and it would have to be combined with transportation to Santa Rosa; however, the fact that I was able to book a one-way ticket sold me. My plans on the other end of the trip were unknown anyway, and I would hate to book a ticket back to Arcata if I needed to head straight down to the Bay Area immediately after my return.

Needless to say, I jumped on it. After a carry-on bag fee and a credit card charge fee (Allegiant follows the budget airline model that charges you for everything), the grand total came to $85.66. It was a steal. Add the $54 bus fare to Santa Rosa, and I was saving the company a few $100s. The best part was that I could work from the bus for a few hours, so the added time wouldn’t be unproductive either. It seemed too goo to be true.

Hindsight is 20-20. Had I known the significant delay the flight would experience, I may have reconsidered my plan. I arrived at Santa Rosa airport with just under two hours to kill until boarding. The departures sign was the first tip-off to the state of Allegiant’s flights today. Their flight to Las Vegas was delayed by roughly two and a half hours, and the tiny STS airport was packed. Flight 121 to Mesa still said “on time,” so I held out some hope that it would remain that way. Then the dreaded announcement came over the PA as soon as I entered the security area: Flight 121 was delayed with a new departure time of 6:27. Not too bad. A few seconds later my phone buzzed: “Allegiant #121 from STS to IWA is delayed. Estimated departure is 7:09 p.m.” Well, which is it? I simply assumed the worse of the two.

A mere 20 minutes later, the delay was lengthened even further to a 7:40 departure. I was through security by this point, but I decided to head right back out and eat dinner at the airport restaurant. My 90 minute wait had been stretched to nearly three and a half hours.

Per all the Allegiant reviews I have read, this is right on point. The positive is that they offer dirt cheap fares; the negative is that you are hung out to dry if there is a delay or cancellation. And they tend to have a large number of delays. If one flight gets delayed early in the day, every other flight that aircraft makes is impacted. Combine this with the fact that they only offer a couple flights per day between locations (sometimes only one), rescheduling is tenuous at best. With my plans already locked in, and as late in the day as it was, I was pretty much restricted to wait it out. If for some reason the flight had been cancelled, I would have been stuck. A last-minute Southwest flight out of Oakland may have been an option, but it would have taken over an hour to even get there.

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Finally seated and looking out the window of the plane while leaving Sonoma County Airport.

The two-hour delay mainly inconvenienced me in terms of sleep. We took off at the delayed departure time of 7:40 and touched down in Mesa around 9:50, and I made it to the hotel at 10:45. So much for getting a good nights rest before a full day of work in a different office.

Although booking with United would have (theoretically) alleviated the delay experienced on Allegiant, that came with an enormous cost. I knew going into the trip that I was making a gamble booking a cheap flight on a budget airline from an airport with few options. It was a calculated risk, and I lost (partially). I would have much rather gotten to my destination by 7:45 as scheduled. The fact that we still saved money sits well with me, though.

All said and done, I will probably still try Allegiant again. The dirt cheap prices that they offer are hard to resist. The key will be to simply plan on a delay from the outset, and then be pleasantly surprised if everything goes smoothly. At least that’s how I hope to look at it.

Stompin’ Around Saint George

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The view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley.

The Southwest U.S. is beautiful. I never gave visiting it much of a thought for many years, always envisioning brown desert, unbearable sun, dry winds, and a place completely devoid of trees. Yeah there is that Grand Canyon place, but neither of my couple trips included that, and everything I had imagined was generally confirmed.

A visit to Sedona, Arizona changed everything. I vacationed there last year with my brother-in-law, and I was completely caught off guard by how beautiful the desert now appeared. The vistas there are magnificent, and I began to see the Southwest in a completely different light. The desert can truly be a beautiful place.

Because of this new perspective, I was excited to be visiting Saint George, Utah. I have only previously passed through Utah twice: once through Salt Lake, and technically a second time while on the California Zephyr (Amtrak)….mostly sleeping during that porting. This was my first opportunity to see southern Utah.

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Located in the far southwestern corner of Utah, Saint George is literally just over the border from Arizona, and not far from the Nevada border as well. I was only staying for a couple nights, and would be working during the day, but I hoped to take at least one quick hike while in the area.

The surveys I was there to do took about a day and a half, which only left me with one evening to see some of the area. I used that brief time to take a quick walk up to the Red Cliffs National Conservation Area. The route I chose provided a great view of Saint George and the Virgin River valley (first photo). I would have loved to be able to visit Zion National Park, a brief hour away, but that will have to wait until a later date.

It was a great work trip. The survey was great experience, and I got to see a new place. Win all around.

Utah Bound

Life can surprise you. If I had been told three weeks ago that I would be headed to southern Utah today to perform a field survey, I would have laughed. But that’s exactly what has happened. Our Great Basin regional manager called me out of the blue to ask if I could put together a proposal for a small project that would require my expertise. Because time was an issue, I fast-tracked the effort, and just over a week later I was informed that we won the work. I had my flight booked within minutes. Fast forward several days, and I am typing this in the air somewhere over the Sierra Nevada Mountains on the second leg of my flight from ACV -> LAS.

Cruising over the Sierra Nevada. So glad to see some snow!

Last-minute flights out of Arcata-Eureka aren’t cheap (actually, nothing out of there is cheap), and I could just as easily have flown San Francisco to Hong Kong as Arcata-Eureka to Las Vegas for the same price. My economy ticket came to $672. Even though it’s rolled into the project budget, this still disgusts me. United’s prices can truly be robbery. In any case, it is still a better deal than a rental car and 10+ hours of driving. The higher price does earn me more miles, and I can’t complain about that.

The trip is a mere 3 night stay with two long days of work sandwiched in between. Both hiking in Zion and lounging around a pool in Vegas for an afternoon are out of the question. But I don’t mind. It’s a new place, and a welcome adventure. Not to mention it’s my first real field work. Ever. This is what I am most excited about. Travel is just an added bonus.