Recently, we got one of those dreaded phone calls. One minute everything was going smoothly - the next minute we're in a mad dash to get to Denver for a funeral. Even though our minds we're clouded by what had happened, we pulled it together long enough to be strategic about building a travel plan that wouldn't break the bank. We're not trust fund babies.
If you've poked around our site a bit, you know that we "gave it all up" (oh, the drama) a while back and started our own virtual business in order to live exactly how we want to - deliberately. For us, that means a lot of travel and a hefty dose of giving back along the way - and some other stuff too.
It's all going well, but we have to be very mindful of the budget. This means that travel with zero days notice is usually out of the question. So, our challenge this time around was to get to Denver on the fly without having to pawn our television.
Oh, and I should probably mention our other challenge. As strange luck would have it, one of us was using a cane (uh huh, a cane) due to a running injury that occurred on the day of the news.
We all need a buddy.
We're happy to say that we've got friends in the business. The airline business. Our first goal was to garner a couple buddy passes. Mission accomplished. For about 75 bucks, we had the ability to hop on a flight on a space-available basis. The problem was that there was no - and I mean NO - space available.
We figured we'd show up at the airport early in the morning and hang out all day with the hope that a couple SEA-DEN seats would avail themselves on Alaska Air. When we arrived at the gate after an unbelievable bout of super-long-security-line anxiety, we immediately learned that they were WAY oversold and offering vouchers to paying passengers. Plus we were #14 and #15 on the standby list (out of 16).
Because the cane made the walk to the gate a 20 minute exercise in patience, we decided to regroup (a nice way to put it) for a second before re-plotting our strategy.
Along comes a miracle followed by what we thought was a cruel joke.
A few minutes later, as we got up to trudge back to the main terminal, the agent stopped us and said: "I'll need your identification." What?! For some reason - that we still can't explain - we were about to be boarded.
Now comes the cruel joke part. The agent then says "Oh-oh, I got you in the exit row but it looks like you won't be able to assist passengers in the event of an emergency." Let's pause and review for a second... standby and exit row on a flight where they had been offering vouchers. What??? We were not giving up this opportunity. To agent: "Look... I'm a fit guy and can get along pretty well without the cane. Check this out. (stage note: running in place)" What she didn't see was the sweat dripping off the back of the neck.
We were on!
Our friend Gogo.
Then we were those guys. You know... the people you hate - the ones getting on the plane as the door is closing. We hurriedly and nervously hauled our luggage down the aisle, cane whacking people all along the way and - still in shock - settled into our exit row seats.
After spending 15 minutes looking at each other with eyes as big as tunafish cans, we hit 10,000 feet and logged on to Gogo Wireless. We needed to secure a hotel and a car, pronto. Gogo was only $4.95 and it worked glitch free. Definitely a heavy sigh of relief after a stressful morning.
In any kind of a travel related pinch, we'd usually rely on Priceline's "name your own price" to book a hotel. This time, due to the circumstances, we wanted to be certain stay near our relatives, close to the funeral home, etc. We were able to peg one of Hotwire's hotels as a Marriott right in the 'hood we needed to be in. It was $49 a night, and we had a $20 off coupon from the Entertainment Book (yes, those things are still around, so pick yours up!).
Next up... car. Because it was a last-minute, weekday rental, we weren't having any kind of luck. We found a special at Payless for about $35 a day and jumped on it. When we arrived in Denver and were in the zig-zagging line at the pickup counter, we had even less luck. We got the "please don't let us get that one" agent and were treated as horribly as we thought we would be. Side note: Our experience with this particular agent was a deal-breaker for us; we'll never use Payless again. She was as sleazy of a car rental rep as we've ever had, and that's all we're sayin' about that. For now.
What!? We have to do this all over again.
The next couple of days in Denver went as well as the days surrounding a funeral can. We were glad we could be there to provide support, and we were thrilled that we didn't break the bank doing it.
When it came time to head back up to Seattle on a Thursday, we learned that it just wasn't in the cards. Flights were so full that none were even showing up on the search engines for sale. Standby was certainly out of the question.
The worst part was that we needed to, once again, 1) find a flight 2) secure a new hotel 3) get our hands on a new rental (and avoid Payless in the process).
We had incredible luck, given a less than ideal situation:
- For $5.00 and 25,000 miles we secured a flight on Saturday evening (it was Thursday).
- We found a Marriott Residence Inn having a super saver weekend special - about $80 a night. Better yet, Expedia was taking 30% off of rates, so the hotel came down to about $55 a night. And it gets even better. We had just received a coupon from Expedia for $50 off a stay. That brought our 2 night stay to about 60 bucks.
- Finally, we found an e-special from Alamo, offering weekend rentals for $15 a day. Not bad at all.
We were pleased with how our mission turned out. Making the trip to Denver on a budget made a horrible situation more bearable.
1) Always keep track of what companies have going on. Don't accidentally delete Expedia's coupon-rich e-mails. Sign up for car rental companies' e-deals. Get familiar with Hotwire and Priceline; we're experts, and it saves us a lot of money.
2) Avoid having to use a cane at all costs, especially when traveling.