Experiment: Travelling without my MasterCard

Earlier this week, I took a short trip to visit a friend near Orlando and decided that, since it was only 3 days and I’d be staying at her place, it would be a good opportunity to see how it felt leaving my credit card behind. I’ve done many trips without using my credit card – heck, if I’m out of the country, I go out of my way not to use it. But it was always in my pocket feeling a bit like a financial security blanket.

However, I decided that with all of this so-called credit card reform, this could soon turn into a rather expensive security blanket. So I packed 50% more cash than I thought I’d need and headed for the airport. I had a short connection through Charlotte, and didn’t mind that my ongoing flight was delayed an hour. I needed to recover from the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced – it lasted 30-40 mins and my seat neighbor and I struck up a conversation (wow, a pro-choice Texan!) to distract ourselves: her from fear of dying, me from fear of hurling. I had my clammy head against the seat in front of me, barf bag open, convinced I was about to do something that would humble my image of myself as a savvy world traveller. Heck, I even told her about the sideline I won’t tell you all about. I was the last, very green-around-the-gills person off the plane.

Long story short, my onward flight was cancelled due to weather after a string of 30-minute postponements. Not really surprising, but airlines don’t comp hotel rooms when it’s weather-related (fair enough, really – I have no problem with this policy). Oh dear. Suddenly that extra 50% was required to pay for a $69 room that magically, through the power of tourist taxes and “booking fees”, cost $90.  Next morning, the breakfast room was abuzz with the news that we had been grounded because of a tornado – which hit the area less than 10 minutes after we touched down. I refused at that point to feel ticked off that my 2.5-day visit with my friend was cut to 1.5 days.

Now, when I boarded the first flight, I was one of the last 15 people on the plane and my carry-on wheelie had been taken from me on the ramp and checked. Guess what? No access to luggage. Great, no cell/laptop chargers, fresh undies, toothbrush. The phone was a huge concern, too. When I emailed my friend about what my new arrangements are, she made a BRILLIANT suggestion – ask at hotel reception to poke around the lost-and-found box and see if there was one for my phone to borrow. Well, the housekeeper tracked one down that was about to hit the give-away bin and now I have an extra phone charger. Yay!

When I arrived in Orlando, which wasn’t the original destination airport, despite assurances that my bag would be routed there, it instead ended up at the other airport. I didn’t trust them to deliver the bag that night, so I toddled off to Walmart for the ugliest pair of undies I could find, socks, t-shirt and toothbrush. I got a call from the luggage delivery folks while in Walmart, and decided not to buy the toothbrush but to go ahead with the other things just in case. SMART MOVE. When the bag was delivered, the back part of it had clearly been sitting in a puddle and I had no wearable socks, undies, t-shirts or pyjamas. I ended up borrowing the biggest t-shirt I have ever seen in my life (4XL) to sleep in and figured that $11 for a t-shirt, ugly canary yellow hipsters with blue plaid ribbon bits, and 5pr athletic ankle socks was very tolerable. Still, it made me nervous because I had to drop so much of my cash almost immediately.

It turned out that the gathering at my friend’s house was going to be at the house for all meals while I was there, so I didn’t spend anything else the whole trip. I had plenty of cash in my pocket when I got home. However, I was really nervous the whole time that we’d be doing expensive things and I’d have to bow out because I didn’t have the cash.

What I learned:

  • There are other ways to obtain a free phone charger than shoplifting
  • Fast food bbq pulled pork in Charlotte airport is AWESOME and fairly priced
  • 4XL t-shirts make me feel petite
  • Don’t think for one minute that Walmart is a good choice for sexy lingerie
  • Oh, and bring your damn credit card!

So thanks, US Airways, for getting me there safely. Thanks, Wingate Hotel, for feeding me and supplying me with spare cords. Thanks, friend of friend, for handling my airport transfers and lending me the huge t-shirt. And thanks, friend, for inviting me down and introducing me to a whole lot of cool, smart people.

Back from Florida – Worth Every Penny

Monday afternoon I got back from my trip to the Florida panhandle for a 3-day seminar in Myoskeletal Alignment. Even if I never use the material or just can’t develop a talent for it, it was worth it because ohmygod, I am pain-free. All that Rolfing I had early this year fixed the new acute pain, but not the chronic old pain – I didn’t even think it was possible. However, the last few months I’ve had increasingly persistent daily headaches, and the neck discomfort I was waking up with was getting worse.

To make a short story long, I twittered about registering for this course, and one of the teaching assistants found me and we started “following” each other. I felt a little silly because my Twitter identity is related to this, my hobby, and not my profession. In other words, he gets to read fascinating things like “Delivered 15 boxes of cereal and 15 deodorants to the teen shelter” and “Got $84 worth of stuff at CVS for $1.78”. Anyway, about 2 weeks ago, he sent out a tweet looking for someone local to do some typing in exchange for a 30-minute session with him. I did it, and collected on Sunday morning before class. He got about 15 minutes into it and called over a fellow teaching assistant to take over, because the other guy had moves he didn’t. Well, this bodywork tag team worked what so far appears to be lasting magic.

I honestly did not realize how much discomfort I was in every waking moment. Taking a sip of coffee, opening the microwave door, turning my head, putting on my sneakers…I was constantly expecting pain, bracing against it, moving to avoid it. I could get relief from a chiropractic adjustment, but that only lasts for about 6 hours. I used to get awesome, enduring treatment from my osteopath in Scotland, but not here, and it’s been 9+ years since I’ve had access to him.

My Myoskeletal Alignment treatment was 84 hours ago and is still holding. 84 pain-free hours. Now I’ve got to either find someone local who does this or become a groupie and follow these two pairs of golden hands around the country getting treatment wherever they teach. Because if I’ve learned nothing else from this line of work, I know that 16-year-old problems don’t get solved in 40 minutes. But no matter what, it was worth every penny I spent on course fees, airfare, hotel, etc. just to find this out. Heck, I may even take the course again in November to solidify my knowledge and tweak my technique.

On the business side of all this, I’m trying to line up people with specific problems/joints that I’ve learned to treat so I can practice and get things to the point where I feel comfortable stating that yes, I can fix plantar fasciitis/IT band syndrome/frozen shoulder/neck cricks/etc. I’ve successfully talked my cousin into letting me whale on his hip this Sunday – he’s 38 and in the past 5 years or so has been suffering terribly from pain related to being hit by a car when he was 7. However, I had tentatively lined up a few financially-strapped clients for 30-minute freebies on their major pain centers and no one has replied to my emails in 2 days despite their initial enthusiasm. Just further proof that no one values “free”.

Non-vacation to Florida booked

I’m not a fan of the heat. I’m not a fan of Florida. But since I got myself banned from that massage school in New Jersey, I had to look elsewhere for training in myofascial release and structural integration. It’s not the career solution I’m really looking for, but I watched the instructor’s 4-minute YouTube video where he’s working on one of the more problematic areas to fix (piriformis) , and that will do nicely!

I googled a coupon code for the course tuition ($395), but all I found was a 10% off Tweet from 2 months ago which had sadly expired. The seminar hotel is $105 per night for 4 nights…yuck, so I booked La Quinta for $45 per night and it includes a few things the Holiday Inn doesn’t:  in-room fridge & microwave, free breakfast, and high-speed internet. I checked eBates – La Quinta doesn’t participate. Then I hit up RetailMeNot for a coupon code and got 20% off the $56 price tag. I tried the Orbitz Twitter promo code, but it would have cost me $25-$30 more that way, and if I cancelled, there’d be a $25 penalty. Oh, and La Quinta is about a third of a mile from the HI, so I should be able to scuttle over at 8:30am without getting too sweaty-gross.

Not sure if I can shave any off the $300-310 airfare, but I’m pretty content with my $250 savings on the hotel room. Heck, that’s nearly the full price of the plane ticket! And I’ll get to claw back 1% on my credit card reward program and another 1-3% by booking through eBates. O, the joys of eeking $10 out of everything I can…

It’s a sweet week to book flights

I’ve been stalking a few destinations for upcoming trips – Vegas for late July and Aspen in late September. The prices for both destinations have dropped dramatically in the last 24 hours. I’m no long planning to go to Vegas because I want to take a different massage course than the one being held there, but I saw direct flights for my desired dates & times tank 28% from $404 to $289 between 4pm and 10pm yesterday. And half an hour ago, I nabbed the exact flight times I wanted with decent connections for my sister’s wedding for $280 inc taxes — down $100 from yesterday.

I also gave into one of the little money-saving things that a lot of PF and coupon bloggers rave about: eBates. So I got my $5 sign-up bonus plus 1% of my flight purchase, and I’m kicking myself for missing out on 6% back on last week’s order from Vitalicious.

Postponing Tanzania

I’ve decided not to spend the month of April in East Africa for the strangest reason:  I’ve just got a bad feeling about it. It’s hard to put my finger on anything more specific than that. I will take a different Big Trip, most likely in late June/early July. Or maybe the same Big Trip…we’ll see.

To put a PF spin on all this:  I’m probably going to change my health insurance carrier next month (savings: $120/month), and apparently the HMO I’ll be with covers travel vaccinations while my current Blue Cross plan doesn’t. That’ll save me about $200-500 in shots for typhoid, yellow fever, hepatitis A, polio, etc. Oh the joys of being a human pincushion for 20 minutes!

Life might be getting in the way of travel plans

I feel like I’m in a holding pattern, waiting for the pieces to start falling into place. All I really need is for one piece to choose a place to fall so I’ll know where the rest will fit. The pieces are:

  • Career – does that Rolfing course in NJ actually exist? If so, will I qualify to participate? How much will it cost? I put out enquiries on Friday through email and voicemail, but no one has gotten back to me yet. Last year it started in the spring – March? April? May? Need to know this before making travel plans.
  • Home – I keep weighing the pros and cons of moving and I can’t make up my mind!! I’m thinking about sending my leasing agent these links to recent articles in Business Week and the New York Times (sent to me by two different clients who want to keep me around) about the Manhattan rental market in one last effort to get what I want.
  • Travel – This depends rather largely on the if/when of the Rolfing course. But also, with my lease up on March 31, a trip in April could either be perfect timing or more headache than its worth. You see, it’s extremely unlikely that I’ll be able to line up my next home before leaving, so I’d be coming back to…no home. Plus, putting stuff in storage and taking it back out a few weeks later means that the move will cost double. However, it will still be less than paying rent on an empty apartment. Oh, yeah, anther thing: subletting is losing popularity because hotel rates have taken a shocking 50% nosedive in this economy, nearly eliminating the “bargain” aspect of subletting my home. The only people interested these days want to pay less than it costs to live here, and that would leave a really bad taste in my mouth.
  • Health – I’ve been waiting nearly a year for a phlebectomy, and the jackass doctor keeps postponing and cancelling surgery dates (for everyone, not just me…or so I’ve been led to believe). I had one shot, back in September, but my insurance changed its pre-cert administration and I couldn’t get approval in time (even though I’d had it approved 5 months earlier, spit curse). Hoping to get a date for it this week, and that the date will be no later than March 10 because there are restrictions on flying for 2 weeks afterwards due to the potential for clotting. Ultimately, this will not be a deciding factor in my travels, but it has been hanging over me for so long, and I’ve been calling the doctor’s office every week for two months about this – I just want it over!

What I really need is a plausible ideal scenario to work towards, but I don’t have one – short of my landlord calling to say “we’re reducing your rent 10% instead of raising you 5-7%”. But then, I specified “plausible”, and that will never happen. I know a few people whose advice I’d like and who might even have connections to help me find a great solution…but they’re clients, not friends even though the professional relationship is a warm one. I guess, getting back to “plausible”, I should just postpone Africa until I’m settled. There is another time of year that works, but it’s the high season – I hate high season anywhere and go out of my way to avoid it. Yup, life is definitely getting in the damn way 😦

Yet Another United Airlines Update

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I sent a snippy email to United Airlines customer relations about their failure to deal with my Refund request, only to find out that a refund had actually been made to my credit card (even though they were supposed to call to discuss first)? And then CR followed up asking for ticket info? Well, as suspected, their failure to communicate with each other looks as though it might result in a double refund for me. It’s due to hit my card in the next day or two. Hm, the refund amount is greater than my current balance…if only that meant Citibank would be paying me 19.99% interest!

Meanwhile, my mother continues to get the royal runaround for her refund/compensation. Some kind of “certificate” was supposedly sent in the last email, but there was no insert or attachment…and she really needed it. Bridezilla begged her to come out for her not-quite-mother-in-law’s memorial service next week, so we looked into using airmiles for the ticket. She needed 25,000 for the ticket but only had 21,000. To transfer miles from Bridezilla’s account, United would charge $196. Alternatively, she could buy 5000 miles for $100. Then to cash in the miles, that would cost another $100-110. So that “free” ticket was going to cost $200-300. To buy a ticket from a site like Orbitz, UA, Travelocity, etc., we were looking at $650ish.

For the hell of it, and for the first time in years, Mom went to Priceline and put in a low-ball bid of $250 — and to her great surprise, got it for a total (incl fees and taxes) of $299. I guess it’s a quiet time for Aspen, given that last week was Gay Ski Week and this week is the X Games. Too bad I don’t like winter sports, because after her bid was accepted, she was offered another ticket on the same itinerary at the same price for a friend. Hm, new features and you can save more than $30…maybe I should see if Priceline has found a way to bid on international flights that takes into consideration the huge differences in the way airlines classify fares v. fees (two tickets can cost the same, say $1000, but one will be $500 ticket + $500 taxes while the other is $800 ticket + $200 taxes). That’s why I gave up on the site years ago.

Old Blighty’s Plight = Right Time to Book Flight?

I’ve been stalking airfares to Nairobi for the month of April on Kayak.com for a couple of months now, and today the price dropped $150 to fly British Airways for both legs ($1169) instead in conjunction with American Airlines, the previous best price @ $1311. And this happens on the day that I see the pound sterling hit $1.38. I’m thinking that at least part of this price drop can be attributed to the currency fluctuation. Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

I was trying to put off booking it until February 16ish because (a) I’ll have to make decisions about my apartment around then, and (b) my credit card statement closes on the 15th, so that maximized the interest-free period…not that I pay interest because I pay it off in full every month, but I like the time cushion and Citibank doesn’t deserve to be treated with any more fairness than absolutely necessary. Anyway, on the principle of “you snooze, you lose”, I’m probably going to buy it within the next few days. And payment on it won’t be due until March 9. Heh.

The week of New Year’s, I made more money than I’ve ever made in a week, and the previous record was from about 3 years ago. To put a number to it: $2510. Now I’m thinking that it would be very, very satisfying to keep the costs of this trip to the earnings for that week. Of course I’ll be bringing a donation to the charity I’ll be helping out at, but that will be garnered primarily from my ThaiForGood takings and any other fundraising ideas I can come up with that don’t feel like “begging”.

Since some of you have expressed interest in my travel plans for East Africa, here’s the outline:  20-25 days in Kenya and Tanzania, maybe Uganda. Must-sees are Olduvai Gorge (cradle of life), Serengeti Plain, Ngorongoro Crater. Would love to climb Kilimanjaro, but I was so ill from altitude sickness at 14,000 feet in the Andes that I’m just not willing to risk 20,000 feet in Africa. I’m also planning to volunteer 1-2 weeks at The Baobab Home, which looks very likely because April is not a popular month. I’m also hoping to do some “fair tourism” hiking in Tanzanian tea country. Zanzibar is a possibility, if I have time. I’m not too jazzed about a big overpriced safari thing, but I do intend to do that for at least a few days. I might also try to visit the community garden project in Kenya that I donated about $170 to last year.

My athletic nurse Bridezilla sister called me last weekend from an outdoor gear store, where a friend was willing to pass on her employee/wholesale price on a good backpack. She wanted to know what capacity I wanted – I told her to pick for me. After all, I know NOTHING about this sort of equipment and it’s really her area of expertise. Normally I’d just borrow from her, but I’ve done that often enough to realize I need one of my own. Plus, I liked the one she lent me for Peru (30-liter, so too small for this trip), so her judgment is proven. I’ll either reimburse her for it or tell her to get the other sibs to chip in and call it an early birthday present (I’ll be away roughly April 4-26, my birthday is April 30). However, I can’t discuss this with her at the moment because the woman who was supposed to become her mother-in-law later this year died unexpectedly on Sunday night.

I’d love to hear from anyone who has been to Kenya or Tanzania — I have no fixed itinerary and am pretty open to suggestions that don’t involve a $500 balloon ride over the Serengeti (seriously, that’s highway robbery).

Messing with United Airlines. Heh.

I’ve posted more than once in the past month about United Airlines’ poor communication skills. Now I’m testing the waters to see just how bad they are…

Recap:  I called to start the refund process for a cancelled Christmas flight. They were supposed to call or email me in 2-3 days. After 10 days, I emailed customer relations to bitch them out. A few days later, I checked my credit card balance and saw a $114 credit from UA dated 2 days after I requested the refund.

This morning I got an email from UA Refunds, who had obviously been forwarded my snotty email to CR, asking for details of the flight I was expecting a refund for. So I’m wondering…in a large corp that doesn’t communicate well within or without, will I get a second refund?

If I do, I’m keeping it. After all, they changed my outgoing flight without informing me, and I ended up having to start my trip a day earlier than planned which cost me $300 worth of business.

Update: United Airlines Refund

What a bunch of dumbasses. I called the Refund line to initiate the whole process on December 30th and was told someone would be in touch in 2-3 days. I waited 10 days, then sent Customer Relations that snotty email last Thursday. Their reply consisted of “sorry to hear that, call or email Refunds”.

Then today I logged into my Citibank card to make sure I didn’t have that mysterious 25-cent charge I posted about earlier, and lo-and-behold, there’s my refund: $114.57. It was applied on January 1st. It would appear that the assortment of United Airlines customer service departments don’t communicate with each other OR with customers regardless of whether the news is good or bad. Therefore I refuse to feel bad about my snottiness.