Saturday, November 10, 2012

Buddy Passes- part 1

In my last blog, I mentioned Mac and I went to Provincetown last June. I didn't mention the incredible experience we had getting there and back with "non-revenue" tickets. I put this in quotes as it is 1st misnomer of the buddy pass experience. "SA7" or space available 7 passes are less expensive than an even non-refundable fare you might by online, but they do cost money. In this case, when I went to book plane tickets to Boston, we were looking at airfares between $500-700 round trip from Los Angeles. It was the end of June, so right into the summer vacation peak season. On US Airways, where my cousin is a retiree and offered us passes, the round trip fare was $197.20. No idea how they come up with that number. Certainly far less expensive, but definitely not free. They are to be changeable and refundable, which is a nice feature. They still charge you to check a bag. On United, which our friend works for an affiliated airline of United and who's passes we also used, it is $75 each way on most flights across the US and they don't charge you to check a bag. They are also changeable and refundable. There are other space available levels, from 1 to even less than 7, though I can't imagine what falls below 7 and they are based on seniority and other factors, and some can only be used by employees and their immediate family. Each airline, while there is some uniformity, has it's own policies as well.

We were warned that it isn't an easy experience. We went into it being mentally prepared for a challenge and, as my husband remarked, thought of it as an "adventure." I think nightmare might be a better assessment following, though it did provide for many a conversation and this blog post.

We were told to try and go out on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday. We were told red eye flights from the West Coast were less popular. So, we booked (which really means added our name to a wait list) a Thursday flight on a red eye from LAX to Philadelphia and we would then take a morning flight to Boston. We had a back up plan as there was also a red eye to Charlotte and we could get a flight to Boston from there. Philadelphia and Charlotte are hubs for US Airways. We arrived at the airport plenty early, which I now know is less important than having your name on the list. A flight that day, one flight, was cancelled, so every other flight on US Airways that evening was overbooked. So, we patiently waited and hoped while 3 flights departed. We then, at 1 AM, drove home, slept for 3 hours and returned to the airport, hoping one of the really early flights might be possible. We tried to get on at least 3 US Airways flights that morning, starting at 5:30 and around 8 AM a gate agent informed us that the odds were not favorable we'd get on a US Airways flight until sometime next week. Next week? We had reservations in Provincetown that I had made a year earlier that started on Saturday.

Distraught, we called a friend in Boston. He works for Cape Air and has been in the industry a long time. Because he works for a regional carrier, I didn't think he'd able to do anything for us, nor was I expecting him to do anything, but thought he could guide us on what to do. I didn't want to call my cousin as she was so kind to offer the passes to begin with and I didn't feel it was fair to "disrupt" her retirement with our whining how we were about to miss our vacation. I looked into buying one way last minute tickets before our call to Greg, but those were just absolutely cost prohibitive.

It turns out Greg had been awarded a bunch of passes on United as some sort of promotion when they merged with Continental. He generously offered them to us and we graciously (really more frantically) accepted. He listed us on a flight at around 9 or 9:30 AM, so we raced our way from one end of LAX to the other to get to United's terminal. Although one of the larger airports in the US, LAX is not terribly user friendly on multiple levels. Getting from terminal 2 to 7 is a challenging and even life threatening experience; not a simple tram ride.

Turns out that flight was overbooked as well. But, United is a huge airline and has lots of flights heading East. So, we get on a wait list for another and all looks really good until a flight is cancelled. Suddenly, we went from #2 on the wait list to close to #60. Realizing we were in for a long day, we purchased day passes at the United Club, which wasn't only comforting, but fiscally responsible. They provide snacks and free drinks, along with Internet and agents to help with booking, so the $50 per person investment was less expensive than what we would have spent over the course of the day at one of the overpriced restaurants at LAX. It also saved running around terminal 7 all day and provided a comfortable seat, as opposed to my sitting on the floor, as I had been earlier.

Not getting on flight after flight to the East, Greg suggests that we get to San Francisco and try from there. It took 2 attempts, but we did get to San Francisco in the evening. At this juncture, Mac and I really just wanted to be somewhere other than LA. While San Francisco wasn't in our plans, at least we would be "out of town" if we ended up stranded there. Plus, we love the city and have a number of friends there. Never mind, our bag is already sitting in baggage claim at US Airways at Logan International Airport in Boston.

We had a nice dinner at a restaurant called "Yankee Pier" at SFO. Clam Chowder to start at a restaurant with "yankee" in it's name; exactly how I thought we'd start our vacation; other than we were still on the opposite coast! After spending over $100 to eat dinner at the airport, we go to the gate now praying that we might actually get to Massachusetts. Thankfully, Greg's plan worked, and we were able to get on the red eye to Boston, arriving Saturday morning, only 1 day later than originally planned.

Greg picked us up at 6 AM and we all went to breakfast at some diner. Diner's aren't as big in California and I finally felt like I had arrived when the sharp accented waitress served me mediocre coffee and a plate of food that should have really been for a family of 4, not one person. We showered at Greg's, then headed into town to get the car I had reserved so that we could drive on to Provincetown. Except Avis was out of cars. Never mind I had made the reservation at least 6 months ago! After some heated words with customer service while wondering the streets of Boston, we get a car squared away and go to the Ye Olde Oyster House, proclaimed to be America's oldest restaurant for lunch. I had not been there since I was in 7th grade and thought it was a perfect part of the Colonial America vacation experience. It did not let us down.

After lunch, I picked up the car, a Prius. I had always had a disdain for the Prius, maybe in part because so many people have them in LA and it's such a stereotypical car. I almost took it right back as I was having troubles understanding how certain things worked. I'm glad I didn't. We grew to absolutely love the car. It fit our needs perfectly and we remain in awe that we averaged almost 50 mpg all week.

That evening, we arrived in Provincetown. Our place was ready. Because Mac had called and explained he was in a cast, they gave us a 1st floor unit on a corner of the complex, directly across from the pool and with handicapped parking right outside our door. Things were looking better.

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