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Greetings! Last week we left off at the Miami airport. My flight to Los Angeles was one of United Airlines’ last non- stops from MIA (United passengers now must fly via one of their hubs). The plane was half empty (that’s probably why they discontinued it), and so was the airport. I’m not usually stoked to be in economy class, but this time I was. That’s because first class was packed, and coach was wide open -- which meant I scored a whole row to chill in. Yeah, baby! My biggest problem with the flight was that the a/c was blasting. Like an idiot I hadn’t brought any warm clothes, so I froze my tail off. The only thing I could find to keep my legs warm was this napkin from breakfast.
I wasn’t in LA too long, and most of my time was spent trying to find the cheapest possible deal for my next plane trips. I needed to be in a few different places - Chicago and Toronto for work, and Florida for fun. I know Florida is a bit out of the way, but it made sense for me to go down there. Of course it’s much closer than California, but the main reason was that adding Florida to my itinerary cost only $20 more on my fare --can you believe that? What a deal! I discovered that while I was searching travel sites, putting in possible destinations for a multi-leg trip. I found the whole process fascinating -- so much that I became addicted trying to find the cheapest deal and best flight times.
I started out using the search engines on our homepage, but learned they have a few flaws. For example, users can’t price out multiple-leg trips or one-way tickets. Bummer! The flight search engines also don’t really help when starting from a city outside the U.S. (I uncovered this when I priced out every different option, including buying all one-way tickets). But don’t stop using our Johnny Jet flight search engines – they’re still superior for comparison shopping on traditional roundtrip tickets originating in the U.S. Meanwhile, we’ll work to correct the other options.
I was going to Toronto to talk about travel websites on "Tech TV Canada." I figured Canadians would use pretty much the same websites as Americans, but boy was I wrong! Now I needed a very speedy course in Canadian Travel 101, so wouldn’t make a fool of myself on TV.
My crash course taught me that residents of Canada can’t purchase from some of the fine U.S websites like Priceline or Orbitz because they require a U.S. address. However, the good news is that Canadian websites price fares in Canadian dollars, which are about 18% weaker than the U.S. dollar. With the conversion, sometimes it’s cheaper for the Canadians. Expedia and Travelocity both have Canadian websites (just replace the .com with a .ca). Both price differently on their Canadian sites for the same exact itinerary. Pretty crazy, huh?
In case you’re interested: My research showed that Expedia.ca was the easiest to use. I also found out Travelocity.ca fares were much higher Expedia.ca when pricing out a multi-leg trip. For the TV show I searched airfares for a long weekend trip to Los Angeles from Toronto, with a 14-day advance notice. NOTE: All prices below have been converted into U.S. dollars; websites are listed in order, from highest price to lowest. United Airlines cost the most at $460. Then came Air Canada $410, JetsGo.net (a low-are Canadian carrier) $318, Destina.ca $295, West Jet (another low-fare Canadian airline) $286, Sidestep.com (need to Download it) $286, Travelocity.ca $286, iTravel2000.com $281, Expedia.com $280, America West $276, Travelocity.com $274, Expedia.ca $273. Interesting stuff, right? The lesson is: By shopping around you can save money. I should add that I priced out the same itinerary a few days later, and the cheapest prices varied. That reinforces the lesson: To find the cheapest price, make sure to shop around.
The ticket I finally bought was LAX-MSP-ORD-YYZ-ATL-FLL-MEM-LAX (If you don’t know your airport codes, that means Los Angeles-Minneapolis-Chicago O’Hare-Toronto-Atlanta-Fort Lauderdale-Memphis-Los Angeles). I mapped out the distances on the Great Circle Mapper, a recent Website of the Week). I know that’s a lot of flying (with one-hour layovers in Minneapolis, Atlanta and Memphis), but when you hear how much it cost, you’ll understand why I did it. Are you ready? I bought it for just $370 and 15,000 United miles. Incredible! Remember, I priced out every different option. I found that to save a couple of hundred dollars I could use 15,000 United miles to fly from Chicago to Toronto. That’s because United has a great deal right through December 31: If you fly 750 miles or less, it will cost only 15,000 miles instead of the usual 25,000 (and that’s roundtrip).
While doing my mad search I found Orbitz offered the best prices by far for multi- leg trips originating in the U.S. Therefore, I ended up buying my ticket through them on a bunch of airlines. (Of course, I went through JohnnyJet.com first, then clicked Orbitz -- so we got credit). I was really impressed with Orbitz’s service. Every two hours before my flight (or if there was a flight delay) their computer system called my cellphone, and told me gate info and departure time. Kudos to Orbitz!
Here’s how my trip went. I flew Northwest, and like a good, experienced traveler I checked in online 24 hours before my departure (You can check in for a Northwest flight at nwa.com anywhere from 24 hours to 60 minutes prior to departure). It was a good thing I checked in online early too, because I was able to change my assigned middle-row seats to aisles. (For some strange reason the seat assignments I picked through Orbitz when I purchased my ticket had gone bye-bye.)
The time I would have spent waiting in the airport check-in line allowed me to have breakfast instead. I went to Wolfgang Puck’s in the terminal. My scrambled eggs and bacon were not only disappointing, but expensive: $8!
As always when I fly coach, I asked the gate agent before I got on the plane if there were any rows with an empty seat next to it -- or a whole row. There was the former but I had to sit at a window. Boarding Northwest is a trip itself -- I felt like I was in a scene from "Meet the Parents." Gate agents board three rows at a time. I know it’s a great idea to ease gangway congestion, but come on -- add a couple more rows in the mix. I stood by the gate with just a few other passengers for 20 minutes waiting for my row (10) to be called. When the gate agent called rows 12-14, one person walked on. The agent kept looking around and waiting with the microphone in his hand, for about 3 minutes (it felt like 20). When he finally called rows 10-12, I was the only person to board. I felt like slapping him in the back of his head and saying, "Speed it up next time!" But I didn’t -- otherwise I’d be writing this from prison, instead of the air.
I was surprised to learn that Northwest doesn’t offer anything to watch on domestic flights. No TV or movies is brutal for some people, but it didn’t bother me. I had magazines to read, a computer to use, and I was fortunate to sit next to a really cool dude named Pearce. He used to have a job any traveler would love: He went around the world for the Discovery Channel, filming festivals for a show called "Travelers."
The flight to MSP took less than 3 hours. Flying into Minneapolis (except in the winter) is always a treat. It’s so pretty to gaze out the window and see all the lakes (Minnesota’s nickname is, of course, Land of 10,000 Lakes) -- especially this time of year, when all the leaves were changing colors. I just missed peak foliage, but there was still enough to get a good feel for fall. Most trees were yellow and orange, but a few were deep pink. Too cool!
The Minneapolis airport is huge, and is a great place for a layover. They have plenty of places to shop and dine, and there are strong wireless high-speed internet connections throughout the airport. They charge $6.95 for 24 hours, but I didn’t need to log on. My next flight to Chicago was boarding when I reached the gate.
My flight took only 55 minutes. It was a DC9-30 . I didn’t even know those planes are still in service -- they began flying in February 1967. But the ride was smooth, and it was fun to take a historic plane.
Once in O’Hare I followed the signs to the CTA (Chicago Transit Authority), as I usually do. Would you believe one of the magic carpets (moving walkways) was out of order… again. What a joke! I have never seen all four working at once, and I’ve probably been through there 20 times.
I quickly refilled my CTA pass at one of the vending machines, and took the Blue Line for a 40-minute ride downtown. It cost only $1.75, which sure beats a $40 taxi ride (and being stuck in traffic).
I got off at Washington Street, and walked three blocks to my hotel. This time I stayed at Hotel 71, in downtown Chicago right next to the "Loop." Hotel 71 opened in 2002, after a $20-million renovation of a 1950s-era luxury apartment building. The 39-story hotel has 422 guest rooms (supposedly the most in Chicago), and 32 suites. When I arrived I found the lobby to be small, dark and with the same "trying too hard to be hip" feeling as W Hotel lobbies (except the Ws have nicer and larger lobbies).
At first I was a little disappointed. The elevator was very slow, the hallway lighting was kind of depressing, and my room felt cold – both in temperature and design. The bathroom was also not very flattering. But after spending some time in the hotel and my room, they grew on me. I ended up really enjoying my stay. I liked that they offer more space than most hotel rooms. I had a little side room with a desk, and I loved the free high-speed internet. Not only that, but the sight from my window was awesome! I had an amazing view of the Chicago River, with all its lovely drawbridges. Directly across from the river is the old Chicago Sun-Times building (waiting empty to be knocked down for the new Trump tower). Best of all was the ideal location. It was so nice to be within walking distance of everything. The hotel was next to Michigan Avenue, with plenty of great restaurants, shops and attractions nearby (I’ll get to a couple of those next time). Hotel 71: 71 E. Wacker Dr., Chicago; tel.: 312-346-7100.
I was in Chicago to do my monthly segment on Chicago Tonight (WTTW-TV). The show went very well. It was just before the election, so I was in the green room with congressional candidate Melissa Bean and her staff. We sat at the table preparing. I was reading my notes, while Melissa’s staff asked her probable questions. When an aide asked her to name her favorite book, she paused. Without taking my eyes off my notes, I said with conviction, "You Are Here Traveling With Johnny Jet.com." They all laughed, and we all had a nice time chatting. Congrats to Mrs. Bean for winning a seat in the United States Congress!
To be continued...
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CREDIT CARD SURCHARGES
I was really pissed off to discover that American Express card holders are charged a 2% conversion surcharge when charging anything overseas. Other cards like Visa, MBNA, charges 0% and the conversion rate used is the same as American Express. Plus the Visa MBNA card has no annual fee and you can get, also for no charge, points for dollars spent. My Gold Card costs me about $120 a year and the Membership Rewards about $75 a year. Needless to say I'm going to drop my AMEX card. Few foreign travelers who have AMEX cards are aware of this 2% surcharge. Richard R. - Los Angeles, CA
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Top five bargain destinations for winter 2004/2005 |
Whether you want to escape the cold or revel in it, this winter's bargain destinations have got you covered. We've been keeping an eye out for regions where prices are dropping along with the mercury. From uncrowded ski spots and off-peak locales, to beach and tropical hotspots, this winter's top five bargain destinations offer exceptional variety and value. Click Here To Read Article
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