False alarm

So, I did it.  I took the plunge and bought airfare to Europe.  Now, I don’t fly often, partly because flying is not exactly on the “things you can do to reduce your carbon footprint” list, but I’ve never been to Europe (or off the North American continent), and this is something we’ve been talking about for more than two years.

During that time, I hem-hawed, waiting around for airfare that fit within my rather limited idea of “what I thought I should pay for airfare to Europe.”  When I didn’t see fares I liked for Fall 2008, I put it off until Spring 2009.  Spring 2009 fares not low enough?  Let’s wait for fall.  And so on and so forth.

We were already leaning heavily toward just doing it in 2011, when we received a bit of an extra nudge in November.  So a few weeks ago, I bit the bullet, found a decent (but still high for my frugal mentality) fare and actually bought the tickets.

I decided to be very well-behaved and not torture myself by continuing to track fares after that point.  All was well until I read “11 Tricks to Cutting Travel Costs in 2011” (see trick #4) — of course I had to take a peek at fares.

Now, I booked our tickets directly through the airline, thinking that if, for some reason, we needed to make a change, that would be the best and most reliable way to go.  Imagine my surprise (and excitement) when I searched that airline’s website and found the EXACT SAME itinerary for $150 less PER PERSON.

Three hundred dollars would be a nice chunk of extra change for our trip.  I immediately called the airline to inquire about a refund.  The customer service rep quickly dashed my hopes, claiming there would be a $250 “change fee,” which would  eat up a large portion of the fare difference. I asked a few more questions, trying to see if I could find any loopholes, but the conversation ended in disappointment.

After a brief retreat to lick my wounds (and scratch my very itchy torso), I regrouped and wrote a letter to the airline, expressing my disappointment with the situation.  I’ve pretty much accepted that we’re stuck with the original fare (which really was not too bad), but the letter can’t hurt anything.  Either way, we are Europe-bound in 2011, and I’ll spend the next few years working off the environmental impact of the trip 😉

My hot rod

Leading up to our recent trip to Texas, which involved a rental car, I couldn’t help but flash back to our rental car experience from a few years ago.  We “reserved” some kind of a compact car, only to have them “upgrade” us to a boat of a Buick.  In addition to the terrible gas mileage, we had quite a time maneuvering that behemoth around the narrow streets of Carmel-by-the-Sea.  That said, we managed without incident.

For our most recent excursion, we again reserved a compact car, and I was ready to put up a fight if they gave us an “upgrade.”  We arrived at the counter and presented our reservation.  After going over a few things (like declining their extra insurance and signing away our first born child — why does renting a car stress me out so much?), the customer service rep offered us the keys to a Dodge Caliber.

Now, I could not picture this particular car in my head, but I don’t exactly equate “Dodge” with “good gas mileage.”  Since I wasn’t familiar with the car (which is in fact a compact), I responded somewhat dubiously.

Me: We want to get something small with good gas mileage.

Service rep: This is one of our smaller cars.  [Looks through a couple of sets of car keys in his box.]  [Then, in a voice that sounds like he doubts we would really want what he’s about to offer . .  .]  The only other thing I have here is a Toyota Corolla.

Me: [Very excited, but trying to stay calm] And we could have that for the same price?

Service rep: Yes.

Me: Score!

Okay, I didn’t really say that, but I was doing a major happy dance inside, which only increased when we found our super cute, late model, bright red ‘Rolla waiting for us in the lot.  We suppressed our enthusiasm, guessing that a preference for small foreign cars might be less than popular in the land of gigantic American brand trucks.

Our little car performed nicely, though we didn’t realize until the return trip that there were actually two main drive settings on the automatic transmission (D3 and D).  We accidentally discovered “D” on the way back, which apparently equates to overdrive, and wished we’d discovered it sooner due to better gas mileage.  Either way, we did better on the MPG front in the Corolla than we would have done in the Caliber.

Perhaps this positive experience will leave me a bit more relaxed the next time I face a car rental.  In this case, one little question netted a better car with no extra cost — now that’s my kind of upgrade!

Travel green

Ready to fly

If you’re flying it all starts in the airport.  You CAN bring your reusable water bottle with you, just make sure it’s 100% empty when you go through security.  To emphasize the emptiness, I usually leave the lid off.  Find a drinking fountain and refill once you get to the other side.  To further cut down on waste, bring your own snacks (we had some delicious pumpkin bread) — most of the food options in airports, especially smaller ones, are crappy anyway.  Security seemed to have no issues with our wooden utensils.Continue reading “Travel green”