5 Travel Tips and The Long Journey Home

The last couple of months have been a real blur, as we have been very busy with life as well as planning our epic 8 week European Summer Road Trip.  It all started in April, with the great news that I was yet again an aunt!  Yep, my baby sis had another baby and this time it was a little girl.  I was so excited, I wanted to hop on a plan at that moment.  I check airfares and found a round trip ticket to the States for just $585!  I wanted to purchase the ticket at that moment, but something was holding me back.

5 travel tips and the long journey home

Keep on reading for our favorite travel tip and details of a great adventure!

When I woke the next morning it hit me, I had a sore throat and was a bit achy.  I refused to admit that I had a cold for a couple of days and kept saying it was allergies, yet I wouldn’t buy that plane ticket until I knew for sure.  I only had a 2-week window to go, as we had company coming for the entire month of May.  After 2 days, I finally had to admit it was a cold and have my sister make the call on my visit.  Afterall, I didn’t want to give any germs to a 1 week-old baby.

It was decided by all that it wasn’t too smart to expose a newborn to a cold, so the visit would have to take place following our May guests (Gma Linda and Friends).  I went to check flight prices for June 1.  Oh no!  All of the deals were gone, now the flights were $1200 round trip.  I am not sure if it was because it was June or those darn computer cookies knowing I had checked prices for the same flights for several days now.

Travel Tip 1:   Set a fare alert on Skyscanner to keep track of prices changes for you.

I set my price alerts on Skyscanner to keep track of the prices for my flight from Malaga to Las Vegas.  Anytime there was a change up or down, I would receive an email.  I knew I had about 6 weeks and hoped it would drop one day.  I had a very tight window of time to travel, as there are end-of-year school activities as well as our road trip at the end of June.  I could really just travel until about June 8th, so it was tight.

Mid-May, I noticed the price was going up rather than down.  I finally spoke with my sister to see how she was doing with her new baby.  I asked her if she really wanted me to come now or would she like me to visit in September instead.  Without hesitation and cutting me off, she said “Come now!”.  She was tired and just needed some help.

My heart just went out to her and I so wanted to go, but we still had many guests in town.  I spoke with Alan and Gma Linda and informed them of the situation and they said “go now”.  I booked a ticket and was on a flight 6 days later.  My entire round trip ticket was $470.  Wanna know how I got that price, when everything was quoting $1200 or more?  Read on and I will share.

Travel Tip 2:  Think outside of the box with your travel plans and you may be able to find better deals.  Check alternative airports, one way tickets, and possibly use your mileage points.

How I got a crazy good deal on a return trip from Spain to USA $468

I needed to get from Malaga Spain to St. George Utah, but Las Vegas is the closest major airport (2 hours drive).  I was traveling last-minute (within a week) and was scouring all of the sites like Skyscanner, Google Flights and each individual airline as well.  I knew Norwegian had great deals on long-haul flights from Europe to Asia and USA, so checked them out as well.  The had a fab deal from Spain to Los Angeles ($297) in one direction and only on one day, but the return was crazy ($740).  That was still putting me over the $1000 mark and it was dropping me in LA rather than Las Vegas, so I would be 6 hours from my Utah destination.

I kept checking and logged into my credit card points accounts as well.  My Chase Sapphire credit card had the entire round-trip available for a total of 90,000 points.  Wow!  That was a lot of points.  This credit card uses points as a dollar value, so that is why it was so high.  I then checked our United Mileage Plus card points account and they were offering the trip for 30,000 points each way.

Well, we only had 39,000 points left in this account, as we used quite a bit for 4 ticket from Singapore to USA last year.  With this account you use points, but need to pay taxes per leg of the trip.  So it was 30,000 points and $87 in taxes.  Okay, not a problem, I can figure this out!

I checked dates with United and found that I could use the points for just 2 days in the beginning of June, either the 4th or the 9th.  Okay, now I have a return date to work with, but I didn’t book anything yet, as I needed my departure flight figured out.  I kept going back to that Norwegian flight for $297, but it was to Los Angeles and it was on the Friday prior to Memorial Day weekend.

I called my sister and asked what she thought about dates.  I just wanted to be sure they were open with me visiting over the holiday weekend.  As it turned out they had planned to visit our other sister in Los Angeles over the holiday weekend.  Seriously!  How could this get any better?  I knew it all lined up for a reason, so this was going to be the flight.  I could fly into Los Angeles, visit with 2 of my sisters and then drive back to Utah with the family.

Done!

Sisters_May_2016__Kathy,_Heidi,_Karen

I booked a one way ticket with Norwegian for $297, but then spent $100 more to buy checked luggage, a seat and the meal plan.  This was cheaper than paying $130 for 1 checked bag.  I also had some Norwegian points available from out 2 long-haul flights we took the year prior (Europe to Bangkok and Los Angeles to Spain).  I applied those few points, which brought the price down from $397 to $381.

Round Trip flight from Spain to USA $468 in total

  • Flight from Spain to Los Angeles $381
  • Flight from Los Vegas to Spain $87 (plus 30,000 points)
    all flights included 1 checked bag, 1 carry on and 1 personal item.

Flight purchased!

A few days later it was time to start my long journey.  There just isn’t a quick and easy way to get to the west coast USA from Spain.  I only had one layover on my flight to Los Angeles in Denmark.  Of course the 2 hour layover turned into a 3 hour and 55 minute layover, but not to worry I was going to make it there!

Travel Tip 3:  If a flight is delayed 2 or more hours, go to customer service and request a meal voucher.

They announced our flight was going to be delayed, so I went to customer service to find out the problem.  The lines were a bit confusing and I ended up with an agent from a different airline, she informed me of the correct agent and suggested I request a meal voucher for the delay.  Off I went to the correct agent and I indeed requested a meal voucher.  Our flight was delayed 1 hour and 55 minutes and they only give out vouchers for a 2 hour delay.  No meal voucher for me this time.  (Just so you know our flight was well over 2 hours delayed, but we were all on board under the 2 hour mark).

It all just didn’t matter, I was on the final flight that was going to get me to my sisters, new niece and more family!  It was a great 1 week visit.

Ellie 6 weeks old

I only had a few days in Los Angeles and a few days in Utah, but we made the most of every minute!  It all went by far to fast, but I am glad I was able to see my parents and help out my baby sister.

carson at kathys waterpark may 2016

 

The Long Journey Home!

Let’s just start by reminding you that I purchased the flight home with my United Airlines miles.  United doesn’t really have a strong presence in Spain, so it wasn’t going to be the most direct journey to begin with.  I was flying from Las Vegas to Houston, Houston to Munich, and then Munich to Malaga.  The journey was a total of 16 hours flight time, plus 5 hours in layovers and the 2 hour drive to Vegas from Utah and the 1 hour drive from Malaga to Almuñécar.  From the get go my travel time was going to be about 24 hours, but that isn’t what happened.

My flight was going to depart Las Vegas at 9am on a Saturday morning, which means I needed to be at the airport by 7am.  It was a 2 hour drive from Utah to Vegas, and a 1 hour time difference, so I was going to need to catch the 6am shuttle to the airport.  I didn’t want to wake my sister and her family at 5:30am to take me to the shuttle as my new little niece was already keeping the family in a sleepless mode.  My mom offered to have me stay at her place, so we visited with my sister until bedtime (11pm) and then off to Mom’s we went.

Once we were at mom’s place, I printed up my boarding passes and we chatted for a bit.  I realized I had space left in my suitcase and about 15 more pounds allowed.  Of course being in the USA, I knew stores were open all of the time.  I quickly did a shopping run for some crazy unnecessary items for the family, junk food!  Yep, after my midnight shopping spree, everything was packed and ready to go.

I was a little hesitant to go to sleep, for fear of oversleeping and missing my shuttle.  Mom jokingly said, “Hey, we should drive to Mesquite and gamble all night.  The shuttle stops there on the way to Vegas anyway”.  Without hesitation, I said “Okay, let’s go!”.  I think Mom was a bit surprised, but she hopped on the phone to change my shuttle reservation and we were in the car in no time.  It was a 45 min drive to Mesquite, but that meant my shuttle ride was going to be 45 min shorter too.

We left Utah at 1am and arrived in Mesquite at 1am (1 hour time difference, kinda cool).  Mom had some vouchers for free rooms and meals, so we got a room to drop off my stuff.  We went off to play and gamble, but by 3am, I was wiped out.  I went to the room to take a 1 hour nap.  At 4am Mom arrived to gather me and take me out to breakfast.  We drove over to another casino to eat and then wait for the shuttle.

Right on time the shuttle arrived and I was on my way to my long journey home, with only 1 hour of sleep to start me off.  Not to worry, as I would have many flights to sleep on.

Travel Tip 4:  It’s a good idea to get a good night’s rest prior to an all day travel day!

My flight from Vegas to Houston was like clock work and I slept almost the entire 3 hour flight.  The were looking for volunteers to check their carry-on bags, to save room, so I offered up my carry-on suitcase.  I figured I was on my way home, so didn’t need anything.  I still had my little back pack with my laptop, so it was all good.

When everything started to go south!

Once I arrived in Houston, I just didn’t have a good feeling.  It was very stormy out and the airline sent an email the day prior stating there may be delays due to inclement weather.  I made it to my gate and the skies were very dark with a little drizzle of rain.  Well, they started boarding the flight right on time, so not to worry, I was going to miss all of this inclement weather.

Everyone was settled on the flight and it was just about time for them to close the doors, when the pilot greeted us over the intercom.  He then proceeded to inform us the plane did not pass it departure check, as there was one broken windsheild wiper.  He went on to say how it was needed and it was going to take about 2 hours to repair.  At this time the skies had opened and there was a torrential downpour.  He advised us, that we all needed to get back off of the plane and wait in the airport.  Let’s just say people can get on a plane faster than they can get off the plane.

We all filed off of the plane and many waited in line to see what would happen with connecting flights, me included.  I knew I only had a 2 hour 45 min layover, so a 2 hour delay just wasn’t going to work.  By the time I made it to the agent to check out my personal situation, it had already been 1 hour.

 

Meal Voucher!

The agent said she wasn’t going to change my flight because I should try to make the 45 minute connection.  I informed her I would need to go through passport control and change terminals, so I knew it wasn’t possible.  She insisted, I keep my flight.  I remembered the 2 hour meal voucher rule, so thought I would give it a try.  I requested a meal voucher and ta da! I got one for $10.  Off to Panda Express I go.

The 2 hour delay came and went and we were all still waiting.  Now our flight was showing an additional 2 hour delay!  Back to the customer service desk I went.  This time there was no doubt I was going to be missing my connection in Munich.  The agent informed me that they weren’t sure of the second 2 hour delay, as we could be ready to go at any time.  She said she kept my original connection, but put a place holder for me for the last connection to Spain on a different airline.  Once I arrived in Munich, I was to go to the agent there to obtain my boarding pass.  No problem!

Travel Tip 5:  Expect the unexpected.  Just plan on a delay popping up.  Remain calm when you have delays.  There really isn’t any reason to stress or worry, as it is out of your control.  Make the most of it and go with the flow.

I played around on my phone, called the family in Spain and chatted with family in the USA.  Everyone was aware of the delays and knew I wasn’t sure of my flight from Munich to Malaga.  After a delay of 4 hours, it was time to depart.  Apparently they swapped out the entire plane and not just the windshield wiper.  We had the same pilots, but a new flight crew.  We were set for our 10 1/2 hour flight.

The crew was fabulous and the flight wasn’t so bad either.  I took cat naps here and there and watched movies too.  The meal wasn’t so great, turkey meatloaf, but I liked the bread.  The flight went by pretty quickly and we made it to Munich!

Imperfections in Munich Airport Security

We disembarked off of the plane and I went directly to the monitor to find the Air Berlin flight I needed.  I had 2 hours to get to the gate and have the agent print my boarding pass.  I was in Terminal 2 and needed to get to Terminal 1 Gate A.  Okay, just follow the signs and you should be fine.

I followed the signs to baggage claim and passport control and then I noticed one which read “connecting flights”.  Well, that is the one I needed, as I was informed I didn’t need to collect my baggage.  So I followed those signs.  The led me down some stairs and I was to wait for a bus to take me from Terminal 2 to Terminal 1.  All was going well and I knew I would make it on time.

I hopped on the bus, which went for a very long journey over to Terminal 1.  Once I was off the bus, I followed the signs for Gate A, but I was in Gate D section.  Of course I walked all through the D wind, then the C wing and then the B wing, only to find there was no gate A!  The signs led me there, but it just stopped.  Actually, I could see signs for A, but they were on the other side of a glass wall.  I asked the agents and they looked baffled and didn’t know how to get me to A.

I back tracked thinking I missed a turn along the way, nope, nothing!  I was now back in gate C and I asked an agent there.  They pointed my down through B and said I needed to up the stairs at the end.  So along I went to find the only flight of stairs with a do not enter sign.  How do I get out of here?

I decided to break the rules and enter the “do not enter zone”, ’cause that is how I roll when I have no sleep.  I walked out and it was the backside of a 2 agent passport control section.  They were stunned when I appeared from behind and I explained to them my situation.  Apparently this was passport control to depart Germany not enter the country.  At that point I realized, I still hadn’t been stamped into the Schengen Zone!  After some sweet talking, they looked at my passport and let me in the area.

Now I was finally in the gate A zone, but of course I needed to get to the last gate in that section.  At this point my 2 hour window was shrinking.  I finally made it to my gate, only to find there were no agents there.  I went to another gate to request a boarding pass and the agent informed me there was a problem and I would need to exit the gate area and go back out past security to a check in agent.  She directed me to go out via an emergency exit to get to the check in area.  Once again, a salmon swimming upsteam and breaking the rules.

I was finally in Terminal 1 at the check-in area.  The lines were forever long and now I only had 1 hour left until departure.  I decided to go to customer service rather than wait in the long lines.  Air Berlin customer service informed me that the United agent never booked me on the flight, so I wasn’t ticketed.  I would need to go back to Terminal 2 and have them ticket my flight, then they could print a boarding pass.

Okay remember that long bus ride?  Well, I didn’t even know where the bus was now.  This time I was on the other side of the security and I still hadn’t been through passport control.  I took the long walk over to Terminal 2 via underground moving walkways and then through an above-ground shopping plaza.  Finally I made it to the agent desk and waited in line.  When I explained my situation, the agent stated I was booked on a flight to Spain via Geneva, but I had missed that connection.  This was news to me!

She then quickly ticketed my flight and told me I needed to run and get the boarding pass as they were going to start boarding in 10 minutes.  Zoom!  Off I went.  I ran through Terminal 2, blazed through the outdoor shopping plaza and glided along the underground moving walkways.  A sweaty mess, I returned to the Air Berlin customer service agent, but there was a line.  I patiently waited for my turn and then was provided my boarding pass.

The agent told me I needed to rush through security, as they were going to finish boarding in 6 minutes.  I turned to look at security and there was no way I would even make it through that in 15 minutes.  I turned to her and said, “How can I get through that quickly?”.  She took my boarding pass and hand wrote “Fast Lane” and said “Go!”.

I ran over to security, flashed my “fast lane” pass and they reluctantly let me in.  While the fast lane wasn’t really fast, it did let me bypass the super-long line.  I asked people if I could go ahead of them and they were all kind to let me pass.  I ran the entire length of the terminal to my gate at the very end.   It was now 4:05pm and board was scheduled to stop at 4:00pm, but there was still a long line of people waiting at the gate.  Phew!

I finally had a moment to hook up to wifi and let Alan know what was going on as well as which flight I was on.  Turns out there were problems with the jetway and it wouldn’t connect to the plane, so boarding hadn’t even started.  Yet another delay.  They had to move the plane and attach stairs outside.  After about 35 minutes, it was time to board.

For some reason, everyone felt a need to crowd the gate and be the first on the plane.  Even though we all had assigned seats and we would all eventually get on the plane.  I hung back out of the crowd and didn’t even care if I was the last one on.  I was chatting with a fellow passenger and she stated how calm she felt I was.  She said she could tell I am probably a seasoned traveler.  Oh if she only knew how much I have traveled.

They were calling each section to board.  We had to zig and zag to make our way outside to the plane.  Of course, it started to rain, so now we were also getting wet.  We were all finally on the plane and departed about an hour late.  At that moment, it occurred to me that I just spent 2 hours running around Munich airport and still didn’t have my entry stamp in my passport.  Oh well, if there is ever a problem I have my boarding pass and tickets to show I entered.  (Hopefully there aren’t issues when we renew for our resident visa next year.)

Just take me home!

I arrived in Malaga about 6 hours after my originally scheduled arrival, but it didn’t matter as I was home.  I went to collect my luggage and of course it wasn’t there.  I honestly didn’t expect it, as I didn’t even know which flight I was on, so how could the baggage handlers?

I went to customer service and waited in line to report my bags.  After about 45 minutes, it was all reported and confirmed my bags were still in Munich.  They provided me my receipt and I was informed they should be delivered to my home the next night, and they were.

Well, it was a fun adventure and I remained calm the entire time.  I mean what can you do right?  It was all so worth it to see my family and spend some good quality time with them.  I got to see 2 sisters (laugh, bond and dance together), meet my new little niece, visit with my parents, and play with my nephew.  I would do it all again, even with all of the delays.

I have been home for a few days and my sleep schedule is all messed up. Not to worry, I just need to write a few posts and finish planning our summer road trip.  We leave in 2  weeks, so I just need to have the first few weeks of the trip planned.  The rest of the trip we can plan on the road.

St. George UT with Karen and mom

Travel days are tough, so I knew all of that going into the trip, but time with family is priceless!

Do you have some great travel stories?  How about your own favorite travel tip?  Feel free to share them in the comments.

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About Heidi

Heidi has a passion for travel and has been exploring the world with her husband and 2 kids, since August 2012. She's visited more than 50 countries and loves to write about their family adventures, mishaps and costs. She has been an inspiration to others wanting to live their dreams. Her travel tips, planning posts, cost breakdowns, accommodation, and product reviews are also very popular. Her current home base is in Spain.

2 thoughts on “5 Travel Tips and The Long Journey Home

  1. OK, you truly are my hero after reading this travel account. I can’t think of anyone but you, Heidi, who could have handled this and still arrive home smiling. Wow, what an adventure, but so worth it to see the happy smiles.

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