Travel Ails and Remedies

Over the winter, I wrote a blog about how to travel like a pro.  Unfortunately, sometimes airlines get in your way, no matter how big of a pro you are.  So here are my tips on how to get yourself from Point A to Point B when, as a student, you just need to get out of town, forget about your coursework, and go have some fun.

A little background first:  On a trip back from DC on USAirways, I ran into the most difficulties in a single trip I ever have.  Ever.  I was bumped (read forcibly removed) from a flight because I was one of the two last people to check in and the flight was overweight.  I was shifted over to Delta, which proceeded to cancel its flight.  I then got shifted back to USAirways, which then postponed its flight until 1AM.  I was at Dulles Airport for a grand total of 12 hours before I decided to just go home.  I received a flight voucher, which I then used to book a flight to NYC for this weekend.  The flight was delayed five times for Air Traffic Control reasons, which were not elaborated upon, and I decided again to just hop on a flight the next morning.  As a friend told me, “Fool me once…”

So here are my tips to make traveling a little easier:

1. Sign up for alerts from your airline.  I received a phone call and e-mail from USAirways every time they delayed my flight.  All four of them.  Even though your flight has been delayed, at least you can delay yourself from sitting in the airport ad infinitum.

2. If you do have trouble, find a rep.  This is a crap shoot. I lucked out and received a wonderful USAirways rep who got me rebooked for a flight the next day, had my bag pulled out and onto a carousel within five minutes, and she did it all with panache and a sense of humor.  She looked mean, so don’t judge a book by its cover, but restored my faith in humanity and in USAirways.  For now.  Look for Laura G at CMH.  She’ll do right by you.

3. Book your flights for as early in the morning as possible.  Airlines who have delay problems (I’m looking at you, USAirways, Delta, United, American, etc…) tend to keep getting backed up until what happened to me, happens to you.  Getting a flight as early as possible will circumvent this for the most part.

4. Complain, complain, complain.  The greasy wheel gets the grease, aka a flight voucher and probably a meal voucher.  Use at your own risk though.  Flying on an airline you get a voucher from is like getting waterboarded and then saying, “Please sir, could I have some more?”

5. Here’s my real solution to everything:  FLY SOUTHWEST.  I flew Southwest to Chicago, where I was going to be for a few days.  I decided to extend my stay by a day.  I changed my flight online, there were no change fees, I checked in two bags for free (after a shopping bender on Michigan Avenue doubled my luggage) and for $15 more, I was able to upgrade to business class.

6. Southwest business class gets you this: You are one of the first ten people to board, which means you can get one of the four seats in the front with the extra, super-deluxe legroom.  If you check in exactly 24 hours before your flight, you’ll likely be the very first.  It also gets you a free glass of wine, cocktail or Monster energy drink.  And next comes the most important part.

7. It gets you their Fly By Lane, available at most airports (not CMH).  I underestimated how much time I needed to get through security at Midway in Chicago.  The Fly By Lane let me almost literally fly by the 50 minute+ line at security, and go through the priority security line.  It took me five minutes to get through.

8. Even if you don’t do business class, you still get two bags checked for free (in addition to a carry on and personal item), a free drink, a snack and the peace of mind that your flight will leave on time.  The 24 hour check-in trick works for non-business class too.  Set an alarm for 24 hours before your flight, check in and you will almost certainly be in the A11-A30 group.

9. Southwest flies into outlying airports, and so you get to fly cheap.  I flew into Midway instead of O’Hare for Chicago, and fly into BWI instead of Dulles or National for DC.  The travel time between Midway and Lincoln Park is the same as O’Hare.  And I saved $150 on a comparable flight.  Very student budget-friendly!

10. The airport you choose when not on Southwest is also important.  Dulles, O’Hare and La Guardia tend to have the most problems with delays.

11. And no, I am not a spokesperson for Southwest, though I should be.  You can bet this blog will be posted on Southwest’s Facebook Wall in hopes that my kind and deserved words land me a free flight somewhere.  Business class preferably.

12. Update: My flight back to Columbus from La Guardia got off without a hitch, and even arrived half an hour early.  Well done, USAirways.  You’re 2 for 15 in my book now.  Southwest still rocks the most though.

Cutting the cord, saving some dough

Hey grad students who aren’t working, or grad students who are but blow a significant portion of your earnings on textbooks, eating on campus, parking and Varsity Club.  I wanted to share some tips with you on how to save some money, reduce brain atrophy and boost productivity.

About a month ago I hit a financial crossroads.  My roommate had moved out over the summer and I had attempted to make a go of it without the financial boon of having a renter and splitting house supplies and utilities.  And then I reached a point where I either had to implement some austerity measures or find another roomie.  Neither sounded like good ideas to me.  Taking some inspiration from our economically beleaguered European brothers and sisters, I implemented the austerity measures.  I figured doing so would not only test my mettle, but would also put me in a great financial situation once I started working again but maintained my cutbacks.

So here’s how I did it:

1) I cut the cable.  I had Time Warner and apparently right after I cut the cord, so did ABC and Fox.  So it wasn’t even worth it anymore.  Costs savings of $82.07/month.  That’s nearly a $1000 a year, tax-free!  To put it into context, that’s 6 pairs of Diesel jeans and a pair of Diesel sneaks.  That’s two iPads.  That’s a new set of Tumi luggage.  That’s a really, REALLY good shopping spree at H&M.  That’s textbooks for two quarters or three if you’re thrifty and use or Amazon, but we’ll get to them later.  (You’ll also have more time to read all those textbooks, hence the improved productivity.)

2)  Kept my internet with TWC.  Mine did not go up because I had a special offer, but it sometimes does when you unbundle your package.  At most it goes up around $10/month.  Ask about special offers.  They’ll probably be glad to keep SOME of your money around.

3) I downgraded my Netflix from 2 discs/month to instant only for $7.99/month.  Costs savings of $9.99/month.  That’s $120/year or 6 sushi dinners at Haiku, 20 dishes at Joy’s Village in the basement of Buckeye Books (awesome, authentic and huge portions), or 3 beers a week at Varsity club for the entire quarter.  Plus, Netflix is available on almost everything now (PS3, Wii, iPhone, computer, etc.) and the instant catalog is growing every day.

4) If you really can’t live without TV, get Hulu Plus.  Lots of shows, available on all your platforms and it’s only $7.99/month.  You can even try it free for a week.  Still have to watch the commercials though.

5) Or even better, get Boxee.  It’s a program that pulls TV shows from all over the internet, except for Hulu.  But it has a great interface, is totally free and easy to use.  You’ll have to watch the commercials though. There’s a trade off for everything, right?  Make sure to play around with the repositories to find extra apps.

6) I bought all my books on that I could and then bought what I had to at the OSU bookstore.  Go to Buckeyelink, pull up your book list, copy and paste the ISBN into or Amazon and start saving around 60% or more!

7) I’m getting my hair cut less.  It’s one of my only vanities, so don’t judge.  But I used to get it cut every two weeks.  Now I’m getting it cut every three weeks.  Now I save about $180/year, about $15/month.  That’s 3 subs at the Subway across from Gerlach and Fisher, 5 beers at Varsity Club, 3 valet parkings in the Short North when it’s too cold out to look for a spot or some groceries.

8) Call your credit card companies and see if there are any special APR’s available.  If you’ve been a good cardholder and have been paying on time they’ll usually let you sign up for one for at least a year.  If you were one of the debt-holders who got hit by the new 29.99% APR’s, getting a special APR of %19.99 would make a HUGE difference.  Never hurts to call and ask, right?

9) Finally, here’s the last one.  If you are mobile and can get to it, Aldi is a great place to shop.  Don’t knock it because of its reputation as a cheap, affordable grocery store.  EMBRACE IT for its reputation as a cheap, affordable grocery store!  I go there first for everything on my list and then go to Giant Eagle or Kroger for whatever is left, which is usually not much.  The produce is good, but limited, the meats are fresh, the non-perishables like toilet paper, soap, etc., are well-priced, and they even have wine that is pretty decent/good depending on the type.  And finally, if you’re still not convinced, know this:  They are the number one grocery store in Europe and they own Trader Joe’s.  Yup, same company, so the stuff is good.

All in all, I’m saving almost $1300/year from cutbacks, around $600/year on textbooks and at least around $1500/year by shopping at Aldi and not having to even use coupons.  What would you do with an extra $3400/year?  Hmm?