Archive for the 'RTW Tickets' Category
Monday, September 1, 2008
We have updated our itinerary with our new locations and dates. We were (finally) able to get our tickets reissued today, and I’m pretty sure we danced a jig out of the American Airlines office this afternoon. In our continued quest to visit sites of Indian Jones significance, we celebrated our victory with a trip to an historic Turkish hamam that was featured in one of the films. We sat on a great stone slab, basking under a magnificent domed ceiling punched with stars, reveling in the solitude. It was the calmest we had felt in days. We returned home, however, to discover that our flight to Jordan, booked for tomorrow, was “unconfirmed” (despite the fact that we have a ticket stating otherwise?!), so we may or may not leave tomorrow. I am beginning to wonder if Istanbul will ever release us from its grip, or if the fates are trying to tell us something. In any event, we’re going to show up to the airport and play dumb and see what happens.No comments
Monday, September 1, 2008
We were supposed to fly to Rome on Saturday. However, we have recently made some dramatic changes to our itinerary – for better or worse – and have decided to leave directly to Jordan from Istanbul. The earliest available flight to Jordan is September 2, three days after our scheduled flight to Rome.
Our first order of business upon returning to Istanbul from Cirali was to have our tickets reissued. Although we have reservations for our next flight segments, we have no actual tickets; further, because we have paper tickets, some poor sap has to physically pen our new ones. In order to do so, we had to pay a visit to American Airlines’ sole, inconveniently-located office in Istanbul – the only such office in the whole country.
We took a one-hour metro ride to Kabatas, a part of the city I had never been to. We trudged up the hill, holding a crumpled piece of paper in our hands with the office’s address. Passing number 33 once, we hiked back down the hill. A small brass sign, barely detectable, read, “American Airlines, first floor,” and pointed upward. We squinted at the poky staircase that disappeared into the dark. “This is it?” I asked, incredulously.
Once inside, the agency assured us that our tickets could be easily reissued within a few hours. Meanwhile, we spent a leisurely afternoon exploring Taksim, the city already emptying of tourists in late August We ducked in and out of bookstores, buying Lonely Planet guides for our next legs, and spent a long time chatting with the director of the Sufi museum, who was eager to practice his English.
When we returned to the office later that afternoon, we learned that, not only had the tickets not been reissued, but there were “problems.” However, because the office was only an agent of American Airlines, they couldn’t place a call to the airlines in London without charging us 30 Euros (about $45) per person. “Come back Monday and we’ll get it sorted out,” she said, confidently. Our flight is scheduled to leave Tuesday.
I was beside myself. I’ve never faced the unknown very well, and this trip has only confirmed that. I spent a sleepless night wondering how and if we were ever going to get out of Istanbul. If I have learned anything thus far, it’s that I place my expectations in all the wrong places: I expect situations to work out perfectly most times, and when they don’t (and they rarely do), I panic. But I expect very little from people, tending to be leery and untrusting.
The next morning we called Dunya and Diler, a couple about our age who we met at our hotel in Cirali. They both live in Istanbul and lived in New York City for three years, where they attended graduate school. They were eager to show us Istanbul, and encouraged us to contact them when we got back to the city. We decided now would be the perfect time: we needed to have some fun and distract ourselves from the situation at hand.
We met them back in Kabatas (was there a vortex in this neighborhood?), where we boarded a boat for a tour of the Bosphorous. As the ticket collector came around, we were once again surprised when they offered to pay. “You are our guests,” they insisted. We spent a lovely hour taking in the scenery and chatting. It was Victory Day, celebrating the Turk’s triumph over their many invaders throughout the course of history, and every building was draped with gigantic Turkish flags. Huge swaths of the cherry fabric, festooned with the iconic white crescent moon and star, flapped in the breeze. Some flags bore an image of Ataturk, their beloved national hero, who I think is quite dashing.
I shared with Dunya (whose name, interestingly, means “world”) and Diler our ticket woes. Having lived in both American and Turkish cultures, they were able to offer a helpful perspective. “In America there is a system, and the people are bound to it. When something goes wrong, there is always a responsible party,” said Dunya. While none of our lives are ultimately in our control, I think there is a pervasive sense in the US that most things can be manipulated to our satisfaction if we just try hard enough. In most of the world, this isn’t the case; and while I know this on an intellectual level, I am finding it nearly impossible to surrender that sense of control. I am fighting a losing battle with myself.
After the boat cruise, they drove us around the more modern parts of Istanbul, which we had never seen. We zoomed past the towering skyscrapers that they both work in, and lunched in a chic area of town, which, again, was their treat. As a thoroughly modern Turkish couple, it was interesting to hear their perspective on politics, world affairs, social mores, and cultural norms. We walked around Nisantasi, the Beverly Hills of Turkey, and found the streets to be blessedly tourist-free, nothing like the buzzing chaos of Sultanahmet. We popped into a store that I can only describe as the Crate and Barrel of Turkey, where, instead of a plethora of pillows and plates, one can choose from a dizzying array of raki glasses and tea cups.
We said our goodbyes, wishing that we could repay the favor someday if they ever travel to New Mexico. But tit for tat wasn’t the point. I shared with Diler that I was amazed that, in traveling throughout Turkey, no one seems particularly concerned with “keeping tabs.” There was one day in Goreme where we owed four people money. It wasn’t much – a couple of lira here and there – but each vendor always said, “Next time.” When we returned less than an hour later with the money, people looked surprised. “You didn’t have to make a special trip back here!” they seemed to say. Diler translated. “The attitude is that if you have something to give, you give it. They trust that if you are a good person, you will be back. If not, then you’ll get that money back in your life in some other way. The important thing is to do it if you can.” This was the embodiment of karma and trust in your fellow man, an example of placing your expectations in all the right places. It was as nice of a philosophy as I had ever heard.No comments
Buying plane tickets is one of the most torture-inducing parts of planning a RTW trip. I am fortunate that Maikael has almost exclusively handled this part of the planning process. Still, it’s gotten to the point where I can’t even be in the same room when Maikael is calling the airlines: it makes both me and him nervous when I’m there, so it’s best if I just leave.
We thought we were done dealing with complicated ticket purchase processes when we bought our RTW tickets in April. We’ve been avoiding buying our South American Airpasses (SAA) knowing, deep down, that it was going to be harder than we wanted it to be. By means of explanation, the SAA (offered through LAN Chile, who partners with American Airlines) is used to supplement our RTW ticket. Because we only get four stopovers per continent, and expect to explore South America extensively, we are able to add on additional “a la carte” flights at a relatively low cost.
One of the reasons we bought our RTW ticket through American Airlines is that it made us eligible for deep discounts with the SAA. However, after spending too many days this week charting our course through South America, we learned that there are actually two SAA options: one offered directly through LAN Chile and the other offered through American Airlines vis a vis LAN Chile. Both were different birds, offering different fares, routing options, and rules. Comparing the relative pros and cons of each plan quickly became a classic exercise in comparing apples to oranges. (We eventually purchased our Airpass directly through LAN Chile, which cost a bit more but was ultimately a more feasible transaction that involved less hair-pulling.)
The only saving grace of this process is making phone calls to LAN Chile, which is probably the only time in my life that I will say ”fun” and “airlines” in the same breath. The phone rings once, like it normally does when you’re placing a phone call; then, the tone modulates down a half step, giving the impression that you have now crossed international waters. Strains of pan flute music waft over the phone line as you hold for the next available representative. Their reservationists are kind, polite, reserved, and competent. But the best part is the woman whose voice appears on the recorded message. We’re not sure what accent she might have, but she seems to be channeling some cross between Fantasia Barrino from Season 3 of American Idol and The Girl from Ipanema. All of her “s”s sound like “sh”s. She kindly asks us to “presh sheven” if we have already purchased a ticket, or to stay on the line for “more optionshs.” She also warns us that our calls may be monitored to “enshursh quality ashurish.”
I’m sure none of this would seem so funny if I wasn’t completely exhausted these days. But last Wednesday night, when we called at 9:45 pm, only to discover that our reservation had been cancelled due to a misunderstanding of Zulu time versus Miami time, I needed to laugh. So Maikael and I called over and over again, listening to the recorded meshage, laughing great guffaws until tears streamed down my face.2 comments
Last week my Little Sister asked me what car we would be taking around the world. “What do you mean?” I asked. “I mean, which of your two cars are you going to drive around the world?” she responded. I explained that we would be leaving both of our cars parked at home, and that you couldn’t exactly drive around the world (unless, of course, you shipped your car). “Well, then how are you going to get there?” she asked. When I told her we were going to fly, she exclaimed, “You’re going to fly around the whole world?!”
This, to me, didn’t seem to be any astonishing feat. Planes have become the Greyhounds of the skies, shiny canisters that propel masses of people around the world on a daily basis. I am, in fact, bummed that we are taking such a generic form of transportation for the majority of the trip. Our round-the-world planning guide dedicates a whole chapter to promoting alternative forms of transportation, such as the taking a felucca down the Nile in Egypt. When in Rome do as the Romans do, right?
Our round-the-world tickets gets us from Albuquerque to Madrid, but so as to save one of our 20 legs, we are getting ourselves from Madrid to Portugal and back. The question was, how would we do it? I was eager to take the train from Madrid to Lisbon, the train being the ultimate European experience. I imagined sipping sangria in my sleeper car, reading Don Quixote or some heady work of classic fiction, while the Spanish countryside streaked by in shades of ochre. I would munch on churros y chocolate in the dining car, making fast friends with my fellow travelers and talking animatedly in Spanish with an unexpected degree of fluency. This fantasy came to a grinding halt when I discovered that the train was an overnight route — common in Europe. The landscape would be nothing but darkness, and we couldn’t afford the tickets that included meals. A basic sleeper car without a shower would run us $170 per person.
Next we investigated driving. I could still have my vibrant countryside, only this time I could get out to admire Spanish hamlets and wave hello to the myriad olive farmers I would inevitably pass on the road. The daily rental fee was only $20 — but the cost of taking a car over an international border on a one-way trip added an additional $600 to the fare.
So, after staying two nights in Madrid, we will be on an Easy Jet flight to Lisbon on July 16 for the ridiculously low price of $50 per person. The taxes cost more than the ticket itself. While it’s not the romantic train experience I had always envisioned, I will be privy to another quintessential European experience: bargain basement airfares. There is incredible competition in this market, driving tickets prices down to nearly nothing. Airlines such as Easy Jet and Ryan Air (whom we will fly from Porto to Madrid with) cater to the weekend traveler; as such, they gouge you on extravagent extras like checking one bag per person. Seriously: it will be more expensive to send our luggage than ourselves from Porto to Madrid.
Not all trains are created equal. After spending a week in Libson we will meander our way north up the coastline for two weeks, taking a series of inexpensive trains and busses that link most Portugese cities. I may have my European rail experience yet.No comments
I arrived home last Thursday evening to find a FedEx envelope propped against the front stoop. I love getting mail — I have been known to drop whatever I’m doing to dash to the mailbox the moment the postman peels away from the curb – so getting a FedEx package is like hitting the mail jackpot. The outside of the envelope stated that the sender was American Airlines. Our plane tickets! It’s been a few weeks since we ordered them, and I was beginning to get a little nervous that our credit card hadn’t been charged, and that we hadn’t received one iota of proof that we’d actually purchased said tickets. Being able to hold the bundle of plane tickets in my hand was a huge relief.
I took the tickets out of their paper casing and began to flip through them like a stack of bills. I was astonished. The reservationist kept telling us that it would take awhile to generate the tickets because they had to be “written.” This made no sense to me until I opened the tickets. Instead of the computer-generated tickets that I am accustomed to seeing, I discovered that our tickets are literally handwritten. That’s right: some poor schmo had to go through and meticulously pen each of our nineteen legs. The tickets don’t even look real. It’s as if we decided to play the game Airplane — “I want to be the ticket agent! Let ME write the tickets!” — and created our own tickets (paid for, no doubt, with Monopoly money). During one of our many conversations with the folks at OneWorld, we learned that they will be phasing out these type of tickets over the next few months, and now we know why.
As the proud owners of handwritten relics, I wonder what sideways glances we’ll get when we present our flight coupons to the various ticketing counters around the globe. I was worried that we’d be denied admission until my friend, Lee, assured me that handwriting tickets is “old school.” He grew up in Hawaii and, as a frequent island hopper in the 1980s, saw many a handwritten ticket. So my mind is once again at ease, and I am excited to finally be able to hold our plane tickets in my hands…even if they don’t seem quite real.No comments
I have a love/hate relationship with complexity. When compelled, I’ll attack a problem with a nausea-inducing dogma. As I recently discovered when purchasing a round-the-world (RTW) ticket, it turns out that this statement is not an exaggeration. Just because one is good at something, does not necessarily mean he enjoys it.
In January, I embarked on a process following a disciplined approach, trying to get the most value for our money, adhering to the tenets of a money-saving credo. I quickly honed in on the OneWorld alliance RTW ticket as it provides excellent coverage to many of the places we want to visit. I carefully constructed a draft of our RTW itinerary, daydreaming about all the mystical places we’d soon visit. My best laid plans, however, were soon dashed by the thick French accent of Michael from American Airlines, tersely stating that our total number of segments had been exhausted before even reaching South America. I imagine Michael sitting at his computer terminal, cigarette dangling from his mouth, admonishing the system for its slow response time while he literally pounds on the keyboard, hot ashes falling into the deep crevice between the “n” and “m” keys. Michael takes pity on my naivete, offering helpful tips, but I clearly need to hang up and regroup.
Over the next months, I greatly enhance my OneWorld acumen, learning the intricacies and nuances of our itinerary. I call American Airlines enough times to actually learn the cast of characters. There’s Robert, who has a clear understanding of the rules and a calm demeanor, and I always have a feeling of progress made when I hang up. I have no doubt that the Indians would say a phone call with him is an auspicious event. But then there’s Robert’s antithesis, in the form of the curmudgeonly Rebecca, who dismisses all your statements with a monotone “mmm hmm.” And lest you engage her personally, she’ll drone on about the No Child Left Behind Act, not letting you get a word in edgewise, only to force you off the phone prematurely, citing the long queue of phone calls. But, I become adept at navigating this stormy sea, once even hanging up when Rebecca answers so I can call back and speak to Michael instead. Soon, I’m citing policy to the agents, and most frightening of all, I’m usually correct.
One day, Elizabeth tells me about the 13 months website, a no-nonsense, “how to” primer on RTW travel. They had also chosen a OneWorld ticket, and had shrewdly saved thousands by originating their tickets in the UK. The catch? They enlisted good friends who lived in the UK to purchase the tickets on their behalf. But I don’t know anyone in the UK very well. No matter, this is just a technicality, I think to myself. Through much work, I actually track down a business contact, who graciously agrees to help me after he returns from a holiday in Tasmania. I know he’s a completely trustworthy person, but I can’t help but feel a bit strange asking such a huge favor of someone I’ve only met a couple of times. Elizabeth asks if I’m trying to fit a square peg in a round hole in a mission to save a dubious amount of money. Nonsense, I say.
I set everything up: a special UK-based itinerary, research one-way tickets over there, money transfer options, and detailed instructions for my colleague to carry out the purchase. I spend countless hours stressing over this scheme, which often carries over to my sleep. On a particularly bad day, I have what I imagine is the precursor to a panic attack, where something like a horrifically oppressive Jamaican humidty is pushing on me from all sides, making it difficult to breathe. No matter, I think, since I’m almost finished. But, it seems like every time I enact a new step to this plan, there’s a new obstacle to overcome. I no longer know how close I am to the finish line; it is a mirage that keeps moving. The final insult comes when I go to transfer the money overseas, and I find there’s a currency conversion fee that will significantly eat away our savings. Elizabeth and I do a back-of-the-envelope calculation, and find that our savings are negligible, certainly not the thousands I had pined for.
To our relief, I purchased the US-based ticket this morning. Perhaps in an alternate universe, with more time, I could have devined a more clever solution. Elizabeth had been correct when she pointed out that the 13 months people had good, long-time friends to help them out, when I was asking so much of my business colleague. Our time frame was short, and our stress levels ever-increasing. Sure, we may have saved a bit more money by going with the UK option, but at what cost? I feel a great weight lifted off me as I purchase the tickets, once again filled with excited anticipation for our RTW trip.1 comment