We’re coming to the end of our trip to Cancun, and i’ve been giving some thought to the couple of decisions we made on this trip. The big one was on our outbound flight, from New York to Cancun. We had booked 2 seats (aisle and window) on American Airlines (10K avios per seat) hoping for an empty middle for a car seat. Yet again, we were thwarted when they allocated someone to the seat, and I made a decision to change our plans.
I cancelled the AA booking, and rebooked us into First Class on AeroMexico (review below). Doing this created the following events:
- A cancellation penalty – Sam from Milenomics had told us in the past that cancelling online means you lose the taxes.. I trust the kid, so gave it a shot. Sure enough, I got my 21000 Avios (1K for the baby), my $5.60 JFK security fees returned, and lost out on about $60 of taxes.
- A new seat penalty – BA Avios is an interesting program in that it allows the 10% of Adult Fare to be based on the adult avios used. Almost every other program will ask for 10% of the revenue seat (including Iberia Avios, which changes the equation when flying them with a child, especially in a Premium cabin). Here’s a breakdown of costs for our flight to Madrid in J. Our AeroMexico child ticket cost was estimated at $160 via the Delta CSR, but we were told to pay at the airport….
AeroMexico First Class Review! (Part 1 of 18)
- non stop AM flight from JFK to CUN. We’re on the beach by 11am.
- Terminal 1 has no lounge…
- Forced to pay child taxes at airport, they had to type in Credit Card info, and type in Driver License.. agent had only one working finger. Luckily the fees turned out to be only $60!
- Its really fricking early, a 7am departure means we had to get up and start assembling the baby travel unit at 2:30am.
- Food – shitty
- Seat – great if you are a recliner F seat aficionado
- Service – shittier, onboard and at the gate
No pics of my shitty meal or seats, I figure you can live without them. Overall, it was a pretty lame First Class experience, but it would have been just as lame in Economy, so at least we had some leg room. And I’m ok with the choice.
Back to the choices
From the review you may think I am unhappy, or made a bad choice to fly F. It’s not the case. It was the right thing to do, but it is worth noting that AeroMexico sucks in general. I was also annoyed at them for not allowing me to bring a car seat into the cabin when there were 10 empty F seats… but I digress – as I really want to dive into the topic of my brain, patterns, and traps.
I was willing to eat $200+ in fees to swap flights
This is a huge shift for me. I was willing to walk away from $60 on the original flight, and pay $160+ for the infant seat. The reason I could accept this choice came from being intentionally inefficient financially.
I have the Ritz Carlton, and the Amex Platinum which have $300 and $200 of airline credits respectively. There are ways to cash out these credits directly (into real money) or indirectly (into broader travel use) or you can actually use them for what they are intended, seat upgrades, change fees, etc…. I’ve found that if I ‘game’ the cards for full fee efficiency I would struggle to make the $200+ fee decision, but if I am sloppy and act like a regular Joe, I can be more flippant with these choices.
Now, you might say it is better to get a $200 AA gift card, but I’ve found that I have a bunch of these already, in fact I can’t keep track of all the giftcards I have and I never use the things. Gift cards aren’t redeemable against award fees, so it requires revenue tickets – and I just never really book these… anything domestic and affordable is an easy choice for Avios.
Over-optimization creates pressure points
Let’s say I only use points for travel (as many do…) and I get the Amex Plat, I lock in $200 in GCs and now I’m stuck. I’m too cheap to pay a fee out of my own pocket, I have no status because I don’t pay for flights, and I have a stockpile of GCs that never get used.
The result of this is that I create my own living hell. I end up going to the airport and keeping the seating arrangement that doesn’t work, hoping that maybe the person will swap. Or I ‘get lucky’. But I’ve found that ‘hope’ and ‘luck’ are actually negative words, and create anxiety and stress. By being optimized to perfection, I’m creating a stressful life. Which absolutely defeats the purpose of traveling and enjoying things ‘for free’.
We are the creators of our own destiny
It is very important to not look only at the price of a ticket, or the fees and penalties thereof, but also be able to visualize the impact of our decisions. It takes a few journey’s to make this possible, but once you have been through the wringer, it is easy to imagine what each step of the way will be. How will the Airport section be if I have Global Entry vs not? What if I take a car seat in a backpack? What if I have a smaller stroller? When I land, am I able to move all the stuff we have with us, or is that extra bag going to be a pain in the arse?
Clearly, traveling with a child intensifies this examination, but it is the same without it. Another example is that people (I’ve done this in the past) often forget to think what will be the reality of arriving in a country at 6am having flown 8hrs in Economy? Will that first day be a wash now because I’m exhausted? Its no longer an equation purely on the plane about a bigger seat for a nicer flight, but how fast you move through the airport due to priority access, and how effectively you can operate on the other side. Pricing changes.
There’s a ton of ‘information’ being thrown at the travel and travel hacking community, and it is cool to run calculations and optimization scenarios, but the key is that if you optimize everything, it then requires that you accept an experience that may be vastly inferior as you have created your own living hell. Make sure you are happy with the choices you make, and don’t be afraid to spend a bit of money, or leave something on the table in exchange for comfort and experience.