My parents always like to spend a couple weeks in the winter months in the Palm Springs area to get away from the cold and to see family and friends who live in Southern California. Last year, I used United miles to fly myself out there for a long weekend to see them and the rest of my extended family.
When I was looking at flights last year, I knew that I wanted to take a red-eye back from California so that I could maximize my time out there. I was in my senior year of college at the time and had a class at 9:00 Tuesday morning. Given that I was going to need to be fairly alert when we landed, I decided that I would splurge for First Class on the way back so I would be able to sleep a little better. My itinerary was originally ONT-PHX-PHL on US Airways. However, when we left the hotel to take me to the Ontario airport (about an hour away or so), there was a HUGE traffic jam on I-10 out of Palm Springs all the way up to Ontario and beyond – some of you in the area might remember this. I quickly called up United (who I had booked he award ticket with) and explained the situation to them. After some discussion, my ticket was changed to departing from PSP. When I got to the airport in Palm Springs, they had no record of the change. After about an hour of back and forth, they finally had me on the flight from PSP to PHX and it looked like I was good to go. After hours of dealing with this issue, I sat down on the plane and finally relaxed. Flash forward to PHX where there was no record of me being on the plane at all! Luckily they had an extra seat available, but it was in Coach in a middle seat – not exactly the sleeping conditions I was expecting. When I arrived in PHL I called up United again and explained the whole situate again. The lady seemed to understand, but she said there was nothing she could do at the time because it still showed that I had traveled in First Class. Finally, after two months of calling up United, they issued me a partial refund on my miles plus a $250 voucher that was good for a year – pretty generous I thought.
Now to the semi-present time period. My parents were back in Palm Springs again and I was thinking about going out to visit them. However, every time I checked fares, they were $400-$500 or more roundtrip! Even with my voucher, I wasn’t prepared to spend upwards of $250 for a couple days in the sun. Luckily, I kept checking Kayak and managed to find a fare a week before I wanted to go for $306 that left Saturday morning at 5:15AM out of NYC and got into PSP at 10:30AM. Coming back, I would again take a red-eye Monday night and get back into NYC at 7:00AM Tuesday morning – just enough time to get me to the office by 8:30AM. Sounded like a perfect weekend for $56! Going out, there were no problems whatsoever. I got into PSP right on-time and enjoyed the California sunshine for a few days. Coming back to New York, however, is where the fun really began. As I sat on the plane from PSP to LAX, the flight attendant announced that there were three crew members that had to get to LAX on this flight and that she needed three volunteers to bump off the flight. There were no more fights that night, but they would pay for a cab to take us to LAX (about a two hour drive or so drive). I had about two and a half hours on the ground in LAX and the flight from PSP to LAX was scheduled to be one hour, which meant that I had three and a half hours to get from PSP to LAX for my flight to JFK. They were offering $400 plus food vouchers so I took them up on the offer. I was a little nervous for the drive given the experience I had last year, but it was 7:30PM so traffic shouldn’t have been too bad. Plus, if there hadn’t have been three volunteers, involuntary bumps were in order, meaning way less compensation if I had been picked. We finally left PSP at about 8:00PM after getting our vouchers and our taxi driver had a lead foot. We made it to LAX in under two hours and I was safely aboard my flight to JFK. According to the taxi driver, the airlines do this all the time out of PSP because of all the airports that are close by.
Now, I have another $400 to spend just because I chose to drive to LAX instead of fly from PSP! For my original investment of 37,500 United miles, I received a flight out to Palm Springs last year, a flight out to Palm Springs this year for $56, a $400 voucher, plus 6,250 United miles as a refund for not flying first class from PHX to PHL. In my opinion, that’s a great use of miles! What are some of your best free travel stories?