Planes, Trains, and Automobiles (Mostly Planes)

Further subtitled: No Trains or Automobiles, Either; But Two Long Bus Rides.

Seattle to San Francisco; San Francisco to London; London to Johannesburg; Johannesburg to Harare; Harare to Gweru (by bus); intermission; Gweru to Harare (bus again); Harare to Johannesburg; Johannesburg to Elephant Plains (by bush plane); another short intermission; Elephant Plains to Johannesburg (bush plane); Johannesburg to London to Vancouver, B.C., and back home to Seattle.

All by jet, except for a four-hour bus ride each way between Harare and Gweru, and the bush plane rides between Johannesburg and Elephant Plains; the latter of which we might not even make in time because Federal Air decided to push up the departure time out of Johannesburg by 1-1/2 hours after we had booked and paid for our flights, and had locked in on an overall trip itinerary.  We now have less than two hours to clear customs in Johannesburg when we return from Zimbabwe, collect our luggage and make the flight.  Assuming, of course, our Zimbabwe to South Africa flight lands on time to begin with. Gulp.

That potentially irksome hope-we-don’t-miss-our-connection aside, there’s a whole lot of flying in there. Good thing the big legs of our trip (U.S. -> London -> Africa, and back) find us safely ensconced at the front of the plane in first class.

Whuh?

That’s right: first frickin’ class!

How’d that happen, you ask?  From the start, Kim and I both knew we wanted to try to make this trip flying business class. Ten-eleven hours between the US and England, and again between England and Africa. Rinse and repeat on the trip back. That’s a lot of time to have your ass in a seat. Given the state of my legs due to various injuries, niggles, and metal screws I’ve picked up over the years, riding in steerage didn’t sound fun – especially for Kim, who’d have to put up with all my creaking and groaning for the twenty-four hours or so we’d be traveling in each direction.

So we’d been socking away airline miles for a long time in the hopes we could cash in and at least fly business class, but when the time came to start calling the airlines to schedule our itinerary we couldn’t find either the routing we needed, or dates that worked. In fact, we had a hard time finding an itinerary where we could even ride in business class for more than one leg of the journey. And that one leg? We’d be charged the same number of miles as if we were flying the entire trip in business class.

Whuh?

That’s right: one out of the four big legs of our trip (US-England-Africa) in business class, but we’d be charged as if we were sitting in business class the whole time. Every time we’d call we’d get a different routing for different dates at different mileage rates. We’d call back the next day and those available flights would be gone. It got depressing and we thought about postponing our trip a year, but Kim, being the persistent evergreen optimist, kept calling. Two times, three times a week.

One Saturday afternoon I hear her on the phone making the usual inquiries, and could tell from her “um, okay” responses that she was getting the usual runaround. She hangs up and comes downstairs. “Okay, here’s the latest itineraries they have available. Itinerary 1: Seattle to London to South Africa, available on the dates we want. Downside is that they only have first class seats available.”

Great, I think to myself. No way we can afford the tens of thousands of dollars needed to fly first class. Ugh.

Kim continues, “With the miles we currently have we’d need an additional 60,000 miles to upgrade to first class. Right now British Airways is having a sale on miles and we can purchase the miles we need for both of us to upgrade for $3,000.”

My jaw hits the ground. “Whuh?  $3,000?”

“Yes.”

“$3,000 in total for both of us to upgrade to first class?”

“Yes.” (The weird thing about all this is that Kim is presenting the information to me in a very forlorn, we’ve-struck-out-again tone of voice.) “Do you want to hear the other routing options?”

“No,” I say, taking her by the shoulders. “I WANT YOU TO CALL BRITISH AIRWAYS BACK IMMEDIATELY AND BOOK THOSE FIRST CLASS SEATS BEFORE WE LOSE THEM!”

She did and, thankfully, the seats were still available.

First class halfway around the world and back for $3,000. Not bad. The ironic part is that we still can only take 44 pounds of weight in “soft case” luggage due to the luggage restrictions on our bush plane flight (assuming we make that flight), and that we’ll be sipping champagne and eating strawberries in first class wearing our ridiculous outdoor tech zip-off pants.

I’m not complaining.  More bubbly?

  • kim

    Regarding my speaking in a “very forlorn, we’ve-struck-out-again tone of voice” when describing the 1st class routing option, it’s because, yeah, $3000 for both of us to fly 1st class is a great deal, but it was still $3,000 more than we planned on spending. The budget-minded side of me was not so sure it was a good idea. I’ve since gotten completely over that!

  • julie russillo

    every time I fly a long distance I swear the next time I’m going first-class, but by the time the next trip comes around, I’m a cheapskate again and I hope my compression socks will make up for the inability to move my legs. I’m jealous – you got a heckuva deal!

    • craig

      Jules, I always thought of you as a cartwheel-down-the-aisle kinda frequent flyer!

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