Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Ten Things I'm Thinking About Right Now

In the absence of proper content, here are ten of the many things in my brain at this moment.


1. I have a very specific pain in the crook of my left arm. It is upsetting, and I am struggling not to Google it.

2. Speaking of pain, it makes me sad that animals can feel pain. Except cockroaches. I have no remorse for any pain they may feel.

3. I went three months without Facebook and the only reason I came back is because I missed being able to immediately share with 700 people when I thought of something hilarious. Yep, that's it. I do not care about missing other people's content. Hashtag, definitely narcissist.

Ok, except for this kid I babysit, his mom and dad are on there and I did miss the hijinks/photos of the little dude.

4. I really really want these obnoxious sequined high-tops. I saw them in a Madewell over Christmas and I'm still sad I didn't buy them.

5. Somebody just told me that this summer the USPS is issuing scratch and sniff stamps with popsicles on them and if they made that up, I will be very sad.

Can't Google it to confirm though, because I will definitely Google the arm pain immediately following.

6. I feel kind of bad about the Facebook thing, but not really, because you all need to know that in real life I can be a selfish villain. A Disney villain, but still.

7. Sharp cheddar is the only cheddar worth eating.

8. I got a sample of Marcelle NewAge Precision 8-in-1 Power Serum (definitely not enough words in the name, for sure!) and it's the best thing I have ever put on my skin GOODBYE, THE END. I think it's made out of butterfly chrysalis? Jk it's probably not, but my face looks like a brand new baby.

9. Despite having baby skin now, I could never be Instagram-famous because my hair is always a mess. I just have to make peace with that.

10. I live in constant fear of leaving the bathroom with my skirt tucked into my underwear because it happened once. The first day I relax is going to be the first day that it happens again. CONSTANT. VIGILANCE.


What's on your mind, friends? It's ok if you don't want to share, I'm only asking to be nice.
Jk, really, tell me.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Travel Tuesday: How to Find the Best Airfare

Continuing the theme of last travel post, let's talk about how to find the best airfare.

When you're searching the web for fares to a specific destination, it can seem so arbitrary, like there's a cockatiel in some back office randomly pecking keys to assign prices to routes and days of the week.  Even knowing a bit about how it works it still makes me believe it's all just a bird.

Here is an article that explains the history of airfare, and how it's evolved to what it is today.  Basically it comes down to airline revenue management. The airlines want to maximize profit on selling seats by constantly playing the game of ,"how much can we charge without losing out to the competition?". It involves complicated algorithms and constant, real-time adjusting of prices.

If you're really interested in learning more, there's a training course from the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that requires 45 hours of study and a 3 hour exam for the low low price of $650. Sure, it's an investment, but at the end of it, you'll be able to build an airline from the ground up! (Of course, you'll still need planes and pilots and what not...)

So what are my tips for finding the best airfare?

Let technology do the work for you - there are a number of websites and apps that search for the best fares across most airlines. Here are some of my favorites:

Google Flights - this is my go-to for checking fares across multiple airlines at once. It searches almost all airlines across the world (excluding Southwest and a few smaller regional airlines - it will display the schedule, but NOT the live availability or pricing). You're able to search round-trip, one way, or even multiple city stops.

Why I Like It: On a desktop/laptop computer, I use the Google Chrome web browser. If I'm in a hurry, just typing the city pair into the web address bar will bring up Google Flights as the first search result. Additionally, when I'm ready to buy, it takes me directly to the airline's website, so I'm not purchasing it through a third party.  This works in the mobile Chrome app as well.

Note: For a roundtrip or multi-city ticket, the flight price displayed on the first result is the total price, not just for that segment of your trip.  It's also the total for however many passengers you've entered into your search bar. (The default search is for one passenger, and even if you change it, it will continue to display the aggregate price of all segments for all passengers.)

Hopper - this is an app (available for iPhone and Android) that attempts to predict the best time to buy a fare for particular dates and a specific route, or the best dates to travel for the lowest fare, if you're flexible.  It's not perfect, as not all airlines share their data with Hopper (notably Delta and Southwest are missing), but it's incredibly user-friendly.

Note: I do not purchase flights through this app, only use it to watch fares (I'll explain why later).

Why I Like It: The 'Watch This Trip' function. I plug in my city pairs and dates and it sends me an alert every time the price changes. In particular, I'm usually watching airfares to San Antonio (hello sister!) on American Airlines at any given time, since they usually have the best schedule/price from my home city.

For international itineraries, sign up for one of the many low fare alert companies, who literally spend all day searching for fare sales/mistake fares to send out to their email subscribers.  My personal favorite is Scott's Cheap Flights.; it's how I got round-trip airfare to Iceland for under $300 last March.

Note: This is best if you are flexible on your travel dates/times/departure airports. Some of these fares are a result of the really crummy scheduling - for example, a 16 hour layover somewhere, or 3+  stops, resulting in a much longer total travel time than usual. The caveat to my amazing airfare to Iceland is that I had to drive 8ish hours to Newark, which is obviously not super convenient. (The airline I flew now has departures from Chicago, but at the time, that wasn't an option).

The second tip for international itineraries in particular is to call a travel agent and bundle. We work with bulk consolidators who have negotiated contracts with airlines to offer fares at below market rates. These are fares that you will not find by searching the web. To sell the fare, it must be packaged with a hotel stay and/or a rental car. 

Actual example: Last year, my cousin took her family to the UK for Christmas and I was able to get all their flights (6 tickets) AND a 7-passenger van rental for 10 days for the same price as if they had just booked their air alone on the internet. That's basically a free rental car.

The biggest mistake people make when purchasing their own airfare is doing it through third-party online travel agents (OTAs), such as Expedia, Momondo, Cheapo Air, etc.

It's fine to use those sites to price shop, but when you're ready to buy, either purchase it directly from the airline or through a trusted travel agent.

Why is this a mistake?

If something goes wrong with your flight, or you need to change something, it takes an obscene amount of time to get it fixed. 
If you book a flight on Expedia, and something happens while traveling and you call the airline directly, they won't help you. They'll refer you to the original booking agent, in this case, Expedia. Then you call Expedia (and wait on hold for some rando in a call center), only to be put on hold, because THEY have to call the airline and make the change.

But if I book through a regular travel agent, won't I have the same problem?
No, because you'll call the travel agent first, the person you have an established relationship with, and then go have a cocktail or stress-eat some Twizzlers while they figure it out for you.

What if I book it myself directly with the airline?
Then you can call the airline directly and have them work on it for you.

So, what do you think? Any other methods you use that I didn't mention?
Let me know if this post was helpful, and if you book a ticket using any of these tips.

Until next time!

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Travel Tuesday: Airfare and Schedule Changes

Plane tickets, you guys. What a can of worms.

The cost of airfare all by itself can be the catalyst or hindrance for an entire vacation, am I right?
I'm sure you'd like a post on how to find the best deals, when is the best time to buy, and all that, and I'll do that soon.

First though, it's imperative you understand what you're actually getting when you purchase airfare.

Say you find a great deal on tickets to Switzerland in nine months for the whole family.
Perfect - you found the cheapest fares by leaving Tuesday at 11 AM and returning the following Friday, home by 9:30 PM.
You buy those tickets and start to plan the rest of the trip: securing accommodations, booking guided tours, etc, because the getting there and back part is set in stone, right?

Not necessarily.

When you purchase airfare, you're entering into what's called a Contract of Carriage.
Simply put, the airline is agreeing to transport you from point A to point B, but the time, routing, schedule, and equipment used is entirely up to them and subject to change at any time. Furthermore, they are not responsible to you for any inconveniences that arise as a result of any of these changes and events beyond their control (or Force Majeure, as they call it, such as weather, war, government, labor strikes and 'Acts of God' , to cover themselves for all the rest).  
If they issue a major schedule change that does not work for you, they will refund your money. They are NOT obligated to offer you extra compensation (i.e. business lounge passes, paying for a hotel stay, reimbursing a rental car, etc).
There is plenty more in the fine print about baggage, oversold flights, etc but that's the gist of it.

So, back to you and your trip to Switzerland.

Three months pass and you get an email.
Subject: There has been a schedule change to your flights

Insert Any Airline Here has changed the time of your connection from New York to London, so you will miss your final flight from London to Zurich, meaning you'll be stuck in London overnight.

All is not lost, friend, you now get the pleasure of calling the airline directly and walking through the following options with a reservation agent:

Scenario A: The airline can re-accommodate you on other flights, getting you in at around the same time as previously scheduled but you now have an extra stop on your outbound flights, so you'll have to leave at 5:45 AM for the airport. Painful, but doable.

Scenario B: The new schedule is the best available, so you'll have to stay in London one night. Better call the hotel in Zurich and let them know you'll be delayed checking in a day. You will still have to pay for that missed night, because your hotel was booked nonrefundable, but at least they won't cancel your reservation. $
If you don't want to sleep in the London airport overnight, you have to find a hotel nearby. $$
Oh and also, you had yourselves booked for an afternoon walking tour that you'll miss too. Also nonrefundable. $$$

Scenario C: You hate all options offered by Insert Any Airline Here, and don't want to have to change your land reservations. You demand your money back and attempt to re-book yourselves on another airline altogether. Except, oops, the amazing fares from three months ago have disappeared. $$$$$$

None of the options above are ideal, and all require a great deal of time on the phone with the airline, but it happens all. the. time

Now, if you're working with a travel advisor, they will take care of this for you, and should have already made you aware of this possibility from the beginning.

If you booked these tickets on your own, here is my advice:

+ As soon as you get the schedule change notification, get online and look for other flights operated by that same airline.  If it's a weather event, of course pickings will be slim, but the airlines will re-book you on the schedule of your choosing, if the flights are operated by them, or by a partner airline on a codeshare.

If your personal schedule allows, consider tweaking your outbound or return dates a day or two. If you can find a better schedule by leaving a day earlier, the airline will usually re-book you without charging the standard change fee. 
+ Finally, consider purchasing travel insurance, particularly if the destination is international, or it's a big bucket list trip and you're spending a lot of money.  Travel insurance covers all prepaid, nonrefundable trip expenses, and will reimburse you for any extra expenses that incur as a result of things like this (up to a certain dollar amount).
To recap: airlines can change their flight schedules at any time for any reason, but you have options when this happens. Just don't expect them to pay for a night at the Ritz Carlton for your inconvenience. Forewarned is forearmed!

Until next time, friends!

Thursday, April 5, 2018

New Series: Travel Tuesday

For starters, I recommend using a map when planning a trip. It's more helpful than a blank piece of paper. But this is a stock photo and Random Hands don't know any better.

Friends, I'm not going to turn this blog into an advertorial about why you should work with a travel advisor, but since I am one (officially card-carrying, even!), I figured I could use this space once a week to talk about all things travel-related.  Due to the nature of my job, I am occasionally asked questions about various aspects of travel, and I think this might be a good place to answer those that come up most frequently. I'd also like to talk about destinations that inspire me, share tips and tricks I've learned from the travel industry, and highlight unique travel methods/styles.

Today is obviously not Tuesday, but I wanted to give you a heads up that this is a thing I'd like to start. I can't promise it will be every week (hello, track record), but I'm hoping to give this blog a little more structure.

Next Tuesday I'll dive into one of the most important (and complicated) aspects of travel: understanding airfare.

Until then, please let me know if there is something in particular you'd like to discuss. 

In the event that colleagues at my current agency stumble upon my blog, I am stating for the record that all opinions and comments are my own and do not necessarily represent the views/policies of the agency I work for. Also, please seek a licensed doctor for medical advice.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

On Shopping for Swimsuits

Image via
Remember the good old days of bathing costumes?

The last time I went swimsuit shopping, I was at a mall in Texas with my sister.

We stopped at a place called Everything But Water, which at first glance appeared to be full of fabric samples that you could pick from to have a suit made. Upon closer inspection, the bits of fabric turned out to actually be fully formed suits.  We left because neither of us had thought to bring a magnifying glass along.

Next we headed to an activewear store called Athleta, in the hopes that they would have sporty but attractive options.  We were in luck!  However, they must use the metric system to number their sizes, because what I would fit in in any other store was so comically tight, I had to take a brief nap in the dressing room after prying it off.  Also, a store associate barged into my booth while I was changing so obviously I can never return.  Not because I'm embarrassed, but because the kaleidoscope of body parts she witnessed will probably never leave her brain, and she needs time to make peace with that.

That was nearly a year ago, and the search is still on.  I'm going on a cruise in a couple of weeks and I'd like to go swimming in the ocean at least once without being that person in drippy shorts and a t-shirt.



Is there a woman alive that enjoys the process? I feel like even the most toned and tanned among us still has body parts that she wishes she could hide, or at least de-emphasize.  Even if it's just like, her left knee.

I'm not toned or tanned.  I'm white and fleshy, and in a bathing suit,vaguely reminiscent of bread dough left to rise too long in a warm place.
So naturally, I don't spend much time subjecting people to that image.
Weirdly though, I also don't spend a lot of time begin self-conscious.  My body is what it is, and putting on a bathing suit doesn't reveal anything people don't already know.

Surprise! I have a tail.
Just kidding.

But I digress.  My main issue is with what's available in the swimsuit market --for everyone.  There are suits with SO many cute prints and patterns but they're on tiny two piece bikinis, or my personal favorite, the "monokini", which is basically a bikini that they forgot to finish cutting out completely.

There are suits that shape and slenderize and cover completely, but where are the cute prints and patterns for those? Why are we still using garish, poorly placed floral designs in dated colors?  As though enormous pink hibiscuses on  black fabric are going to distract the observer from the flesh it's struggling to contain.


It's not like swimwear companies aren't trying -- there are all kinds of "plus size" lines out there attempting to bridge the gap.  The problem is, they're just taking the tiny suits with their plunging necklines and weird cutouts and making them bigger.  Which, fine, but personally my wobbly bits aren't here for your sad game of hide and seek.

Or...get this...adding zippers to make the conservative one pieces look more interesting. ZIPPERS.  Can you imagine taking a baby to the pool while wearing a swimsuit with a zipper down the front? It'd be 30 seconds before the baby got grabby and someone called the cops to report public indecency.

Basically all I'm asking for in a swimsuit is for it to cover the bits that have never seen the sun without being a) hideous or b) ankle/wrist length burkini in which i tragically die from heat exhaustion.

That's it, you guys.  That's all I need.
And I don't want to have to try on 300 more to find it.
Are you out there, magical swimsuit? Let me know. 

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