Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Flight Research

In my flight research of the past day, I've noticed that January is my typical month to blitz my list of travel sites. As in years past, I look to April for my Great Escape -- that precious term break between Winter and Summer semesters at university. Most people search for flights in January to get away from winter and head south to warmer climes, but for me it's my ticket to sweet sanity, something to look forward to when I'm hunched over my keyboard, finishing papers, or trying to get through reading material that will evaporate from my brain the instant I write the exam. When deadlines loom, I find comfort in the Easyjet or Ryanair flight I've booked to Italy or Paris or Barcelona or Dublin, and start counting down the days. I try and maximise my time off, too, usually scheduling the flight to London (I fly the discount carriers around Europe, it's cheaper) the day after my last exam, and returning right before I'm due back at work. It's hairy scheduling that would put most people off, but I thrive on that way of travel.

This is the first January in three years where I am not restricted by exam dates, and it's not a Great Escape from academic life. I'm not going to Europe this April, either; I'm honeymooning there in October. Nope, I'm going to... the Philippines.

How long has it been since I've been to the motherland? June 1984, so that would be nearly 21 years. Why haven't I gone since then? Oh, many, many reasons. But everyone is getting older, not just me, and my father has buried a few of his many siblings recently. The matriarch of the family, Auntie Jane, passed away one year ago today, in her mid-80s. For every reason why I don't go, there are mounting reasons to go. Now that I'm on a short hiatus from university, and I'm self-employed, there are fewer barriers, and it's a good a time to go as any. My father is, understandably, very pleased to hear this. His family is enormous, and I have more cousins than I can keep track of -- only a few of the siblings moved to North America, and the rest are in the Philippines. I'd promised him the year before that I would go in April 2005, and last month it was doubtful I would go because of wedding costs, but after some thought I decided the time has come to finally visit. No more excuses. I'm planning to go for at least four weeks.

Older photos of the Edwin family

I plugged in some options for my flight, hoping that I could maybe purchase the difference in Aeroplan miles, but it looks like Air Canada -- surprise surprise -- upped its mileage requirement for Asia to 95,000 from 90,000. Currently, I have about 65,000, but at 4c per Aeroplan mile it would be the same price to buy the difference than it would be to buy the ticket outright and keep the mileage.

My options:

1) JFK to Manila with China Airlines, for about CAD 1,200
2) fly to Vancouver, then YVR to Manila with Philippine Airlines, for about CAD 1,200
3) look for deals from San Francisco, LA, or Seattle, pending cheap flight from New York or Pennsylvania.

So far, option #1 is the best deal. It's a long flight -- 20+ hours there, via Anchorage and Tapei, and 24+ hours return -- and I will finally break my longstanding record of not exceeding $1,000 for an air ticket. For all the flights I've done, this is no mean feat, since my average flight has been around 10 hours. L.A. to Sydney is still my non-stop record: 12.5 hours across the Pacific Ocean. Vancouver to Amsterdam is about 11, Auckland to Singapore was 9, Bangkok to London took stinking forever (thanks Balkan Airlines!), and even Vancouver to London is around 9.5 hours. Until I started dating someone in Calgary in 2003, I hadn't even flown domestically -- all my flights were either due south (San Francisco, L.A., Las Vegas, San Diego, Mexico) or southeast (Chicago, New York) within North America. I fly cheap, too, I've always managed to get pretty good deals on flights, so I'm hoping this won't be any different. I tried earlier to find a deal down the coast, but nothing I could find for SFO or LAX or SEA could beat the fare from YVR. I'm going to have to keep searching if I want to keep my under-a-grand record intact.

In more encouraging news, I found a cheap Tango (Air Canada) non-stop flight from Vancouver to JFK for $159 one-way. There are no restrictions for this fare that I can see, and David's immigration lawyer says my 90-day limit to stay in the U.S. as a Canadian should pose no hindrance to me at the border. (He's American, though, it's not like he's ever had to face U.S. Customs during harsh questioning.) I might just take the Tango fare, as it has a $30 fee for unlimited changes, as opposed to the $75+tax change fee imposed by Cathay Pacific and payable only at the airport. Also, with that YVR-JFK Cathay Pacific flight, I have a one-month maximum stay rule, which is why I returned to Vancouver Dec 13 (I flew Nov 13, and we had to let the mid-December Delta flight that David purchased for me go by the wayside).

David's corresponding entry in Multiply: The China Clippers