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When You Have to Cancel a Trip

I’m feeling a bit wistful today because tomorrow we were supposed to be boarding Amtrak for a four-day weekend in Lake Tahoe. The plan had been to meet my parents, who were coming on the same train line in the opposite direction, from its origin in Chicago.

But floods in the West washed out the train tracks, and my parents’ trip has been postponed a week. We could have kept the Airbnb we’d reserved and gone with friends instead, but the fact is, the trip was going to be a strain financially anyway, and I found out after making the plan that my husband doesn’t get President’s Day off. So we decided to cancel. Besides, we’ve been really busy the past two weekends, with a Cub Scout trip, a Girl Scout trip, a slumber party, and umpteen Girl Scout cookie sales. We were really too busy to go on this trip, we didn’t have the cash, and besides, President’s Day Weekend is waaaay too crowded at Tahoe.

But being a frugal traveler, I wasn’t going to cancel if it was going to cost us financially. The first thing I did was check the cancellation status of our Airbnb. It’s up to the homeowner to set the cancellation policy, and most I have reserved set their policy to “strict,” meaning that I would not be able to get a refund. However, this condo owner had set her policy to “flexible,” meaning that we would receive everything back but the $149 Airbnb booking fee, which my parents agreed to cover. I sent the owner a note of apology and cancelled, and soon saw that the refund to my credit card was pending.

The other company I needed to check in with was Amtrak. I had not selected a “flexible” fare, opting to save money with the regular price. However, when I called, the agent informed me that I could get a full refund up to 48 hours before the trip. So I cancelled that too. Besides, the train had been cancelled all week from our end as well, so, although it is so far listed as “status unavailable,” I’m willing to be that the Friday train we were going to take will be scratched.

The only cost I don’t feel great about with this trip is a couple of seasonlong ski rentals that my husband made for himself and our son. Actually, he rented the skis for the Cub Scout Winter Lodge at Tahoe two weeks ago, but when they got up there, the kid said he wasn’t feeling well and they didn’t ski. With this trip cancelled, I’m not sure my son is going to ski at all this year, meaning that the cost of his rental will be wasted. Of course, I’m going to ask Sports Basement if they can give us any of our money back if we never used the skis. You never know! I’m also looking into booking a less expensive ski destination in March and/or April so he can still use them.

Day 6, Australia, Friday NIGHT: Sydney Pub Tours

Photo courtesy of Lord Nelson Brewery.

For most of the first week, we were dead tired by evening and up early in the morning. Friday night was the first time Erik and I ventured out after dark, to join Sydney Pub Tours, which combined tasting good beers with learning the city’s history. It was pricey at $255 Australian, but well worth the splurge.

We were a few minutes late meeting our group at one of the historic pubs in The Rocks, leading our guide to call me on my Google Voice number. Because we were carrying a Tep Wireless hotspot,* we were online, and my phone actually rang, which was the first time this had happened with a local call from Australia. We hadn’t realized before the trip that getting a call from a few yards away would be more exciting than getting a call from the United States, which had already happened once (while we were at Taronga Zoo, we talked to the contractor working on our house).

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Day 6 Australia, Friday: Aboriginal Heritage Tour, Manly to Spit Walk, Pub Crawl


Friday was our last free day in Sydney, since we would be at the wedding Saturday and leave town Sunday. So we were determine to pack in a lot. My mom stayed home that morning because her brother was to come by, and besides, she was fighting a cold and needed to rest up for the wedding.

First, we went out to breakfast for the first time on our vacation, to Celcius Coffee Co., a tiny cafe at Kirribilli Wharf, which my cousin who lived in the neighborhood had recommended. Continue reading

Saved My United Miles

I recently got one of those mailers warning me that my United miles were soon to expire, urging me to spend them on magazines. Now, in the past, I would have considered that offer, especially since I only have some 3,000 United miles, which I got from flying SAS last year.

But a miles-savvy friend told me about a way that I could stop these miles from expiring without spending any of them. Since most airlines, including United, just require you to have some activity periodically to prevent miles from expiring, a quick and easy way to save them would be to transfer a few miles from another awards account. Continue reading

Oh, Amtrak

Amtrak has many problems, but its web site is particularly frustrating because it is so close to being good. It does a great job at pulling up the train you want to take, allowing you to reserve and make changes online, and such. But then every once in awhile it fails spectacularly.

Like today, when after putting tickets in my cart for an upcoming trip to Lake Tahoe, the site asked me if I wanted to get an Amtrak Guest Rewards World Master Card, put today’s purchase on it, and get a 20,000 point bonus after spending $1,000 in 90 days. Continue reading

12 Is Old Enough to Fly as an Adult?

Today I used some miles to get my 12-year-old a one-way ticket from Chicago to San Francisco. She’ll be flying out to the Midwest with her grandparents, but needs to return home alone. In the past when she flew as an “unaccompanied minor,” I had to pay the airline an extra $100 per flight for them to keep an eye on her. I was resigned to ponying up this time, but it turned out I didn’t have to. Continue reading

Camp Signup Time = Time for a New Card!

Because the holidays were busy, I ended up charging a considerable amount of money for the kids’ spring activities on an old credit card.

That’s bad. Why? It’s not that I don’t loving getting one Southwest mile per dollar on my current main card. It’s just that, when you’re about to make a major spend, that’s a good time to get a new card account so you can hit the required spend to qualify for the signup bonus. Continue reading

Day 5 Australia, Thursday – Manly Beach and Karlangu Gallery


On Thursday, our plan was to take the ferry 20 minutes to Manly Beach, finally getting to the other shore of our own Pacific Ocean so we could look across and wave hello to California. We hoped the weather would be warm enough to swim, but if not, we figured the kids could play in the sand. But first we had to get there, which proved slightly more challenging than we’d expected. Continue reading

Australia Day 3: The Rocks, Din Tai Fung, The Aquarium


So here we are on Tuesday. Despite the huge time change, we were experiencing very little jet lag other than the tendency to fall asleep early at night and be up and up every day at 6, which is really not so bad because it meant that every morning we were dressed and fed and out the door before 9 a.m.

On this day, we took the ferry from the Milson’s Point quay, next to the entrance to Luna Park, to Circular Quay, and walked the opposite direction from the day before, to the historic Sydney neighborhood known as The Rocks.

As you might guess from its name, The Rocks is built on sandstone, and it has stairways and tunnels carved in. On the lower parts of the tunnels, you can see marks from the pickaxes of the convicts who dug them out by hand. We wanted to go to the Sydney Visitor Centre there, but, as was becoming a pattern for us, we arrived before its doors opened for the day, so we walked around and bought a delicious latte. Continue reading