Sunday, January 26, 2014

Planes, trains and automobiles

It's usually not too hard to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B. If it's close and you feel like driving, you drive. If it's a bit farther and you feel like flying, you fly and rent a car when you arrive. If you're somewhere with a decent train service, you take the train. Pretty simple.

This summer our congregation has been invited to Point C, Chicago, for the first all Romanian convention in the US. Yes Chicago, the place I've been to already twice this year. The birthplace of my parents that I am finally getting to know as an adult. So close, and yet so very far away.

In order to get as many people out to Chicago as possible, Ernst and I and others have been researching every sort of way to travel there as quickly, efficiently and cheaply as we can. Our conclusion? How does the travel industry decide how much it costs to get from Point A to Point C?
Whatever the market will bear.

Remember when Southwest was super cheap? Sure you ended up in some pretty funky little airports no one ever heard of, but the savings were worth it. Want to fly to New York? Well, Southwest sort of kind of got you there, because for the low price, Islip on Long Island was close enough to count as New York. Besides you could hop on a train to the city or a ferry to Connecticut and have the fun of lugging your luggage that much farther.

Those days are gone. Southwest had to go and get all fancy. Now they fly out of the real New York, and their prices show it. So our dreams of flying cheap to Chicago were not to be. But we did discover a great website that beats Southwest, Expedia, Orbitz, CheapoAir and all the others. It's and it out-cheaps all the others by a long shot. But the price is still a hunk of change. There had to be a cheaper way.


We love traveling on the trains in Europe. We've been to Germany, Italy, Switzerland and even rode a sleeper train more than once. You can get on the train in any little podunk station in the tiniest town and get to another little podunk station in another tiny town. We loved the train in China too - leg room galore, room to walk around, sleep and stretch out. Wouldn't it be great to take the train to Chicago we thought. Two days of travel, room to get up and walk around, you can take FOUR suitcases at no charge and it would be nice for the ones in our congregation whose only plane trip ever was the "harrowing" one from Moldova to the US.

We looked at the prices on and saw they had a group rate. Terrific! We just had to have 20 or more people and we would get a 20% discount, plus kids are half off and seniors get 15%. Or so it seemed. We put in the request and they contacted us. Discount? Yeah right, it is at the discretion of the sales office. No group discount, the prices were the same as the online prices. So I asked very nicely, What is the advantage of getting a group rate? I was told that when you make 8 reservations online, then the demand goes up and the price for that leg of the trip increases. So the fact that we were requesting 20 tickets was making the price go up. Ahhhhh!!! OK, how about we drive?


Although Ernst has to fly because he has to work right up until the date of the convention, I have the freedom to take some time going there. Let's see, if I cram a gaggle of girls in our car and stay with friends on the way, how much would it be? Using the worst case scenario possible for gas prices going through the roof and a terrible head wind giving terrible gas mileage, we figure $500 in gas to and from Chicago, not including food and a motel stay in Nebraska.

Driving is totally doable, I drove to New York with my brother and sister in a '64 Volkswagen back in the day. We used a wooden peg as a means of cruise control and removed the front passenger seat and turned it around for more legroom. No air conditioning? No problem, we were made of tougher stuff back then. It was a trip to remember and I'm glad I did it. Once. All that corn was a bit much and once you've driven through Iowa it's off the Bucket List for good. Driving with the Moldovan girls would have been a hoot, but that is a lot of time off from the job I still don't have.

So after all that research, all the time searching for travel deals and drive times and train schedules and even the possibility of chartering a bus, we are still up in the air as to how to get there. Up in the air. We are flying!