The Crazy Way I’m Re-Routing Due To New York Weather

As you’ve probably seen by now, the US Northeast has been hit by quite the winter storm. Over 4100 flights were canceled, and 4300 more were delayed as airports and airlines struggled to combat the influx of snow and ice.

When I posted about the weather cancelations on Wednesday, I mentioned that I too was slated to fly to New York this week, and that I would be aggressively monitoring and managing my itinerary.

The end result is rather ridiculous, even for OMAAT, but it’s going to be a fun story.

The original plan

We’re meeting my cousin Heather and her husband for a long weekend, so my husband and I were originally booked to fly from Los Angeles to New York on Wednesday’s 11:50PM flight, arriving around 8AM on Thursday.

He had work meetings in Portland, so the best way for us to get to New York in a timely fashion would be for him to fly down to Los Angeles on Alaska, while I drove up from San Diego after dropping off the dog with friends (all you people who thought Ben and I should have driven to D.C. after our Ukraine Airlines flight should be happy about that part).

And if his meetings finished early, he’d then catch an earlier flight to LA, which would allow us to change to an earlier flight to New York, and so forth.

It sounds complicated, but these are the kinds of logistics we juggle all the time, and was a great plan on paper.

Rolling cancellations with American

One of the key strategies I like to deploy when delays and cancellations start to happen is to ask the airline to protect me on a later flight.

In this case, I sent American a message on Twitter asking them to save us space on a Thursday flight. The earliest flight with space was at 9:00AM (arriving around 6PM), and they were even able to block Main Cabin Extra seats for us (though any upgrade chances pretty much evaporated with the weather).

About thirty minutes after I published my post, I received a notification that my Wednesday flight was canceled.

Wednesday-Canceled

Every flight for Thursday was pretty much instantly zeroed out. I was glad we’d been protected, but knew we weren’t out of the woods yet.

This wasn’t my first rodeo, so I quickly sent another message to American asking them to protect me on a Friday flight. The only availability was at 9PM (getting in around 5:30AM on Saturday, provided operations were back to normal), which was far from ideal, but what can you do?

Friday-no-space

Before our tickets had even been reissued for the new Thursday departure, however, our Thursday flight was canceled as well.

Thursday-Canceled

Ruh roh…

Know when to fold ‘em

If this were a typical leisure trip, or if I’d been traveling for business meetings that could be rescheduled, I would have probably called the trip off at this point. Clearly the airlines were gearing up for a huge mess, and losing 48+ hours of an 80 hour trip stinks.

But Heather successfully made it to New York on Wednesday afternoon, we had Hamilton tickets purchased back in August, and I was already inside the cancelation period for my hotel.

So we decided to press on and try to get to New York.

My general strategy for airline schedule shenanigans is the same you’d employ in a zombie apocalypse: keep moving or die. This can play out in multiple ways, but I’m always asking myself questions like:

  • If I can’t get to my destination, can I get close?
  • Are there alternative forms of transportation?
  • Is there an unconventional routing that might look longer on paper, but have a higher chance of success?

But you don’t want to just sit in your origination airport and wait for the airline to magically get you to your destination. That almost never ends well.

Given the scope of the storm, getting “close” to New York wasn’t a tremendously viable option. Other East Coast cities were also preparing for weather, so flights to Philadelphia, Boston, D.C., and even Charlotte were being delayed, canceled, or were full of other people with the same idea.

I started looking at other routings, including options that would involve us meeting in a city other than Los Angeles, but it became increasingly apparent that any domestic routing was going to involve overnights along the way, a high risk of further delays (or cancelations), and best case wouldn’t get us to New York before Saturday morning anyway.

The nuclear option

Realizing the domestic options were all horrible, I started to look at international flights. International flights are less vulnerable to weather issues for a variety of reasons, and could potentially get us to New York much earlier.

I realize that sounds insane, but keep in mind Ben and I once flew from Chicago to LA via Charlotte, Paris, Beijing, Tokyo, and Taipei, so it’s not completely out of character.

Besides – stuff like this is what I earn miles for anyway!

Most of the European flights leave Los Angeles a bit earlier in the day, but there are a few in the evening. Two had business class award availability (if you’re going to do something ridiculous, might as well do it in a premium cabin):

  • The 7:45PM Swiss flight to Zurich
  • The 11:30PM Ethiopian flight to Dublin

Both are a fantastic option with Aeroplan miles, at just 55,000 points for the one-way flight, and with no fuel surcharges. Given that my husband wasn’t slated to get to LA until 10:15PM, the Swiss flight wasn’t going to work, but the Ethiopian flight looked promising, provided we could easily get to New York from Dublin.

None of the direct flights back from Dublin to New York had award space (of course not, that would have been too easy), but there were plenty of choices if we were willing to connect.

My sharp-eyed colleague Jimmy noticed a mixed-cabin Lufthansa routing that would not only get us in to New York on Friday afternoon, but would be in first class on a configuration I haven’t flown yet, and was bookable for just 87,000 LifeMiles — again with no fuel surcharges.

Done and done!

So rather than a simple transcon, our routing would now look like this:

new-routing-map

I love that even more now that I see it on the map!

Everything is always complicated

I quickly booked our award tickets (and checked in for our Ethiopian flights), then jumped in the car to drive to LA. Along the way I had American cancel our tickets (happily refunded in full to the original form of payment), then set about calling the hotel.

I am on record as not feeling hotels have any obligation to make adjustments due to transportation problems, so I wasn’t hoping to get any nights credited. On the contrary, because I’d booked my room using the Citi Prestige fourth night benefit I wanted to make sure I was charged for the full reservation, even though I would only be there for two nights.

To make it more confusing, I’d made a second booking for Heather at the same hotel using the Hyatt Guest of Honor benefit. The plan had been to switch keys at check-in so she and her husband could enjoy our confirmed suite, and we’d take the standard room.

Luckily for me the hotel agent instantly understood what I was trying to do, and added Heather’s name to my reservation, then proactively offered to change her booking to be just two nights, and refund me the points. This was above and beyond given that the cancelation deadline had already passed for both rooms, and certainly takes some of the sting out of the last-minute mileage use.

Of course, by the time I got to LAX a system-wide Sabre outage meant that my husband’s flight was delayed. That led to a tense few hours and some additional flight changes (plus sprints in two airports), but he made it to the gate just as boarding started for our flight to Dublin. Phew!

I’m calling this a win

Yes, I’m spending a bunch of extra miles, and yes, I’m still getting to New York later than originally planned.

But our domestic tickets (which weren’t cheap) were fully refunded, I got a quantity of hotel points back, our journey is going to be way more comfortable than the middle seats in economy that we would have been looking forward to otherwise, and we’re getting in to New York at least 13 hours earlier than any of the domestic options would have allowed.

And instead of bouncing between domestic airports hoping against hope our next flight isn’t canceled, we get to spend some time in Dublin and the Lufthansa First Class Terminal.

Besides, the confused silence when I told my husband we were flying to New York via Dublin on Ethiopian was awesome. 😉

Show of hands: who would take an international flight to recover from domestic cancelations?

Comments

  1. I would love to read a review of your flight on Ethiopian Business class since I am flying them in a couple of months. Please make it happen 🙂

  2. Lol! Loved it!

    The great grandmaster at it; one of the few people who has the skills and knowledge to do it and great thinking out of the box.

  3. I once flew from Orlando to Las Vegas East Bound for a wedding!

    MCO-FRA (LH F)
    FRA-SIN (SQ F) This was when all awards opened up
    SIN-BKK (SQ J)
    BKK-HKG (CX F)
    HKG-LAX (CX F)
    LAX -LAS ( AA F)

    Took me 6 days but I got there and saw the world along the way!

  4. I love this. There are so many times I’ve gone a crazy routing just because I could, not because it made any sense. I once flew from MEL-GUM via SYD, BKK, HKG, ICN and NRT on miles just because I could.

    The only thing though is that you are making this sound like its cheap than your original direct Y flight. You are using thousands of dollars worth of miles so there is a significant cost!

  5. Where is the applause emoji?!?!?!?! Brilliant.
    Before Aeroplan really tightened up on distance you could fly to connect two points, I flew from ICN to HAN, but instead of the 9.5 hours return on Asiana, I connected on SQ via SIN in both directions to total over 20 hours flight time and much better lounges, service and seats, all for 30 000 Aeroplan points in J. Your trip however takes it to a new level!

  6. So the domestic flights are all cancelled, but the international flights into New York are still operating?

  7. “International flights are less vulnerable to weather issues for a variety of reasons” – Can somebody explain this? Thanks.

  8. would have spent the time watching inventory changes. seats constantly changing hands – and lots of phantom “protection”

  9. Great post!
    Like Mathew above, I’m curious – Why are international flights less likely to be canceled/delayed during bad weather?

  10. @ Mathew @Tam @Teri — I’m not actually sure as to all the reasons why (though Ben can probably explain it), but it generally works out that way. Of course if the airport is closed everyone is screwed, but even the recovery is typically smoother for long-haul flights.

  11. International flights are less vulnerable to weather because:

    -The planes make far fewer turns in one day. An Embraer hopping up and down the east coast might have 4 different places where it could be delayed, leading to your delay/cancellation later in the day. Your international heavy is much more likely to just have one flight that day, arriving from wherever
    -International aircraft are usually heavier, more stolid, and less likely to be adversely affected by bad weather than, say, a Dash-8
    -International flights often drive a great deal of revenue, meaning that if airlines have to triage they are more likely to cancel IST-AYT than IST-JFK

  12. QF cannot sell solely LAX-JFK as it is completely domestic unlike CX YVR-JFK. Unless you mean LAX-SYD-LAX-JFK … lol

  13. I would guess when a airport gets snow it is still able to land planes but not at the rate it can normally so fewer slots are left. These are prioritized for international flights as those are longer . Logic is the pilots are probably at the end of duty shifts and making them fly more to a diversion airport is a safety issue. It could also be international flights are more profitable so if you are going to cancel ,you cancel the lower margin flights. It could also be if you cancel a Europe-USA flight you risk stranding Asia-Europe-USA travellers in an European airport with no visa to leave the terminal whereas you cancel a domestic they can go home and wait for the next flight. Many reasons to give preference to International over domestic.

  14. I think you are making full use of the gift that God gave you.

    Think of the poor schmuck who can’t leave the us without worrying about being allowed to come in back.

    #stopwhiteterrorism

  15. @ Sheena — Some of course canceled, some diverted, but by the time we got to Europe and turned around the international carriers had pretty much recovered, while domestic flights are still rebooking and shuffling things around.

  16. Interesting workaround…

    Give me a wave from the plane when you fly over Nova Scotia on your LAX-JFK trip. Unless your return takes an unusual route to avoid the same storm now that it is over the North Atlantic. Might be a bumpy ride.

    Also, enjoy Hamilton. My daughter is extremely envious.

  17. I’m reading this after an all nightsr of studying and working out 8am in the morning so my brain js not fully workig but once I realized what you were doing my eyes widened up and I laughed really hard saying omg. Should have seen Hamilton in chicago!

  18. #city #building #buildings #bricks? Hashtags aren’t the equivalent of “I spy with my little eye.” gotta tone it down a bit.

  19. Do you have your I have to have status to get protected on a flight? I was once told by a twitter rep that they could not save seats. Any workaround or is this a figurative HUACA?

  20. Awesome post Tiffany! Was at LAX and subject to the same Sabre blackout your husband was as I was trying to get back to Portland. Later heard that LAX was grounding flights due to fog, so glad to hear you both got out.

    Several years ago when American grounded their entire md80 fleet for a day or two I was in Chicago headed back to Portland. The line they tried to put me into was indescribable in words.

    Quick thinking and help over the phone with Alaska had me rebooked in minutes routing ORD-ANC-PDX overnight and got me home in time for meetings the next day.

  21. love this story Ben ! reminds me of 9/11, i was stuck in Brussels that weekend and really needed to get home by that Monday mid day. Flights in to the USA re-started operations on Sunday albeit limited services with several many thousands of passengers stuck all over the world and aircrafts scattered all over Canada and other places. Even my amazing travel agent could not get me a seat on any connecting flight back to JFK or nearby. So he went for the nuclear option. Here goes…. He flew me Sunday 11 am on Sabena from Brussels to Narita. Landed in Tokyo art 8:30 am and connected me to a JAL flight to JFK departing around 11 am. By noon Monday i was back at JFK.

  22. Interesting routing, I’m always envious of people who can hop on a plane and travel to basically anywhere they want to!! With a Nigerian passport it’s pretty impossible… I enjoyed reading your post, I can only dream

  23. I am also curious, as a few other people here are, about getting protected on other flights. I think maybe this is just an AA thing, as I am a DL flyer and have never really been protected on a flight as far as I know, but maybe I just haven’t been asking right (or at all, because I didn’t think it was possible). It seems like practically speaking the airlines have an incentive not to do too much of it or they’re going to end up with a bunch of flights that go out half-empty because people didn’t end up needing their protected seats.

  24. this is insane and one of the best reads! Now, what is your Dublin-JFK flight was cancelled or delayed? Its too risky!
    So you used 55,000+87,000 miles? Not that crazy considering AA anytime economy is 50,000 and if you’re lucky and get Business JFK-LAX on the way back its 50,000 more.

  25. @Tiffany. OMG! The best post I have read for years! My head started to hurt half way through the reading :-))). I will show this post to my wife tonight so she could see that I am not the craziest person out there when it comes to complicated and continuously changing itineraries (not being disrespectful towards you here). She will now understand that when we had to fly to Rio from BNA a couple of years ago, why I proposed the BNA-JFK-LIS-GIG route, which was $300 cheaper per person [economy] (she did not take it :-((().

  26. Nice. Could Philippine Airlines from Vancouver to NYC have been an option, as a cash ticket? They have cheap J fares on the reverse leg.

  27. I think it’s cute you want brownie points for driving to LA. Try commuting that route everyday!

    Which leads me to wonder if you thought of flying somewhere south on the seaboard and just driving up the I-95?

  28. @ Stannis — Hah, I didn’t say I wanted brownie points, just that the roadtrip aficionados should be somewhat appeased!

    I used to make that drive a ton when we lived in D.C., and it isn’t my favorite, especially given how unpredictable traffic can be (without a blizzard!). But I would have considered that (or Amtrak) if there had been reasonable options. Flying is honestly always better for me though, as there’s hardly any downtime, so I can still work.

  29. Love it! You’re so clever… and I can just imagine what Nick’s face must have looked like when you told him of your plans. New hash tag for you: #wildandcrazygirl!

  30. All I could think was “You have a dog, and you can travel?” – My husband and I rarely take vacations together, because I don’t like leaving my dog with strangers 🙂

    I hope it all works out for you, and you get to NY! How fun!

  31. Absolutely awesome and something I’d never thought of. I really wish I could have seen the look in your husband’s face.

    Probably the same look I got when I said we were going to Dublin by taking the train from DC to Philadelphia and flying to Chicago so that we’d get a longer night’s sleep on the plane and save money. The return trip was Dublin to LHR to JFK with an overnight and a separate ticket back to DC. I’d considered going out of Seattle, but was certain that wouldn’t fly (no pun intended). Then on the return we left LHR, flew two hours and turned around a came back and were rebooked on a BA flight the next morning. I would up with nearly 30K EQMs for that trip after being credited the return twice!

  32. Haha. So basically AA sucks. Looks like Delta operated 6 of 9 LAX-JFK flights yesterday (albeit with some significant delays) and United operated all of the LAX-EWR flights with minimal delays.

    So you guys each spent 142,000 aeroplan and LM miles to fly a transcon? Although it kind of paid off, it still seems like a gamble. I would have bought a ticket on DL or UA and waited it out in LA. 24 hour cancellation policies are nice for protecting yourself on other airlines in that scenario.

  33. OMG I LOVE YOU! hahahah this is the best post on the site.

    Can you be my awards/miles coach? This was awesome.

    Glad youre in NYC safe and sound! Keep up the great posts.

  34. Omg! This is amazingly awesome and I would do this in a heart beat if I had that many points available! You’re my hero, Tiffany 😉

  35. It happened in East Asia here, not even on frequent flyers.

    Many people from Western provinces of China go to the eastern part for work, and they have to go back to their homeland during Chinese new year holiday.

    But during this holiday season, the flight ticket is way more expensive than during any other time, and they’re very very difficult to get it no matter how much they pay, so they get other ideas.

    Take Air Asia for example, it’s a low cost carrier, they have flights connecting from Kuala Lumpur to both destinations in Eastern China and Western China, so those people jump into the airplane from somewhere like Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur first, then from Kuala Lumpur to somewhere like Chengdu, it’s a little time consuming, but it’s very convenient and much less expensive than any other way home.

    Gorgeous!

  36. I generally like Tiffany’s posts but I just think this is the biggest waste of miles, and definitely not the best post ever, not by a long shot. Anyone with a bank account can do what Tiffany did, but most of us wouldn’t.

    Even at a very low valuation of 1.4 cents per mile*, Tiffany spent the equivalent of USD 2000 to get to New York. Deduct USD 500 for the refund of her unused LAX-JFK ticket, and she still spent an extra USD 1500 out of pocket to spend a few extra hours with her cousin and to avoid the dreaded middle seat in the back of the bus.

    Would she have done this if she didn’t write for a blog? and presumably get to write off the cost of these award tickets?

    Also, there’s an old saying, Keep It Simple Stupid. Given the snow in New York, she could have also been stranded in Europe. Now, that would have been a fun post to read.

    * if Tiffany was a reseller or hard core MSer, then the valuation would be much lower, but for most of us, good luck buying miles at that rate.

  37. @John –

    Your bitterness is toxic.

    Many of us would, indeed, go out of our way to spend a few extra hours with those we love. This is especially true for those of us who work overseas.

    I love Tiffany’s sense of adventure and her unfailing willingness to consider wildly creative solutions to stressful problems. I would have been thrilled if I were Tif’s husband and she said to me:

    “OK. This is the deal. The transcons are looking iffy; so, we’re going to have some fun and take Ethiopian to Dublin and then Lufthansa to JFK.”

    I’d be all “right on, baby!”

    One of life’s greatest joys is to find yourself on an unexpected journey. And to spend a few extra hours with those you love.

    I, too, hopes Tiffany writes about her ET flight.

  38. I admire the persistence, but I would’ve written off the hotel and tried to get my show tickets refunded.

    I hope this doesn’t sound bitter — I swear I’m not — but honestly, it does seem wasteful to fly to Europe for a show in NYC. I’d be ashamed, even privately, that I went to such extremes for my personal reasons rather than a family emergency or something.

    Imagine if you had to explain this to a homeless person or a friend who’d just been laid off… “Hi Ann… I can’t meet up to discuss your jobhunt because I’m… uh… traveling.”

    “Oh I’ll send you my resume on Facebook. Wait, your Facebook page says you’re flying to Dublin to see Hamilton!”

    No thanks! This is a lifestyle choice that I could emulate, and I understand doing it for the blog, but I wouldn’t want to do it myself. Esp with that many travel hours 🙂

  39. @DC while I appreciate your logic and your concern that @Tiffany is being wasteful, your argument taken to it’s logical conclusion would suggest that we should not do anything that is not entirely necessary while others are homeless or unemployed. While I wrestle with my good fortune vs. the bad fortune of others, I don’t feel that means I shouldn’t do anything that could be perceived as frivolous by others. Instead, I try to enjoy my life while ALSO giving generously to charity and giving of my time to help my friends and colleagues. Further I chose work that I believe does good for society. What I won’t do is begrudge myself or others a crazy, silly, fun trip. I would have jumped at Tiffany’s adventure! And I admire her efforts to make sure that she spent time with her family even it if it required a crazy adventure. I lost both my parents when they were relatively young and my wife last year (at the age of 53) in an accident. I’d travel a lot further then Dublin to see them again. You never know how much time you have with people. Kudos to Tiffany for making the most of it.

  40. To answer why many International flights are not subject to weather delays.

    1: In many cases these flights are already airborne before any type of weather delay is announced, and when a plane CAN land at a particular airport, the ATC priority always goes to one that is already airborne versus one that has not yet taken off.

    2: ATC can issue various levels of Ground Delay Programs, which vary based on the arrival rate and the traffic demand. Sometimes your flight is delayed 15 min on the ground due to construction at the destination airport impacting this rate, and sometimes it is several hours (i.e. SFO) due to weather restricting the number of operations. It is much easier for ATC to order planes to be held on the ground domestically versus internationally, therefore leading to these types of rolling cancellations. I don’t actually have any anecdotal recollection of a ground stop or ground delay program being issued worldwide since 9/11, please someone chime in if you know differently.

    3: Aircraft type plays a big role, particularly on AA only using the A321T on this route. If the aircraft is ordered to be delayed for 6 hours in LAX, that means that aircraft won’t be in New York to operate the flight back to LAX on time, which means the next flight from LAX will most likely cancel as there is no substitute aircraft A321T to fly the scheduled flight. That’s what causes these cancellations. The LH plane that Tiffany flew on most likely came in from some other outstation, into FRA, and had no issues departing for JFK other than taking on extra fuel in case of a distant diversion.

    I assume Tiffany took all these things into consideration when making her decision, and I’m glad it worked out for her!

  41. Our weekend getaway that we have been planning for months simply would not have been the same without you. I’m glad you are so clever and persistent! Hats off to you! XO

  42. I’d def. do that! I once flew from NYC to RDU with the following routing – JFK-SFO-SEA-ORD-RDU just for the fun of it.

  43. @Tiffany – perhaps more miles than you intended, but this is definitely something I’d do (assuiming, of course, I had the points). Nothing wrong with being a little creative, and certainly a reason to always travel with your passport. 🙂 I would _much_ rather be sat up front for long enough to enjoy it than endure the middle of coach for 6+ hours.

    Oh, and as far as the suggested Maple Leaf out of Toronto goes, the train runs 13hrs 19min per Amtrak. 🙂

  44. Man, how did I miss this report when you first posted it? Fantastic. Definitely creative, and I’m jealous of a lifestyle that allows you to spend a night in Dublin impromptu. (Perhaps it sounds more romantic than it is)

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