Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Re-booking an All-inclusive Resort for a Lower Price

Earlier this year, I booked a family vacation to an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta using a combination of miles, points and cash. We had to book two rooms for our family of five, so we used Citi ThankYou points to cover the cost of one room and Barclaycard Arrival + points to help offset part of the second room.

Our trip is still a few months away, but last week I decided to check the price of our trip on the resort's website to see if it had changed. I'm not really sure why I did this, but I guess it's just a habit. I'm used to booking flights on Southwest, and I am constantly looking to see if the price went down to get a points refund or a credit for a future flight.

Well, I'm glad I checked, because the price of our second room decreased by $270. I double and triple checked to make sure I had put in the same exact dates, room type and number of people. I was surprised at this price reduction, because I had stalked the rate for months before I booked it, and it never changed.

Room rates shown with AAA discount in red

Next, I had to see if I could get the price difference refunded. While I could not adjust my reservation for the lower rate, I could cancel it and re-book at the lower price if I was willing to pay a $50 cancellation fee. That's what I did, and I still ended up coming out $220 ahead.

I checked my husband's room reservation on the Citi ThankYou travel website, but for some reason the price of his room increased. Weird.

This situation made me stop and think...how often do we book a hotel or resort and check back later to see if the price has gone down? Or how about a rental car? Hotel and rental car prices fluctuate just like airline prices do. If there is no cancellation fee, or even a low cancellation fee, it seems like a no-brainer to check for a lower price prior to a trip. Always read the fine print before you cancel and re-book to avoid any unwanted fees.

Stay vigilant, my travel friends!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Birthday Party at iFLY Dallas

I mostly write about travel on this blog, but statistically my most popular post by far is actually about my son's birthday party at California Pizza Kitchen. So since there must be many moms out there Googling for birthday party ideas, here is another one.

First, let me back up and say that while I am frugal and budget-conscious in many aspects of my life, a birthday party is one event that I prioritize for a small splurge. Maybe it's due to my childhood experiences with birthdays, or the circumstances in which our kids joined our family...but I feel that children's birthdays should be BIG! And while that doesn't necessarily translate into spending a lot of money, I want to give my kids the opportunity to have age-appropriate friend parties while they are young.

I have a love-hate relationship with birthday parties. I love seeing how happy my kids are being with their friends and being celebrated for their special day, but I hate the stress of organizing, figuring out who is coming and dealing with drama.

My worst birthday party memory is my oldest son's party at our house in 1st grade. I bought something through Groupon which was advertised as sports-themed entertainment for at-home birthday parties. I figured it would be perfect for a bunch of 7-year-old (mostly) boys. It ended up being a huge disaster! The entertainment was not what I expected at all. The hired party entertainer brought things like hula hoops and stretchy bands, and the kids had no interest in any of the activities. The boys ended up using lightsabers to clobber themselves instead. On top of trying to keep tabs on my 1-year-old daughter, one of the moms dropped off an uninvited younger sibling to the party (who I had never met) and she needed a lot of supervision. Yikes! The kids still had fun and nobody was seriously injured, so I guess it wasn't too bad. No more at-home parties for this mom!

A backyard birthday disaster
So back to the present time...my oldest son was turning 12 and told me that he was getting too old for a "kiddie" birthday party. He wanted something low-key with just a few friends. I ran a couple of ideas by him (laser tag, a movie), but he decided on indoor skydiving at iFLY.

iFLY Dallas opened a few years ago not too far from my house (it's actually located in Frisco, not Dallas). It looked like fun but was something we had never done because it's a little pricey. When I looked online for a birthday party, the party package price was way over my budget. So I called iFLY and asked if I could buy a family package (10 flights for up to 5 people) and still bring cupcakes for my son's birthday. I was told that would be no problem, so I bought the package and scheduled the time.

The instructions say to arrive 45 minutes before your flight time to check in, sign a waiver, watch a training video and suit up. That is the time I put on the party invitations. We had one child who was running ~30 minutes late, and iFLY told me that if he didn't make it by 30 minutes before our scheduled flight time he couldn't fly. The employees were very serious about this and had to keep us on a strict schedule, so one friend unfortunately could not fly. My husband was happy to step in and take the empty spot.

After signing the waivers, we were lead upstairs to a training classroom. We watched a video (parents and spectators can also go in the classroom) and learned hand signals from the flight instructor.

Next, the fliers were fit with flight suits, goggles, ear plugs and helmets.

Soon, it was time for our group's flight. There was another group of 5 that shared the tunnel time with our group.

Flying low

I sat outside of the tunnel with my daughter and some parents to watch and take photos/videos. Each person in our group got two flights that lasted one minute each. On the second flight, they had the option to go higher up with the instructor for an additional $10. Two of the five in our group opted for that experience.

Here is a video of my son's final flight, followed by some tricks by the instructor:

It took about 30 minutes for the entire group of 10 to finish flying. Afterwards, the kids took off their suits and headed to the party room for some cupcakes (I brought cupcakes and juice--there was no food for sale there except some vending machines near the front desk). Even though I had not booked the official big birthday party package, my son's name and birthday were still on the screen, which I thought was a nice touch.

The family package included five professional videos of the flights. Each flight was recorded in its entirety and set to music, and we got to choose which videos we wanted.

I kept the party favors very simple--Mike and Ike candy (my son's favorite) with a little skydiver taped onto the box:

A few notes:

*  Buying a family package is definitely the way to go if you want to have the party on a smaller budget with fewer people.

*  Don't invite more people than can fit in your package, as iFLY was sold out on flights that day and we could not have added anyone extra. If someone doesn't show up, you can substitute another flyer (like a parent or sibling) or use the flights to give the birthday boy/girl extra flight time.

*  I suggest putting an even earlier arrival time (like 1 hour before your flight instead of 45 minutes) on your party invitations to allow for latecomers. I had no idea that latecomers would not be allowed to fly. If everyone arrives early/on time, you can always go upstairs and watch the fliers before you. It's quite entertaining.

*  In addition to the family package cost, be prepared to spend extra on the higher flights ($10 per person) and a tip for the flight instructor. Our instructor was funny and worked very hard!

One thing that surprised me was that we didn't see any young kids there that day--we were the youngest group. We saw a few older teenagers, but the rest were adults. The minimum age is 3, so I  assumed that more younger kids participated. Maybe it was an anomaly for the day we were there.

Overall, I recommend iFLY for a birthday party for tweens. It was a thrilling experience for the boys, and the party was definitely easy on my end.

Have you experienced iFLY on your own or for a birthday party? What do you think?