October 12, 2007

The BKK to USA Burden
Bangkok, Thailand

I've spent a lot of time in Bangkok fretting about the departure date and financials of our impending flight to Los Angeles. Finally, there's resolution to the question: I'm flying out of SE Asia with a very pregnant Tatiana.

To travel from Thailand to Peru via the United States will probably require a good 30 hours of flying (not including the hours that might need to be spent on layovers for flight connections). I feel it's imperative that a seven-month pregnant Tatiana have at least one night's rest outside of an airport in the middle of our journey, which means someone the west coast after our first leg out of SE Asia (preferably L.A.).

I've got two good friends living in Los Angeles who could put us up for a few nights, but both have vacation plans that have added a complicated spin to things. One is out of the city from the end of October until mid-November, while the other, Tristan, is on holiday from November 8th until the 14th. Sticking around Thailand isn't much of an option, as Tatiana will already be a month into her third trimester by the time we get back from Vietnam.

Flying back to the west coast of the United States (and then on to Florida) from Bangkok is the cheapest way to get back to Peru. There are also basically two other directional choices that I've had to consider: Via Australia and Chile (very expensive); or flying west to some place like Brazil via Dubai, or Miami via London. Once in Florida (from LAX US$100) I can get us on a US$200 flight from Fort Lauderdale to Lima.

I've been monitoring the price of flights from Bangkok to Los Angeles for weeks. Not only do I keep an eye on our target departure date range, but what flight prices look like if I was to buy one, two, or three weeks in advance from that day. Using this technique I can pull together a rough price trending of flights as time elapses—such as what airlines drop or raise their rates, and how far from the departure date their doing it.

LAX isn't the only destination from Bangkok I'm working with, either. Seattle, San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver (Canada) are all folded into the search matrix, as well as independent flights to China, South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and the Philippines (with onward connections to one of the afore mentioned west coast cities). Then of course there are occasional the round trip fares that are cheaper than the one-way tickets—yeesh.

It's been a serious effort.

But with all this online searching, combined with visits to more travel agents than I care to remember, I'm still unhappy with the price of the tickets Tatiana and I ultimately reserved this evening.

We ended up somewhere in the middle range between good value and overpriced heartbreak. The baseline was set with my one-way ticket with China Air from San Francisco to Bangkok via Taipei for US$480 (purchased online). In 2004/2005 a round trip ticket with domestic travel inside the U.S. was arranged by a travel agent for less than US$900. I know how cheap this flight can be.

Since we're locked into the round trip flight dates to/from Hanoi (Oct 14–Nov 1), and need at least a night in L.A. before my friend Tristan goes on holiday, that gave me a search range of November 1st through the 7th. Since we're flying against the setting sun, we can travel for 14+ hours and arrive on the same day in the United States at nearly the same time we left Thailand.

Just a sampling of the best prices searching was able to turn up:

  • US$600 with Asiana Airlines, via South Korea, travel agent (US$690 online)
  • US$600 with Philippines Air, via Manila, travel agent (US$950 online)
  • US$635 with Eva Air, via Taiwan, online (US$655 travel agent)
  • US$655 with China Air, via Taiwan, travel agent (US$690 online)

There are also a whole slew of other airlines that fly out of Bangkok or have connecting flights in other major cities in this region of the world (such as Korean Air, Delta, Malaysia Airlines, Northwest Airlines, United, All Nippon Airways, China Eastern, Thai Airways, Cathay Pacific, American, Continental, Japan Airlines, US Airways, and Air Canada), but all these flights cost well over the US$800 mark.

As if things weren't complicated enough already, seating availability for the best-priced flights had been disappearing rapidly. Philippines Air, for example, was already booked solid for our entire date range as early as four days ago.

I finally just told Tatiana that I thought we should try get a connecting flight out of Bangkok the same afternoon or evening that we arrived from Hanoi, on the first of the month; however, this would throw a kink in my plan to offload a large portion of her heavy backpack into a storage locker in town, and would tack on another couple hours of flying to the trip.

With the help of my axillary backpack (and kit) that I've kept in storage (at US$0.30/day), I've been able to strip a good 20 pounds (nine kilos) of books and gear out of her pack and into the old friend that we'll hopefully be able to store in the capital of Vietnam.

I really couldn't rationalize staying in Bangkok after we got back. US$10 Spent each way to go to and from the airport, US$15/day for a room, plus food costs—for what? To wait for a flight and walk around Khaosan road again? Pass.

Tatiana needed to pay for her ticket in cash, so we opted for Andy's friendly travel agent, Jerone, at Nat Tours. The earliest flight he could get us on that evening with enough cushion for a one-hour delay from Hanoi was a 20,590 baht China Air flight.

What you have to be careful about with these travel agents is that they're going to charge you an extra 3–4% for credit card transactions. So what you're getting quoted is the price if paid in cash.

The baht is about 10% stronger against U.S. dollar now than it was in May (or when I vacationed here in 2004), which means things are 10% more expensive to buy than they where several months ago. For small purchases this doesn't mean much, but for multi-hundred dollar flights that 10% has tacked an extra US$50 onto the cost of my ticket.

I'm really quite happy to have this flight taken care of, and that I'll be able to have a small package sent to L.A., and spend the better part of a week with my good friend Tristan before advancing to Lima.

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