There are many reasons to buy a ticket to Ecuador… one is its miles of sunny empty beaches.
When I took my first flight to Hong Kong 41 years ago, I was 21 years old and flew on a cheap ticket that was called a student fare.
While in Hong Kong I met a travel agent. Charlie Kwok was his name and he had an office in the Miramar Hotel, Kowloon, not far from the Star Ferry. Charlie was the master of the low cost air fare and over the next half decade he amazed me with some of his great deals…. Especially for people under age 27.
Next decade in London, John Dragonas, a Greek travel agent continued showing the way to get deals. Back then they had VUSA (Visit USA) where prices were really low.
By then Merri and I had met and she became the maven of amazing air fare deals.
In short I have always enjoy incredibly low costs air fares. However Merri added another dimension because not all low cost air fares are great.
I recall one flight Honk Kong to Portland, Oregon that Charlie Kwok arranged… really cheap, because it was a charter with two empty seats and otherwise full of doctors returning from Thailand. What Charlie forgot to mention was that the actual fare went Hong Kong, Seattle, Minneapolis, San Francisco and then I had a connection back to Portland… adding about 24 hours to the flight!
There are many reasons to buy a ticket to Ecuador… such as the high Andean lakes.
John in London ignored the human part of travel to get the cost down once as well… a special VUSA fare. Merri and I wanted to fly London, Miami, Chicago, Portland, London.
To get the lowest fare, the actual flight turned out to be London -Denver, Miami- Denver, Chicago-Denver, Portland-Denver, London…or something like that… low fare but not a great deal.
There are many reasons to buy a ticket to Ecuador… including wonderful colonial architecture.
It was about then that Merri took over finding our fares and she is good… Let me be humble and say she may be the best. Recently our son visited us from London-Charlotte-London for $17. That is correct, seventeen dollars.
There are many reasons to buy a ticket to Ecuador… big cities and…
quaint villages like… Cotacachi shown here.
Many readers asked for help on how to get this fare that I asked Merri to prepare an article on how she does it.
Here it is:
Buying Air Tickets: Merri Scott
Gary often asks me to write about how I buy airline tickets and especially those to Ecuador…so this is the first in a series of hints including safety, price, ease…
Well, first of all…it’s a tricky business for sure. And to top it all off, it rarely is quick and easy. I start out with that in mind and sometimes days later I’m still at it! But there is a pattern that I always use that helps me sort from the beginning the good, bad and the ugly.
Malcolm Gladwell’s newest book, “The Outliers, The Story of Success” clearly states that most people are really good at something, really successful after about 10,000 hours. Well, for sure I have my 10,000 hours in on travel and tickets. For over 4 years, Gary and I crossed the Atlantic commuting from our home in London to our home in Naples, Fl every three weeks. It was always different, always a surprise and very often extremely challenging to buy tickets for Gary’s mom, our 5 children to all our destinations all over the world ON A REGULAR BASIS. We had homes in London, Gloustershire, Naples, North Carolina, the north coast of the Dominican Republic and…oh, it makes my head spin just thinking about it!
Needless to say, just by the sheer act of plotting, planning and finally buying, I’ve learned a lot…earned my 10,000 hours over the last 25 + years of international traveling.
However, all the rules have now changed…it’s often hard to know which way to jump…some people book for instance a conference and tell me to confirm quickly so they can buy “that cheap ticket” that is 6 months out! Whoa, I reply…that’s pretty risky…sometimes you can now buy a ticket at a week out for the same price or better than a month out.
Airlines are constantly shifting and changing and hedging their bets…so let’s look at a few things that we can count on.
#1. The internet makes it a lot easier than we’ve had it before. There is plenty of data and solid information that we can gather from 100s of sources instantly.
#2. The internet also makes it a lot harder than we’ve ever had it before BECAUSE THERE ARE SO MANY CHOICES! We have more information so it is essential that we use this information wisely.
Here are a few ground rules that I am currently using that are working now.
1. Don’t buy months out.
2. Sit down with those who are traveling and have a general chat on days/possibilities/flexibilities that might be possible. Right now, for instance, I am buying for Ecuador. Gary and I will get a month’s calendar, list our IDEAL flight days and then see which ways we COULD be flexible.
3. For the past year, it is cheaper (yes, cheaper) in most cases to fly from an outlying airport than direct. I know a lot of people for instance who drive from let’s say Birmingham, Ala to Atlanta and then fly direct from Atlanta to everywhere. Don’t do this. CHECK YOUR POSSIBILITIES.
For example, Gary and I fly mainly from NC to Portland, NC to Quito, NC to London and NC to Copenhagen. Well, we can fly from Charlotte, Greensboro (Triad) or from a nearby TRI Cities TN tiny airport. I check out each of these easily and quickly to get a handle on the whole picture. I don’t just assume that one is cheaper or more expensive, etc.
For instance for years, Charlotte has been very expensive to fly into our area than all the others, and suddenly last fall, it all shifted…now it’s the cheapest. Well, it could be the aggressiveness of USAir after its near collapse that has caused them to price the lowest since it is their hub and therefore Delta, etc. have followed suit.
When flying from Florida, I look at Tampa (our favorite), Orlando, Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, etc. Takes only a second and sometimes you can really find an el cheapo winner!
4. Decide whether you are a frequent flyer who needs to accumulate miles or if you are just an occasional flyer. We for instance are frequent flyers and use Atlanta as our hub to go to our common destinations…Portland, London, Quito, Copenhagen are our patterns. Sometimes we fly from NC and sometimes from FL (according to the season)…but ALL of these flights are non-stop from Atlanta via Delta. So, instead of looking at all airlines/all flights, I really just watch Delta. We accumulate a lot of miles, use them for free tickets for our children and/or for upgrades. My advice for frequent flyers is pick an airline and stick with it! This gets the most bang for your buck…although sometimes I pay more for this, in the long run it works out well and suits us and lets us fly first class.
If you are lucky enough to be an infrequent flyer, then just look for the best deal!
5. Frequent flyers can gain a lot from loyalty…although not everything as recently we found out on an emergency trip to Portland! But usually, we can get what WE determine is important. (not that this might be your choice in the line of fire.)
What is important to us is not just the price but the Duration of the Flight…very, very important you might say! I’ll pay a bit more to fly a total of 7 hours instead of a lot less to fly the same route with a totally of 11 hours or maybe 23 hours!
Another thing that is important to us is that we can upgrade. We have logged so many miles and usually have to get off an airplane and go straight to work that over the years we have decided that if we can go first or business class (more or that later) we should. We feel better if we are not cramped in and let’s face it (although we don’t drink alcohol and don’t eat on planes) there are some good perks. Very important to us is that there is simply more oxygen up front than there is in the back…so we arrive in better shape than if we were tucked in on the last row.
Other things important to us is that we have a place where we can be quiet and not listen to a dozen cell phone conversations and 7 different TV stations. We aren’t used to this type of confusion and noise and so we want to have the use of special rooms that airlines provide (Delta’s Crown Rooms) that allow quiet areas. Often we traveled with our service dog, and she too is allowed in these rooms. We just rest and wait there. IT DOES MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
Merri even makes sure that we have seats so we see the sunset at night and sunrise in the morning.
But on the other hand, we don’t want to pay for this privilege which can cost big change.
How do we achieve this? Well, each airline has its own gimmicks, but Delta allows a cardholder of AMEX Sky Miles Reserve (which can cost anywhere from $295 up) to have free access with his/her companions to all Sky Mile Crown rooms at no cost. You can now have a simple Gold AMEX Sky Miles card (sometimes without a fee) that allows more or less the same privileges. We find excellent light food (that is fresh) and peace and quiet there. We also find their quiet desk of agents that will do just about anything to make life pleasant (changing flights/redoing tickets/finding lost luggage, etc.). They will even wake you if you fall asleep in your comfy chair. That same card allows us to have a free Concierge booking service (that means they will REALLY try everything to help you) as well as double miles for most of our travel…and (and this is a big one) the right to Pay with Miles.
And what is Pay with Miles? Well, let’s discuss that under Award Ticketing later in this series.
1. OK, now that we know whether we are a loyal frequent flyer or if we are a just looking for a great deal…then let’s look at an easy system.
I’ve used a lot of systems over the years and am hooked on www.kayak.com. It is simple, easy and fast. It gives you the whole picture of flights for an entire month (in case you are flexible) AND all the patterns that there are to choose WITH (and this is all important to us) the Duration of the Flight. This is instant and easy to read. Often it lists flights that the airline itself isn’t listing and also it gives you the total WITH TAXES INCLUDED.
Gosh, do I hate it when I have a great flight, great schedule and then find out that whoa…here comes the taxes. Kayak is consistent!
So, I pull up their website and I use it in the following ways. First, of all I advise you to sign in…(even though you’re probably like me and don’t want to take this step because of what it might lead to…)
Signing in allows you to look at a calendar of the month and see how much that ticket is each day…that is instantly. You can get a lot of information to compare fast and easy.
They show deals from 100+ airlines in seconds.
There are a lot of other systems but kayak for me does it all…it shows me prices from the airline from Hotwire, Expedia, Priceline, Travelocity, etc.
I sign in and then fill out the form…airports are easy…if you don’t know the call signs of your airport, just type in part of the name & the list pops up. Check “Include other airports” just to see what might happen. Click on “Flexible Departure” if this is the case…sometimes a fare can vary hundreds of dollars from just a day’s difference!
In this case, the fare varied $90 per person from day to day. Well, then I hit in the top left hand corner “Modify or Start Search Over” and clicked on Charlotte to Quito…wow, a savings of $295 per person! Same schedule, same #of hours…but this was with AA…which we don’t accumulate miles, etc.
Then I clicked on “Modify or Start Search Over” and clicked on “Include Nearby Airports”…and guess what? I found a price of $302 less per person on DELTA! And this was from Raleigh Durham…now just ask yourself, how can a flight be $300 cheaper from a further distance on the SAME airline…well, of course it is a mini airfare war…RDU (Raleigh Durham, NC is AA’s hub!).
Now, if I were to say to Gary…”hey, how’d you like to save an extra $600 to go to Ecuador next month?”….he’d reply “is it on Delta?”…I’d say yes, then he’d say “is it from Tri Cities?” And I’d say “No”…and he’d say, “buy the higher priced ticket from Tri Cities”.
Why? Well, we are sort of tired out road warriors. We can go (except in the winter when the pass is closed) over the top of Mt. Rogers and drop down to tiny tiny Tri Cities and find ourselves able to double park (yep!) and walk our bags and weary bodies in. (Last month, the lone policemen there even helped us!) Everyone there knows us. They jump to help us…and we can sanely walk through security even with our dog with everyone helping us…and then walk down to the one of only 4 gates and sit in the sun. We can board, take a 25 minute flight to Atlanta and walk (we always walk through all the airports not ride when possible) to the Crown Room…or go directly to Gate E for the International flight.
Well, this is where you have to choose…what do you want? We want peace and quiet and a very easy entrance to the world and also a very very cheap daily rate at the airport for our car. We like quiet, non events as opposed to people shouting at us to hurry and clear security, etc.
We’ve left our car, checked in at a gate with 4 people manning the desks and maybe two other passengers there, cleared security and are at the gate in less than 15 minutes or maybe 10…with no stress.
All top importance to us, but maybe not to you…this is why I mention to pick the airport where you begin for its appeal to you…that’s why we are loyal to Tri Cities and Tampa (in the winter).
OK…so all it takes is a few minutes to click on Kayak figure out ALL your possibilities and all your data.
My advice is to once again choose what is important to you…and that is whether you value money or time. I scroll down a number of times and watch these rates for a few days or weeks (if I have the time) and pick THE BEST RATE FOR US WITH THE LOWEST DURATION OF HOURS. These are equally important to us. Kayak lets you click on “Details” for the stops in between and other information and then once you decide which flight pattern (sometimes they offer 5 or 6 pages of these all in price order) then click on that. Kayak then sends you directly to the listing agent. You don’t have to figure out a single thing but the flight you like.
If you are trying to stick with just one airline, then click on the list at your left and it will eliminate the others.
We don’t usually like to fly to one country through stops in other countries and that prevents us from using Taca, Lacsa and Copa…who stop and change flights in Panama and Costa Rica. We find this heightens the chance of lost luggage and further wears us out.
We do like LAN Ecuador, which we have flown from Miami many, many times. A great airline (parent is LAN Chile with a very good safety record) with courteous, gentle service (Ecuadorian!) and a non hassle check in! That’s a winning combination for sure! This helps.
We now have a choice of Aero Galapagos, which is a regional Ecuadorian Airline that is flying from Miami to Ecuador. We respect its young female CEO and our only complaint for this is that it is non stop to Guayaquil with an overnight then go up to Quito. However, she has applied for rights to fly non stop Miami/Manta! That should be a winner for sure. So, let’s watch out for this application to be approved…but of course immigration and customs must be added to the excellent Manta Airport first.
Right now, there are 19 pages of 15 schedules each (that’s 285 flights!) from Miami to Quito. This could be bewildering. Let Kayak (or your favorite search site) do your work by sorting them out and presenting them in just seconds to you!
One other Kayak feature is that you get to choose the currency of your country for the prices. This is absolutely a fantastic feature of this website, truly international and very cognizant of the global marketplace that the web represents.
The tips above can be used to get great airplane ticket deals anywhere.
Some suggestions for Ecuador. I find a lot of people need help on this somewhat exotic country…because there isn’t a lot of information out there. Gary and I have lived/worked in Ecuador for 15 years, so we’ve learned a lot the hard way…that is so you won’t have to!
Here are my list of dos and don’ts:
1.Fly into Quito not Guayaquil (even if the flight is cheaper). Guayaquil is a big, bustling, expensive city full of a lot of things you don’t need to put up with and not much of interest to tourists as well as those who want to look for a place to live. Quito is orderly and functional and the airport really organized. We have good friends in Guayaquil and over the years have spent a lot of time there, but that doesn’t mean that we like it. It also costs a lot of time and money to get up to Quito (over $100 round trip, so that usually wipes out any savings) and since most flights arrive in the evening…you’ll have to overnight in expensive Guayaquil.
The surf at San Clemente is safe enough for kids to play in.
2.Don’t fly on a Colombian Airline (Avianca and others), even if it is great deal cheaper.
For instance, right now Avianca is flying from Miami to Quito for a cheaper fare than Delta is listing. (round trip). I’ve been waiting for all of you to arrive in Quito for over 14 years and those which fly from Bogota, Colombia often don’t land in Quito, they go onto Guayaquil and overnight there…or more usual, they just stop in Bogota (unscheduled of course) and then continue in the next day to Quito.
Why do people fly with them? Often they are the cheapest…but cheap is nothing compared to an American passport holder overnighting in Bogota and not really understanding when the next plane goes out, plus missing your ride in Quito, etc. I always say to people this is the prime example of false economy….the decision comes in Bogota whether the plane continues on are not…it is simply a load situation…and we don’t want to get caught out another night in a strange hotel…when it clearly said…arrival in Quito!
Weather can be misty with a socked in airport and Quito can be a tricky airport to land into. (This will be remedied when the new airport is finished. It is built on top of a plateau instead of in the valley of Quito.) All Delta pilots who fly in there are licensed to land in any weather (but sometimes choose not to land and go to Guayaquil…but rarely.) Colombian pilots are rarely licensed to land on instruments, so the plane just stays in Colombia and comes the next day…not ever a good thing for a traveler! I’ve waited hours in the Quito Airport with our greeting crew for years looking for those people who don’t arrive until the next day!
3. Bring your own favorite non heavy snacks and just drink lots of water, skip the airline fare and the drinks…you’ll feel better and the next day not have any recovery time.
4. We never book “Multiple Airlines” tickets. This can be a combination of all sorts of airlines and can be a reason if anything goes wrong (like lost luggage) that no one claims responsibility. We don’t like to mix airlines.
5. If you think that Quito might be too high in altitude for you, then just hire a driver to meet your plane, bring you water and fruit and a pillow and blanket and bring you on out to your destination! That’s what we do!
Ecuador is a charming, beautiful country…buy your tickets with care and enjoy the ride!
Now let’s discuss Award Tickets vs Pay with Miles and other variations that we use tomorrow.
Award Tickets vs. Pay with Miles
I used to think that the highest thing out there in the “ticket” world was a free ticket! But look at the cost is of a “free” ticket with Delta!
Our daughter was here for 3 weeks from London before she returned for a year in Africa, and this was a more or less “instant” decision for her. Many fares from London were high…and I thought “Oh, let’s go for an award ticket”…
But just to show you how all the rules have now changed, I thought well, let’s make some comparisons…
Here’s what I found…Award Ticket round trip from London to Charlotte:
Mileage required 50,000 and up to 70,000.
Award available on most days, plenty of seats, etc.
Sounds good…right? A free ticket! Great for kids as there is no tax advantage and it’s there and red hot!
However, let’s look closer, the requirement for taxes was $316.23!! Other flights, taxes were $375.10. Wow!
Well, that’s not really a free ticket is it?
So…then let’s look at Pay with Miles (explanation later in this article):
Same flights, same days…ticket would be $94.43 and 50,000 miles…a big big difference…this includes all taxes and fees. I could have made it even lower to $40.43 if Gary had an extra 5,000 miles in his account.
Well, what would you rather have? A “free” awards ticket for 50,000 miles + $316-$375 in taxes or a Pay with Miles for 50,000 miles for $94.43 or even as low as $40.43?
Ecuador tickets will brings you rustic restaurants open air restaurants like this three table authentic pizza parlor complete with dog, cat and dirt floor.
But great pizza
Pay with Miles
How does Pay for Miles Tickets work? Well, there is a small catch that I discovered after recommending this to a client…she called me back and said “Pay with Miles does not appear on my computer”…
Here is that catch. It says very clearly that this is for Platinum and Gold Medallion Members. And of course, only people crazy enough to travel as much as we do qualify…but and this is a big BUT it is available to anyone with a Delta Skymiles number if that person holds an American Express Sky Miles GOLD Card, Platinum or Reserve Credit Card. I have provided links to learn more about how to get these cards at the end of this message.
The first year, the fee is waived and then can be as low as $55 annually…you’ll save that on your first purchase of “Pay with Miles”.
All of this is a bit lopsided…but as I said before “All the Rules have Changed”…and that means ALL the rules. When you order this credit card you’ll get a bonus 25,000 miles to start.
Gary and I (as you probably know) abhor debt, so we pay off our credit cards each month but we do love credit cards…because we can easily track our purchases for tax purposes and also because of the Pay with Miles feature. It is possible to have free (that is really free) Delta Crown Room use at all airports by showing your American Express Delta Reserve Card. This Amex card is a bit pricier but has more benefits because your miles are at times doubled and you have access to a Concierge desk when you really get into trouble (which I often do) and also don’t forget all those quiet times in the private rooms.
You don’t really need to be a road warrior who has hundreds of thousands of miles, you just need that little American Express Gold or Platinum card! Suddenly those magic words, “Pay with Miles” automatically appear on your screen, giving you a free ticket with no blackout dates, the use of any amount of miles you might have (award tickets have a premium minimum), as well as flexibility, AND no fees. This can be purchased for a group of people (if on the same itinerary) and can be used as often as you have miles in your account.
Pay with Miles is a great way to use those accumulated miles that is fast, easy, Internet friendly and instant. I just love bringing our kids from all over the world as we did Jake (on the itinerary and dates he chose) last year for $17!
Ecuador tickets can lead you to fancy restaurants in Bahia like at the Bahia yacht…
simple affairs like this Bahia Cafe on the
or at La Piedra Hotel in Bahia…
where standards are high and…
outstanding and food is very reasonable.
Good flights and happy endings….Merri
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Here are photos I took of Mt. Dora…
August 31-September 1-2 Super Thinking Writer’s Camp West Jefferson, NC (Gary & Merri Scott)
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