Category Archives: Air Tickets

Traveling On a “TwoFer”

In my last blog post, The Jews of Kochi, I described our visit to the historical city of Kochi, the capital of Kerala State in SW India.  However,  I didn’t say anything about how we got there.  One obvious answer is that I went on-line to a discount site like Orbitz, located the best deal (currently about $1,900 per person), and shelled out almost four thousand dollars to purchase tickets for my wife and myself.  Fortunately, the real answer is far more affordable and represents yet another benefit of working vacations–the concept of a twofer.

On every one of my working vacations (fifteen and counting) I was given a complimentary round-trip air ticket, purchased by my hosts, from my home in Minneapolis to the city where I would be working.  If you don’t provide your hosts with suggested routings they will almost certainly select one with the least number of legs and the shortest airport delays, thinking they are doing you a big favor.  However, that may not be the case.  Nothing says your travel must be on a direct flight and without long layovers, so long as you arrive and depart the host city on the required dates.  Once you realize this, you will begin to appreciate the many interesting side-trip possibilities that have fallen into your lap.

A great way to turn a working vacation into an even more enjoyable holiday is to take your free ticket from A (your home) to B (your destination) and convert it into an “almost-free” ticket from A to C to B, where C is any destination along the way to B that you would like to visit for a few days or weeks. Essentially, what you are doing is converting that free ticket into a twofer by adding a second stop, either on the way there or on the return.   For example, when I was traveling to Mauritius, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean, our hosts assumed we would prefer the most direct route:  Minneapolis to Amsterdam to Mauritius.  Instead, we asked them to route us home via Mumbai and London, with a three-week layover in India.   I gladly agreed to pay the increased $150 ticket cost per person since $300 is far less than the $4000 required to reach India from the central U.S.  We had a glorious time in Mumbai, Goa, Bangalore, and Cochin before returning home.  We repeated this gambit on subsequent working vacations to Turkey (via Athens and the Greek Isles), Australia (via Fiji), Mongolia (via Beijing), and a threefer to Harare, Zimbabwe–via Lisbon, Portugal and Cape Town. In all cases the cost of extending our stay in the layover city was small compared with purchasing a full-fare ticket from Minneapolis to that same destination. In three cases (Turkey, Japan, Malaysia) my employer agreed to cover the added expense since the ticket costs still fell well within their overall travel budget.

The moral of the story is that when planning air travel don’t inquire into only direct flights, unless you are traveling with small children and that is the most important consideration. Instead, see what airlines fly to your destination, where they stop, and what the added expense would be for extending your stay in that stopover city.  You might be pleasantly surprised at how little it costs to add a few days or weeks in some attractive getaway to your already attractive working vacation.

(Read about our travels to Mauritius, India, and many other exotic destinations, at virtually no cost in On The Other Guy’s Dime.)

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So Far, But Yet So Near

Skyline of the Modern City of Kuala Lumpur Where I Worked For One Week Prior to Going to Japan

In the spring and summer of 2001 Ruth and I spent eight months in Kuala Lumpur, the longest of any of our fourteen working vacations.  We had a superb time, and our stay was filled with fun adventures, trips around SE Asia, even political intrigue–check out Chapter 10 of the book for those rather unusual details.  However, because of the length of our stay we saw much of what the country has to offer, and when I accepted the invitation to be an external examiner and return to Malaysia some of my friends were a bit surprised.  What they didn’t understand is that sometimes you accept a posting not only because of where a place is but also because of where a place is near.

In 1991 I spent a month in Japan (described in Getting Out of That Rut) but, sadly, without my wife–the only extended trip I have taken without her.  I promised her that someday we would return so she could see what she missed from twenty years ago.  This trip to Malaysia was the perfect opportunity.

The Atomic Dome in Hiroshima, One of The Few Building Standing After the Bomb. It Is A National Historical Monument.

The air route from Minneapolis to Kuala Lumpur is via Tokyo.  Once I accepted the school’s offer I asked my hosts to extend the layover in Tokyo on the return trip from four hours to twenty-one days!  They were happy to oblige, and I ended up with a free ticket to Japan. I did the same thing a few years later when I accepted a six-week working vacation in Mongolia that included a glorious fourteen-day stopover in China

So, when planning a working vacation don’t just think about places you want to see but also places that are nearby things you may want to see.  This way you get a “two-fer” all for the price of none!

A Witness To History

One of the joys of a working vacation, as described in Getting From Point A to Point B In Style, is the ability to add one or more interesting stops on the way to or from the host country.  After you have agreed to a contract simply ask your hosts for permission to purchase an air ticket that includes a layover in some interesting intermediate city.  Given the amount of money being committed to your visit–transportation, housing, salary–they will often be willing to absorb the insignificant $100 or so that this stop might add to their bottom line.  (This is exactly what happened on my upcoming trip to Kuala Lumpur.  My Malaysian hosts were generous enough to cover the $150 surcharge for adding a three-week stop in Japan on the return trip.)  Even if they do bill you for the layover, the cost will still be far less than purchasing an air ticket from your home to the same destination–just try flying from Minneapolis to Tokyo for $150!

After accepting a three-month teaching offer from the University of Zimbabwe and receiving authorization to purchase my ticket, I booked a flight on TAP, Air Portugal, because I could later rebook at no cost and convert our flight to Zimbabwe into not just a “two-fer,” as I had done on our earlier trip to Istanbul, but a “three-fer” with a three-day layover in Lisbon followed by a six-day stop in Cape Town, South Africa before continuing on to Harare.

We arrived in Cape Town in the late morning after an exhausting eleven-hour flight from Lisbon. Forcing ourselves to stay awake and adjust to local time, we took a leisurely walk around the city ending up at the classic Greek-columned South African Parliament building in Company’s Garden Park, totally unaware that we were about to witness a momentous historical event.

South African Parliament Building in Company's Garden Park, Cape Town

The information booth in the park informed us that the South African Parliament was being called into session in just a few minutes. Thinking this an interesting way to pass some time and stay awake we secured our entry passes and went upstairs to the visitor’s gallery unexpectedly packed with reporters, photographers, and observers. Every seat was taken and there were numerous standees, ourselves included. Was something special happening or do South Africans simply have a greater interest than Americans in the proceedings of their federal legislature? My wife and I once visited the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington DC when it was in session. There were maybe two dozen visitors in the gallery and even fewer legislators seated on the floor.

The audience hushed as President F. W. de Klerk entered the assembly, stepped to the lectern, and began addressing Members of Parliament (MPs) but, unfortunately, in Afrikaans. I thought to myself how sad I would not be able to understand a word he said, but after five minutes he smoothly, and without warning, switched to impeccable Oxfordian English. To our utter amazement, now that we could understand, he announced to everyone seated on the floor and in the visitor’s gallery that his government would, effective immediately, rescind every remaining racial segregation law still in force–he had eliminated some, but not all, apartheid statutes in a speech to the legislature two years earlier.  At that point, the conservative Afrikaner MPs stood up, turned their backs to him, and stormed from the hall as the gallery erupted in cheers and photographers sprang to their feet to snap photos.

Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk Receiving the Nobel Prize in Oslo in December, 1993

What had begun as simply an afternoon stroll to stay awake had ended with our witnessing one of the most significant moments in African history—the official end of apartheid in the Republic of South Africa. Eighteen months after listening to that speech, F. W. de Klerk and Nelson Mandela shared the Nobel Peace Prize at a formal ceremony in Oslo, Norway.

Getting from Point A to Point B in Style

As I described in the post Cold Call: Take Two, I was the happy recipient of an offer of summer employment from Bogazici University that included, along with housing and a modest salary, one round-trip air ticket from Minneapolis to Istanbul.  When I sent e-mail accepting their offer I asked my hosts to purchase a ticket leaving one week earlier than their proposed date of June 7th, just prior to the start of summer classes, and to route me via Athens rather than on a non-stop flight from New York to Istanbul as they had planned. Since neither of these changes increased their costs they were happy to comply.  Then, after receiving the ticket in the mail (this was before the days of e-tickets), I contacted the airline and, for a modest fee, extended my layover in Greece from four hours to seven days!

Beaches on the Greek Island of Paros Where We Spent A Leisurely Couple of Days on Our Way To Istanbul

A great way to turn your working vacation into an even more enjoyable low-cost holiday is to take that free ticket from A (your home) to B (your destination) and convert it into a free or “almost-free” ticket from A to C to B, where C is any destination along the way that you would enjoy visiting. Essentially, you are converting your no-cost working vacation airline ticket into a “twofer” by adding a second stop.  My wife and I spent a glorious week in Athens, Thessaloniki, and the lovely island of Paros before continuing on to Istanbul to start teaching.

Beachcomber Island, Fiji Where We Spent Time on A No-Cost Stopover on the Way to Australia

We repeated this gambit on a number of subsequent working vacations, including Zimbabwe (via Lisbon, Portugal; and Cape Town, South Africa), Mauritius (via Mumbai, India), Australia (via the Fiji Islands) and Mongolia (via Beijing, China). This coming October I will be working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with a three-week layover in Tokyo, Japan added to the end of the stay. In all cases the charge for extending my time in the stopover city was either zero or quite small compared to the cost of purchasing a full-fare air ticket from Minneapolis to that same destination. Even today’s $100 to $150 fee for modifying an existing reservation is a small price to pay for a holiday in Beijing, a week in Athens, or nine days in the Fiji Islands!

When planning air travel to a host country don’t search only non-stop flights, unless you are traveling with children and that is the most important consideration. Instead, determine which airlines fly to your ultimate destination, where they stop, and what the cost would be to extend your time in a stopover city on the way there or upon your return. Then inquire if your hosts would be willing to purchase an air ticket with an extended layover, either with them picking up any additional costs or having you cover the difference. You might be surprised to discover that, since the host institution has already committed to spending thousands of dollars on transportation, salary, and housing expenses, a $50 or $100 fee added to the air ticket will be of little or no concern to them–as was the case with my upcoming trip to KL.  And the end result is that you get to spend a few days, perhaps even a week or more, in some exotic getaway–an attractive perk added to your already attractive working vacation experience.