Once upon a time, air travel was kind of an adventure: you were going somewhere special, there was food and drinks, it was almost fun. Little by little, though, the pleasure went out of it. Less service, extra fees for everything, security guards rooting through your luggage – for me at least, it became an ordeal. But even if you dislike air travel the way I do, there is one kind you have to like: free air travel.
A few of you may remember a post I wrote about a year ago after returning from my trip to Beijing. It described how I finally got to be the passenger who gets bumped off his flight and receives a big reward. In my case, I managed to get a $500 voucher from Delta Airlines in return for spending a night in a Holiday Inn Express near the Detroit airport – nice work if you can get it.
The Delta voucher I earned came with no strings attached, except that I had to book it within a year. That 12-month deadline came up this past September, and oddly enough, it was the cause of more than a little stress. I’d had a busy year, travel-wise, and I’d never managed to come up with a good plan for the windfall.
Then a friend mentioned he’d like to go somewhere in December – coincidentally, the month in which both our birthdays fall. It seemed like a golden opportunity, so I dug into the Delta website to see where we could go for $500. An answer soon popped up: New Orleans, a great city at any time of year, and from what I hear, a great sight in December when the town is lit up for Christmas. Jazz and Christmas lights: what’s not to like?
I was excited. Unfortunately, my friend wasn’t. So I decided I’d go it alone. But that’s where things go a little complicated. When I went to the Delta website to see about using the voucher, I realized I’d forgotten something. While the air fares I’d been quoted were in Canadian dollars, the voucher was in U.S. currency. And in recent months the greenback had been flying high, while the Canuck buck was sinking like a stone. That meant my free airline voucher was worth not $500, but almost $700 in Canadian dollars.
This was great news. I could book the flight to New Orleans and have about $200 left over. But that started me thinking. I’d then have to book another small trip to use up the remaining $200 before the deadline passed. And did I want to use a $700 voucher just to go to New Orleans? This was enough money to take a real trip, a serious trip, to a place I’d always wanted to go.
‘This was enough money to take a serious trip’
I took a look at my bucket list: where to go? One name suggested itself immediately: Ireland. A lot of Irish blood flows through my veins, and for several years I’d been trying to get there. But for some reason it just never worked out: things came up, the flight sold out, other trips seemed more practical. Now was my chance. I looked it up. The fare was around $700 if I went in May.
It seemed perfect … except. The weather in Ireland can be iffy, and it’s probably a better place to go in summer than spring. As well, if I went to Ireland I’d want to do the rest of the British Isles, which would take more time and a lot more money — it’s an expensive part of the world. Third, I’d still want to take my usual winter vacation to escape the cold, which means I’d have to book another trip a couple of months earlier.
I thought again. Where else did I need to go before I died? A light bulb went off: the Galapagos! Nature photography is one of my passions, and there’s no place on earth with more exotic wildlife. Even better, the animals have no fear of humans: a photographer’s dream. The high cost had kept me away until now, but if I could get to South America on a free air ticket, it wouldn’t be such a stretch.
I checked the website again, and there it was: Quito, Ecuador, for a little more than $700. It was an amazing bargain — South American flights often cost $1,000 or more. I’d have to pay for the Galapagos cruise on top, of course, and it wouldn’t be cheap (if you have an affordable recommendation, let me know). But at least I wouldn’t have to cover both costs at the same time.
I took a deep breath, and booked the flight. When the final bill was tallied, I had to pay $58 out of my own pocket: the Delta voucher paid the rest. So for $58 Canadian, I’m going to Ecuador in January, to see seals and tortoises and blue-footed boobies in the Galapagos, and hopefully bring back some great pictures.
I booked some extra time in Ecuador, too, so I can revisit the wonderful Andean highlands, with their llamas and Quechua villages and live volcanoes, and possibly take another dip into the Amazon rainforest, across the mountains.
So that’s how I turned a missed flight into a bucket list trip to Ecuador. And that’s why, now and then, even I don’t mind flying.