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The cost of going home more often

photoLately I’ve been thinking a lot about family, and I realize that I don’t make the effort to go home often enough. This past weekend was great, but I find I’m only coming home for specific reasons – like a field hockey tournament, or a running race. I should be coming home just to visit sometimes.

When I first moved to Vancouver, I went home nearly every weekend (because I still had a PT job there, but also because all my friends were still in Victoria). Then when I quit that job, I started going back once a month. And now, nearly 7 years later? I end up going home once every 2-3 months.

There are excuses, of course. During field hockey season (Sept-March), it’s incredibly difficult to get away because games are on the weekend and I play on a competitive team where you are expected to go to most (if not all) games and practices. I have friends here on the mainland, a boyfriend, work commitments, and travel plans. Then there’s the cost of actually getting home.

When I was in high school, I paid less than $8 to ride the ferry one-way. Now? It’s $16.25 one-way. Add in the $53.25 one-way cost to bring a vehicle over, and a trip home becomes a major expense! Parking my car and walking onto the ferry is an option. I do that quite often, but sometimes a car is necessary. Plus parking is expensive as well (at the terminal it’s $16/24 hours, and at the Park-n-Go I believe it’s $14/24 hours).

Still. I want to see my family more often, and with the health problems of certain family members, I don’t want to miss out. I want to spend more time in my hometown, and if that costs more money and more weekends traveling, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m extremely lucky that the job I have right now offers flexible work hours, so I can take time off it needed to catch an early ferry on the weekends.

I don’t think going home once a month is realistic right now, but I will try to go every 6-8 weeks. This starts in a couple of weeks, when BF and I will head over on the May long weekend. I’d like to go back again in June or July, and then my family and I will be spending a few days in August to watch the Blue Jays take on the Mariners. :)

How often do you see your family? Does cost factor into that decision?

Customer service in Las Vegas

Our long weekend trip to Las Vegas was great. Between hiking in Red Rock Canyon, taking in a Cirque show, gambling and drinking on the strip, and lounging by the pool, I think we did just about everything we wanted to do. And while all of those experiences were fantastic, we both agreed that there were two customer service experiences – one good and one bad – that really left an impression on us.

Bad Customer Service: Hertz Rental Car

hertzWe decided to rent a car while in Vegas so that we could go on a day trip to Red Rock Canyon. But words cannot express how horrible our experience was dealing with Hertz.

When we got to the car rental building at McCarren airport, there was a massive line-up at Hertz. No big deal, we thought. We have a reservation for a car, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

The woman we dealt with took us to a video kiosk where an agent would guide us through our booking. We got about 10 minutes into the booking process when we were informed that it would be a 3-4 hour wait for a rental car. They had no cars to give anybody. Remember that old Seinfeld episode when the same thing happened to Jerry? Yeah.

Since we didn’t want to wait around at the airport for 3-4 hours, we asked if we could pick up our car the next day. No. Our names would be put on a wait list, and if we weren’t present for our name to be called, the car would be given to someone else … and we would end up at the bottom of the wait list again.

I turned to the customer service woman and asked what the point of a reservation was, if it didn’t actually reserve anything. She said in a very condescending tone: “it’s just like an airplane – just because you pay for a ticket doesn’t mean the plane is going to fly on time.” Wow, thanks.

We asked if we could cancel our car reservation and get a refund. Nope. No refunds allowed. Then we asked how many people were ahead of us on the waiting list. The answer? 44.

So we waited. For over two hours. Some people had waited much longer than us. Not a single Hertz employee apologized – except for the gate attendant in the parking lot once we did actually get our car – he seemed to be embarrassed about the whole thing.

If Hertz overbooked their fleet, fine. But they should have 1) told us ahead of time, 2) offered to refund our money, and 3) acted like they cared about the inconvenience they were causing to hundreds of people who were waiting around for hours when they were supposed to be on vacation.

Great Customer Service: Cirque du Soleil

cirqueBack in February, we bought tickets to see the “O” Cirque show at the Bellagio. At $150 each, they were not cheap. But we were really excited and looking forward to it as the highlight of our trip.

Our show was Saturday night, so around noon on Saturday we wandered over to the Bellagio to pick up our tickets, knowing the line-up would be really long come show time. The woman at the counter was having a hard time finding our tickets, until she realized that we had actually booked our seats for the Friday night snow. And the Saturday shows were now sold out – it had been for a while. We royally screwed up! :(

I almost cried. We were in shock, and extremely disappointed. We had just assumed the tickets we bought were for the Saturday. It didn’t even occur to us to check our e-mail confirmation. I was so mad at myself.

She said what most people in customer service would say: “let me see what we can do” and left to go to the back room.

When she returned, she was holding two tickets to the 7:30pm show. Not only that, but they were better seats than the ones we had originally paid for! “We managed to find something for you,” she said. (We realized at the show that she had gotten someone to wheel in two additional seats for us).

She could have easily done nothing. They could have just kept our $300, and that would have been our own mistake. But instead, she went out of her way to create seats for us to a sold out show. The rest of the trip, all we could talk about was how lucky we were. We even went back to the Bellagio a couple of times to see if we could thank her properly (with a tip), since we were in such shock at the whole interaction we didn’t even think about it. But we couldn’t find her… so if for some reason anyone from the Bellagio or Cirque du Soleil is reading this – thank you so much. That woman really made our trip a memorable one. :)

Anyone else have any recent customer service wins or fails while on vacation?

Recap: Portland, Oregon

Well I’m back from a great trip to Portland. I came in well under budget – mostly because we were really conscious about our food expenses. And because, well, Portland is a really reasonably priced city for tourists.

Here’s my recap of the weekend:

As soon as BF got off work, we headed straight for the border. Instead of powering all the way through to Portland, we decided to take it easy and book a hotel around the halfway mark. I used my Marriott rewards points and got us a free night’s stay, and this was the only night we went to a restaurant for dinner. The place we went to – Trackside Pizza – is, you guessed it, beside a railroad track. :) When the first train rushes by, it’s kind of cool. But after the 5th or 6th one, it got a little annoying.

We were up early and on the road to Portland. I was a bit worried about the weather, since it was pouring on the drive down. But as soon as we entered Portland, the skies cleared, and we didn’t have a drop of rain all weekend. :) After an awesome brunch at Mother’s Bistro (no line-up!), we spent most of Friday wandering NW 23rd street – a cute area with awesome shops and great houses. I loved wandering down the street, popping in and out of stores, and of course sampling the ice cream at Salt and Straw (eventually sharing a scoop of sea salt and caramel). We both agreed that it was our favourite part of the weekend. After that, we had dinner at a food cart ($6 + $1 drink), and in the evening, we wandered over to Rogue Brewery for a few adult beverages.

Breakfast was quick and cheap, because we had a jam packed day. Our first stop was the Saturday Market, where we spent a few hours looking at all the artisan products for sale, and watching the bands and performers along the waterfront. :) Then we braved the line-up at Voodoo donuts (it was well worth the wait). We were disappointed by Chinatown (and opted not to pay to get into the gardens). Instead, we walked along the waterfront, and then did a bit of shopping downtown.

In the evening, we ventured out to Baghdad Theatre – which is about a 10-15 min. drive from downtown. The theatre is pretty cool – vintage feel, and you can order alcoholic drinks and pub food at your seats. It’s a bit of a novelty because we don’t really have that here in Vancouver. :) The movie showing was 300 … and it was actually the first movie I’ve ever walked out of. Just awful.

There was a massive St. Patrick’s Day run that was just outside our hotel. We were staying on the top floor of the hotel, so we got a great view before we hit the road back to Vancouver – making the usual pit stop at Seattle Premium Outlets, and visiting one of BF’s friends in Bellingham.

oregon2014-budgetCost Breakdown
Anyway here is the breakdown of how much I personally spent while in Portland. It should be noted that I got our Marriott hotel for free using points, and BF paid for the 2 nights in Portland. We split the gas costs, and it was pretty reasonable considering we drove over 1,000km. As for food, we took turns paying, but I think he ended up paying for more than me.

All in all, it was a great trip to Portland. It’s one of my favourite American cities, and I can’t wait to go again. Although I think next time we might want to stay along the Oregon coast instead, just to get a different experience. :)

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