Philly to West Coast for $76/one way, and 5 cool things to do in Bahrain

Just wanted to throw another flight deal at y’all.  United is running a sale apparently between select West Coast cities and Philadelphia.  The trick with booking this is to enter in ZFV for the airport code instead of PHL.  The trip is to and from Philadelphia 30th street TRAIN station, via Newark EWR airport.  I was able to pick up the fare from LAX for around $180, not the cheapest, but WAYYYY cheaper than going to PHL on the date I needed (last day of finals, peace out!)

My plans aren’t certain for my break.  I need to be in Philly for a conference, anniversary party hosted by my blog-writing friend Amy over at recoveringoboist.com (she interviewed me for one of her posts), some gigs, and maybe a family meetup if I can squeeze it in!  Then I might head up north of the border for KlezKanada.  I am waiting to hear if I got a scholarship, fingers crossed!  While I’m up there it would be great to visit some places like Montreal, Québec City, and Niagara Falls, none of which I’ve been to.

I saw that the $76 fare had been posted again, the only thing was that it was to San Diego, not Los Angeles.  I’ve been meaning to get to San Diego for more than a few hours (did a radio broadcast one afternoon over a year ago with Free Range Orkestar.  Side note: you can watch a video of over on YouTube– ironic for a radio broadcast, right?).  I looked up the costs to get to eastern Canada from Philly both ways, vs getting there from Phily and going directly back to LA.  It would save me well over $100 to fly back to San Diego and take trains to and from Canada ($60-65 with AAA discount), so I hopped on the fare.

I hope to get a ride back from San Diego, but if not, it’s possible to get back for under $10 taking only local transport!  I might go with a slightly more expensive and much faster direct bus ($25) or train ($38 with AAA discount).  I’ll also finally get the chance to spend a day or two in San Diego before a very studious semester studying for the pre-clinical exams at Yo San University.

—————————-

Apparently a few people actually read my last post, and were concerned about my trip to Bahrain.  To be honest, I’m not sure if I WILL spend any time in Bahrain.  I saw a RT to Oman for $170 or so, and other places for a bit more.  For instance, as of now, Amman, Jordan is a little over $400, Kathmandu, Nepal is just under $400.  I could go to Columbo, Sri Lanka for $325.  Now, recall that I spent only TWO HUNDRED TEN dollars on my trip.  This means round trip to Amman or Kathmandu, from LAX = around 610, Columbo = $535.  Not a bad deal at all!  And again it will earn me lots of miles to make the trip I’m planning basically free, and earn me free upgrades to business class.

I would, however, like to take the opportunity to check Bahrain out while I’m there, and it looks like there are a couple things to do during a day or two stay:

1. The  “Tree of Life”

Image

This is a tree that is growing smack dab in the middle of Bahrain’s desert.  No one knows how it is getting water.  The roots apparently cannot reach any aquifer nearby.  One theory is that it’s adapted itself to intake saline water.  Who knows?  I love trees and probably won’t be able to resist taking a peek.

2. Bahrain Pearling Trail

Image

Back in the days before petroleum became one of the driving forces of global economy, Bahrain made its fortune in the local pearl trade.  In the 1930s, Japan pioneered techniques of culturing pearls, and the trade in the Middle East began a steady decline.  The old buildings of Bahrain’s pearl merchants have been preserved as a 3.5km trail Heritage Site established by UNESCO.

3. Qal’at al-Bahrain (Bahrain Fort)

Image

As an island nation off the Persian Gulf, Bahrain has been a crucial port for seafaring nations for over 5,000 years!  The Bahrain Fort was first built 3,000 years ago, and the present fort dates to approximately the 6th century CE.  This is another UNESCO site.

4. Al-Fatih Mosque

Image

This is the largest mosque in Bahrain, and one of the largest in the world.  It can accommodate over 7,000 worshippers!  I am mixed on visiting mosques on my recent travels to Turkey and Spain.  The architecture is just amazing, but I don’t like how often slogans in Arabic, even if in florid, embellished script, seem to me to be plastered all over inside.  At any rate, it is definitely something to check out between the hours of 9-5 (except Fridays), or a walk or drive-by at night.

5. Bab el-Bahrain Souk

Image

It’s hard to imagine a visit to an Arabic-influenced country without a trip to the market.  “Souk” is the word for bazaar in the Persian Gulf, and apparently Bab el-Bahrain is quite lively.

Some crazy flight deals today

667airplane

Or, how to fly to a resort location in the Middle East for $210 (and earn miles on it.  Got your attention?)

So, I was able to book a couple of really good fares for today.  I’d been hoping to use the $500 United voucher I got on my last flight to get to Serbia this summer.  I had been hemming and hawing about which flights to take as I waited for the rest of a check to deposit.

THENnnn, the night before it deposited, I realized that the voucher would not count because some of the flights I wanted were codeshares on United, operated by the other carrier.  This is something important to consider when you are able to get those vouchers for volunteering to go on a later flight.  With United, what you can do is go into “Advanced search” and click on search United flights only at the bottom.  I ran into this problem when booking my flight to Panama originally.

There were no flights only on United airplanes, so I had to figure out how in the heck to get to Eastern Europe (or, Europe at all), on the tight schedule I had, for a reasonable price.  I managed to shave off $200 of the cheapest price to Belgrade (closest airport to my workshop in Valjevo) by flying to Budapest and then taking the train (I have included the train fare in my cost calculation).

26 Euros round trip (about $40) for a train (8hrs each way) is really a steal, and supposedly goes through some great landscape.  I won’t get to see it on the way down (taking an overnight train) but maybe on the way back.  Note: I’ve read online that there are some sleeper couchettes available that one does not need to pay a supplement fee for, you can just get them on the train, they apparently don’t book up.  I’m skeptical about this, but I will test it out.  All of the miles luckily can be put towards my United account (the flights are Air Canada and Lufthansa).

So, what to do with my $500 voucher and $200 saved?  Buy a ticket to the middle east, obviously.  There are fares right now in the late fall up through next winter and maybe even spring for $710 RT.  I read about this fare on a very interesting website for frequent fliers called FlyerTalk.  I can’t say I love the attitude of everyone on the forums, but there is really a wealth of info there if you’ve got a few firing neurons to put 2 and 2 together.

This flight, which cost me $210, will earn me over 26,000 miles!  I will have already earned silver status with the airlines, so this one trip will push me over into gold.  Status is good- there are various perks like free luggage (I never check anything so don’t really care), upgrades (sounds cool!), lounge access (for gold members) and most importantly to me, extra miles earned on flights!  Since I will already have silver status by that trip, and it’s a flight that doesn’t fill up, there is a good chance I could be upgraded to business class, which I have never flown before!  It also will top me up for the trip I am planning this winter, whose flights should cost me $80 and 80,000 miles.

Bahrain looks interesting enough for a day or two (depending on the political situation, which is totally fine now), but I’ve found a bunch of fares that will credit to my account in the range of $60-120 each way.  Oman is looking pretty good in particular (oh, man!  couldn’t resist).  It will be a test of my travel skills, especially as a single woman (which I likely will pretend not to be).  The countries I want to go to are very safe, but still it will be harder, since I don’t know ANY Arabic (though there will be people around who speak English, certainly) and the cultures are VERY different (side note 1- this is why people travel.  side note 2- there are so many mega malls in the mid-east, I’m curious to see exactly how different they are!).  I am going to try hard on this trip to find a travel partner though I’m pretty sure I will be fine if I can’t manage to find one.  Either way, yes, it will require some planning, but a good opportunity for me.

*Trick- I managed to get 2 extra segments (this goes into frequent flyer calculations as well as miles) and some extra miles (there is a minimum amount credited, 500, per segment, once I reach status) by noticing a stop, but not disembarkment, on the plane.  I did this by doing a multi-city routing, and adding that segment in.  It will require me to exit the plane and get back on again (I will have an hour and a half to do so, so no rush 🙂

I went back to FlyerTalk just to check what else was new and saw a great deal to Philly, where I need to go at the end of the summer, for a conference, and to see friends/family.  I was worried because flights have been very expensive for the dates I needed.  The trick was to book using the code for Philadelphia’s 30th street train station.  United has a partnership with Amtrak and I guess sometimes they have to sell off extra tickets they’ve purchased?  Fine with me- the train earns 325 miles (it’s a 73 mile trip) as well as an extra segment, and now I don’t have to pay Schlepta (I mean, SEPTA- Philly’s regional rail) an extra $8 to get into the city.

I got on the deal a little late- the fares from some other cities (San Diego for instance) were originally $80.  At $180 in the summer high season, and perfect timing on the day I need (finish a final, head to airport) I think it’s not bad. Apparently these sales to Philly 30th street station rather than Philadelphia airport pop up fairly recently, so I’ll be sure to look for them in the future.

I am still not sure of my plans after my first few days in Philly (waiting on scholarship application to a Klezmer festival in Canada) so will hold off on the return.  I’ve at least got some flexibility this time around.

Hope you learned some interesting tricks to save money on summer travel!