Business trips bring out one of my weaknesses: trying to exploit the airline pricing system for my own, secretive purposes. For example, I finally have a set of dates for Norway (Germany fell-through) and have spent waaaaaay too much time trying to balance the factors important to me:
This is the traveling marketer problem, similar to the traveling salesman problem, but with additional, simplifying constraints. Not all constraints are bad, as you’ll see.
The first set of airfares Expedia and Orbitz came up ranged from $2,643 for a one-hop up to $4,493 (!) for a two-or-more-hop. I initially thought the latter fare included a massage from the co-pilot but, alas, it’s just a combination of travel the airline doesn’t seriously want to sell me. Regardless, this “opening bid” spectacularly violates all my criteria. Poking the bruise further, the return segment suggests I’d be willing to leave at 6:15 a.m. Factoring in the Airport Experience (time to check out of my hotel, get there, check bags), it’s more likely I’d need to be out of bed by 4:15 a.m. Additional, useful information: Norway is +9 hours from Seattle and on average, it takes me about 1 day per hour of time zone change to fully acclimate.
Using AAA’s butt-ugly travel search tool, I find a $1,400 trip. (This is why you have to try more than one search engine.) It’s a two-segment, but with enough combinations that this is an upper-end for fulfilling #2. With this fare, the extra segment stretches the trip out to 23 hours in airports and airplanes each way… seriously bounding #3, but possibly enough to justify the iPod purchase. however, it tells me which airlines actually fly into Trondheim, identifying a key limiting constraint in the gillions of travel segments. The coup de grace for this itinerary is I’d miss the Sunday night dinner with the folks I’m meeting. Requirement #1 is inviolable.
The math-dorphins kick in when I learn that SAS, KLM and Air France have flights into Trondheim. Since I also know there will be stops in their hub cities Copenhagen, Amsterdam and Paris, respectively, it lets me focus my searching.
I go to Kayak.com, which presents the most number of variable-tinkering options. (In retrospect, I should have gone here first since it magically queries all of the other sites, kind of like qixo.com, but less trying to get me to purchase fares through it.)
Lo, 773 combinations! By returning a different day, there’s a $1,200, three-segment fare that arrives when I need it… but takes 42 hours to get me home thanks to a 21-hour layover at Charles de Gaulle airport. This is not as egregious of a violation of requirement #3 as it sounds because I’d ditch my carry-on and take some form of transportation into town and see something. In the ideal, marketing-spun world, this would be like having a per diem to go see the Louvre.
:whee: Poking around some more, I am able to determine which travel days were “sweet spots,” affecting the fare the most. The best price I found was $799, but required traveling on Wednesdays. I can’t come up with a business case that says “let Jim putz around in Norway an extra day – it’ll only cost the company another $200 in hotel expenses.”
By leaving Thursday evening instead of Saturday morning, I fulfill my planned itinerary (#1), knock the airfare down to below $1,000 (#2) and have a day to see the town (#4). The two best itineraries require a trade-off between #3 and #7: the one conferring frequent flier chits compatible with the airline cabal that I most often use domestically (which is to say, all of the time), has a 6:15 a.m. return departure.
Is being half-way to a free domestic ticket worth the three hours of sleep?