Getting All Charged Up!

IO Magic, from Staples

IO Magic, from Staples

Wouldn’t it be nice if every country in the world had identical electrical outlets, so us wanderers could plug in anywhere, without any problem?  I can dream, can’t I?

Up until now, we have always carried a bunch of different adapters.  Although this worked, we were always afraid of losing one, or leaving the exact one we needed at home.

Recently, I came across this little beauty.  It’s compact, lightweight, and claims to work in over 150 countries.

The little green tab slides down to release one of the four plug options, which the manufacturer claims correspond to what the  World Standards has designated as A, B, C and D   type plugs.

USB slots , with the C adapter extended.

USB slots, with the C adapter extended.

I’m not so sure about that–the pictures on the website look different from the plugs in my gadget, but I guess I’ll find out.  What I like best is the addition of  two USB ports.  This allows me to charge an iPhone, an iPad and my camera battery–all at the same time, using just one outlet.

Because one of the included plugs is designed for use for the USA, I decided to take it for a spin while still at home, and yay, it worked beautifully.  All three items charged quickly.

I got mine at Staples, because I had a coupon, (I do so love a bargain!) but you can also buy direct from the manufacturer via the internet.  Either way, it will cost about $30.

By the way, this is NOT a converter, so if your appliances can’t accept a variety of voltages you will need a converter along with your adapter.  My iPhone and iPad so far have worked quite happily in the US (120 volts) and everywhere else I’ve plugged in, like Slovenia and Zimbabwe (220), South Africa and Italy (230).  I have no idea what that all means–I just know if the volts don’t get along, you end up with a fried appliance–and I have the hair dryer to prove it!

The Skies May Be Friendly, But United Sure Isn’t!

Our 40th Anniversary trip starts with a multi-day adventure, known as “getting there”.

For the first leg of the trip, OAT’s proposed itinerary included a stop in Dubai, landing in Delhi after being in transit for 18 hours.  Not what I call ideal, particularly when I saw our return flight would depart at 4 AM.

Letting my fingers flutter over my keyboard, I was thrilled to discover that United has a direct flight between Newark and Delhi for about the same price, but only (!?!) 14 hours travel time.  Best of all, the return flight departed at 11:30 PM.  So, instead of sitting miserably at the airport, waiting to board that 4 AM flight, we’d leave the night before, and would be several hours into winging our way home.  Sweet!  Not only that, but for years, I had been hoarding frequent flier miles for an occasion exactly like this.  Business class, here we come!

EXCEPT

When I tried to upgrade on line, I got a message that we were put on a “waiting list”.  How could that be? The flight was five months out, and our flight’s seat maps showed only one seat in business class was occupied.  Clearly not a lot of OTHER frequent fliers had already upgraded on OUR flight.  I thought it was strange that the same seat was occupied, coming and going, so I did a little checking.  Seat 5D  was the only one occupied on every flight that I checked.  Perhaps reserved for a member of the crew?   Well, I was confident that a quick call to United’s customer service would fix everything right up.  Did I mention that I’m a hopeless optimist?

Here’s what happened.  The customer service rep confirmed that we were indeed put on a waiting list.  Okay.  When I asked how many others were on the list, he explained he couldn’t tell me for “security” reasons.  (Security??? I didn’t want to know names or home phone numbers.  Just tell me where I am in line so I can figure the odds of getting the bloody upgrade!)  He also was going to charge me $20 for the pleasure of speaking with him, but after we exchanged “pleasantries”, he thought better of it.

Those frequent flier miles that we accumulate, expecting one day to trade in to make a long trip both pleasant AND affordable?  Well, it appears that United reserves the right to let us know at the very last minute whether or not they are going to allow us to redeem the miles, perhaps because they MIGHT be able to sell the seat we covet for the full price. They just don’t know yet.   By the way, in addition to redeeming 140,000 miles, our roundtrip upgrades weren’t free.  We paid an additional $2,400 for them.  To me, that’s a whole LOT of money!  

United took our money and deducted the miles from our account, which sure felt like we had purchased seats, EXCEPT we couldn’t choose which ones they would be.  We will find out the day of the flight whether or not we get the upgrade, and where we will sit.  There is no guarantee that we will even be next to each other.  Normally that would not be a big deal, but 14 hours is a long time.  Call us crazy, but given the price we paid (in dollars and miles) we’d like to be able to choose who we sleep with.  If we don’t get the upgrade,  United WILL refund our money and will redeposit our frequent flier miles, without charging a penalty.  (Yes, the representative actually did say that.)  If we had paid for the tickets with a United credit card, would they also refund any interest?  I think we all know the answer to that one.

As luck would have it, at the end of December, I received an email “signed” by Sandra Pineau-Boddison, the Sr. Vice President of Customer Relations, asking for feedback on a United flight we’d just taken.  Now that I had a name, it wasn’t difficult to find her personal email, so I shared my tale of woe with her.  How about that?  FREE feedback from a long time former Continental Airlines frequent flier.  No need to hire a market research company or do a focus group to find out how they are doing.

So what happened?  Nothing.  After almost two months.  Not even an automated acknowledgement.  From the SR. Vice President?  Of Customer Relations?  That speaks volumes.

Let this serve as a precautionary tale to all you Mileage Plus Members out there.  United doesn’t care a bit about you or your miles or your loyalty.  Think about that the next time you book a flight or get a solicitation for a United credit card that offers points for “free” travel.

But if anything changes between now and our flight, I’ll certainly let everyone know.  Come on Sandra, do your job!

 

Four Visas, Three Countries

We will be visiting three countries–Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet.  So why do we need FOUR visas?  Fair warning–this post will likely only interest those that are taking a similar trip, or are planning to visit India.

For the three of you that are still reading, here goes.

We fly into and out of Delhi, so since we have at least one overnight stay in India, we need a visa.  A visa that costs (depending on the service used) anywhere from $135 to $173, per person.  A visa that requires you to complete an on-line application that is challenging to decipher.  But there IS a positive aspect.  The visa is good for 10 years.  So, should we decide to spend more than an overnight in India, it will be best to do so before 2026.

If you are anything like me, you are probably wondering how to score the $135 charge.  Well, Cox and Kings is India’s approved visa grantor, so you get the best price if you opt to go direct to them.

Our travel company, OAT, sent out a package with very helpful, clear instructions.  Good thing, because there are lots of hoops you need to jump through for that India online application.

OAT recommends PVS, a visa processing company located in DC, probably because you can send your passport to one service and they take care of visas for both India and Nepal, which is not the case with Cox and Kings.  PVS is convenient, yes, but as with everything, you pay for that convenience.  If we had used PVS, we would have paid a total of $566 for both visas, including mailing charges.

Instead, our total cost was $362, a savings of $204.  How did I pull that off?  In addition to using Cox and Kings, I dealt directly with the Nepali Embassy.

I happened to be traveling to NYC to meet a friend for lunch and a show, so I figured, what the heck, I’ll just go in a little earlier and stop by the embassy.  Located at 216 East 49th St, it is only open between 9:30 and 1:30 during the week.   Right between these two restaurants,
IMG_2241
you’ll find this sign on the side of the building:
IMG_2240 (1)You have to press the button on the side of the wall to get buzzed in.  I walked up to their tiny office on the 4th floor, but there IS an elevator.  The visas cost $40 per person versus $90 for PVS, so that represented half of our $200 in savings.

One thing that is important to know if you decide to go–they ONLY take money orders.  No cash, no personal check, no credit or debit cards.  Of course, I had everything that they didn’t take, but all was not lost because there is a place that sells money orders on the next block.  I have no idea what a money order costs, because my bank had a branch on the same block, so my money order was free.   If I had been smart, I would have found this website  before I left home.  It EXPLAINS the money order requirement and tells you what is needed to submit by express mail or courier–good news for those of you that have no intention of traveling to NYC.

It took 30 minutes for processing to be completed.  Passports and visas clutched in one hand, my other raised to hail a taxi, I was off for the Cox and King office 23 blocks away.

I thought I might be able to drop off my package (to be mailed to my home when processing was completed) and still be on time for lunch.  I was delusional.  It was a total waste of time and cab fare.  The smart thing would have been just to express mail the damn thing in the first place and be done with it.  Which is what I ultimately did.  Less than 2 weeks later, our passports arrived.

Two down, two to go.

Bhutan and Tibet both require that you send them a color copy of the first two pages of your passport in advance of trip. (OAT , bless them, is handling this part).  The actual visas are provided when you arrive, but only if you have 2 color passport type photos (2 for each country, 4 in total),  ANOTHER copy of our passport pages (for Tibet) and approximately $70 for Bhutan and $190 for Tibet, per person, in cash.  Cash means pristine bills–no wrinkles, tears or marks.  OAT recommends we bring more, because these fees are subject to change without notice.  See why we use a travel company when we venture to more non-traditional locales?  Knowing me, I  would have missed one or more of the requirements.

So, what did I learn from this adventure?  If you have enough time to submit directly to the embassy and Cox and Kings by express mail (or Fedex or UPS–whatever) you can save a bundle.  You just need to send for one, wait for the passports to be returned, then send to the other.   If, however, money is no object (that’s definitely not ME), and you prize convenience, or are short on time, then a service, like PVS is the way to go.

Next post will be about something other than this future trip.  I promise!