WEB BASED TRAVEL AGENTS
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But what would happen if the mortgage was late? Did we have to make the seller's October US $1,000 payment PLUS miss our flight and forfeit US $765 worth of tickets?
We couldn't do anything about the October payment in a case like this. We'd committed ourselves. However, before buying the tickets we made very sure that we had the option of postponing the departure date if absolutely necessary. The bad news is that we would have had to pay an additional US $200 for the service, but that was still a lot better than losing US $765!
YA JUST GOTTA LOVE CUSTOMS!
In Canada, when flying to the USA, one actually goes through US Customs at the Canadian end as you depart, not at the US end as you arrive. This has several direct ramifications.
GAS CAN BLUES
Hindsight is always 20/20. Having lived through that episode we now realize that the wise thing would have been for us to say something like the following as we drove away from our home.
"Say, how are you set for gas? Why don't you pull over to that gas bar and let us fill the tank for you as thanks for driving us around?"
Among other things it would have:
Of all the things that you're not supposed to do as you go through US Customs (and there are a lot of things not to do!) close to the top of the list is carrying more than about $2,000 in negotiables! (Although bottomless charge and debit cards are just fine.) Their first, knee jerk reaction is to assume that you're on a drug buying junket. At that point your money may be confiscated and you may end up in a back room being grilled by two burly DEA agents. To regain your freedom you will have to be REALLY good at talking yourself out of dicey situations or know a good attorney!
Getting your money back might very likely require an attorney and a year-long court battle before you can convince a judge that you're legit. In the meantime, the only way you may be allowed back into the USA is in a jail cell!
If you must carry large amounts of money across the border, you ABSOLUTELY MUST also carry as much documentation as possible to help substantiate your story. We carried a 3-ring binder with copies of all sorts of documents in it. Included were:
None of these actually proved that we weren't on a drug buying expedition (How would one go about proving what they're NOT going to do?), but they would all lend credence to our story. It also helps if you don't look like a derelict or junky!
Lastly and most importantly, you must absolutely declare to US Customs, up front, that you are carrying the negotiables. If they don't ask, you need to aggressively get the point across to them. If you don't and they subsequently find the cheques, ... Well, we weren't kidding about the DEA agents, the lawyer or jail!
Among the jillion things that had to be done in preparation for the trip, one of the key projects was arranging for flights to Austin, Texas, and maybe return in case the deal fell through. This is a chronicle of that most important sub-project.
We were caught in a bit of a bind. If we scheduled our departure for Texas before we knew we had the money to buy the motorhome, we might very likely lose the airfare if the deal fell through for some reason, e.g., if we failed to get a mortgage of sufficient amount. However, the longer we waited to reserve our tickets, the greater would be their cost. We managed to hold off until we were fairly sure that the Land Titles Office would produce the paperwork on schedule so that we could get the mortgage in time for a flight to Texas. Even so, we waited until virtually the last minute to reserve the tickets.
A critical question was "Where do we buy the tickets?" We could have gone to a local travel agent, but our experience (mostly from scheduling trips as part of our jobs) was that they were relatively expensive compared to the Web based services. Mind you, if you had a complicated itinerary or were travelling to really foreign places, they're probably a good idea because of the services, experience and advice they have to offer. But a simple, surgical strike into the heart of the USA and back could hardly justify the hundred dollars or more difference over Web based agents.
Thus, Stan cranked up the old computer and visited the websites of several such agents. Among them were Expedia, Yahoo! Travel, BizRate, Cheap Tickets, Orbitz, Ticket Pilot and Travelocity. (There were others, too. Lots of others! See the sidebar for more information.)
If the truth be known, they're all more or less clones of each other, and the prices of the ones we checked all seemed to be within twenty dollars. Thus, we chose Travelocity merely because we'd used them once before in a former life. If you have a different preference, go for it. Smile. Be happy.
There were several decisions that we had to make:
The total cost of our airfare to Austin, Texas was US $765.36. In Canadian dollars that was about CDN $1225.
Things are still looking very good!
Finally, Saturday arrived. We'd gotten the mortgage in time to get the cheques (in spite of the fiasco at the bank) and everything was in place. We'd packed our suitcases the evening before and went to bed with visions of motorhomes dancing in our head. We didn't get a lot of sleep. We were champing at the bit!
We'd made arrangements with an associate (who's identity will remain confidential for reasons that will become apparent) to pick us up at 1:00 PM on Saturday, September 27th and deliver us to the airport. We wanted to make sure that we would arrive in plenty of time to deal with US Customs and still make our flight.
We live less than about two kilometres (1¼ miles) from the nearest corner of the airport, and only about five kilometres from the departure terminal, and that route has gas stations (known as "gas bars" locally) planted about every 500 metres. (Can you see where this is going now?) The problem is that the closest route is also the most congested one. So our chauffer chose to take us by the "northern route." It was a lot less congested but required driving some distance around the north end of the airport through relatively open, Alberta prairie. That's when we discovered that our chauffer's spouse had failed to put gas in the tank the evening before and we found ourselves stranded at an intersection "out in the boonies." Even then luck was with us because we could see a gas bar (the only one on that route it turns out) less than a kilometre ahead. Without too much cursing (and we hope not too much strain on their marital relationship) our chauffer jogged up to the station and came back with a small can of gas. Suddenly we were mobile again and we made it to the airport in plenty of time.
We were dropped off at the international departures area, found a wheelchair for Marguerite and made our way to the American Airlines wickets (another holdover from mother England). As we approached we passed a counter with Custom's declaration forms. We were supposed to fill one out before we went through US Customs. No problemo! We'd only brought along two suitcases each plus two carry-on bags and two checks totalling about CDN $120,000!
Everything went smoothly until we got halfway through Customs and an agent (who was apparently specifically charged with the responsibility) dissected our declaration form and noted the part about the cheques. We were immediately greeted with a stern, even gruff, "What're these for?" Of course, we sang like two canaries and Stan, reaching for the 3-ring binder, volunteered to give a preplanned dog and pony show about our escapade.
We didn't look like druggies and he'd apparently been a party to one of these lengthy presentations before. As soon as the American Airlines attendant confirmed our allegation he merely waved us by. Only after we were out of sight did Stan wipe the sweat from his brow!
The remainder of the flights were unremarkable except for two issues.
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Copyright © 2004, Stanley A. Schultz and Marguerite J. Schultz.
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This page was initially created on 2004-February-14.
The last revision occurred on 2005-December-19.