Two & a Half Days of Travel is Normal, right?

When Lana and I plan our vacation, it is definitely unique compared to most other travelers. The pre-plan has us engaged in our travel from the get-go and our brains are forced to be “on” at all times during our travel. Rather than working from a purely static itinerary, we need to keep all of our options open to roll with our flight logistics. You see, for the past 18 years, I have been working for a major US airline carrier and we elect to take advantage of the flight benefits and fly standby to get to our destinations. And oddly, we feel this game gets more fun as each year passes by.

I have two things going for me which allows me to keep a positive perspective on this type of travel:

  1. I love games, and even more so, I love to WIN! I mean I REALLY love to win.
  2. I have the most understanding wife in the world who accepts this is our lifestyle. First class to Sydney? Perfect. Need to fly in middle seats on coach through 3 continents just to get across the country? No problem. Your travel companion makes the journey exciting.

On our most recent trip to Malaysia, our partners from Long Beach, CA, Dan and Esther, redeemed a bucket load of points to fly first class on American non-stop to Tokyo for an intended sushi stop and then continued onto Kuala Lumpur on Oneworld partner, Japan Airlines. From KL, they caught a short connection to Kota Kinabalu to meet up with us. Their plan sounds easy, right? Definitely! It is almost a sure thing with fewer logistical hurdles. So what do we do that is different?

Well, I have this ritual of leaving my travel planning until the week prior to departure, and then start to evaluate flight availability together with comfort, logistical simplicity and next to no cost. I then have to plan on which airlines I could be connecting to and buy airline discounted tickets at the last minute.

So, how is all of this information relevant to you? For the million plus travel industry folk, this will be humorous and informative on how to tailor a plan to work for you. For our non-travel industry readers, this will present you with planning tips and hopefully, you find this to be an entertaining read.

What were the possibilities we looked into and how did they appear? Let’s start with a basic understanding of city codes. This may (or may not) help to translate this, but let’s give it a go. YYC (Calgary) is our origin and BKI (Kota Kinabalu) is our destination. Let’s first look at the airport city codes:

City Code


City Code



Kota Kinabalu


Tokyo Narita






Hong Kong








Seoul Incheon


San Francisco


Osaka Kansai




Kuala Lumpur




Los Angeles



So what routes were we looking at? I had no simple way to share the number of possibilities, but the glance of the graph below will shed some perspective on what goes through the mind of a standby traveler when they are trying to get from point A to point B!

So which route did we select? And how did we arrive at that selection? I’m getting to that. We planned to travel on February 28th in the morning because of pressing flight loads, but I was tired on the Monday night after coming home late from running errands. Oh yeah… the fact that we did our Nitrox course that same night did not help with our planning.

When I got home, I decided we needed to sleep in and consider leaving after 1pm on the Tuesday. A significant shift from our intended departure which meant we would be unable to meet up with friends in Tokyo for dinner on the 3rd. I woke up refreshed at 9AM and realized that I had more to do. “Honey… We could be leaving at 330pm.” “No problem. Just let me know when we need to go.” Well, I still had not packed and thought (at 1pm) it may be a smart idea to start doing this so we took some baby steps and packed our dive gear first. The plan to be ready by 330pm had come and gone and we now appeared to be looking at the 7pm bank of flights and then overnight before our big international “push” the next day.

As you may have guessed, we already sacrificed a few routings but we still had some good opportunities. Truly, we were packed up and ready to leave the house at 4pm. We arrived at the airport with ample time to spare but I still needed to have my “other airline” standby tickets issued by a ticket agent and the time involved to issue 14 different tickets carried us well beyond 6pm (past the cutoff for the last flight of the day). Our first dry run is officially over. Now we can drive home and start fresh in the morning. Like I said, I have a very patient and understanding wife. In fact, we find it difficult to fly any other way than standby.

So what did we decide to do in the morning? Due to full flight loads on my airline, we looked to Alaska / Horizon Airlines as a flight option to Seattle. This turned out to be a brilliant decision because we met a fantastic lady from United Airlines, Lora, who steered us in the direction of going downtown to check out the Seattle Aquarium as an easy sight to take in on a layover. When we returned back to the airport, we collected all of our items and proceeded to the gate and received “comfy class” seats on our flight to Tokyo and opted to catch a connection to Taipei.

I must say that where you have the option to purchase or redeem miles for a more comfortable class of service, definitely do so! The ability to lie flat and get a solid sleep really helps to reduce any jetlag fatigue and is an investment into your trip. This would have been a seamless plan, but next morning, the flight on Malaysia Airlines was delayed 6 hours due to low visibility flying into Taipei the night before. While this was a minor inconvenience, we proceeded to board our flight at 1.30PM and we arrived in Kota Kinabalu with plenty of time to grab dinner and check in for the night.

Despite the minor hiccup in our travel itinerary, this route still proved to be the most direct with maximum benefit of class of service and to top it off, our luggage arrived with no delay. Something to keep in mind, if you feel your connection time is too tight, ask for a little more time when you are booking your flights. There is no worse feeling, when traveling, than being separated from your baggage. So there you have it. The world of standby travel.

Is it for everyone? Definitely not. Always remember, you’re on vacation!

Happy travels! Tim and Lana


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