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Here is the next post in my mini-series about our adventures taking our daughter to Colorado. This post should be a good one if you plan to travel with a toddler, because that is what it is all about. It covers many of the logistics of getting to Colorado and back with her. Additionally, a chunk of this post will be about the United Club in Terminal E in Houston, specifically the family room. I will review the United Club in Denver in a later post. Other posts in this series are (or will be):
Booking the Flights
Traveling to and From Colorado with a Two-Year-Old (including the lounges, the flights, the rental car, the gear, and more…..) – this post
Review of The Westin Riverfront Mountain Villas
Review of The Westin Riverfront Resort and Spa
Review of the Westin Beaver Creek Resort Amenities (spa, pool, restaurant, and more)
Winter Activities with a Two Year Old (including dog sledding!)
Deciding to Stay an Extra Day While on Vacation
What Happens When Your Whole Family Misses Their Flight
Packing was intense for this trip. We were only going for the weekend, but since we were going to play in snow, we needed some bulky snow gear. Multiply that by three and you have a lot of luggage for a weekend trip. We stocked up on snow gear during the after-Christmas sales, so thankfully were able to get really good deals on the gear. We ended up checking one very large roller suitcase that exclusively had snow gear in it. We also checked my husband’s bag. I would have probably checked a third bag, but we only get two free checked bags with my Chase Continental OnePass Plus credit card. I use the heck out of that baggage allowance. Even for our weekend trip, we would have ended up spending $100 in bag fees. That is more than the annual fee for the credit card, so for us this card is worth it’s weight in gold.
As usual, I over-pack a bit since with a toddler you never know when you are going to need to change clothes. I honestly didn’t think there was any way we were going to go through everything I packed, but since we added a day to our trip while we were there, we ended up using almost everything that I packed. Lesson learned – keep packing a few extra things!
United Club at Houston – Terminal E:
A few months ago, I bought US Airways lounge membership when it went on sale for $350 for a year. I didn’t buy it for entry to US Airways Clubs (I already have that with my Amex Platinum), I bought it because it also gives you entry to United Clubs. It was cheaper than actually buying a United Club membership. I know it sounds like a lot of money (even my husband was a bit confused at the purchase), but as much as my family travels, it is a worthy investment.
In the airline lounges, not only do you typically get free drinks, snacks, and wifi, but more importantly, you get a place to escape from the airport. I especially like it when lounges have “family rooms”. These are rooms specifically designed to keep little ones entertained – and safely confined. The family room at the Terminal E United Club at IAH is pretty good. It is located almost immediately to your left as you come up the escalators at the United Club. Here is the entrance to the family room – sometimes it is locked and you have to ask for it to be unlocked for your family.
It has a little table, two TVs, a play set, and some room to safely be a kid without getting in anyone else’s way.
My husband and I were able to get a couple free drinks from the bar to celebrate the start of our trip, and our toddler was able to enjoy her morning snack of free yogurt from the club. We are also always sure to stock-up on crackers and cheese for the flight – though these don’t come out until around 11:30AM, so plan accordingly.
If you are the parent of a young kid, bathroom cleanliness is a big issue. I have found that lounge bathrooms are usually a step or two above the airport bathrooms. They are certainly much less crowded, which again is a big deal if you have a little one who “needs to go”. Yes, I really have pictures of the United Club’s bathrooms on my blog. It’s a sexy life I lead.
One thing we really love about the family room is that we don”t have to keep hollering at C to come back and not run away – we are able to just let her play. It is such a more enjoyable and less stressful way to wait for your flight. If you travel frequently with little ones and can afford lounge membership, I absolutely recommend it. I am partial to the United Club, but many major carriers have their own lounges. Obviously if you get lounge access you want to make sure that it is with the carrier you are with most often – and available at the airports you frequent.
I am very well aware that I am jinxing myself, but the flights were just so easy with her. We usually talk about the upcoming trip non-stop in the weeks leading up, and by the time the day comes she is very well aware of where we are going and knows what to expect along the way. For this trip I carried her in the Ergo baby carrier on my back through the airport, and then we used the CARES Harness to strap her into her seat on the flights.
We tried to use a neck pillow to help with the “bobbing head” issues I described here, but she wasn’t a big fan of the neck pillow. It helped a little to prop her head up while sleeping, but we pretty much had to hold it in place under her chin (there’s no way she would let it go behind her head) So, while I continue to like the convenience of the CARES harness over a car seat, it is certainly not helpful when it comes to sleeping on the plane.
We bought food in the airport just before we boarding the plane, and so eating took up about 30 minutes of the flight for C. She slept for about 40 minutes of the flight, and played with a coloring book, stickers, and watched a little bit of a cartoon for the other hour or so. This was our first official on-board bathroom experience with our toddler. Since she is doing pretty well most days with her potty training, we didn’t have to change a single diaper on the first day of our trip. That made traveling through the airport so much easier. I will say that by the end of the trip she was off of her schedule and didn’t do nearly as well with potty training (in fact, we are still trying to get back on track), but it was so nice the first day to not have to do airport diaper changes.
The Rental Car:
We used my husband’s Hertz points to rent a large SUV for the trip. We wanted something with four wheel drive in case the January weather in Colorado was questionable. We absolutely loved the new Yukon that we had for the weekend. It even had a built-in DVD player that C thoroughly enjoyed on the two hour ride to Beaver Creek. Honestly, we liked the Yukon so much it almost made us want an SUV at home! Since we drove back to the airport in some pretty intense ice/snow conditions, we were happy that we selected a more rugged vehicle than we usually do.
I posted here about how our Hertz points and Amex Platinum saved us $600 on our SUV rental for that weekend. Well, that was all before we added a day to our trip at the last minute (more on that decision in a later post). Originally we had to pay a little over $100 in taxes and fees to use our points since they still tax you on the going rate for the vehicle. When we added a third day, we were charged an “extra day fee” of about $330. I tried calling to see if we could use points for the third day, and I was told that once you pick-up your reservation, you have no choice but to pay the extra day fee if you are late turning the car in.
Great. I hadn’t really cared what the going rate was since we were getting it free, but boy did that come back to bite us in the end. I logged onto Hertz’s website, and it would have been about half the price to just go do a new one-day rental that day for a large SUV, but since we were over two hours from the car rental location, we couldn’t exactly go turn the car in and rent another one. I give two big thumbs down to the super-high extra day fee. It was our choice to extend the trip, but boy was that some serious sticker shock. I guess if there is bright side, it is that we earned a ton of Hertz points on this trip….which is quite ironic since we were supposed to be using them.
We used one of Hertz’s child seats since we didn’t bring our own, and as usual, it was not a very high-quality child seat at all. It certainly isn’t just Hertz that uses cheap car seats, but it always makes me think twice about not bringing our own. So, don’t be surprised when a car rental agency gives you a car seat that is nowhere near as well made as the one you use at home. Ugh for the shoulder belt being what holds her in place.
So, after several hours packing, a 35 minute drive to the airport, 90 minutes waiting for our flight, 2 hours of flight time, 45 minutes of getting through the airport and getting the rental car, and 2 hours of drive time to the resort from Denver, we arrived at Beaver Creek. Much more to come about the resort in upcoming posts……for what it’s worth, it was worth all of the effort to get there.