Jun162016

Rough Start for Drive Out of Florida road trip to New Orleans

After a red-eye flight from LAX to MCO Orlando, I drove 560 miles yesterday across Florida to stay at a Holiday Inn Express on a PointBreaks reward in Pensacola, Florida, a few miles from the Alabama border. Call me crazy.

This is my third year taking a spring season road trip for a drive out of Florida on a cheap one-way rental. The rates this year when I checked in April were $16 per day to rent a car two days and drive from Orlando to New Orleans, where I spend the next week during the U.S. Travel Association’s annual IPW conference. I could not justify paying nearly $400 for a round trip ticket from San Jose, CA to New Orleans. I booked a one-way ticket flying Monterey, California to Orlando MCO with a plan to rent a cheap drive out of Florida one way car rental to New Orleans. IHG’s PointBreaks list in late April included one hotel along my route for a 5,000 IHG points reward night at Holiday Inn Express Pensacola West – Navy Base. Altogether, I figured it was the same cost to fly to Orlando, drive to New Orleans and sightsee along the way as the price to book a round trip ticket to New Orleans. Plus, this itinerary would give me the opportunity to see the Florida Panhandle beaches. My objective was to explore Panama City Beach, Destin and Fort Walton Beach on the drive to Pensacola.

My plans did not work out quite as expected. There was a hitch in my plan that almost had me hitchhiking to New Orleans.

Monterey Airport MRY – LAX Los Angeles Alaska Airlines flight

Alaska Airlines

Alaska Airlines/Horizon aircraft “Go Cougs” Washington State University, Pullman, Washington.

Free IPA beer on the first flight is a wonderful way to start a trip. The bonus feature was the flight path hugged the coast almost to Big Sur before heading inland. That flight path is not common in my experience flying out of Monterey. The normal flight path is to hug the eastern side of the Santa Lucia Mountains, along the Salinas Valley with limited views of the coastal scenery. The flight offered some beautiful views of the California central coast and Ventana wilderness on a clear early evening. The propeller plane made funky shadows for my camera lens preventing clear photos.

Terminal walkways at LAX

Nice to see there are now tunnel walkways between the different terminals at LAX for connections between Alaska Airlines and American Airlines gates. Aviation history and cities are highlighted on wall panels in the tunnel. One of my pet peeves is seeing ‘Paris – the City of Lights’.

Paris Lights LAX

The accurate nickname is “the City of Light” for intellectual enlightenment, not electricity.

American Airlines Los Angeles LAX – Orlando MCO

I received a complimentary upgrade to First Class as AAdvantage Executive Platinum. The A321 aircraft had four rows of first class and I was in row 4, the first class row with seats that do not recline. There was an evening snack meal service and the flight attendant offered a choice of hummus and pita or fruit and cheese. I was in the mood for hummus. Problem was the plate had pita bread and some olives and an artichoke heart, but no hummus.

AA bag delay

The first hiccup in my plan was arriving in Orlando at 5:14am and waiting at baggage claim until 6:23 before the first bags actually arrived. My bag was in my hand 79 minutes after I was off the plane. As far as I recall, this was the longest ever I have waited for bags to be offloaded from a plane. Too bad I was not flying Alaska Airlines for that flight with their 20 minute bag delivery guarantee.

Next Problem – my Car Rental reservation, or more like no reservations

All that time waiting for bags allowed me to check my car rental reservation. Oddly, I had the 2-day car rental reservation screen shot on my computer under the page heading “REZ”, but no confirmation number. REZ is my way of noting to myself that I have actually completed a travel reservation. Once I label a travel page “REZ”, I move on and often do not check it again. Especially since I booked about 60 flights, hotel stays and car rentals during a 15 day period between April 12 and April 26 when I planned trips for May, June, July, September and November.

After checking both Budget and Avis for my $31 all-in 2-day drive out of Florida one-way special rate to New Orleans MSY, the realization hit me that apparently I never actually booked the rental car for my road trip, hence no confirmation number on my personal trip itinerary files. I violated my own rule of not labeling a file REZ until I have a confirmed reservation.

20 minutes later I had the keys to a rental car from Hertz and a $180 estimated 2-day rental charge for one-way to New Orleans. An extra $150 for my road trip kind of blew my cheap one way rental to New Orleans travel savings. So much for budget travel this trip.

Note to self: Double check all Europe travel reservations for July trip. Fortunately, I was traveling solo, so only had me berating myself and not an all day drive with my wife berating me too. I don’t refer to myself as a ‘travel expert’, but she seems to apply that moniker to me in a disparaging way every time I fuck up a travel itinerary.

Too tired to be angry or stressed about my mistake, I hit the toll roads surrounding Orlando, prepared with $15 in quarters. Last year I got hit with a $19 charge when I drove out of Orlando MCO and entered a cash only toll booth that only took quarters. There was a device on the rental car that automatically processes tolls to the car rental charges with a one-time $18 fee when used. The automated cash booth only accepted quarters and I ended up paying $19 for a $1.00 toll.

I think I burned through about $6 in quarters yesterday morning to reach I-75 for the drive north. The roads I drove were toll free once I was out of the Orlando area.

Next Up: Off the Interstate into the Florida ‘Panhandle’.

Florida Road Trip Google maps

Google Maps Orlando MCO to Pensacola, Florida 544 miles, 9 h 35 min.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. Sounds like a trip I would take if I were solo. I used to do this into PHX or LAS and get a cheap rental to check out national parks in the area. Looking forward to pics of some of my favorite spots in the “Redneck Riviera”.

  2. Claire Colburn: To have never taken a solitary road trip across country? I mean everybody’s got to take a road trip, at least once in their lives. Just you and some music.

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0368709/quotes – – Elizabethtown

    I’ve spent hours listening to country music on my drive out of Florida road trips these past three years. Even though country music is not my normal musical genre, I’d rather hear country than bad classic rock songs. Classic rock is my preferred genre, but many of the bands that I thought sucked in the 1970s are often more than half the selections played.

    I have to admit that I don’t think I ever have found so many bible stations on the radio as there are in the Panhandle, Alabama and Mississippi area. It seemed like half the FM stations across the spectrum were ‘bible talk’ stations.

  3. I went to college in Tallahassee and drove with friends to New Orleans for Mardi Gras one year. I remember it being about 6 hours just from Tally!

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