collecting leisure travel comments

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    Hi, all …

    South Pole is still three months away from getting out of here, unlike you lucky souls farther north, but our thoughts are turning to travel.

    I’ve been collecting comments on people’s experiences with the Leisure Travel option, specifically their experience with Signature Travel, the only authorized travel agency for USAP.

    Much has changed since the previous travel agency, both in terms of airline fares (gas prices are up) and because of restrictions from the Feds. However, some of us believe there have been additional unncessary restrictions and higher quotes that have no obvious explanation. Until now, these have not been tracked.

    I have received a number of comments discussing the pricing issue, but those were exclusively from Polies. I welcome further comments from Polies, but if you are at McM or Palmer, I’d be keen to get your comments as well. And if this is your first experience with the process, please take a minute and e-mail me from the road, whether you have good or bad experiences. This information may prove useful for future redeployments, or in our case, possibly this one.

    If you feel like telling me your story (now or past experiences), please e-mail me at or post your comments here. I’ll be collecting them and issuing a report sometime in September.

    Thanks for your help.

    – Brien Barnett


    Brien – thanks for getting this started.

    I’m curious about around the world tickets. In McMurdo last summer, Dawn from the Chalet gave a great presentation about how to do an around the world trip… It wasn’t about the details from trips, but rather it was about how to book it, and what was available for USAP participants. One thing she mentioned was that you could call a 1-800 # in the states, that went straight to the One World Alliance people (the around the world alliance that Signature Travel, Quantas & American Airlines are all part of), and plan your trip directly through them. Then, when you get off the Ice, you take that itinerary directly to Signature Travel and have them book it for you, based off of that itinerary… then you make sure that you get the original itinerary canceled, and only have the one from Signature. It’s smooth, and it saves the Signature Travel folks from trying to answer all the questions, and lets you go straight to the folks who plan/book around the world tickets full time. ANYWAY, we’re planning on doing an around the word ticket this time around. I wanted to start planning it, and so I went to the One World Allience website ( and tried to get info. I couldn’t find what I was looking for, and so I want to call them. Well, I can’t find that 1-800 # that Dawn was talking about, the website just said to get ahold of one of their affiliate airline companies, and they can book the ticket for you. But I distintly remember Dawn mentioning a 1-800 #…. Was anyone else at that presentation? Or does someone know what that number is? What experiences have any of you had with booking an around the world flight?

    Ok, beyond the subject of an around the world ticket, and on just leisure travel in general…. Signature seemed to do allright. We delt with Natasha, and everyone else I talked to delt with her, and she was great. They had set prices for common Leisure travel places: Australia (Sydney) & Hawaii (Honolulu). As far as going to other places in Australia, besides just Sydney, there was an aditional cost. Some people had Signature book those tickets, but we found it was cheaper to book our tickets on our own (for travel in Australia, I recomend JetStar, or check Virgin Blue for specials). For flying into Hawaii, you have to go to Honolulu, BUT you can fly out of one of the airports on a different island. Signature did not share that fact with us – we’d heard it from another ice person – but when we asked about it, Signature was able to accomadate… So, we flew into Honolulu, and booked our own island hopper to the big island, and then continued on the USAP ticket by flying out of Kona.

    When we got off the Ice, we only spent a few days in Christchurch… we did not yet know all of our travel plans, and when we wanted to go where, and all those details. We had our meeting with Natasha at Signature, and she helped us figure out options (ie: how much it cost to go to Tasmania), BUT, we did not book our tickets at that time. She told us to email her within our 30 day window. So, as we traveled, we started figuring out when when wanted to do our other legs, and we sent her an email, and she booked it for us. Oh, she took our credit card info when we were in the Signature travel offiice right after we got off the Ice, and then actually ran it 30 days later when we emailed her.

    I’m curious to hear what people have to say about Leisure Travel. And if anyone has info on the around the world tickets, please share!



    Brien, I haven’t really heard of any great complaints about the travel companies contracted by the USAP. They do have to follow some rules that the government sets down. Things like they can’t buy the cheap non-refundable tickets. I believe it might be the standard Y class ticket that they are required to buy. If you go to the airline counter and buy a full price ticket that is refundable, that’s what you are required to get from the program. From there the program has negotiated a substantial group discount while your fare credit will pay for your flight home, It won’t cover the full cost of flights elsewhere. Still it should get the price of your ticket knocked down a thousand dollars or so.
    I think we are luckier than some government programs. Somebody posted here a few days back that on the Navy ticket, he didn’t get the Leisure travel option like the rest of us.


    Hi Zondra, Brien,

    For the past couple of years they (HR) have given us the number of a reservations department at American Airlines — I think it’s that same number that they gave you. I don’t have it handy but anyone in HR should have it available.

    I don’t have any knowledge about Signature, but I *do* have lots to say about dealing with AA at that number: all of it BAD. My experience is not unique; on the Peninsula-side there is no travel agent to help us, so we’re forced to use “AA Meeting Services” via the phone. Our experience is generally thus:

    1. Everytime you call, you get someone different. You also get wildly different rates. Sometimes they’ll say you can’t get there from here, and the next agent you talk to will say no problem.

    2. Check the web first for the flights and prices, so when you call you can correct (!!) the agent or suggest flight numbers. You’re dealing with very poorly trained or bored people who apparently don’t know the difference between Toledo or Timbuktu. I’m totally serious here.

    3. If you don’t like the price, say thank you, hang up, and immediately call back. You’ll get a different agent, and chances are they’ll quote you a completely different price. We’ve seen differences of hundreds of dollars. Sometimes they may offer you a partial refund on unused portions of your ticket; last year they offered me a $42 refund for a minor ticket change… I thought that was great. So I went and finalized some other flight reservations on the web, paid for additional hopper flights, then called AA back to change my ticket and take the refund. The second agent told me that the ticket was non-refundable, non-changable, and I’d have to completely re-book it at a cost of $1600. This was because RPSC had used an expired discount code when they booked the ticket, so my return-home ticket was actually invalid and nobody had noticed until now. Needless to say, the kaka hit the rotational aeration device.

    Which brings me to…

    4. Don’t purchase or change tickets using this service if you can possible help it. If you’re forced to book through them, as we are, and some agent quotes you a good price for the flights you want, Take It! Chances are the next quote will be radically different. Perhaps you can use them to make reservations and then have Signature actually book it, as you mentioned — that would be a better way to go.

    Good luck…….



    Howdy, All —
    Just wanted to chime-in.
    I’ve had nothing but great experiences with Signature Travel.  Janine, my travel agent there, not only booked my aprees ice flight  up to China, a flight within the country, and my exodus from Kathmandu back to Christchurch, but when it became evident that altitude sickness was getting to me, she tirelessly found me flights back home from Bangkok, rescheduling all my return flights.
    Searching the web ahead of time, I found their prices to be in-line with everyone elses.  The added benefit of having a REAL person helping out, however, is priceless.
    I spent 5 1/2 years working for United Airlines, and know just how complicated the rules for fares can be.  Signature Travel has to work within the confines of these rules, as does the USAP, in general.  Sometimes stopovers/layovers are allowed, sometimes not (unless you want to pay the difference in fares to a fare basis that is less restrictive).
    It is not unusual to receive different fare quotes when talking to different res agents.  One person may not be as thorough as the next, and thus give you a ‘false fare’.  Trust me, however, it eventually will catch up with you – Most times when you’re checking in at the airport. 
    Add to all this mess the fact that ALL airlines are reducing capacity (read: fewer airplanes) to maximize revenue for the planes that are flying, and you’ll understand why seating can be extremely limited.  From what I’ve experienced, flying in the U.S. is worst of all.
    Still, I’m very happy with Signature.  I think they did very well their first season out.
    Safe travels.


    Is the “AA meeting number” the same as the “One World Alliance” number? As Z has mentioned, we are looking to do our bookings for our around the world ticket. It would be good to know if we are going to be in the same boat as you for yo-yo agents and bookings.


    Hi James,

    I don’t think they’re the same numbers; my impression is that One World around-the-world tickets are booked differently but I don’t know for sure. The AA Meeting Services number is 1-800-433-1790 if you want to compare numbers.

    I’ve bought two around-the-world tickets, but both times I was working personally with a travel agent. It seems like it would be a nightmare trying to do it over the phone.




    A clarification — I mis-read Zondra’s message, which was specifically about around-the-world tix. My diatribe against “AA Meeting Services” refers to typical ticket changes through AA, not around-the-world reservations, which may be another animal entirely.



    Thanks Glen. Good to know that those are likely different numbers, and we hopefully won’t have to deal with the AA line. When we went to the around the world lecture in McM last Mainbody they had used the One World phone number (since AA is associated with that, I was concerned it might be the same.). If I have this right, the info received from One World was then taken to Signature, who helped from there. Anyone out there do the around-the-world thing recently through Signature? How’d it go?


    thanks everyone for your comments. I’ll be including them in my report along with all the other comments I’ve collected from e-mail and other sources. If you have a comment, you can get it included in the report if you e-mail me this week at Cheers.


    Hey All,

    Just my $.02. The AA Around the World Office has in my experience, been excellent in getting reservations together. There are all sorts of really whacked restrictions on the around the world fare that are quite expert in.

    Their number is: Around the World Desk – 800.247.3247

    Or at least it was the last time I talked to them, about two years ago.


    Yo, TZ —
    What are you doing hanging around this site?  Thought we were waaaaaay back there in your rearview mirror.  Google not challenging enough for you?  Thinking about coming back down, and making MY job challenging?
    I’m sure the cold, dark, frigid arms of the Ice would welcome you back (as long as you promise not to delete anyone’s desktop).


    Hey Tizoc
    Good to see you are still around. Word has it you are working with google. I was wondering if you were on the hardware side. I heard they were providing free wireless for the whole city. Anyway, hope all is well.



    Does anyone know if we still get a deal for stopovers in Sydney and Hawaii???

    I know it used to be like $75 or something, but now I can’t find that info.



    The rules are different for winterover and summer folks. Summer folks travel home on the same round trip ticket that was purchased when they came down and don’t get the same options. The winterovers old ticket runs out during the winter so they get a brand new ticket and there are options available for them, but I think the cost is more than 75 dollars.

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