Getting to Colorado With a Toddler (Hertz Fiasco, United Club Family Room, and more)

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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

Trip Overview and Planning

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.

The Flights:

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.

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  1. OMG – that car seat is the exact reason I will NEVER rent a car seat – and we have TWO to lug with us. The Cosco Scenera is lightweight and meets all safety standards (I’m gonna bet that that seatbelt above does NOT).

  2. I’m curious as to why you chose to purchase US Airways lounge membership when you hold a OnePass Plus card instead of just getting the Presidential Plus card. $350 US membership + $95 OnePass Plus annual fee = $425 which is more expensive than the $395 annual fee with the Presidential Plus card, which also gives you 2 free checked bags instead of just one. Is there something I’m missing that results with a better benefit with having a separate membership and credit card?

  3. i like how in pretty much every picture of C, she’s looking at the camera with a bit of impatience, as if she’s the one always waiting for you. “c’mon mom, I gotta go to the bathroom!”

  4. Couldn’t agree more on club access. We fly mostly on Delta so use the Amex Platinum to get in. The only downside is that our 8 and 5 year olds think that’s the only way to fly they get a bit bent out of shape when we end up at an airport that doesn’t have a club. If that doesn’t define “first world problem”, I don’t know what does!

  5. FWIW, you wouldn’t have really been charged $100 for your 3-day Hertz award booking. Even though the Confirmation says you will, the taxes on the going rate are NOT charged. The only things that are charged are the fixed per day surcharges, and/or the pickup surcharge (many airports in CA charge you $10-20 per rental, etc). At the end you would have paid less than $20 in surcharges for your 3-day award rental from DEN. Not sure why Hertz doesn’t fix it, but this is a known glitch in their system, but a pleasant one when you get the final bill and it is far lower than you thought it would be.

  6. Haha. I really expected much worse when you had trouble with Hertz; such as you got there only to find they didn’t have an appropriate vehicle.
    I used Hertz last ThanksgivingDay evening, and the experience was a mild debacle. Avis was sold out of cars; if you showed up with a reservation, your car was waiting. Otherwise, you were SOL, period. Hertz had a huge crowd of customers with reservations waiting to be assigned a vehicle. Thrifty had cars; and some unhappy customers went down there and payed the full walk-up rate, just to get on their way.
    I was told there would be at least a thirty minute wait. I understood that for myself, I would either be getting a car from Hertz that night, or I would not be renting at all that weekend. So, I counted the number of customers waiting, and then walked out to the parking area and counted the number of cars; 24 customers, 28 cars, including 2 Caddies. I had a rental for an economy. I was confident I would get a car that night, if not a Caddy.
    A gold club attendant engaged me in conversation, and offered to help if they could verify my membership. I didn’t have the number; but they thought they could check by my driver’s license. Turned out they couldn’t even though my gold membership proved to be still active, later. So I continued to wait.
    I was joined in the crowd by an executive of an airline partnered with Hertz, who was taking notes. And we were eventually joined by a very outgoing guy, who had Pricelined his Hertz just yesterday! He thought maybe he was being asked to wait because he used Priceline. Nope! He got a car before me or the airline exec!
    Finally, 2 and a half hours later,(the airline exec was gone) I got a vehicle. To be fair, Hertz did give me a credit voucher equal to one day’s rental; good on a future rental. My econo reservation turned out to be an AWD Endeavor (I wouldn’t be driving the Caddy; but I’d be buying gas!). While the family of four next to me grumbled as they struggled to get all of their luggage into a Corolla; I thought how typically Hertz. Never underestimate the Hertz experience.

  7. @Susan, they are really are horrible. It is a hard decision to decide to bring it our leave it home. I have heard horror stories about how they are treated when they are checked and our daughter’s legs get smashed when we put her in it on the flight. Hard call.

    @Alex, I thought about that, but wasn’t in a position to have another Chase application and was already upgrading one Chase card (was told I could only upgrade one per year – not sure how true that is or isn’t). I also like the 10,000 mile bonus I get per year once I spend $25,000 with the $95 version of the card. However, I would also like EQMs from the $395 card. It’s something I will consider for next year, but wasn’t the right deecision for me this time around.

    @G. David, she is pretty much always well ahead of us in basically everything!

    @gregorygrady, I wish that was our experience, however the two times I have used Hertz points, we have had to pay lots of taxes and fees. I will have to look again to compare the pre/post bills, but I do know our final bill was quite a bit more than the stated $330 for the extra day.

    @ryan, for the United Club there is a list of ammenities in each club online. It lists whether or not there is a family room.

    @Deal Mommy, ha ha. That is the definition of “First World Problem”, but I feel the exact same way as your kids. 😉

    @john, yikes. My experience could have been way worse. I have had that experience where they don’t have anything near like the car we reserved. I remember waiting in the longest line ever one time in Atlanta. Fortunately, the rental process was easy this time – my wallet just took a big beating in the end.

  8. I just looked and at DEN you should only be charged $3.60 per day + a one-time charge of $1.03 for an award rental. Your final bill was likely higher than the $330 per day because you WERE correctly charged the 26% tax (+ $3.60 fixed) per day on that extra rental day.

    BTW, I don’t know this for sure, but I BET you could have swapped out the CDP # after you decided to stay an extra day. Not sure what your original rental was, but assuming it was a 4-day weekend SUV rental for 3k Hertz pts, you could have swapped the CDP for the weekly SUV rental for 4k pts. So it would have cost you an extra 1k pts, but would have saved you $400+. If you couldn’t have done it over the phone with Hertz reservations, you may have been able to do it when you returned your car. I certainly would have gone this route rather than shelling out $400 for a one-day rental.

    Regardless, thanks for your post as it reminds me to be careful about extending Hertz award rentals!!!!

    • @Askia, very true. You also get two annually with the MileagePlus Explorer card and/or OnePass Plus card and you get redeem 2,500 Ultimate Rewards for a pass.

  9. MP, Can I ask how much Little C weighs, and her age? I know she’s 2-ish. My husband and I are bringing our son, who will have just turned 2, on a 3 week trip to France in the fall (gasp, I know, and yes – we may be crazy), and I’m thinking it might be nice if our baby carrier is still an option. We have a Beco Gemini (very similar to Ergo), but I barely use it at home, favoring the stroller instead. Why burden my back if it isn’t necessary? But I can think of several situations when traveling when it might be nice to have him in a carrier, so I suppose my question is not only how much does Little C weigh, but how long are you able to carry her without it getting painful?

    …. for the record, we took our son to NYC when he was 8 months old and just did a trip to Buenos Aires in December. I really thought we’d “settle down” after having a baby, but the wanderlust gets too great and he travels really well. Fellow readers – please no flames for daring to bring a baby abroad when not strictly neccessary 🙁

    • @Tara, sounds fun! C is 25 months, but is very big for her age. She is 36 inches and almost 30 pounds. I only use the Ergo when traveling. More than 45-60 minutes would be too much for me.

  10. You have to the be the hottest blogger in the travel blogosphere by at least a solid 500,000 rewards points. Rick Ingersoll is going to have to work on his churn rates if he ever wants to catch up!

  11. Rrecently I’ve noticed that being a member of the rental car programs costs money. I am in Tucson with a 5 day rental for $117 all in, when the same company (budget) wanted $172 for the same car if I booked as a “member”. Hertz and Avis are the same. I saved $100 in Italy last year by booking my car as a non-member.

  12. Gate checking the car seat makes for a smaller chance that the baggage handlers will mangle it… I won’t even go into all the reasons that seat belt is not a proper restraint for someone so young(for one, the lap belt should be across her thighs, not her belly – in an accident it would just… well, never mind).

    I’m not trying to criticize you, it just hoarks me off that car rental agencies can’t get it right. Graco Nautiluses for everyone, or don’t offer the service.

    • @Susan, gate checking certainly is much better than really checking it in terms of handling. I agree that car rental companies should offer quality car seats. If we were actually in a serious accident this would be a bad car seat to be in. It is certainly a hard situation that traveling parents face. I’ll sign the petition to make better car seats available from car rental companies!

  13. @Tara — I would seriously consider bringing a baby/toddler sling, rather than a front or back carrier, on your trip. It allows you to put the toddler on your hip and carry her as you would normally, but just using the sling for supporting her, rather than your arm(s). You can swith it around if you need to carry her a different way, and I think you will feel more reassured having her feel closer. Especially with back carriers, in large crowds, one feels like the child is out of reach and vulnerable. It’s also easier to slip her out of a sling when she wants to walk. I was able to carry my toddler in this way throughout my second pregnancy (they are 2 3/4 years apart), so it’s OK for pretty big kids.

  14. @MP, thanks for your input! My son will be 25 months also at the time of our trip, and he’s very big for his age too. At his 15 month visit, he was 34.5″ tall (off the growth charts!) but only weighs 24.5 lbs (44th percentile, so not toooo bad).

    @Jen: I’d love to get your recommendation for a toddler sling if you have a good one that you’ve used and loved! My Beco Gemini is supposed to be able to do front, back, and hip/side carries, but I’ve only ever tried it on the front when he was tiny and on the back a couple of times since then.

  15. @Tara – I have carried my 30 lb 3 yo on a few walks and hikes on my back in my Ergo and I love it more than carrying him in a Kelty backpack. It’s like giving him a piggyback ride, only he doesn’t have to hang on so tightly.

    I don’t love carrying my 23 lb 16 month old in the Ergo on my back though, because it’s harder for me to do it by myself – I’m never certain the fabric is up on his back high enough.

    For him I love our Kelty TC carrier – it’s more compact than the Kelty Pathfinder, but it is heavy – the pack alone weighs 5 lbs.

  16. Did you have to reserve the room in advanced?, I am traveling with my two little ones and I am terrified to get there end the room not to be available I have a 7 hr layover will NOT be fun if we can have them contained!

    • @carlos, you don’t reserve family rooms in advance. Just go on in. Sometimes there are other families in there as well, and sometimes it is empty.

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