How to Secure Inconvenient, Overpriced Holiday Flights for Your College Student

Helicopter parents are so last decade. The have now been replaced by snowplow parents, who roll in and smooth everything over for their children. Like calling the professor to complain about an A- (a true story – it happened at BU).

The Neurotic Parent, though still overly involved, does not hover or plow. But I am a control freak when making flight arrangements. I do not trust travel agents because they care mostly about booking finance types on flights to Dubai and do not have the patience to spend the day hopping from kayak to expedia to SouthwestAir, looking to save $25 or so. And although my boys are pros at procuring sold-out tickets to Coachella, if I let them reserve their own cross-country flights, they would route themselves through Ibiza. So, for as long as I can read the tiny font on kayak, I will be a Booking Engine Parent.

I generally do a fine job and have even gotten us to Nairobi and the Galapagos using miles. But I inevitably fail over the holidays.

Here are some helpful tips for completely screwing up your kids’ holiday reservations:

1. Book on the same dates that the entire country is flying. The website suggests that fliers avoid traveling on the Sunday after Thanksgiving and the Sunday after winter break. Of course, these are the dates that most college kids have to fly because they have good intentions of not missing Monday classes… although they probably will still be in the vacation mode and sleep through them anyway.

The Neurotic Parent technique is to start looking for those return Thanksgiving and winter break flights the previous April, when the prices are already outrageous. Next step in the process is to decide to game the system and wait until summer. Then in late October, suck it up, accept that the fares will never go down and hastily snap up the last seat on the plane.

2. Believe that the travel dates your kids give you are accurate. Bribe your children with extra legroom if they provide you with correct final exam dates. You will have to text them incessantly for 3-4 weeks before they respond with those dates because it is a real effort on their part to log into their online schedule. Once appropriate flights are booked, be prepared to pay a hefty change fee to leave two days earlier because it turns out that “My last exam is a actually a research paper and I’d rather work on it at home.”

3. Buy into the urban legend that Wednesday is the best day to book flights. Cancel your conference call. Abandon your pilates class. Reschedule your therapist appointment. Then devote a solid block of time each Wednesday morning to booking, canceling (within 24 hours) and re-booking. Wednesday, you see, is supposed to be the primo day for deals. But sadly, Jet Blue, Virgin and American have yet to hear about this legend. Or about the clearing-your-cookies, incognito approach to travel planning.

4. Try to find decent times, short layovers and good seats on reputable airlines. You might hate redeyes or center seats or discount carriers, but students can deal. They will even happily fly on airlines called ‘Spiritually Turbulent’ or ‘No Snacks for You.’

5. Assume that they will get to the airport on time.  Most college leave for the airport at the exact minute that they’re supposed to be going through security. So it’s not a great idea to book them on the last flight of the day, even if you have lots of Starwood points.

6. To make flights extra unbearable, forget to remind your kids about the two essential carry-on items: sinus meds and phone chargers.  Odds are that they’ll develop a debilitating upper respiratory infection the morning they are supposed to travel. Without Sudafed, which is now harder to purchase than crack cocaine, they will spend six hours feeling as if their heads are about to explode. And assume that they will leave their chargers at school, so you won’t have a clue about when or where they’re landing once they have missed their flight and rescheduled.

Of course, nothing beats the joy of having them home for the holidays, even if you ended up spending $1098 on a roundtrip excursion that usually costs $287. Next year, of course, you’ll think about employing those Booking Engine Parent skills in January. But after checking out the fares, you’ll probably move on to reserving your own off-season package to the Turks and Caicos.

Scholarships for Descendants of the Almost Famous

The University of California system does not require teacher or counselor recs, or even a high school transcript until you get accepted. But prospective students must enter a LOT of info – all their courses, all their grades, all their scores, two personal statements (aka essays), and many affidavits that prove you reside in the Golden State. A mom whose son is now at NYU told me she filled out the UC app for her son last year because he refused to, and she just wanted to see if he could get into Berkeley and UCLA. She said it took five hours, not including forcing him to write two essays.

The app is somewhat user-friendly – it even ‘talks,’ giving you helpful hints if you get stuck – but considering it was probably produced by top engineering students, it’s a technological nightmare. It repeatedly times out and duplicate windows keep popping up, so if you change something you never know whether it has saved or not.

The most important section? Scholarship Eligibility

Below are some of the grants listed on the app. Can these be for real? It doesn’t matter. Even if they don’t pay for your kid to go to college, they’re so wacky that at least they provide a diversion for harried parents who have to spend the night before Thanksgiving proofreading, when they really should be roasting brussel sprouts.

A partial list:

– Descendant of Mayflower passenger

– Descendant of Alice Mara Tibbits, Elede Prince Morris or Rose Humann Rogers (and lots of other random names like these – Can someone explain to me how these work?  Do you know in advance that your Great Uncle Bernie started a scholarship, or are you pleasantly surprised to find one on the app?)

– Child or spouse of a member of the California League of Food Processors

– Descendant of Confederate veteran of the Civil War

– Jewish orphan interested in studying aeronautics

– Chumash player on the Yuba City High School basketball team

Unfortunately my kids did not qualify for any of the scholarships listed above. In fact they were probably the least likely kid in the state to be related to a Confederate soldier, a Mayflower passenger or a Cuisinart. But the Neurotic Parent Institute has heard that the UCs will be soon be offering the following awards to eligible students:

– New driver who was unfairly ticketed for rolling through a stop sign.

– Student whose hamster perished after a fall down the stairs.

– Facebook member with more than 2200 friends.

– Child of an early-model Prius owner.

– Descendant of someone who believed “Paul was dead” and played Beatles albums backwards for his or her friends.

– Child of a first-generation female blogger.

For more eclectic scholarships, log onto the UC app website before the server gets clogged.  And keep checking back – we will keep you updated as new opportunities arise.

Survival Tips for Empty Nesters

How to survive the unbearable separation anxiety when the kids leave for college? Many parents, suddenly feeling obsolete and arthritic, move to farms in Oregon, attend yoga retreats in India, become fanatic cyclists, design outdoor living rooms, organize the old shinguard collection, or even foster a teen. Here are some other suggestions in all budget ranges:

1. Cleanse. You no longer will be tempted by the ubiquitous leftover pizza crusts.

2. Invest in a pied-a-terre in a cool college town…which just happens to be the one where your kid goes to school.

3. Adopt a puppy. Name it after your son or daughter. How sweet it will be when Virgil comes home for Thanksgiving and finds a furry little Virgil in the house, one that obeys curfew and is always fast asleep by 9 p.m.?

4. Stalk your children on Instagram. (They all ditched Facebook when it became overpopulated by boomers.) If you don’t “like” any of their photos, they’ll never know that you’re tracking how often they’re holding Solo cups.

5. Get rid of those age spots with a laser treatment. No potlucks or carpools, so you can finally hide out while you recover.

6. Revive your relationship by indulging in a couple’s ionic foot bath.

7. Because every penny is now going to educate your child, you probably don’t have funds for much of the above – or anything else. So find an affordable sport or hobby, taking advantage of all that expensive equipment you bought for the many activities your child quit after several months. Try French horn lessons, skateboarding, lacrosse, or building a robot.

8. Take risks. Become a senior triathlete or set the loftiest goal of them all: Inbox Zero. Start with the 21,589 e-mails in your old AOL account.

9. Continue micro-managing your children. Be available 24/7 to edit essays, book flights, replace lost iPhones, provide laundry instructions, and secure internships that will one day help them be rid of you forever.

10. Remember, you might be in a catatonic state, but they’re having the time of their lives. They’re joining squirrel clubs, celebrating Nitrogen Day, and running the Naked Mile.

College Essentials You Won’t Find at Bed, Bath and Beyond


1. A decent mattress.
Forget the memory foam topper, feather bed and bed bug protector. Face it, no matter how many bedding enhancers you invest in, that saggy, smelly dorm cot will just never be comfortable. Instead, just spring for a brand new mattress, which will cost $89 compared to the $400+ needed to alter the yucky one in the dorm. But remember to get Twin XL. Even though kids manage to fit into normal-sized beds at home, the colleges have conspired with BB & B to scare you about the dire consequences of too-short sheets and force you to purchase all new bedding.

2. A dress up box – College students always seem to be going to themed parties, so the equivalent of the dress up box from preschool is a must.

3. A pitch pipe
A capella competition is so fierce these days that your son or daughter will want to practice on the way to class.

4. Unlimited text plan
If your child has been sending 10,000 a day, he or she will now send 20,000. If you have a girl, you will be the lucky recipient. If you have a boy, look forward to one-word responses to your cheery questions, such as Yaaa.

5. Parking Permit
Much cheaper than a car. Can be bartered for free rides from all the students who have brought vehicles to campus but have nowhere to park.

6. Settlers of Catan
College students spend so much time playing this board game (a Germanic combination of Monopoly and Risk, but with sheep) that you will wish they would go back to playing video games.

7. ‘Find my iPhone’ App
The most essential possession of them all. Just be sure that your kids know not to harrass the residents if the phone is located in a crack house.

8. Rainbow Hair Color
College students like to show their individuality, by going for the sand art look… like everybody else.

9. Fake ID
Although highly fraudulent, it’s at the top of most students’ checklist, even above the shower caddy.

10. This phone number
To deal with the consequences of #9, the phone number of a local attorney.

11. A subscription to the Wall Street Journal
So students can keep track of all their high school friends who have dropped out of college after receiving seed money from angel investors.

Full CORT Press: Stress-free Student Furniture Rental


We are still recovering from our sons’ move-in three years ago. Both attended the same college, so we had less of a logistical challenge that sweltering August weekend than other families. Our younger son was a freshman. Getting him settled in his dorm room was relatively hassle-free, once he recovered from a killer mosquito attack.

But then we received a distress text from our eldest, a senior. He needed to spend an extra week at his faraway internship and would not have time to furnish his room in his first off-campus apartment before his classes started. Could we please find him a queen bed? And while we were at it, a night table, small sofa, cool rug, modern desk and large dresser? Eager to make ourselves useful, we accepted the challenge.

For three straight days and nights we schlepped from mini-mall to mini-mall, where inventory had been picked over by every kid moving back to campus. We finally found a mattress at We-Pressure-U, a rug at Low-Quality Liquidators, a sofa at ShabbyNotChic, a desk at Junk Depot and a dresser on Craiglist from @creepyredneck. For most of these items we had to arrange delivery through Deodorant-Free Movers, although we were able to haul the particle board night table that came in 28 pieces, with only three missing.

Just after we finished rearranging the sofa cushions to hide the stains, we ran into the relaxed parents of one of our son’s friends, sipping mojitos at the hotel pool. The told us they too had furnished their son’s place, but had done so by renting a package at CORT for the incredible student discount of $99 a month. As we headed off to the chiropractor to recuperate from the heavy lifting, they were planning their empty nest trip to Sicily. And now, three years later, we are still kicking ourselves for not knowing about CORT (Can we have those three days back?)

Here’s why CORT’s student rental program can be a game changer for the college move in:

  1. CORT’s rental furniture is comfy and stylish. In fact, it’s showroom quality. Cinder blocks and upholstery with the stuffing coming out are things of the past.
  1. CORT delivers. On the date they say they will. It’s guaranteed. No need to rent a U-Haul or pay someone to wait around for days on end.
  1. Your son or daughter (or you) can do the whole transaction online on, including customizing your order. Pillow top? An easy add on. Dishes and linens? Just a click away.
  1. No assembly required – Yes, putting stuff together is appealing in theory, brings back those Lego moments. But you’ll need some pricy power tools. And it is so time consuming that you’ll need to spend two extra nights in your hotel, making it so not cost effective.
  1. CORT is way cheaper than buying new or scrounging around the flea markets. No hiring movers or calling around for storage units (and dealing with the yucky mildew after a summer of storage). CORT delivers, sets up and when students are ready to move on, CORT picks it all up again.
  1. Yup, CORT did compensate for this post, but let it be known that the Neurotic Parent Institute is very selective about whom we promote. In fact, in eight years of this blog we never have featured a sponsored post before. We have now made an exception because CORT is truly an AWESOME service which will improve the quality of your child’s college experience…and make your life easier, even if you’ve cut down on your helicoptering. And we guarantee that CORT is kind to animals and not involved in fracking.

So get thee to CORT. And check out their furniture rental and used furniture programs for when your kids ultimately get that first job offer. Because once they’re in the real world living in that fifth floor walk up, fixing up the flat should be the least of their worries.