Thursday, June 4, 2009

Tips for Keeping Travel Costs Down

As many of you know, I travel to New Jersey to do IVF because it is more affordable. Many places around the country charge well over $10,000 for a cycle, and that’s before any extras like ICSI. The Cooper clinic charges a little over $3000 for a cycle and that includes AH. With ICSI, it brings it up to around $4000. Still considerably cheaper than most places, even when you factor in the travel costs.

The logistics of travelling to do IVF can be a little stressful at first and costs can quickly add up if you aren’t careful.

I am in the process of trying to plan travel now, in the midst of an iffy looking start to a cycle. My CD3 FSH was a little elevated for minimal stims, so I will be on Estinyl to try and bring down the FSH before starting stims, which could take a while.

This is probably the trickiest part, because cycles can be so unpredictable. Buying non-refundable, return tickets are generally (but not always) a bad idea, because chances are, you are going to have to make changes. Even if you can nail down the exact start date of a cycle, there is still the unknown of exactly how long you will stim. Even on the same protocol, the number of days to stim has varied quite a bit for me.

Even if you get to start stims, the cycle can be cut short at any time. It may be that you don’t get any follies growing, or you get a less than optimal number for you (for me, I will still go to retrieval with 1 as that is all I get a lot of the time). You may not get any eggs at retrieval despite there being mature follies. You may not have any fertilized. You may not have any embies to transfer. There are so many places where the cycle can be cut short, you really don’t want to be stuck holding a non-refundable return ticket with huge change fees.

So what’s a gal to do?

Ok, there are a few ways to approach this, and which one I do depends on the fares going at the time.

1. Always check the prices of One Way fares, and try alternative airports. I use Kayak to compare fares. For the airports that I use, it seems the smaller airports have the better prices. I can get better prices buying one way fares, often just days before departure, than I could with advance purchase return fares, especially if I factor in change fees (typically $150 plus fare difference). I don't think this is typical, but it is worth checking out.

2. Look into fares without change fees. So far, all I have come up with are Frontier and Southwest, but they both serve the airports that I am interested in.

  • Frontier (as of June 2009) has a Classic Plus fare which is often reasonably priced and similar to other airlines’ economy fares. Classic Plus fares are fully refundable too, as well as having no change fee. So buy that Classic Plus fare as soon as you think you could be travelling to lock in a good price, you have nothing to lose! Also the Classic Plus fare allows you to reserve a seat in advance (the economy fare doesn't allow this), so you won’t get stuck with a middle seat even if you buy the ticket a few days before departure. Frontier also has a Classic Fare, which is cheaper than Classic Plus but has a $50 change fee, which is still pretty reasonable in my book. The regular economy fare has a $150 change fee, so no different to the major airlines.

  • Southwest doesn’t have any change fees, but only the Business Select and Anytime fares are fully refundable. Personally, I am not a fan of Southwest for long haul travel and have found Frontier to have better prices, but this is an option.

3. If the refundable or no-fee changeable fares are too expensive, you may have to bite the bullet and get a ticket that has a fee to change. Typically it is $150 to make a change plus the fare difference. For me, if my trip will be delayed more than a few days (for example, E2 too slow to rise), it can be cheaper to pay the change fee. When I factor in the costs for hotel room and rental car, I’m looking at around $100 per day. So a two day longer stay is more expensive than the change fee.

Don’t forget to join the frequent flier program of whatever airline you use, those free flights you earn will come in handy!

This is probably the easiest part. For stays longer than a week, you would want to look into extended stay type places, as their rates go down the longer you stay. Don’t pay in advance (like through Hotwire or Priceline) as the IVF cycle can be cut short at any time and you don’t want to be paying for a room when the cycle is clearly over. Check out Kayak for hotel price comparisons.

If you have a hotel in mind that you like but it doesn’t offer extended stay rates, then negotiate one! Ask to speak with the manager, explain that you are interested in staying for a week (or however long) and see if they can work out a deal for you. I have had success with this, I have ended up with a daily rate that was cheaper than any internet rate I could find at that hotel for a week.

Whatever hotel you end up with, join the hotel rewards program if the chain has one so you can rack up the points. You’ll be earning free nights before you know it.

Rental Cars
Rental cars are a bit trickier than hotels as the prices seem to vary dramatically for no apparent reason. Again, shop around using Kayak. You can make a booking without a deposit, so lock in a good price if you see one, but check the prices every few days to see if they have come down from your original booking. Again, don’t prepay in advance as you don’t know if the cycle will be cut short.

Look for coupon codes or discount codes online. Rental car companies seem to have many of these, and a quick search on Google should turn some up.

Join the rental car frequent renter program. Budget has a deal when you get 10-20% off automatically after a qualifying rental, other programs have other perks.

Other tips for saving money:

  • Join ebates and earn cash rebates for purchases. For example, looking at the travel section of the ebates website today I am seeing 3% cashback for Avis, Thrifty, Budget, and Dollar car rentals. 5% cashback for Candlewood Suites, Holiday Inn.

  • Get an American Express Blue Cash card. After spending $6500 (believe me this happens quick with medicated cycles), you can earn 5% back for drugstore, gas, grocery purchases and 1.25% for everything else. That 5% cash back can add up fast when you pay out of pocket for fertility meds!


Mark George said...

That's an interesting data point on the cost of IVF at Cooper clinic. I've been blogging about IVF in Bangkok, Thailand ( since we gave it a shot and discovered wonderful doctors and facilities at a fraction of that $10,000+ cost stateside. But those costs at Cooper seem competitive even with costs over here, assuming it's apples-to-apples.

Anonymous said...

I've been wondering if price difference comes from monitoring. I live in Germany and am stimming for my 3rd fresh cycle, and the cost here is much, much less than in the US.

From what I've gathered from US forums and other blogs, most of the US patients go in nearly daily for blood tests and ultrasounds. I get one suppression check for the OK to start stims, then my next appointment is a full 7-8 days later. At that appointment, the RE can usually tell on which day the retrieval will be. Two or three appointments max!

I can imagine that US women want to feel that they are getting the very best care available, and that doctors feel the pressure to provide frequent checks or be labeled as slackers and lose patients to other clinics. All of those tests really run up the cost, though.

German success rates are only slightly lower due to the embryo protection laws, i.e. transferring more than 2 is illegal, as is PGD. Yet it costs a third or less than in the US.

Just my theory. Maybe it's not that at all. In any case, best of luck to you!!!

SG said...

I should clarify that the prices I have quoted for Cooper is for minimal stim IVF. Not sure, but I think there may be a different price for "regular" IVF.

I should also add that I have not included the cost of monitoring in the prices I have quoted. That is because monitoring is the only part of the process that my insurance covers. So an ultrasound plus bloodwork for FSH, E2, LH and Progesterone costs me $30 total. So 5 monitoring appointments costs me $150.

The other thing that comes to mind is the anesthesia for retrieval, that is another $550. Although I must add that other clinics in the US do not normally include these costs when quoting prices for IVF, so their prices would go up by similar amounts also.

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