Wednesday, October 8, 2008

wfmw--fly cheaper

As I previously mentioned, the Hubby and I recently went on our first "official" vacation. Don't let that little word first fool you into thinking, "First, schmirst, what does this lady know about traveling?" I have actually traveled quite a bit, but it's mostly been for work (either mine or the Hubs') or to visit family (which we all know is no vacation).

This is what I have learned:
  1. Let airfare prices dictate your destination. I know this sounds a little crazy, but if you can throw away your Type-A tendencies and be a little flexible, it works. For example, the Hubby really wants to go to Hawaii. We even have the hookup for a fairly cheap place to stay while there. But once we pay for airfare, Hawaii becomes more than our budget will allow at this time. So, I browsed airfares for the times Hubs could take time off and found that Central American destinations had low fares because this is their rainy season. We chose Costa Rica because they had the lowest total fare, what with taxes, fees, and all. Which brings me to the next point:
  2. Make sure you know the total fare before you book. For international travel, the taxes and fees will vary for each country. In our case, we considered Guatemala and Honduras because they had the lowest initial fares but found that the extra charges made them more expensive.
  3. Try to fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday whenever possible. These are the days when flight loads are lightest, so it can be easier to find lower fares on these days. If you can't fly in and out on one of those days, try to book at least one day of your travel then. Also, try to avoid Sunday and Monday flights.
  4. Check the price of separate flight segments versus a through flight. For example, from my city to Costa Rica, with a connection in Fort Lauderdale, the fare was about $250 roundtrip. Instead I booked a flight from my city to Fort Lauderdale, which ended up being *free* (and you know how I feel about that) due to a sale Spirit Air was running, and then booked a separate flight from Fort Lauderdale to Costa Rica. My final total was $180 rt. There are some caveats to this. First, do NOT do this if you are checking bags unless you have a super-long layover. You will have to pick up your checked bags at baggage claim, go back on line at your airline, check your bags at the counter, and then go back through security to get to the gate area. Second, airlines don't really like you to do this. So they might hassle you or try to charge you extra to book you all the way through, especially if you are checking bags. If you only have carry-ons, though, you should be okay. Third, this doesn't work with most traditional airlines. But who needs them anyway, when you can:
  5. Check out the websites of "Ultra Low Cost Carriers" and "Low Cost Carriers." You can find a list of them here. Between the Hubs and I, we've flown on almost every one of those airlines and have had satisfactory experiences. Some are cheaper than others, depending on where you want to go and how full the flights are booked, so keep checking and comparing until a fare meets your price point. Keep in mind that for many of these LCC's, they keep their prices lower by offering some services a la carte. Charging for drinks, checking baggages, advance seating, etc. is a paradigm shift from the traditional all-inclusive airfare. Don't let this turn you off! It's a great way to choose take control of your experience. If you are someone who has to have an aisle seat or exit row, then LCC's may not be your cuppa because the charge for those seats can add up quickly. The other charges can be worked around, though. Read on my friend:
  6. Try to avoid checking bags. This has sort of become a game for us, to see how we can fit everything in our carry-ons. I'm frequently able to get all three kids' clothes into one carry-on suitcase. I'm cool like that. ;) And I have lots of experience. The best way to accomplish this task is with the right bag. I use a Travelpro Crew 7 Rollaboard bag. It's roomy with good pocket placement, and it is very durable. It's a pretty pricy bag, but I'll probably never have to buy another suitcase so it averages out for us. Even if you can't afford a different suitcase, you can utilize the one you have best by rolling your clothes rather than folding. Also, put your "unmentionables" (undies and bras for those of you who won't know what I'm talking about if I don't mention them!) in zip-close plastic bags. Zip the bag almost to the end and then press down to squeeze all the air out. It's like vacuum sealing them. Or you could get really crazy and just forgo packing undergarments altogether and go commando for the duration of your vacation. I'm sure the Hubs would like it, but I think I'll pass on that one.
  7. Don't forget that you get a full-size carry-on *and* a personal item. I always use a backpack as my personal item. If needed I use it to hold what wouldn't fit in my carry-on. It can make the difference between needing and not needing to check my suitcase.
  8. Utilize weather forecasts to decide what to pack. is my friend. Just like my other friends, it's not always right. But it sure does try, so I love it anyway. I'm unconditional like that. :) Really though, look at the weather forecast for your destination and compare it to your home climate. We live in Florida, where it's still pushing 90 degrees. So, when looking at the temperatures in New York (where are kids stayed while we were gone), I realized that 70 degrees seems like a high number in theory only. I knew that my little thin-blooded beach babies would be freezing, so I nixed all but one pair of shorts for each and added long pants and long-sleeved shirts for layering. You have to go out on a limb and try not to pack things "just in case." Simplify, my friend--you probably won't need twenty outfits for a three-day trip.
  9. When visiting family or friends, mooch. When we visit my husband's family, he packs an average of one outfit, and then borrows clothes from relatives for most of our stay. This is a bit extreme, but the point is to utilize what others already have. Do your friends or family have winter coats that you can borrow? Can you use their washer so you don't have to pack as many outfits for an extended stay? Do they have toys or other baby supplies that can be shared? Not everyone is open to mooching, though, so do your homework first! ;)
  10. Make sure your eating and drinking needs are taken care of before boarding. Try to eat a filling meal before your flight--with carbs for energy and protein for staying power. If you think you'll be hungry on the plane, or tempted to buy the snacks when they are paraded down the aisle, pack a few of your own in your personal item. I brought a Luna Bar, mints, and cheese crackers, because I'm notorious for getting hungry even after just eating. If you think you'll be thirsty, buy a drink in the airport once you're past security. It's more expensive than bringing something from home but usually less expensive than buying on board.
Hope some of those tips can help out! For us they have made traveling possible even when our travel budget was less than ideal.

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