Friday, February 24, 2012

I've Got Spirit...How 'Bout You?

If you know me, you know that I am a huge fan of Spirit Airlines.  I mean, there is no other airline that can get me from Chicago to Ft. Lauderdale or New York for under $100.  Or to Los Angeles, direct, for under $200.  And YES, before you ask, that includes baggage fees!

I have been flying Spirit for a couple of years now, and I swear I have heard every objection.  So here are my responses to the most common complaints.

They have “hidden fees”:  None of the fees are hidden. Just take the time to read the words on the screen instead of simply hitting next to breeze through to checkout.  But, now that Spirit is required to include taxes and fees in the cost of the fare upfront, that should make some of ya’ll happy.  Personally, I preferred viewing the fares without all the taxes/fees included and then viewing the total after all costs.  But hey, that’s just me. 

They charge for bags, even carry-on:  Yes, they do.  But in most cases, even after the cost of my bag, Spirit still comes in as the least expensive option.  For instance, a recent ticket to NY cost me $96.11 total ($50.11 for the ticket and $46 baggage fee).  And that was for a checked bag.  The next lowest fare for that same weekend on a different carrier was close to $200. So technically, the other carrier’s “baggage fee” was even more.

It’s not comfortable:  Neither is my trip to the dentist, but that doesn’t stop me from going.  And when was the last time you were comfortable on a domestic flight in coach?!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you will be comfortable (unless you are less than 5’ tall).  But I am saying that for a 2 to 3 hour flight, it’s tolerable.  And I’m usually on the first or last flight of the day.  In other words, I’m sleep.

They charge for beverages:  This one usually gets the blank stare.  Seriously?  Buy a can of Coke before you board the plane.  On my flight home a few nights ago, I stopped by the restaurant near my gate and paid $.71 for a large cup of ice.  I then filled said cup with water from the fountain.  Problem solved.

I’m sure there are other complaints, or what I like to call “justifiable excuses to spend more money”, but if you are ready to give it a try, here are some additional tips and tricks:

Become a $9 Fare Club member:  You will have access to even lower fares and you save on baggage fees.

Pay baggage fees at time of booking:  The fees are cheaper if you pay the fee when you book your flight.  For instance, the $46 I paid for my checked bag above would have been $36 if I had paid the baggage fee when I booked my airfare.  Also, if you are traveling with someone, consider packing ONE large bag and split the checked baggage fee rather than both of you paying for carry-on bags.

Sign-up for email notices:  You will receive notices of travel deals via email.  Here is the trick – DO NOT HESITATE.  If you can, check out the travel deal immediately.  The lowest fares will go quickly. 

Use Spirit Airlines as a Regional Carrier:  Spirit may not fly everywhere you want to go, so use Spirit to get as close to your destination as possible.  For instance, to get to Hawaii, I will book an inexpensive Spirit Airlines ticket to Los Angeles and then fly to Hawaii from there.  Also, whenever I see a deal to Ft. Lauderdale, I jump on it since flying to the Caribbean is much cheaper when leaving from the Ft. Lauderdale/Miami area.

Be Flexible:  Spirit Airlines flies to destinations that may not be on your “to do” list, but if a great deal to a place you have never been shows up, consider making it a long weekend trip.  Or, a great deal to a place you have been but would like to visit again.  Why Not? 

The choice is yours.  I will say that Spirit Airlines may not be for everyone.  But for me, they are always my first choice when looking for ways to save money while getting to my desired destination.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The "B" Plan

It has been brought to my attention that airfare prices are at their highest levels since 2009 - SIGH.  And while this information is disappointing, it doesn't completely knock me out of the traveling arena for the year.  I just have to implement (insert dramatic music here) "The B Plan".  

Here are some of the ways I will adjust my travel plans:
·      MORE DOMESTIC TRIPS:  Domestic flights are less expensive than international flights simply because they carry fewer taxes.  Yes, I was hoping to make it to Europe this year, or maybe even Asia.  But until airfare prices begin to come down, I will concentrate on checking a few domestic locations off my list such as Key West, San Francisco, Washington, DC and Atlanta.  New to the list - Glass Beach in Fort Bragg, CA.

·      ROAD TRIPS:  Even though gas prices are still elevated, hitting the road is a less expensive option than flying, especially when traveling with kids.  Living in Chicago makes weekend trips to St. Louis, Milwaukee, or the beach and wine counties of Michigan an easy drive.  You might even find me and my convertible in Canada for a long weekend.  And let's not forget that Chicago itself is loaded with things to do and neighborhoods to explore. An entire weekend could be devoted to visiting the many architecture landmarks in the area including quite a few Frank Lloyd Wright buildings and homes.  
  • TAKE ADVANTAGE OF LAST MINUTE PACKAGES:  I am a planner who prefers to have my trips planned out well in advance.  This builds excitement and helps me get through rough days.  However, in these tough travel times, I will have to be flexible with my travel dates and stay on the lookout for last minute package deals.  Signing up for email alerts from sites such as Airfare Watch Dog and TravelZoo will help me track down the best deals out there.
  • VOLUME DISCOUNTS:  I am constantly receiving emails from sites such as LivingSocial, GrouponTabletBungolow, and Jetsetter offering deals on hotel accommodations.  The catch?  The total amount of the stay must be paid in advance and dates are limited.  Another option is Vacationist (the eBay of travel), where you bid on hotels and vacation packages.  Again, these options will force me to remain flexible.  If a great hotel deal comes across the radar - and I can find reasonable airfare - I'm off. 
  • COMBINE TRIPS:  I have two family trips on the docket this summer:  Atlanta and Cancun.  After giving it some thought, I realized that flying to Atlanta, back to Chicago, and then 3 weeks later, flying from Chicago to Cancun makes no sense.  Instead I have combined the 2 trips.  I will fly to Atlanta and from there fly straight to Cancun.  I checked the price difference and combining the trips saves me $134 per ticket.  That’s over $400 savings for the 3 tickets I must purchase! 
There are so many other ways I have, or will, adjust for the rising cost of travel.  But my biggest adjustment will be remaining flexible.  Yes, I wanted to attend the North Sea Jazz Festival taking place in Curacao, but I’m sure Curacao is just as beautiful during a time when prices are a little lower.  I just won’t get to sing along with Santana.  Maybe next time……
How are you combating the rising costs of travel?  Have your plans changed?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

What Are You Collecting?

When traveling, I always like to bring back a little something from the place that I am visiting.  Not anything like a magnet or shot glass, but something a little more personal – like a handful of sand, a piece of art by a local artist, or even some cool pictures of the local people.  Lately, I have been collecting shells.  Yes, you heard it – shells.  I know, sounds very ordinary, but hear me out.

My love for travel was sparked by my Mother.  Once she retired, she couldn’t seem to sit still.  She wanted to see and do it all.  While surfing the internet, she would say “Angela, we should go here.  It looks pretty.”  I would respond back (with a laugh), “Sure Mom.  Where ever you take me, I’m going.”  Unfortunately, my Mom passed away before realizing all of her travel dreams. 

Dealing with her death was difficult for me.  The hardest part was saying goodbye to the home that held so many memories, but we had to inventory everything, lock the house, and hand over all keys to the estate custodian.  On the day of key hand over, I walked through the house grabbing random items:  the toaster, a cookie sheet, a jewelry box filled with junk jewelry and a crystal bowl filled with, you guessed it, shells.

That was 9 years ago.  I have since moved my Mom’s shell collection to a vase which I add to every chance I get.  My shells, coral and rocks aren’t secluded to the vase.  A large shell I found in Tulum sits on a shelf, rocks and coral collected in Puerto Vallarta are in the second sink of my bathroom, and a large rock that my daughter picked up at Magens Bay  in St. Thomas serves as a door stop.  Each one is a daily reminder of where I’ve been, and why I can never stop exploring.  

What are you collecting?  Is there a story behind it?