We scored an amazingly low price on our flights to Florida over the Christmas holiday. We used a couple of hacks and some flexibility to do it, but ultimately we paid just $112.59 each for roundtrip travel from the midwest to Florida during what is the most expensive travel period. For reference at the time we booked roundtrip travel on a single airline was priced around $350+ per ticket. Here’s how we saved almost $500 on our tickets.
I mentioned previously that we were flexible on airports. We considered and priced every major airport in Florida, with special attention to Fort Lauderdale, Miami (both of these were closest to our destination), Orlando (where a good friend lives), and Jacksonville (close to Mr. Vine’s parents’ home). Flying into south Florida gave us the option to forgo a rental car, so we factored that potential savings into any price differences. Although, we ultimately would have opted for a rental car given our planned itinerary. In the end, this would have been an expense no matter which airport we selected. Our resort is just north of Miami Beach. We had a Saturday to Saturday booking. We were picky on flight times because we didn’t want to lose out on days with a late arrival / early departure situation. Because of the Saturday check-in and check-out days, we were flexible by a day on either end.
A few other criteria were also important to us in addition to flight times. We wanted nonstop flights. We’ve had bad luck on winter holiday travel due to delays and missed connections. We also wanted to fly a legacy carrier instead of a discount carrier. Legacy carriers typically operate more flights daily, especially to their hub cities, than discount carriers do. In the event of delays, weather and other problems, legacy carriers can better accommodate travelers. This is another lesson we’ve learned the hard way. Although we will happily fly discount carriers at other times, the winter holidays have a higher risk of bad weather and oversold flights. These requirements made it tricky to find a good price. It also made it tough to wait for price drops as the best itineraries sold out far in advance.
Our Hopper price alerts let us know when it might be a good idea to check flights. When prices dropped, sometimes the lowest priced option did not meet our requirements, but the alert often indicated that all prices were lower. I recommend Hopper’s price alert when you know you want to travel to a certain area at a certain time.
During a price drop period in late September, about three months before our planned travel, we found some very low prices. To capture the absolute lowest prices, we needed to book a hacker fare–buying one-way flights on different airlines. Flights on Spirit to Jacksonville from our departure city were just over $80 each including taxes. Flights from Jacksonville to our desired city were $128 each on Delta. Delta was our preferred legacy carrier thanks to some gift cards we had purchased to harvest the Amex Gold Card travel credit. We had a total of $200 in gift cards, leaving a balance on each ticket of just $28.
We compromised by flying a discount carrier down to Florida for two reasons. One, flights often have more trouble getting into a midwestern airport than out during bad weather. The flight south felt less risky overall than the return. Two, our flight down was on Friday evening, a day before our resort check in. If we were delayed on the departure, we had a full day to catch another flight and still arrive at our destination close to the time we planned.
It is true that now we needed to book a rental car (which, as it turns out, we would have likely opted to do even had we flown into Fort Lauderdale or Miami). More significantly, though, our resort is about a five hour drive from Jacksonville. That’s a lot of drive time to balance against the flight savings.
This is not the first time we’ve taken what we now lovingly call “The Great Florida Roadtrip.” Because we often visit south Florida, but our friends and family live in other parts of the state, we often find ourselves in this position. Sometimes we are willing to trade some windshield time for cheaper airfare, while other times we are not. In this case, we were okay with the drive because it allowed us to visit both Mr. Vine’s parents and my friend. Also, we had a full seven night stay at the south Florida resort. If we had a short stay, less than five nights for example, we’d be less inclined to make the drive.
A combination of flexibility and travel hacking (through using one-way flights and credit card perks) reduced our per ticket price by more than half. That’s a significant savings and we still flew nonstop in both directions. We also used some of my favorite hacks to make bare bones economy feel more like first class. To read about our in-flight experiences and direct comparison between Spirit and Delta, stay tuned for a future post.
Share your best airfare scores in the comments. To what lengths have you gone to get a great price on airfare? What are your favorite tips to get the lowest price on airline tickets?