The Makings of a Trip

Every year, I go to Las Vegas on a trip to visit my friend and his family. It’s a procedure that seems pretty routine at this point. Buy a flight ticket out to Vegas, pack my things, and go out to get away for a while. But there is something that I can’t help but feel I’m missing in my procedure or doing something wrong. I figured you, the reader, get to see what goes on when I prepare a trip this year, how I book my trip, preparation leading up to the travel, the overall procedure. Maybe, to see if there is something I can improve on. Something I’m not seeing, I can perhaps do differently, or possibly something you might discover when making your trip. Enjoy the first part of this series of articles.

Chapter One: Booking My Flight with Southwest Airlines

When I choose my date to visit, I work it out with my friend. We have been friends for at least thirty years. Since middle school, I have known him, and we have stayed in touch and have been close pals ever since. He moved out to Vegas about fifteen years ago, and we haven’t let distance get the best of us. Unfortunately, the previous job I had at the time didn’t pay well enough or give me the required free time I needed to visit. I switched jobs several years ago and was able to see my friend again after several years. I do have a little regret not going in the past or attempting to visit. But ever since I was able to go in 2014, I regret going, only because I love seeing the city whenever I can get a chance to visit my friend and his family. There is something about Las Vegas that can get a grip on someone and lure them. Some of the many reasons I can think of are the thrill of the Vegas nights and the gambling. The exciting live shows that go on each night in the vicinity. The city’s ability to produce an experience that isn’t the same the second time around. But the main reason I get to see my friend, his family, and the other side of Vegas that gets overlooked. The residential life of people who live out there.

Whenever I book my flight, I will more or less choose Southwest Airlines and have the days already set for me to travel. I know that I should be checking other airline flights and days for price comparisons, but Southwest is the most convenient of all the major airlines. The main reason for choosing Southwest is I’m allowed to check two bags with no extra charge to my flight. To my knowledge, this is the only airline left that does this. Most other major airlines will charge at least $30 to start with a checked bag. Depending on the suitcase’s weight, you may get additional charges, an additional $100 or more if your bag weighs over 50 pounds or exceeds the bag’s required dimensions. While I don’t ever exceed fifty pounds for my large suitcase, I need at least one week’s supply of various items, and this working into the flight price helps me save on flight expenses another way.

Another reason behind choosing Southwest is the flight funds. On my trip last year, I received a price difference adjustment I got on my flight of about $140. This refund resulted from constantly checking for price changes for my flight every day. When you get the refund, depending on your choice of flying and how you pay (for me, I chose the “wanna Get Away tier), Southwest issues a refund in a travel voucher. You have one year from the day you booked your flight to redeem that travel credit. So say you booked your flight on June 1st to fly south with Southwest on October 1st. Something comes up, and you have a reason you can’t make the flight or have to change the flight. Southwest will refund the money in terms of a travel voucher that you must use by June 1st of the following year. If you try to book a flight after that date you received the voucher, you cannot use that travel voucher. It might not be the best for a once-a-year traveler, but I feel it’s better than the other Airlines’ offerings of refunds or flight changes.

So after that, it’s time to determine when and how to fly. Southwest out of Philadelphia had to off times offered. The flight schedules are all the same morning, noon, or night on their calendar. I went with the evening flight since there was almost a $300 difference and only a couple of hours difference. There weren’t any other options for nonstop flights, so I’ll have a layover in another airport on my way trips. There were offerings of this in the past, I wish this were still an option, but I’m sure there are financial reasons for Southwest doing these changes.

There are three different tiers to fly with Southwest, Wanna Get Away, Anytime, Business Select.

For time Purposes, this a the breakdown of what the Southwest tiers are and what they offer on Southwest.com.

I’ve purchased “Wanna Get away” in the past, but I wanted to take a different path this year and went with “Anytime.” Looking at the tiered pricing, for another $50 per ticket, I can get more benefits with the “Anytime” fair than the “Wanna Get Away.” The main reason for me is the refund. It’s needed flexibility if I don’t want to travel in June, and should I save money by traveling at a different time or date, I’ll get that money back. I assume that it’s not in the form of a travel voucher that I used to pay for the previous trip.

Another upsell I purchased is the Early Bird Check-in. For an additional $20 a ticket ($40 Round Trip), I get the convenience of an Automatic check-in 36 hrs before my flight and a Better Boarding position. Southwest doesn’t have a traditional Seating Procedure, where you are assigned a seat when you purchase your ticket from other airlines. Southwest gives you the option to choose your seat on the day of your flight. When you check-in up to 24 hrs before your flight, You get an A, B, C letter and number from 1-60 for your boarding pass. This letter and number is your reserved spot to board the plane at the gate. The posts at the entrance will indicate where to line up and where your boarding group is, and you board based on the letter and number in line. This procedure is more a less first come, first served seating preference. Flying with Southwest in the past, I know that unless you’re fast with checking in, you will most likely get in the C Grouping of boarding the past few years I flew out with them. You are most likely still going to get in the C group. I feel this is worth it for $20, the convenience of Southwest checking you in, and a better seating position given to the person. A1-A15 are the only unobtainable positions. These numbers get reserved for the Business Select ticketholder, the highest tier. Then depending on when and how you booked your flight, your boarding letter and position get determined. You still get a great place to board the plane, and I’ve secured an A boarding position booking flights out at least two months in advance. You don’t realize how nice it is to get a seat quickly when many people who got in before you struggle to get their items in an overhead bin or even find a seat on a rapidly filling plane.

What all that done, time for payment. Overall, traveling to and from Las Vegas to Philly round trip costs me $784. Damn, that is a lot. Ever since I started traveling to Vegas, I’ve opened a savings account for travel. I put at least $15 a week over the year, building up to $780. Since the round trip costs more than what I put into the account a year, I find ways to reduce that cost. First, my travel vouchers, at least $140 there I can use. Unfortunately, due to the usage wording and how I have to use them in the time frame, I can only use $130 of that money. Still, It helps with those tickets’ price because that now takes my total down to $654. I don’t want to use other methods to save, like getting a Southwest credit card yet, time to get creative and search online. Checking websites to save on Southwest flights, I discovered that most warehouse clubs sell discounted Southwest Gift Cards. I went with Sam’s Club because my family has a membership there, but it’s around the same price as the other warehouse clubs when I checked. There were two gift cards that I went with, a $500 for $449 and a $100 for $97. This purchase gave me a $600 gift card for $546. Now my flight is down to $54, with $546 coming out of my pocket. At this point, I paid the difference, so my round-trip flight was $600 out of my pocket. It’s not a bad spend for flying out in June.

With that out of the way, the first step of my trip is complete. I’ll be doing more articles as I get ready for my trip. But for now, I’ve got a while before I prepare for the next part of my journey, preparations. Thank you for reading my first article.

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