This winter has kept me quite busy. I’m not one to sit idle for very long so over Christmas break I was out on the stream doing some fly fishing. I didn’t catch anything but my time was peaceful and relaxing just the same. I also like working with tools and was able to complete a bathroom renovation project during January.
Winter in Ohio can produce gray skies for weeks at a time sucking the life out of you. However, nothing can give me an infusion of energy like studying maps, looking at hotels and planning our next family vacation. My youngest daughter is a Senior in high school this year and said, “I want to do something big for my graduation. Can we go to a beach?” My brain immediately went to the mental filing cabinet and pulled out the three-national park tour of south Florida. I obviously wanted to visit these parks anyway so what better time to plan this trip. I can easily make a beach trip happen while seeing Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Dry Tortugas National Parks.
After a discussion with my wife and kids, we decided spring break 2017 would be our target dates for traveling. I began pricing airline tickets on Southwest.com back in October and November 2016. For budgeting purposes, I like to start early just to get an idea of how much money we will need to save. At this time, flight costs from Columbus to Fort Lauderdale were somewhere around $450 – $475 per person. This is where the lessons learned part of my title kicks in. Instead of booking my flights in November, and locking in the $450 price, I waited -deciding to direct our spending toward Christmas expenses. My thought process was, I’ll book the tickets right after the new year. These prices are already artificially inflated for spring break and can’t go much higher. This was a huge mistake.
On January 2nd, I went back to book our tickets and the prices for traveling Saturday – Saturday had gone up $200 per ticket! I temporarily went into panic mode. I spent hours looking at every alternative. Flying out of other cities here in Ohio, flying into Orlando, flying into Tampa and even flying an airline other than Southwest. (The reason I am hung up on using SW is because we had 66,000 points built up toward free tickets.)
The big break came when I shifted our travel dates to Friday – Friday. This simple move changed our price and point requirement significantly! So significantly in fact, that we got all 4 of our departing tickets for 65,500 points or FREE. Our other cost saving measure was to take a really late flight back home the following Friday night. This gives us an entire day in Florida but gets us home at 11:45pm. Since we get home on a Friday, we still have all day Saturday and Sunday to rest and unpack. That crisis was largely averted. I will have to take an extra day off work and we will need to take the kids out of school for a day but I’m sure they won’t mind.
The second crisis came when I went to book all of our hotels. Hotel costs had also jumped anywhere from $20 – $50 per night depending on the hotel. Key West, FL is expensive anyway but decent hotels start at $300 and go WAY up from there. We are only staying there one night and getting out so save on the hotel cost.
The good news is, all of our hotels, plane tickets and boat tickets to Dry Tortugas are all paid for in advance. I love saving up the money throughout the year to pay cash for our vacations and not be burdened by credit card debt. This trip will be significantly different than our Arizona / Utah park tour last summer. Everyone got new snorkeling sets for Christmas this year. We will be visiting 3 more parks but also working in days of relaxation and vegetation time on the beach.
Once we return, I’ll be sure to share my pictures, lessons learned, can’t miss restaurants, shops and tips for having a successful visit to Everglades, Biscayne Bay and Dry Tortugas.