Monday, April 4, 2016

Jumping on Southwest's Rock-Bottom Unadvertised Prices for a Summer Trip

Southwest Airlines has fare sales ALL THE TIME. You've probably seen commercials, or a web ad, or received an email about current sale prices. The current sale advertises one-way fares from $69.

But did you know that Southwest has unadvertised sale prices that are even lower???

I know this because I stalk the Southwest website. Yes, every few days I'm on there checking to see if the flights I have already booked have gone down in price so that I can get a refund. Every single flight I've booked in the past few years since I started the miles & points hobby has gone down in price at least once. Most of them have gone down twice. And it's super easy to get the points refunded back into my account online.

While I'm on the website I like to check out fares to places to see how low they go. And many flights between Dallas and other cities drop to $36 to $49 (or around 1500ish points) in the time period of 3 to 13 weeks before the flight. Usually, these low prices are for flights on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays. If you have the Southwest Chase credit card that came with 50,000 bonus miles, you could afford 4 vacations for a family of 4 at those sale prices (6000 points one-way, 12,000 points round-trip) if you are flexible with your destination and time frame.

Earlier this year while I was browsing the site, I saw fares on Southwest between Dallas and Orlando in April and May for $36 each way. A major unadvertised sale! I think a few of my friends were able to snatch up tickets at this price (Hello, Disney World!). In fact, I still see a few days left in May for $36. But you never know how long those prices will last.

There are a few ways to look up rock-bottom unadvertised rates on Southwest. The first way is to use the low fare calendar.  Input a departure city, an arrival city and a month.

From there, you will see the lowest price for each day in the month of May in either dollars or points (you can toggle back and forth). This is the easiest spot to see if you can find low fares that make good timing for the both the arrival and return.

In this example, you could have a long weekend in Chicago from Saturday to Tuesday with the low fare on each end. And, both of those cheap flights happen to be nonstop (although the departure times may not be the most popular):

The other way to find low fares is to use the Getaway Finder map. Input a departure city and a date, and you can mouse over any city to see what the lowest fare is for that day. I find this method more cumbersome since you have to keep switching the dates, but if you have a very specific date to fly, this map can tell you the best deals for that day.

So while I've enjoyed finding these great low prices from January to May of this year, I haven't been able to take advantage of them because I can't pull my kids out of school (I already pulled them out of school for our January vacation). But I've been keeping my eye on the calendar for the summer months because I've been contemplating taking the kids on a solo trip when school is out. I've gone on a trip with 2 of my kids and a trip with 1 of my kids by myself, but never all 3 together. So why would I even want to attempt this?

Several reasons. My husband recently started a new job and will not be able to take much time off this summer (and for the rest of the year). So if I want to take the kids somewhere other than the trips to visit family that we already have planned, I need to do it on my own. Another reason I might attempt a solo trip is that this might be my last summer as a mostly stay-at-home mom. My youngest child will be starting kindergarten in the fall, and I'm not sure where my job search will lead me. I might not have as much time for spontaneous trips next summer if I'm working part-time. And lastly, my Southwest companion pass expires at the end of this year, and due to the stricter rules that Chase is implementing regarding future credit card sign-ups, I'm not sure that I will be able to get another companion pass in the future. So it's now or never!

A few months ago, I started to think about criteria for choosing a destination for a solo trip with the kids. Since I would be on my own, I needed it to be really easy. I wanted the flight to be short (less than 4 hours) and preferably nonstop. I don't want to rent a car and schlep around car seats, so we either needed to go to a destination resort or to a place with convenient public transportation. And of course, I needed to use hotel points for free or almost-free lodging. I narrowed the cities down to a few choices, and watched the fares every day to see if rock-bottom fares would start appearing for the summer months.

And they did! I found tickets to my top choice city, Minneapolis, for $40 each way. The flights are not direct, but we don't have to change planes. We had a $31 credit per person because our flights to Mexico (bought earlier on gift cards) went down in price, so I was able to apply those credits for me and two of my kids and pay the remaining $9 each or $27 total. For the return trip, I booked myself and 2 kids on points for 1392 each or 4176 total points. I will add my daughter as my companion on both flights for just $5.60 in taxes each way. So my grand total for 4 round-trip tickets in June from Dallas to Minneapolis is $55 cash and 4176 Southwest Rapid Reward points. That is really a steal of a deal!! We won't have any airport parking charges (since my husband is dropping us off and picking us up) or rental car charges or pet sitting charges, which will keep down the total cost of this trip.

Why Minneapolis? Three words: Mall Of America. MOA. The huge mall that has over 520 stores and 11,000 employees. If you visited each store for 10 minutes, it would take 86 hours. It's huge! You can read other nifty facts about the mall here. Both my husband and I went there separately, before kids, on business trips. But I remember thinking that it would be a dream destination for kids.

The attraction we can't miss is Nickelodeon Universe, an indoor amusement park with 27 rides and character meet-n-greets from Spongebob, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Bubble Gupplies, Dora and the Fairly Oddparents.

It also has an elevated ropes course, zip line and miniature golf course attached.

The mall also has the Minnesota Children's Museum, Sea Life Aquarium, and the Amazing Mirror Maze. Opening soon is the Crayola Experience and FlyOver America (which is similar to Disney's Soarin' ride, except it goes over the entire USA instead of just California). Just outside the mall is the Water Park of America indoor water park.

MOA is located close to the airport, and many of the nearby hotels have a free shuttle that goes to the aiport and MOA. Minneapolis also has a light rail train that goes from MOA to other destinations on the way to downtown Minneapolis. We could easily visit Minnehaha Falls or take a paddleboat ride on the Mississippi River.

So...who is getting in on these rock-bottom Southwest fares? Where are you going???

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