Planning our free Spring Break trip to Fort Lauderdale.

Typically, my Spring Break plans are final more than 4 months ahead of time.  I was actually waiting until the New Year to transfer points to earn the Southwest companion pass, which lead to my previous SW roller coaster post.

The long dreary period of Jan and Feb are brutal on teachers.  Spring break seems only a distant glimmer of hope, but If we survive that depressing stretch of the year, there are 3 main requirements for Spring Break trips for teachers:

  • Nice warm tropical climate.
  • Simple travel plans.
  • Free or very cheap.

Southern Florida has become our go-to location.  We have done Saint Thomas, the Bahamas, and the Orlando/Clearwater area in the past, but the Fort Lauderdale/Miami/South Beach/Keys area continues to be our favorite.  There are so many options for flights, hotels, and activities in that area.  The Caribbean is only a few hundred extra miles away, but the free awards flight situation becomes difficult and problematic.

Roanoke is a difficult place to fly from.  From the Roanoke airport, there are only 4 regular options:

  • American to Charlotte
  • United to Chicago
  • American to Philadelphia
  • Delta to Atlanta

Allegiant does fly to nice sunny places, but only on Tue and Thur, and I can’t get free tickets.  By the time you get to the Roanoke airport early and take the short flight to a hub, you are 3 hours into your travel.  Layovers never seem to be convenient, and you may as well drive 3 hours or less to Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, or Richmond, and increase your options.  In addition to time considerations, finding 4 award flights out of Roanoke on the same plane has actually become quite difficult, and it is not uncommon for Roanoke flights to get delayed or cancelled.

Since we were travelling with 4, I began the search looking for nonstop flights from those 4 nearby cities.  My best option ended up being Southwest airlines from Raleigh.  Raleigh is a not too painful 3 hour drive from Roanoke.  I had built up over 15k Rapid Reward miles through shopping portals even though we have never flown Southwest before.  I transferred an additional 21k miles from Chase Ultimate Rewards to make the purchase.  It cost a total of 36k Rapid Reward Southwest miles + 44 dollars for fees, which I charged to my Discover miles card, in order to get the travel fees reimbursed.

For the cost of gas to Raleigh, some Southwest miles, and a taxi from the airport to the hotel, we are in Fort Lauderdale. Between the drive, airport, flight, and taxi, we should be on the sand, in less than 8 hours.  Taxi and Uber rides are frequently the most expensive part of our travel.  The Fort Lauderdale beaches aren’t too far from the airport, but South Beach is a different story.

I knew that we wanted a beachfront Marriott or Starwood hotel due to our Platinum status, and there are lots of options.  Although, if you exclude all the Marriotts that have resort or courtyard in their names, the list of possible hotels dwindles quickly. Platinum status is basically ignored at Courtyard and Resort Marriotts.  We chose The W Fort Lauderdale and paid 48k Starwood points for 3 nights.  At the reservation screen, we were able to request early check-in at 1:00.

I was finishing this post when I noticed Fort Lauderdale trending.  Unfortunately, it was due to the senseless tragedy at the Fort Lauderdale airport.  Virginia Tech, Bridgewater Plaza at Smith Mountain Lake, and now FLL Airport are places my family has visited, and formed great memories, but all of these places have been scarred by mass shootings.  I can remember walking through the baggage claim area excited with my family beginning a trip, and it is just impossible for me to picture or to understand.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the victims and families of this horrific event in Fort Lauderdale.

Posted in Trip Report.

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