As teachers, they give us a Spring Break every year. However they don’t give us enough money for expensive trips, sending our kids to college, and retiring. Thankfully, as a guy who reads all the travel hacking blogs, and follows all the advice, trips can be practically free.
In January, I wrote the post Planning our Free Spring Break Trip, about our plans.
With a 10:00 flight time, we could have left Roanoke at 5:00 AM, and been at the Raleigh airport at 8:00 in time to figure out parking, the shuttle, and security. This sounded stressful, and one traffic jam or mishap could have wrecked our trip.
So, I booked a night at the Residence Inn, by the airport. We drove to Raleigh, checked in Easter night, slept, enjoyed the included breakfast, left our car at the hotel, and used the free shuttle. Paying cash would have set me back 120$, but I had an annual free certificate from my Chase Marriott card. It would be reasonable conclusion that the night cost me $90, which is the annual fee for the credit card. I think $90 justified lowered stress, breakfast for the family, and 4 days of parking.
The hotel shuttle picked us up 10 minutes early, and the ride was really quick. The driver and one other passenger were actually quite funny. The other passenger was about to fly United, and was joking about his fear of getting beat up. I mentioned we were flying into the site of the tragic FLL airport shooting. The driver suggested that he just drop us off at FLL and then drive the other guy to Denver. Our plan hadn’t fully hatched yet when we arrived at the airport.
This was our first time flying out of RDU, and we will fly from the Raleigh airport again. The process of getting through security wasn’t bad. I have been at airports where security personnel stand over you barking out the same instructions repeatedly. At RDU, there was a guy standing there watching, but he didn’t say a word unless you did something wrong, and then he walked over, and quietly explained proper procedure. We were through security in less than 10 minutes, and at the gate with a 45 minute wait until boarding.
Our tickets cost 36,000 Rapid Rewards miles. This was also our first experience flying on Southwest, and I have read about the differences, but the process is quite unique. I was expecting no reserved seating. I had even prepped my family with advice for boarding the plane.
“If you do not choose a seat, you will get what is left. Pick the least terrible seat quickly.”
Southwest plane tickets have a boarding number instead of a seat number. I had B59, Mrs. JumpStart had B60, JumpStart Jack had C1, and JumpStart Jill had C2. They have a row of signs with numbers that you line up beside to begin boarding. All of the A’s, 1-60 line up first. One side of the signs has 1-30 and they board first. The other side of the signs has 31 through 60. When they are done B1-30 starts lining up in their place, as A 31-60 starts filing onto the plane.
There were 118 people boarding before us, and I would estimate 40 people after us. As we began the walk toward the back of the plane, there were a few odd middle seats toward the front of the plane. There were quite a few couples that chose a window and isle seat, leaving the middle seat open. They would sit with a blank/unwelcoming faces as you walked toward the back of plane scanning for seats.
Our spot in line was poor, but could have been much worse. One good thing is that you do not have to rush, because nobody can pass you in the plane isle. There was no chance of any us sitting together, but we found 4 aisle seats relatively close together near the back of the plane.
The flight was completely booked and there was a group of about 10 passengers who made it to the back of the plane, and then had to turn around, and go back toward the front looking for the remaining seats. It is definitely an awkward part of the Southwest experience, and I would not want to be one of the last 10 people boarding the plane.
I really didn’t mind the boarding process too much, but it filled Mrs. JS with apprehension for the ride home.
Mrs. JS also had an incident that I missed while boarding. Southwest has a strict one carry-on and one personal item rule. Mrs. JS had her carry-on, a large beach bag, and small purse. The flight attendant asked “Can that purse fit in your bag?” and Mrs. JS replied “Yes.” Mrs. JS kept walking, planning to put the purse inside when she took her seat. The flight attendant then yelled, from about 10 rows away, for her to put the purse away NOW. It was embarrassing, and wasted time, while she stopped walking to unzip the beach bag, and place her purse inside.
In retrospect, the perfect solution would have been to hand the orange purse to JS Jack, who only had a carry-on. The orange purse really would have complemented his outfit beautifully.
Our flight was quick, uneventful, and we were in Fort Lauderdale in under 2 hours. Another perk of the Raleigh airport was there was hardly any time between boarding and takeoff. The runway must have been close to the terminal, and there couldn’t have been a plane in front of us. At the Charlotte airport, it can take 45 minutes or longer waiting for your turn at the runway.
Our plane landed, and we made our way to the taxi stand. As we left the airport, I recognized the infamous baggage claim area from news footage. Everything was business as usual, and there was no evidence of the tragedy. I kept quiet, and didn’t point it out to the family.
The next series of events is my least favorite of traveling due to the quick series of expenses that add up quickly.
- The taxi ride cost 25$ which is more than the price I paid for plane tickets. I hate taxis, and I just sit there watching the cost escalate on the meter as we ride.
- The bellhop loads our bag onto a cart and escorts us to the front desk. The bellhop is sharp, great manners, and offers great advice on the area. He explains that someone else will take our stuff to the room. (Code for give first tip now.)
- During check-in the dreaded resort fee policy is explained. The $25 daily fee can not be covered with our Starwood points.
- After check-in, a different bellhop escorts us to the room. (Second tip.) We carried our bags through an airport, but need a huge cart to get them on an elevator.
I was mentally grumbling about less than $120, but these costs are just an inevitable cost of travel, and shouldn’t be a surprise. Once in the room, I snapped out of it quickly, as I walked onto the balcony, and saw the ocean view.
Fort Lauderdale is filled with many hotel choices in every price range. We chose to stay at W Fort Lauderdale. It set me back 36,000 Starpoints, for the 3 nights. If I had paid cash, it would have been a little over $1000 for the 3 nights. My next post will describe the hotel and our Fort Lauderdale experience.
Flash forward to Thursday.
The airport return was cheaper. We quickly walked out the side door, and avoided any tips for carrying luggage, and took a $15 Uber ride.
Getting through security at FLL took longer than RDU, but still wasn’t bad at about 20 minutes, and is much better than the Miami airport.
Our seating order was even worse for the return trip. We had C9, C10, and C11. JS Jack took an earlier Delta flight (17,000 Delta Sky Miles) direct to Roanoke, so he could made it to work that afternoon.
As we walked down the plane aisle there were only middle seats left. When I pointed claiming a middle seat, the girl in the aisle seat slid to the middle beside her friend, and left me the aisle seat.
Mrs. JS sat in a middle seat, completing a trio of 39 year old, female, strangers in a row.
JS Jill picked a middle seat between a 50 year old married couple. They let her sit in the middle between them. The wife slept the whole trip, and the husband annoyed talked to Jill the entire flight.
Uncharacteristically, I hadn’t done my research. In order to avoid our poor seating order, I should have checked in 23 hours and 59 minutes ahead of the flight. Here are a couple of relevant posts about Southwest seating order from The Points Guy and Miles to the Max.
The return flight took less than 2 hours, the hotel shuttle bus arrived 10 minutes after our call (Remember to get the shuttle phone #.), and we were back at the Residence Inn ready for a 3 hour drive to Roanoke.
Options from Roanoke
From Roanoke, the most obvious quick, stress free, beach flight is with Allegiant Airlines to Tampa. However, Allegiant has a limited flight schedule, and only flies on Sunday and Thursday. I also don’t have a way to get free flights through points with Allegiant.
A combination of driving to Raleigh, optional stay in an airport hotel, and a direct flight to Fort Lauderdale on Southwest is great option for Roanokers. Southwest does have some quirks, but it has many advantages as well. There are many ways to acquire miles, the points are based on the dollar cost meaning there are no blackouts, and Southwest has very few fees. JS Jack’s return flight was refunded for Southwest Rapid Rewards Miles without a fee.
Once in Fort Lauderdale, the myriad of options include cruises, Bahamas, Miami, and Key West. This time, we chose the simplest option with an oceanfront hotel in Fort Lauderdale. Check back soon for my post about Fort Lauderdale and our hotel.