JR Swift’s Blog

What I’m Thinking About Today

Getting there…Part 2

Posted by jrswift on March 2, 2007

After a brief hiatus, we are back. Those of you holding your breath last night waiting for another post…well, uh, I hope you eventually gave up or you’re dead right now. In any case, we are going to discuss the ins and outs of flying to Las Vegas.

Airline flight has always seemed a dicey proposition to me but is nonetheless a very convenient way to get from point A to point B, particularly if the two points are separated by more than 300-400 miles. Now I have driven to Las Vegas…twice. The novelty of that experience has passed me by. Living on the Interstate for 20 hours straight each way will do that to you. That’s wasting a lot of time that could better be spent drinking beer or eating shrimp, neither of which is a recommended automotive activity nor something I’m likely to find for 99 cents anywhere except my destination. So I get over the fact that I’ll be hurtling through the air suspended by nothing but air at something approaching the speed of sound six miles high and I fly…and so will you.

(Aside: Yeah I know flying is safer than driving and all but if things start looking bad, I can’t slam on the brakes. I think it is the lack of control that is disturbing. I’m not too keen on bus drivers either, particularly at 2 in the morning after a complimentary breakfast burrito or five he’s just snarfed down for depositing his passengers at a seedy truck stop. But I digress.)

Flying is annoying for a lot of other reasons too numerous to discuss in detail here. Unless you’ve been living in a sinkhole, you are all aware of the numerous security checks and lines and proscribed items and delays, all so you can get on their rinky-dink 737 and be wedged in next to a fat, sweaty guy and right behind two ritalin-deficient toddlers. It’s true. Most airplanes make an Amtrak coach look positively luxurious. Worst of all, they actually have the nerve to charge you significant amounts of cash to “enjoy” their friendly skies.

Unless you’re filthy rich (and you probably aren’t if you are reading this) you are going to want to spend as little money has humanly possible on your flight to Las Vegas. Well…that’s going to take a little legwork on your part. First, you need to realize that airline fares are about as rational as Britney Spears after eight red bull & vodkas and a bottle of cough syrup. Look around you the next time you get on a plane. The people there have paid somewhere between nothing and a whole lot more than you to enjoy the upcoming aeronautic wonder. To be one of the ones who paid a little instead of a lot, you’re going to have to take advantage of one of Al Gore’s finest inventions: the Internet.

Now you could go to your favorite mega-travel site (Orbitz, Travelocity, Expedia) and simply plug in your favorite dates and take what they spit out. Unless the amount is much less than you thought it would be, you don’t want to do that. Even if it is, you might still be able to do better. If you can be at all flexible with your time of travel, now is the time to do it. The worst days to try to fly in and out of Las Vegas are Friday and Sunday and if you can avoid either or both days, you will generally pay less. Thursdays and Mondays can be a bit dicey too but if you can fly on Tuesday, Wednesday or Saturday, you’ll do the best of all. Of course you’ll miss part of the weekend that way but these are the sacrifices you may have to make to nab that great fare. Just remember that the days you want to go to Vegas are also the days everyone else wants to go. Supply and demand…you know how that works, right?

If even this strategy yields a less than satisfactory outcome, don’t despair. Now we’re back to what I’ll call the “Britney Principle.” So just turn off the computer, go to bed and try again the next day. And the next day. And the next day. Seriously. You can make this process easier by signing up on various travel sites who monitor fares for you. They will be glad to share their insights with you for the simple cost of your email address. Yes, they will send you a lot of junk mail but they’ll also send you some real gems from time to time.

There are a couple of alternatives to the big websites out there and you really need to know about them. First of all is Southwest Airlines. They aren’t always going to be your cheapest fare but in a lot of cities, they will. And they don’t submit their fares to the big travel sites. If you want to compare, you’ll have to visit their website. Fortunately it is very good website and pretty easy to navigate. Sign up for their newsletters as well. More often than not, they will put your ticket on sale sometime within a 3-6 week window. When they do, you act quickly. These specials often only last a couple of days and the desirable days and times go fast.

The second option is to research smaller airlines or charter flights. This may be your best option, particularly if you live in a smaller city. There are numerous companies that provide these services. A couple of examples include Allegiant Air, which flies to Las Vegas from a couple of dozen smaller cities around the country. You can also find charter flights out of a number of larger cities on sites like Funjet. The catch is that these flights are going to be very limited. Allegiant may only fly from your city to Las Vegas twice a week so those are the days you are going to have to choose. Charters are most often the same way. Now those flights are usually at desirable arrival and departure times like Thursday and Sunday but they do limit your flexibility. Good luck if you wanted to stay five days instead of three or four. Again, these prices will change and you can often get a great deal if you wait until the last minute. On the other hand, you might get shut out completely. These kinds of flights can be a lot of fun as everyone is going to the same place and you aren’t going to have to worry about switching planes or figuring out where to go when you arrive. They also offer lodging and transportation options that can be very convenient and inexpensive. More on “package deals” in a later posting.

One more important thing to remember about flying to Vegas or any leisure destination: avoid airports. What I mean is that you want to avoid layovers and changing planes as much as possible. It is advisable to pay a slightly higher fare if you can fly nonstop. Most travel nightmares involve airports and the last thing you want to be doing on your weekend junket to Las Vegas is spending 8 hours of it negotiating delays, cancelled flights or lost luggage. Your time is too valuable to spend it flying to Las Vegas with stops in Memphis and Seattle along the way. If you can’t avoid changing planes, minimize it as much as possible. You’ll thank me for it.

Well…this blog has been quite a lengthy one so we are going to wrap it up. We will return to the topic of air travel and airports in the future as it is an important topic and affects a significant part of your vacation time. The Vegas topics are going to be few and far between for the next week to ten days as we are going to be focusing on NCAA basketball in the days leading up to the start of the tournament. It should be fun so I hope you’ll read along. When we get back to our Vegas Guide, we’ll start looking at one of the most important things you’ll have to decide: where to stay.

Until next time, take care.

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