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This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their mid-60’s, are (mostly) retired, and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. Today he shares how they put together a last minute trip to one of their favorite destinations on a budget…without even using miles and points this time!
My wife and I have been yearnin’ to go back to the famous, interesting and historic ghost town of Bodie, California since we first stumbled on it about five years ago.
Time and circumstance intervened in most of the ensuing years delaying our eventual return, but we had decided that this spring was going to be the time of our revisit. However, due to an earthquake last fall and a very prodigious snowfall over the winter, the California State Park of Bodie was closed for months with an indefinite reopening date.
The stability and safeness of many of the abandoned structures had to be evaluated following the earthquake and there was further delay due to the record snowpack that interfered with this process and restricted automobile access to the area. Our plans to go were necessarily held captive by the situation.
We checked the various Bodie related websites daily for updates so that we could act and react to any announcement concerning its opening. This week we were able to confirm that the park is open but with some restrictions and with reduced amenities. The water system is not back up and running, so outhouses will be in use instead of the nice public restrooms that are there. No drinking water will be available and the museum/store has not yet opened, But, we were/are eager to go and these shortcomings are not deal breakers for us.
Our default access to most of the American West goes through Las Vegas, and is usually on Spirit Airlines.
Spirit has a daily morning nonstop flight from Houston and a return from Vegas in the late afternoon. This allows maximum use of time on the ground that is important on trips of the five day/four night variety that we seem to utilize a few times a year.
With our Spirit Mastercard, these flights only cost us 5,000 Spirit Miles for each round trip when the lowest level award availability is there. There is usually about $25 to $30 applied in extra charges for each round trip ticket, which means the two of us can fly roundtrip from Houston to Vegas for a total of 10,000 Spirit Miles plus an extra $50 to $60. The price is great, the flight times are perfect, and we have flown Spirit enough to know what to expect and how to prepare.
So, we go to Spirit.com to book a flight and find our flights of choice, but instead of the expected $50-$60 in total additional fees, there was an unexpected $220.00 in extra fees because of the close-in booking dates. We are familiar enough with Spirit’s pricing to immediately know that tickets can often be purchased outright without using Spirit miles for less than that. We did our due diligence and did find tickets in that price range, but not on flights that we could use. For those curious, here are the Spirit “close-in” booking fees…
- $0 (No Fee) – Award ticket requested at least 180 days prior to departure
- $15 – Award ticket requested between 21 and 179 days prior to departure
- $75 – Award ticket requested between 7 and 20 days prior to departure
- $100 – Award ticket requested 6 days or less prior to departure
We are used to booking in the 21 – 179 range and paying the $15 fee, but want nothing to do with the $75 – $100 fees! We then checked United. Their best deal at this point was 50,000 United miles and $320.00 cash. Uh, no thanks, we muttered to ourselves.
Our next stop was with Frontier, as we knew they often had low fares on their Houston to Vegas runs. Sure enough, we found an option on the dates we preferred for $82.32 per round trip nonstop ticket. We said, “WE’LL TAKE TWO!”, and Frontier obliged.
It did seem strange using all cash to purchase our air when we have relatively large amounts of points and miles through multiple cards and carriers, but this seemed to be one of those times that the cash option was by far the best and most economical choice. However, it is a little disappointing and counter-intuitive and seems to miss the point (if you know what I mean) of this whole credit card game. Mommy Points Tip: If they wanted to they could have booked via their Chase Sapphire Reserve and via the Ultimate Rewards site for about 5,467 Ultimate Rewards points per $82 ticket.
Anyway, we moved on, and our next order of business was the car rental. Las Vegas usually has very fair pricing on rentals, and this time was no exception. We reserved a full size from one of the low cost agencies for a base rate of $13.32 a day. This is a good deal as long as we are careful at the rental desk and double check everything and avoid the roadside assistance option and other add-ons that some companies like to sneak in on you.
So, in just a couple weeks we will be exploring one of our favorite haunts where time has stood still and ghosts?! are said to move about.
Our airline considerations seem most appropriate as the question now becomes, as we walk the dusty and abandoned streets and we feel a gentle cool rush of an unexpected breeze, will what we feel be just a refreshing part of the spirit of the frontier, or will it be a chilly shiver from a close encounter with a passing frontier spirit?
Know before you go.
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