Flying to a Ski Destination: Tips to Save Money and Avoid Hassles

Posted in Planning Smart
by Kristen on August 21, 2014

Is there anything more beautiful than flying over snow covered mountains?

Let's face it - the airlines are not making it any more desirable for us to fly these days. Costs are up, flights are overbooked, luggage isn't free. Most people I know who have the ability to drive to a ski area will do just that - drive. Even if it means giving up amazing terrain for a few hundred vertical feet, it seems like a better choice all the way around. 

Hopefully, with a few tips, I can convince you to take the plunge and go where you have always wanted to go. Our family had been able to pull it off every year with 4 kids (and too many of those toting a baby or toddler) and endless luggage, many years while on a very tight budget. In that time, we never, ever paid for one suitcase and managed to have the ski trip of our dreams for not a whole lot more than it would have cost us to take a road trip. 

Here are a few of my moeny saving tips when heading on a ski trip:

  • Start checking fares 6-12 months out. There are no discounts for last minute. Set a fare alert with some of your favorite airlines to get notified if the prices go down. If you see a decent one that works for you, don't wait for a lower one. The closer you get, the fewer choices you have and usually the higher the price. 
  • Collect miles. Enroll in free frequent flyer programs, and always use your number to get the mileage credit. Is there one particular ariline that flies to the places you want to go? Get their credit card and use it for your purchases. Our family puts almost everything on the Delta American Express. While we pay more in the annual fee for the Platinum card, it comes with a free yearly companion certificate. Not to mention, we get 2 free bags each if I use the card to pay for the flight. Check the benefits - and fine print - before enrolling for any card. Overall, our Delta card has served us well for over 10 years now. 
  • Be VERY flexible about the airport you fly to and from. When we lived in New Jersey, we always searched all airfares for NJ, NY and Philadelphia.  One time it was fewer points for us to fly first class from Baltimore than economy from Newark. I'll drive the 2 extra hours and take the first class, thank you. Sometimes a longer drive to the aiport can save you a money, not just on the flights, but on parking. It can also offer you more flexibility on flight times, and even better, eliminate a connection. 
  • Flying from Canada to a US destination? Try driving over the border first. You can save a lot on airfare and taxes, and eliminate the connection. For example, when we lived in Toronto, the least expensive and quickest direct flight was from Detroit. Sure, we had to drive just over 3 hours. But parking was at least half the price, the drive was easy, and no more connections through Chicago. The price savings was huge for the ticket, and the travel time actually about the same without that risky connection. 
  • When you book the flight, book a car. Make sure it is large enough to fit your luggage. Car rental companies don't charge you when you book, and you can cancel this reservation at any time. Continue to look for better deals over time. You may think you need an SUV with 4 wheel drive, but ask a local. Personally, when we have headed to Park City Mountain Resort, we have rarely needed 4 wheel drive, and the minivan was half the price. When I've headed to Copper Mountain in Colorado, I was happy to have the SUV on snowy I-70. All depends on the weather. Have a large family and not sure you will all fit with the luggage? Pack a soft rooftop carrier and throw 2-3 suitcases up there. We have done it a few times and it has saved us.  Also check and compare what kind of shuttles are available from the airport. You may not need a car at all.
  • Compare car rental companies, and just because you have a coprorate rate does not mean that is the lowest price. I recently tried to book a car through Enterprise, and did so without putting in my Emerald Club number. Got a great rate, but then realized I should book with my number. When I reloaded the page signed in, the rate was higher higher with my "preferred rate." It wasn't so "preferred" after all. 
  • Buy, or borrow, a double ski bag. If you plan to bring your skis, that bag will last you for years to come and will hold 2 pairs (you can even sneak a third smaller kids pair in there). 
  • Check with the airline you are flying on their baggage policy. For example, Southwest allows 2 free bags. Delta used to count a ski bag and a boot bag as one bag. Policies change from year to year. Keep up on it. 
  • Carry your boots and helmet on the plane as your carry on. They won't weigh down your luggage or bulk up your bags, leaving room for just your ski wear. 

Here are a few extra tips that may not save money, but sure will eliminate hassles:

  • Get TSA pre-check. You can skip right through the security lines. If you plan on traveling frequently, the $85 cost is worth it. Kids 12 and under with parents who have TSA precheck can tag along with your security clearance in the short line. Thirteen and over will need to get their own. Alternative options to get TSA pre-check , depending on where you live and how much you travel, are Nexus and/or Global Entry.  All the information is on the website. But trust me, having it is more than worth it if you fly a few times a year. 
  • Book only through the airline carrier directly. Sure, we all like to comparision shop using Expedia, Kayak and Travelocity. But when it comes down to the purchase, go straight to the airline website and book it. If there is a problem with your flight, you will have a lot more leverage if you purchased the flight from the airline rather than a 3rd party site. Also note that if you are comparison shopping, not all airlines are on there. For example, Southwest does not particpate through any third party. But they do have 2 free bags per passenger, so they are always worh a look. 
  • Avoid connnections if you can. You are traveling in the winter - expect delays. Nothing worse than paying for a slopeside condo only to miss the first night spending it at an airport. If you need to drive farther, or go at an awkward time, do it. Connections just increase the risk of missed flights or lost luggage, and they definiately aren't cheaper if you miss a day of your vacation. 
Have any other questions about airline travel? Don't hesitate to Ask A Snowmama! We're here to help you get to your favorite ski destination next season, so time to start planning. 






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