Thursday, April 4, 2013

Well...unless you live there, you've got to get there.

I guess the first real post on this blog would have to be about actually travelling to Vegas.  This is where I will take a moment to reminisce for a moment.  The first time I flew to Vegas, I paid $100 round trip.  OK...that was almost 17 years ago but it really happened.  Within the last few years, I've done it several times for less than $200 but that's been the exception, not the rule.

I will also mention that I've gone to Vegas just about as many different ways as you can imagine.  I've flown (and that's the way to go if you live more than a few hundred miles away,) driven, taken a bus and taken a train (well...not all the way but there was a train involved.)  I've flown on several different airlines, including a charter flight and what might as well have been a charter flight.

But you really don't care about my increasingly fuzzy memories, you just want to know how to score that low airfare so you'll have more money to blow on gambling and just generally having a good time.  OK.  I'll give you my advice.

As with most everything else I will write on here, it all kind of depends.  The first thing it depends on is where you are coming from.  Needless to say, your best bet is to live as close as possible.  Also, it helps to live near an airport that has a lot of flights.  Supply and demand pretty much always apply and that is certainly the case here.  If you in the LA area, you've got a lot of options and most of them are pretty reasonably priced.  Hell...if you live in LA, you could just drive, though that might not be cheaper.  If you live in "Podunk, Alabama," you are much more limited.

As a general rule, your best bet for a cheap flight is to be flying to and from Las Vegas when fewer people want to go there.  That means that your quick trip over the weekend is going to cost you more because, let's be honest, everyone wants to fly out to Vegas for a long weekend, probably because most of you degenerates and your livers couldn't survive more than 3 days.  If that's what you want to do, you're going to pay for it because you aren't the first person to have that idea.  Now, Vegas is busier and more lively on the weekend so you are going to get that experience and maybe it is worth it.  It might be worth it to you if it is your first trip because it will make you want to come back again and again.  But....if you want a relatively inexpensive flight, that is not the way to go.

So here you go.  Here is the best advice I can give you and you may not like it.  Fly out on a Tuesday or Wednesday and fly back on a Tuesday or Wednesday.  What you say?  I can't possibly spend 6 or 7 or 8 days in "Sin City" or I will come back broke or dead.  I hear you but you did say you wanted the cheapest airfare, didn't you?  OK...here's an alternative.  Fly out on Wednesday and come back Saturday.  It probably won't give you quite as good an airfare (though it might) but you aren't mortgaging your soul and you won't have to shell out for quite as many trips to the mini-bar.  You will get to experience all the glory of a Friday night and hopefully you will have a day off to recover before you have to go back to work.

OK...here's my second piece of advice.  We are now assuming that you are going to fly out on Wednesday afternoon and come back Saturday morning.  For God's sake, don't go on Orbitz or Expedia or Travelocity and book that "cheap flight" that takes 8 hours, has to connect through Minneapolis or Atlanta and involves changing planes once or twice.  Are you crazy?  You are only going to be in town for a few days.  Why do you want to spend a quarter of your vacation time in airports or on planes?   Also, the more times you have to change planes, the better the opportunity for your luggage to be misplaced.  Do you really want to roll into your palatial suite at the Wynn with just the clothes on your back?  Yeah...I didn't think so.

If at all possible, a direct, nonstop flight is the way to go.  Even if it costs a little more, it will probably be worth it because there are less things that can go wrong.  Even if your flight ends up being delayed, you aren't going to miss your connecting flight because of it.  That may or may not limit your choices.  As I typically fly out of Kansas City (MCI,) that pretty well limits my choice to Southwest.  Now, Southwest is not always the cheapest way to go but it is usually pretty close.  And, when you consider the fact that my flight will take around 3 hours and I'll never have to switch planes, for me it is almost always the way to go.  And, if you are checking a bag or two, it might end up being the cheapest because most other airlines will charge you if you do.  If you are lucky enough to live in a city with more nonstop options, you have more choices and you should investigate them, being sure to figure in the total cost of the flight.  Of course, if you frequently fly for business or pleasure and are already a loyal customer of a particular airline, that may end up working out best for you in the long run.

Keep in mind that you won't find fares for Southwest on any of the big "travel sites" that I've mentioned before.  You will actually have to go to their website.  So be sure you do that before you take that great offer on Expedia because it may or may not be that great.

In some cities, charter flights or what I will call "dedicated flights" might offer you an opportunity to travel for a very low price.  You will have to investigate whether this is an option in your area.  One airline that offers a number of dedicated flights to Las Vegas is Allegiant.  They often fly out of smaller cities and their base price can be very low.  Still, they offer less flexibility as to when you arrive and depart and they tack on extra fees for just about everything so weigh things carefully before you commit.  Also, both charter and dedicated flights can completely gut your vacation.  If something goes wrong, you might get your money back but the next flight might not be scheduled to depart for another 3 or 4 days.  So that exciting trip you've planned  for several months might end up being spent at the local convenience store playing "Kansas Cash Lotto."  Not what you had in mind.

And here is the real "kicker" about inexpensive airfare.  You are going to have to be patient.  Now, if you've decided to fly out to our favorite city a few weeks prior, that won't be an option.  You're stuck.  But if you have the time and patience and flexibility, you will have a chance to keep checking again and again and again (and sometimes again) until you find the right price.  You can sign up on most airline websites to be alerted anytime they have a sale and that is probably worth it if you are willing to spend that much time.  You may never find a great fare but, if you are flexible and patient, you just might.

In conclusion, what constitutes an inexpensive trip to Las Vegas is going to depend a great deal on when you want to go, where you are coming from and how patient and flexible you can afford to be.  There are no "magic bullets" anymore if there ever were.  Hope this helps at least a few people make better decisions and have a better vacation.







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