A Financial Education Event
 

What I Luv About Southwest Airlines – part 3

BGadmin

When my grandson, Liam was born, I had already scheduled a trip to see him. But he would be 8 weeks old and on the verge of no longer being a newborn. I couldn’t stand it, I had to see him sooner than later. I went online, changed my flight home from a business trip in NYC to go to Dallas and I saw that beautiful blue eyed boy! It was so worth it to hold him in my arms and experience the joy of the miracle of life.

All of this was possible because I was flying #Southwest and there were no change fees. I only had to pay the current cost of the fare. But since I was flying business class, with a client paying the bill, I could downgrade it and break even in my out of pocket costs—sweet!

Today is part three of a three-part series on how to get the most bang out of your buck when flying Southwest airlines @SouthwestAir. Parts one and two got a lot of responses!

Companion Pass

If you earn 110,000 points in a calendar year, then you earn a companion pass for the rest of the current year and the following year. You can choose your companion and only change it three times. I have had Companion for a couple years now and Bethany Bayless, our Heroes at Home Director of Communication flies for free, saving our non-profit thousands in air fares.

Keep in mind that you cannot use purchased or transferred points toward
this tier. If you purchase a trip on points, then your companion can still come along!

 

Purchasing Points or Fares?

I’ve shown you all kinds of ways to earn points, but what about purchasing points? If you subscribe to the email alerts and you get a Southwest Chase card, you will be notified when points go on sale. These sales vary tremendously such as earning 30%, 40% or even 50% in bonus points when you purchase these. But remember that they don’t count toward tiers and when you fly on points, that flight won’t help you earn your next tier level (other than the dollar amount spent on your Chase Southwest card to purchase them) because you will only earn points on flights purchased with dollars. You can also gift or transfer points from one Rapid Rewards member to another or donate points to charity. You can normally get 10,000 p
oints for $275. Right now, they are on sale for 25% off their normal amount when you purchase 5,000 points or more by August 1st.

When it comes to purchasing fares, you have the advantage of earning points on your flights but you also won’t get your money back unless you purchase the pricey fully refundable fares. The good news is that you can use your unused fares for up to a year toward another flight in your name. But you cannot use them for someone else. So, if you’re flying your college student home for spring break and they want to go to the Bahamas instead, you won’t get the money back and you’ll have to bring that same child for Christmas or another flight within a year from the date of original purchase. Instead, we usually fly our kids around on points because if/when they are cancelled, they go back into my account and I can use them on anyone.

My Happy Seat

By flying the way that I’ve outlined, I’d say that I get exit row about 90% of the time. I will get the exit row with the double seats (and an empty space next to one of the seats.) I also like the biggest exit row that is across from the double seats. I get the exit and Bethany gets the window seat. Then we hope no one sits in the middle (I’m tempted to get an emergency bag and pretend I’m sick to my stomach to discourage people from sitting there, but I don’t!). There’s more room in these rows and I like the extra space. On the 800 series, there are double the exit rows. You can look at the plane from the boarding area and if there are two doors in the center of the plane, then it’s your lucky day to double your chances of getting an exit row.

 

Higher Math – Frequent Fliers Only

Sometimes, at the end of the year (see Early Bird), Bethany gets a much lower boarding number than I do and we look at whether we want to upgrade her boarding position to priority boarding along with the Business Select passengers (A-1 through A-15). We will ask the gate attendant how many “through passengers” there are on the flight before we decide to buy. These are the passengers that stay on the plane from the previous leg and they can move about the cabin to get the good seats. If there are many “throughs,” then it’s a waste of money to upgrade. But if there aren’t that many, then it could be worth it so that we can try to get those coveted exit rows. Interested side note, most of the passengers who get on the plane first, want to sit at the front of the plane so they can be the first off. That can leave the exit rows open for those who board later.

Wild Rides, New Friends, Free Drinks and Quick Exits

I remember the first time that I flew out of John Wayne Airport in Orange County. I was already a frequent traveler, but usually flew into Burbank or LAX. So, when I took off from John Wayne and the airplane put us back in our seat like the California Screamin’ rollercoaster at Disney’s California Adventure park, I was unprepared. It kind of freaked me out a bit because it wasn’t “normal.” The flight attendant told me that there are very strict noise ordinances and they must climb out that way to stay within regulations.

Another tip is something I do almost by mistake. When my Apple Watch tells me I need to get my stand goal, I go to the back of the plane at 5 minutes before the top of the hour and stay there until after the hour, moving around a bit to get my stand goals (please tell me I’m not a little compulsive on my daily Apple Watch goals.) In the process, I talk to the flight attendants and make new friends. Sometimes we laugh a lot and it’s great. In fact, I’ve been offered free drinks dozens of times from my new flight attendant friends, but I don’t drink, so I usually decline. But if you DO drink, you could save money this way, too!

One last hack, when you fly into or out of my favorite airport in the whole world, Burbank, be aware that you embark and debark both at the front and back of the plane. If you sit at the back, you’ll also be one of the first people off the plane when you land in Burbank.

 

 

What Do I Do With My Southwest Points?

When I’m on tour with Heroes at Home, we can be on as much as 70% travel and it’s not all glamour and glitz. It’s long and sometimes exhausting days that takes us away from family and our puppy dogs. But providing free financial education to military members is worth it. Currently, I have 200,000+ points. I use them for creating forever memories with friends and families. I’ve flown friends to weddings, military members home for the holidays and children to graduations. In fact, my next trip on points is to go see a new grandson who is due next month.

Southwest, thank you for helping me spread the love!

What I Luv About Southwest Airlines – Favorite Hacks Part 1

BGadmin

If you’ve never flown Southwest Airlines before, then you may not be aware that they board by groups and by number. When you get on the airplane, it’s open seating—first come, first served. I was boarding with an A-18 number which lined up adjacent to the higher numbers. An outgoing Millennial lady came up to another a Boomer woman standing on my left and asked, “what number are you?” Because she wanted to line up in order.

The well dressed and friendly Boomer answered, “I’m 50.”

I leaned over and whispered, “You don’t look a day over 35.”

At first she was surprised, but then smiled, “Actually, I’m 55 years old.” She whispered, “And I like 55.”

Cool. Gotta Luv a woman comfortable in her own skin!

This is not a sponsored post for this airline. I’m writing about this simply because it’s a big part of my life and a lot of my followers use this discount airline. I fly Southwest in order to save our Heroes at Home organization money on travel when we provide free financial education for our military members.

Here are my favorite hacks to fly high with less stress and more money in your pocket:

Shop the Sales

If you know you are traveling in a few months, then don’t buy right away. Keep an eye on the sales in order to get the “Wanna Get Away” fares, which are the cheapest. Subscribe to Click N Save in order to get an alert when fares go on sale. Keep in mind that you can look for fares in either dollars or points and when fares go on sale in dollars, they also go on sale in points.

Shortcut to Savings

If you have any latitude in when you fly, then you may want to check out the Low Fare Calendar

This resource gives the lowest fare on the calendar date for the month. It will only list the lowest fare for the day, so you’ll have to pick and choose the schedule you want and it may not be the lowest of the day. Sometimes, I just use the calendar to avoid buyer’s remorse in realizing there wasn’t a cheaper fare on a different day.

Rapid Rewards

Sign up for the frequent flyer card at the Rapid Rewards center on Southwest.com. This isn’t the credit card, it’s a number you get when you enroll that you will also enter when you book travel. These points don’t expire as long as you show some kind of points generating activity once every 24 months with either flights or partners. See below for partner opportunities as well as part two in next week’s blog.


Southwest Credit Card

Be sure you check out the Chase Southwest Chase credit card if you really want to generate points to earn more flights. Right now, brand new cardholders can earn 40,000 points when you spend $1,000 in the first 3 months. I recommend that you pay off your card each month to avoid paying interest. The annual fee is $69 and if you have a friend who already has this card, then let them sign you up on a referral. That way, you can earn the same benefit of 40,000 points, but your friend can earn 10,000 points as well. These benefits change regularly, so be sure you know the current terms before you sign up. You earn 2 points per $1 spent on Southwest purchases and Rapid Rewards® Hotel and Car Rental Partner purchases, then you earn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases. If you have a business, then you can rack up even more points by using it early and often. Just make sure you pay attention to utilization and if you charge more than 30% of the available credit, then pay off the balance before the billing cycle ends. This will help you keep a good credit score.

Partner Points

If you book a rental car on the Southwest.com portal, then you can earn 2 points per $1 or more, depending on the provider. You can also book hotels for points and can earn as much as 10,000 per night (I’ve never found a provider that actually gives me that many for one night because they are for hotels in other cities that I’m not visiting.) They disclose how many Rapid Rewards points they will give you when you are booking.

Rapid Rewards Dining

celebrating our sweet points!

If you sign up for rapid rewards dining, then you can earn points in partner restaurants by registering every card you may use in a restaurant (not just your Chase SWA card). I’ve registered all of my own cards and my husband’s debit and credit cards, too. I keep it simple by just going to the restaurants we want to eat at and if I end up getting a bonus, it’s icing on the cake. If you want to be more proactive, you can look at the list of partner restaurants and visit one of those for more points. Be sure you read the rules associated with the dining points, so you know what to expect.

These hacks are too good for just one post, so join us next week to see how you can earn even more points by shopping in order to earn tier benefits and whether you should invest in Early Bird or not.

What’s your favorite @SouthwestAir city to visit?

When to Buy AIrline Tickets

 

In my line of work, as well as visiting my babies all over the country (and other countries), I fly quite often. Just last week, I flew with my husband to Virginia to see my second oldest son graduate from Marine TBS, and then headed directly to Des Moines for a business trip as my husband and son flew back to the West Coast. I am constantly traveling, and constantly buying tickets (both international and domestic), and I am always looking for the best deals. Airlines make money from anticipating our buying habits, and here are a few tips I use to anticipate the airlines:

 

  • Know the best time in advance to book tickets: Though it is wise to start looking early, it is possible that you could be shopping too early. According to studies cited by The New York Times, international flights have been the cheapest 3-5 months in advance, but there is variation among different regions. Domestic flights are a bit trickier to pin-point, but it’s a good idea to start searching 3-4 months in advance and see if they get any cheaper week after week. There have been studies indicating a 5-6-weeks-in-advance sweet spot for domestic flight booking. Bing Travel has a helpful flight-prediction tool that suggests whether prices are expected to go up, down or remain the same, based on historical data.
  • When to buy: According to farecompare.com, the cheapest day to buy tickets is Tuesday afternoon, 3 pm EST. Certain airlines, like Southwest, AirTran and JetBlue roll out their best deals Monday night, so Tuesday’s are, by rule of thumb, the best days to shop. Wednesday’s are generally the second best day to buy tickets.
  • When to fly: Flexibility is always the key to the best-priced ticket. We know there are days when you have to be out (usually for vacations like spring break or summer vacation), but keep in mind that you will have to pay for it. Rule of thumb is that Sundays are the most expensive days to fly, whereas the cheapest day to fly is Wednesday. Tuesday and Saturday are also good days, so you might want to think about shifting around your departure or return.
  • Sign up for fare alerts: If you don’t have that 5-6 week window and need to book a flight last minute, watch for flight sale alerts through online travel agencies (OTAs), airline websites, or the bible of airfare price alerts, Airfare Watchdog. If your schedule is flexible, subscribe to airfare alerts to jump on airfare sales when they happen. Airfare Watchdog has them, as well as Travelzoo, Cheapoair, Hotwire, and Expedia.  Flash-sale sites like Jetsetter, Vacationist and SniqueAway can also alert you of savings that aren’t published far and wide.
  • Don’t forget the discount airlines: Southwest is one of my favorite no-frills airlines, and I usually spend the extra cost to get the early check-in. “Potentially lower ticket prices” is important here — because low cost airlines don’t always have the cheapest ticket prices nor the best schedules — their legacy airline brethren aggressively match on competitive routes, so do you homework and check both. Also be sure and check airline bag fees to make sure you are actually spending less.
  • Exceptions to every rule: With all that said, holiday travel is usually the exception to every rule. If you know you are traveling or flying out your children for the holidays, buy that as soon as possible. Keep checking price alerts and buy when the price is just below average.
  • But wait, there’s more: After you purchase your ticket, don’t unsubscribe from those email alerts! Continue watching those prices just in case they drop significantly below what you paid. If that happens, use Yapta to help you get a refund from your airline.

Next up, a trip to go see the youngest baby boy get accepted for “A Day” at West Point, followed by a dovetailed business trip to NYC.

What are your favorites ways to save on travel?

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Fun for Less – Saving on Travel and More

Where are you going this summer?

National Tourism Day isn’t a well-known holiday, but today happens to be the day we celebrate it. In honor of that – and since summer is almost upon us – now is a good time to start planning your summer vacation. (You don’t want to start planning it when you’re supposed to be taking it, after all!)

This year is particularly good for people who like to save a penny or two on their vacations, as airfare prices are dropping, the economy is rising and deals on cruises are better than ever. Bob and I were even able to afford a stay at the Wrigley mansion on Catalina Island for our 25th anniversary!

Here are a few great ways to save on getaways this summer.

  • TravelZoo – One my personal favorites because of the sheer percentage of savings they offer, TravelZoo rounds up some of the best deals on the web and sends them to you in a weekly e-mail that is customized for your location. You can also browse through their site, which features vacation packages, airfare, hotels, cruises, car rentals and even local deals to restaurants and other places. Today, for example, you can get a 12-night Mediterranean cruise for $799. Another perk for TravelZoo is that the price they list is the price you pay (all fees included). If you’re flexible about when you want to take your vacation, this is one of the best options.
  • Daily deal sites – Sites like Groupon have been particularly good lately thanks to the company’s partnership with Expedia. Simply browse through their “Getaways” section and you’ll vacation packages to places like China, Peru and the Bahamas. The selection has dramatically increased this year and there are even plenty of deals for people who would rather drive somewhere local or don’t have much time off.
  • Cruises – Cruises have gotten a bad rap recently thanks to ships malfunctioning and even leaving vacationers stranded for days on one occasion. That’s good news for those looking to save, however, as companies like Carnival are dropping prices to keep people coming back. You can currently find 3-5 day Caribbean cruises for as low as $229, less than the nightly cost of many higher-end hotels! Those malfunctioning ship incidences were likely anomalies, so it’s a great time to go on that first cruise.
  • Airfare Southwest (subscribe to their Ding! fares) JetBlue, Virgin and other companies are slashing prices due to a variety of reasons, from lower fuel costs to increased seating capacity. Fares are constantly changing, however, so be sure to sign up for price alerts at sites like Kayak or Fly.com. (By phone is the most ideal if you’re looking for a really great deal.) Also be sure to search on Tuesdays, the day most airlines announce their sales. You can also usually get refunds or money back if the airline drops the price within a certain time period. Check Bing Price Predictor to see if prices are going up or down.
  • Travel deal sites – When it comes to sites like Kayak, Hotwire.com, BookingBuddy and others, the best advice is to compare, compare, compare. You can usually find the exact same trip for less if you search enough, which is why you should never just use one site. Hotwire is particularly great if you’re not too picky about where you stay or how you travel, as they occasionally hide the companies for better deals. They’re also currently offering up to 70% off weekend hotel stays.

In the end, the more you search for a good deal online, the more you’ll likely save. Be sure to visit all the deal sites you can, and once you find a deal for you, go to the hotel/car/airfare company site or call them to see if they’ll match or beat the deal.

Bon voyage!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Summertime! Vacation Time!

When I was a kid, my parents stuffed three children in the back of a Volkswagon Bug and hit the road from Texas to Indiana to see Grandma Laudeman. It seemed like our travel days lasted for weeks. My dad had two goals: 1) to never stop the car and 2) to avoid hearing “Are we there yet?”  My mom also had two goals: 1) to save money and 2) to keep dad happy. 

     Fast forward a couple of decades and I found myself as a mom with seven people stuffed into a Suburban, traveling from coast to coast on a family vacation. Not surprisingly, my husband’s road goals are the same as my dad’s and like my mom, my goal is to save money and keep the peace.

      There are ways to make the miles go smoother, and also save money on your road trip, even if you do have to stop occasionally along the way. Here are some trends and tips to keep in mind when planning this year’s travel.

Better Early Than Late

     Pack everything the night before and plan on waking the kids by dawn’s early light. In doing this, you not only save money, but you’ll also save your sanity as well. Those who hit the road early tend to avoid traffic, slow downs and traffic jams, which saves on gas mileage. By embarking while the kids are barely awake, you will get 2 to 3 more hours of quiet time while they sleep and you get to enjoy a conversation with your spouse without being interrupted.

Kid Krates

     No, I don’t mean you should put your kids into a crate, but you should assign a small box for each child to pack for the road. This saves money on the road. You can help them pack their favorite, healthy snacks and drinks, some toys, books, art supplies or anything else that will keep them distracted and happy on the road. Kids who pack their snacks and meals are five times more likely to be content with their food options and far less likely to complain. Keep the crates within arms reach of the child and have them ask permission before they open it or you might find out that they’ve eaten all their food within the first hour! You can add inexpensive “surprises” to each child’s crate, that they get to unwrap every hour on the hour if they don’t ask the verboten question: “Are we there yet?”

Fun Eats and Tech Savvy Treats

     Be on the lookout for specials in your destination’s area. For example, on travelzoo.com, you can not only find sales on hotels, but you can also receive notification when Restaurant.com puts their $25 gift certificates on sale for $2.  At entertainment.com, you can find values by entering your destination’s zip code and previewing coupons for attractions, hotels, restaurants and more. These coupon books cost around $35.

    There are some great phone apps that can save you money such as Coupon Sherpa, which eliminates the need for a traditional coupon book by providing hundreds of in-store coupons for many merchants on your iPhone or iPod Touch. The coupons can be scanned by optical scanners from your phone. Save money on food, hotels, restaurants, amusement parks, travel, and more. You can find coupons by category or store name, email coupons to friends, create your own favorites list of stores and find the store nearest you.

     Another free app to launch on your iPhone, iPod Touch, or android phone is Yowza. It instantly goes about finding deals and coupons in your geographic area. When you walk up to the cashier, just show the deal on your device and let them scan the barcode or type in the coupon code. No need to remember which location that restaurant coupon was good for. It features city and zip code based coupon searches, notifications when your favorite store adds a coupon and you can share your savings via Twitter, Facebook, or Email. To get the best value in a travel or vacation related app, go to the review site Appolicious.com.

     Social media sites such as Groupon, facebook and twitter are great resources.  From these sites you can discover “flash sales” for everything from restaurants, ice cream, theater tickets, and hotel sales. It’s also a great way to get insider information about last minute deals.

Finishing Well

       The most important part of your road trip is spending time with the family. Keep in mind that sometimes a new experience for a child becomes an adventure as well, so look for new activities and open the doors for loads of fun. Creating forever memories with your family is what a successful road trip is all about!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)

Savvy Saver Quiz – part 4 – Transportation

 

Transportation

 When I was a teen, I always wanted a little roadster. It only took 30 years of clipping coupons, but I (finally) got mine after years of driving mini vans and suburbans. But  even though my “baby” is small, it loves to guzzle the gas, so I have to be careful. How well do do when it comes to saving on transportation?

Q.  How many individual trips do you make to the grocery store, department store, discount store, electronic store, the mall, or other shopping venues each week? (Count each individual trip as one and count combined trips as one.)

a) 0-3

b) 4-6

c) 7-9

d) 10 or more

 Q.  If the speed limit is 65 mph, how fast do you normally drive?

a) 60 mph to 65 mph – I’m a cautious driver

b) 66 mph to 70 mph – I push it just a little

c) 71 mph to 75 mph – I like to keep up with traffic

d) 75 mph or more – I like to live in the fast lane, baby!

 Q.  How often do you have the air pressure checked in your tires?

a) at least every other week

b) once a month or once every two months

c) once every three to six months

d) Am I suppose to check the air?

 Q.  How often, per week, do you carpool to work, to the kids school or to other events with friends (meetings, out of town trips, shopping, etc.)?

a)  5 or more – I regularly carpool

b)  3 to 4 – I try to make the driving count

c)  1 to 2 – I’m a taxi mom

d)  never – I like to drive!

 

Q.  How often do you shop around for the best price on gas (using an app like TripTik or gasbuddy or going to www.gaspricewatch.com)  before you fill up?

a) every time – Gas is too expensive to pay top price!

b) frequently – I pay attention to who has the best prices

c) occasionally – When I can remember

d) never – Who has the time?

Welcome to the scoring section of the Transportation category – Give yourself the following points: every “A” answer = 4 points, every “B” answer – 3 points, every “C” answer – 2 points and every “D” answer – 1 point

 16-20 points  Thrifty Taylor – Well done, you’re a SUPER SMART DRIVER! When it comes to making sure you get the most bang for your driving buck, you are routinely aware of gas prices, make sure your tire pressure is accurate, carpool to work or school and check out sites like www.gaspricewatch.com or www.gasbuddy.com to get the best prices! You’re not only saving on fuel costs, you’re saving our environment with your conscientious ways—well done! 

 11-15 points:  Low Cost Logan – Good Job, you’re a SMART DRIVER! – You are doing a good job at keeping driving costs down by combining trips on errands. You probably have also figured out that you don’t have to go to five different stores when you can come to your local Walmart Superstore and get everything you need in one place, this saves time and money. There is slight room to improve, but you are in a nice place when it comes to wisely using transportation dollars.

 6-10 points:  Moderate Morgan – Nice Work, you are a DRIVER! – You might be good at combining errands to save on time and expense and you might shop around for the best gas prices when you have the time. However, there’s always room to improve. By minimizing your trips to a lot of different stores, trying to carpool when you can, making sure your vehicle is well maintained and driving the speed limit, you can save more and become a smart driver!

 5 points:  Extravagant Emerson – You must love to DRIVE! – If you don’t drive for a living, you might just live to drive! Transportation may be an expensive area because you may be a “taxi mom” whether you like it or not! By slowing down your speed, becoming more strategic in trip planning and checking the air pressure in your tires, you could cut fuel costs by 25% or more!  Since gas prices may be on the rise again, now is a good time to make some modifications to your transportation habits to set yourself up to be a one who drives and saves! 

Let me know how you save on transportation!

Ellie Kay

America’s Family Financial Expert (R)