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Trip Report Index:
Emily Jablon: Hi everyone! Lots of you guessed where Daraius and I were for my birthday weekend! Daraius surprised me with a wonderful trip to Miami, and here’s part 1 of the trip report.
Daraius: This weekend getaway would have cost $2,128 but we paid only $201 – $51 for the car rental and ~ $150 for food and parking since we used our miles and points for the flights, hotel, dinner and massages.
I spent 50,000 Priority Club points for 2 nights at the Z Ocean Hotel (otherwise $882 for a regular room and $ 1,178 for our upgraded rooftop terrace suite with taxes) and $620 for 2 tickets to Ft. Lauderdale using Southwest gift cards from the previous Southwest credit card offer for the flights to Miami.
Now that’s a weekend of Big Travel with Small Money!
I wanted to keep Emily guessing for as long as possible, so I told her we were driving to Oklahoma. I’m not sure if she believed me or not! I picked her up from work on Friday, swapped my Mozart wind concerto CD with Emily’s Lady Gaga CD (after all, it was her special day!), and headed to the airport.
I booked our flights using Southwest gift cards from the previous Southwest credit card offer. Since I booked the ticket at the last minute, the routing to Miami was a little longer than I’d liked. But the longer routing was a great way to keep Emily guessing where she was going!
Emily Jablon: Daraius asked if I could leave work early on the Friday before my birthday, and after he picked me up, I still did not know where we were going. But I had earlier discussed my hunches with my colleague, Jessica, and wrote down my predictions so that Daraius and I could review them later.
We drove to the airport (Daraius said we were driving to Oklahoma which is south to throw me off, but he was driving north…hmmm), and the plane we boarded was going to New Orleans. I’ve wanted to visit New Orleans again, but it was not on my top 3 list of US cities to visit, and I was a little disappointed (but I did not tell Daraius).
We used our free drink coupons to have a Bailey’s on the flight. Southwest mailed us free drink coupons for redeeming an award flight!
On our way to New Orleans, we stopped in Dallas and got off the plane. I was wrong and we did not go to New Orleans! I was also surprised we were in Dallas because it wasn’t on my list of US cities to visit, and again, I was disappointed.
However, we soon boarded another plane, and landed in Houston. What was in Houston? The NASA museum? Again, I was a little confused, but then we soon boarded another plane, and this time the hunch I had was confirmed: Fort Lauderdale which is 50 minutes from Miami (which is what I had guessed)!!
Daraius: I don’t know how she does it, but Emily managed to guess where she was going on her birthday surprise! She always manages to guess what I’ve got planned. 🙁
The Southwest experience was very different from the travel experience on other US domestic airlines:
Firstly, the Southwest boarding process is very efficient, but unusual from the way other airlines board their passengers. You line up in 3 groups, A, B, or C (depending on when you checked in) and board the plane as your group and number is called.
Secondly, since Southwest doesn’t charge extra to check-in bags, most passengers have very little carry-on luggage so boarding goes much quicker since there is not a big rush for the carry-on space.
Thirdly, Southwest doesn’t have assigned seating. The upside to this is that you can sit anywhere on the plane as long as there is space and that includes exit rows. The flight attendants usually stand in the exit rows while boarding, so most folks skip the exit rows while looking for seats.
But Emily and I always head straight for the exit rows while boarding (we’re usually in zone B) and have almost always managed to snag them!
Fourthly, the staff, right from the gate agents to the flight attendants seemed much more engaged and friendlier than the flight attendants on the other US airlines such as American and United.
Lastly, almost all the customers seemed to be leisure travelers, and not folks on business travel. There was also a friendly family vibe in the cabin.
Stay tuned for the next installment of the trip report on the Z Ocean Hotel and our day in Miami!
Have you traveled on Southwest? Love it or hate it?