Ah, the friendly skies. I long to be able to travel like they did in the 1950s where it seemed fun and exciting. Those were the days of happy passengers who dressed up for their special trip. The pilots wore happy smiles and it was actually a thrilling career to be a stewardess. There were no long lines to wait in. You didn't have to remove your clothes and deal with cavity searches. And, most importantly, you didn't have to go broke before you even got on the airplane.
How did we go wrong?
Up, Up and Away
I recently went on a trip from Los Angeles to Raleigh Durham with my husband. Being a financial planner, I am always looking for creative ways to save money on traveling. Even with some careful calculations, I still shake my head when we arrive at the airport and our budget implodes almost instantaneously. It feels like there is some sort of uninvited guest that reaches into our wallet and pulls money out without asking for permission.
How can you travel these days and not go broke before you board? Here are a few tips based on our trip to save you from a nervous breakdown before you board.
Park and Ride, or Drive ABC's:
Take the shuttle vs. park your car? Los Angeles airport is a fiasco to get to. Someday I dream of living somewhere else where the "getting to the airport" piece is a lot less stressful. I digress.
Shuttle Basics -- Taking the shuttle in L.A. costs you around $40 for us both each way on Super Shuttle. Not too bad if you don't mind leaving super early for the airport and potentially sharing a ride.
Parking -- Please make sure you use a discount-parking site to find a better deal on parking and reserve your spot. We saved $3 a day by doing so on www.cheapairportparking.com. Total to park for our trip was $70, less expensive than the shuttle.
Also, look at your alumni discount offerings as sometimes they have a deal with airport parking. For instance, I went to Pepperdine University and they have an arrangement with The Parking Spot -- score!
One Bag For Me Please ABC's:
Baggage Fee -- Seriously? I mean really? Why on earth does it cost $25 per bag? I will avoid a rant on price gouging and just offer what you need to know. If you fly a particular airline like we do, American Airlines, then get their credit card. Not only do you get enough points when you sign up for a free flight, but with the American card we get four free bags and priority tagging so we can avoid any nasty over weight fees. Right there we saved $50 each way!
Honey, I'm HUNGRY ABC's:
Even if you weren't hungry when you got to the airport, suddenly every belly begins to rumble when you finally make it through the dreaded security points. Most airports are offering some great eateries... with some not so great prices.
We chose to eat at what seemed like a good choice at the time, La Provence Patisserie. Two innocent sandwiches cost us $28. I would pay $14 for a sandwich if I was in Paris, the mecca of great sandwiches, or some other amazing culinary destination. Not at LAX.
OK, so we failed in this area, but you can do better. You are allowed to bring food through the checkpoints, just not liquids. Go to Subway, pack a sandwich, make extras from your dinner the night before, anything will likely run you at least 50 percent less than what you would pay at the airport.
Quick, I Need Water ABC's:
I'm lovingly called a camel. Hey, camels can be cute. I can out-drink anyone on water consumption. Those sneaky airport devils have me beat hands down. I simply must get water, and a ton of water. Luckily, I don't drink coffee, but they have you beat there too. Three bottles of water later and we've spent another $15. Here's a good suggestion to save you money here, especially if you are traveling a distance. Drink your bottle in the airport if you must, and then ask the flight attendant to refill your entire bottle. Or better yet, bring along a couple empty bottles with you and have them fill those up.
Look Who's On The Cover ABC's:
Don't the stores in airports look like bright shiny objects? You must explore, even the crazy touristy swag looks appealing in the store in the airport. I could write a whole article on how to save money on magazines, but here is what you need to know. You are paying a premium when you buy them at the airport. Three or four magazines and you've spent close to $20 for something you will read and likely leave behind.
We bought an issue of Rolling Stone and it was $6.99! I'm sorry (whoever was on the cover) but you aren't worth that sticker shock.
Get a subscription and bring magazines from home, or load up some on your Ioad that will cost you less. When you get on the plane, ask the flight attendants if you can look through the magazines they have on the plane. You would be surprised what is left behind and just sitting there waiting to be read.
Don't get sucked into the vortex of airport spending. Beat them at their own game! Yes, you likely have to pay for parking, and probably some water or coffee, but you can win in all the other categories of spending with some creative thinking and planning ahead.