Now that Southwest’s schedule is open through April 2017, it was time to book our tickets for Orlando. Southwest is my first choice, but I evaluated multiple airline mileage redemption options to ensure that our family got the best deal. Here’s what I found.
Why are we going to Orlando?
The obvious answer is to visit the House of Mickey – Disney World and all of the other Disney properties – with our son Timothy (who will be 6) and our daughter Scarlett (who will be almost 2 years old). And we want to do it BEFORE she turns 2 years old so that we don’t have to buy a ticket for her!
We last visited Orlando a couple of years ago when Timothy was 3, and he had an absolute blast! We visited Disney and Universal Studios for a week with some friends, and I helped them save over $1500 on their plane tickets for their family of 4 by using the right credit cards.
But the underlying reason is that we purchased a $149 timeshare package from Hilton Grand Vacations Club several months ago where we get 4 days and 3 nights at one of the Hilton locations in Orlando.
Where we’re staying in Orlando
We’re staying at the Las Palmeras by Hilton Grand Vacations in Orlando for 4 days and 3 nights. It wasn’t specified, but I’m assuming we’re staying in a 1-bedroom as opposed to a 2-bedroom since it will only be the 4 of us.
The reviews from TripAdvisor listed this as 4 out of 5 stars, with over 200 reviews. To find the best deal, compare prices, and read what other travelers have to say at TripAdvisor.
To stay at Las Palmeras using points, it would have been over 100,000 points per night! Absolutely nuts when you can stay at most Waldorf Astoria properties for only 70,000 points a night.
The cheapest cash rate was $273 a night with the Hilton HHonors member discount, which came to $1,008 after taxes for the 3 nights we are staying in Orlando. Compare that with $149 and sitting through a 90-minute timeshare presentation. Yeah, I’ll sit through a presentation to save $850.
Speaking of… our timeshare presentation is at 8am on our last full day in Orlando. We’ll rush through it, say thank you for the opportunity, but we’re not buying, then be off on our way to Disney World to enjoy making memories with the family.
Saving $974 flying from Los Angeles to Orlando
Our first choice when flying domestic (and to some international locations) is Southwest because we have the Companion Pass, which allows my wife to fly for free whenever I fly.
I did some research and picked out flights from LAX to MCO (Orlando) to depart on Saturday morning, with a return on Tuesday evening. This will give us Saturday evening to get settled in and unpacked after a day of flying, two full days to spend at Disney World, and most of Tuesday to maximize our fun at the resort.
When looking at Southwest’s flight options, I picked the 7:35am flight because I get to sleep in a little longer and it will save me 50% in points versus the first flight out (9,871 vs. 20,105).
And the cash prices were $170 vs. $307 for the same flight.
While we wanted an early departure from LA to Orlando because we had the time change working against us, we wanted a later return so that Tuesday could be a day of fun. This totally helps with getting the kids to sleep on the flight!
For our return, I chose the “no plane change” option at 7:20pm. It will get us home late, but we won’t have to worry about carrying sleeping kids through the terminal to find our next flight. Paying a couple thousand extra in points is well worth not having to carry around the dead weight of a sleeping child!
With the point values relatively the same, the cash prices would also be the same. When that happens, pick the flight that best suits your situation instead of worrying about a couple of points/dollars.
Combined, we spent 39,484 points for two tickets on Southwest (Timmy and me) because Anna is my Companion and Scarlett will be under two years old when she flies. However, I did have to pay the $11.20 each for taxes for Anna, Timmy, and me, which was a total of $33.60.
If we had purchased our tickets in cash, it would have been $336 each, or $1,008 for the 3 of us. Compare that to the $34 we paid, our Southwest points saved us $974!
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Other options to fly to Orlando
Although the Southwest options were a great deal, I wanted to make sure that other airline redemptions weren’t an even better deal. I normally save the points from other airlines for “red eye” flights (Southwest doesn’t do them), international flights (Southwest’s map is limited to select Central America and Caribbean locations), or upgraded flights in Business or First Class (Southwest is all economy).
On American, there were limited choices on the dates we wanted to travel. In fact, there was only 1 outbound choice in Saver fares (12,500 miles each way), otherwise, it would have been 30,000 miles one-way.
Although the flight times we worse, I selected the MileSAAver choice for comparative purposes. Without the Companion Pass as an option, I would have needed to buy 3 tickets for a total of 75,000 miles and $33.60. The American option would have cost an additional 35,000 miles more than the Southwest option… that’s a round-trip flight to the Caribbean!!!
On Delta, the flight options started at 37,500 per person. You’re talking over 112,500 miles for a flight I can take on Southwest for 72,500 miles less! And it arrives at close to midnight? Ugh, no thanks. That 70k is enough for two round-trips from LA to Cabo.
When checking United, they didn’t even have any space available in Economy for the departure date I wanted, so they weren’t an option.
This is a reminder that not all points and programs are created equal. Some programs don’t offer much reward availability, while others can charge an arm & a leg for a ticket. It can pay to have points across multiple programs, or to have flexible points (such as Amex Membership Rewards, SPG, Citi ThankYou, or Chase Ultimate Rewards) that you can transfer to the airline loyalty program where you can get the best deal.
The Bottom Line
Even after searching “the Big 3” I wasn’t able to find anything really close to the deal I found flying Southwest from Los Angeles to Orlando. What really tilts everything in favor of Southwest is having the Companion Pass, my favorite benefit offered by any airline. And by utilizing the HGVC deal to get our 3 night stay for $50 a night, we are going to have a great 4-day family vacation for less than $200!
If you want help saving money on your next vacation, please send us a request for a free travel advice phone call. We’d love to help you out.