Our last big family trip was to Disney World in November 2015. It was great and we had a great time. As soon as we were done, we started thinking about our next trip. We didn't want to do anything as big as Disney, but we wanted to do another trip to Florida. This time we were thinking Spring Break. In order to give ourselves time to catch up financially, we targeted the spring of 2017 for our trip.
Well, spring break is almost here, and we've gone ahead and planned most of our trip. Here are some of the details.
Picking Our Spring Break Destination
We knew that we wanted to do a beach trip. Our family loves camping in the summer and most of our trips seem to be centered around the beach. We both have had various trips in the past to Florida, so we initially looked at two locations.
- Panama City Beach. I did a six month assignment in 2005 down in Panama City. During this time, I fell in love with the beaches and knew that a vacation there would be awesome. I had a good feel for many of the areas and was able to get a good start on looking for places.
- Tampa Bay area (Maderia Beach, to be exact). When my wife was younger, they did family beaches to this area. We actually went a few years back with my in-laws. My son was only a baby and my daughter hadn't
even been born yet. Still, with us having been down (my wife many times), we again knew the ins and out.
We actually started planning last fall and the price comparisons weren't even close. Since we were limited to the week that the kids are off for spring break, we knew we'd be hitting peak times. The pricing for comparable units (we planned on renting a condo) was about 30% different.
So, Madeira Beach it was!
Our lodging was the first thing we addressed. We knew that things would be pretty full with us competing with peak spring break times. There were a few different options along the beach and near a popular boardwalk and started contacting owners or managers. We ended up finding a unit in the same building where we took our last trip. The pricing was pretty high, but we knew that it would be going in.
We put a deposit down and were able to cross a big item off of our checklist.
Transportation – Driving
When we started planning the trip, we said that we would drive down. With every 4-5 hour trip we took, we lamented on how things would go for a 19 hour drive, which is about what it would take. Our plan was to do a considerable amount of driving at night, splitting time for the overnight hours.
Our driving options would likely be centered around renting a minivan or SUV to get down there. I have a pickup truck and it would be ill suited to drive down with all of our stuff. My wife does have an SUV but we are leasing, and putting the miles plus the wear and tear were just not something we wanted to do.
Renting a minivan or big enough SUV looked to be around $700-1000 for the time we were looking. Additionally, we factored gas to cost at least another few hundred.
Transportation – Flying
We started looking at flying. For our last two trips to Florida, we've flown Delta. Their prices were ridiculous. It would cost around $3,000 to fly down there.
Then we found Southwest Airlines. We've never flown but have heard great things. They're cheaper. You don't pay for bags. And, the prices were a lot more reasonable. Still, flying down from Detroit would cost around $2,000.
My wife did some reading and someone suggested checking different airports. We looked at the other airport in Michigan that they fly out of and the pricing was no different. However, we started looking at airports in neighboring Ohio and the difference was staggering.
We ended up finding a deal where we fly in and out of Columbus (about a four hour drive) for a total cost (with all taxes and fees) of $1,220. This is a non-stop flight there and a quick (1-hour) layover on the way back where we don't even switch planes. All at times that were ideal.
We decided to do this and sign up for a Southwest Airlines credit card that will give us 50,000 free points. This, combined with our mileage, will likely earn 1-2 free flights the next time we want to fly down to Florida.
A Night At A Luxury Resort
The pricing on our flight had us flying down one day earlier. If we would have flown down on the original day we're staying, it would have cost around $300 more. So what are we going to do for a day?
Stay at a brand new 4-star resort for a night. The room we're staying at would normally go for $475. How much are we paying? Not a penny.
Last spring we surprised my son with a one night trip to Great Wolf Lodge for his birthday. It was just for him and he loved it, as this is about his favorite place in the world. We stayed one night and we were having such a good time that we decided to rent a room at a nearby hotel so we could stay at the water park until the end of the day. We booked online at a Howard Johnson a couple miles up the road.
When we got there, there were huge problems. The manager was rude to us, rude to his employees (he made someone cry in front of us) and the place was filthy. We ended up walking out. I contacted Wyndham, the parent company, and explained what had happened. They provided me a free night at any Wyndham location in the United States. So, when we found that we could use the points on our early arrival at a 4-star high rise on Clearwater Beach, we jumped.
We won't have a car while we're down there, but that shouldn't be a big deal. We'll take Uber rides from the airport to the hotel to the condo and back to the airport again. We can probably use them to go out and make a grocery store run when we get to the condo. Everything else we need is within walking distance.
We'll have to pay for parking at the Columbus airport, which is around $7-10 per night. This is a welcome surprised since Metro Airport (Detroit) is at least double that.
All in all, we are really looking forward to our vacation. We love the beach. The kids do as well and we're excited to show them the ocean, as well as build some more great family memories. Since we've worked hard to find savings in multiple areas, we're excited to have a great time on what looks to be an affordable budget.
Readers, do you have any spring break plans or big trips planned? How have you saved money? Share your thoughts in the comments below.