Those of us in this miles and points travel hobby are looking for one thing: more travel for less money, right? Sometimes the travel is entirely free, sometimes it’s almost free, but almost always it’s deeply discounted or with low fares.
With or without using miles and points, there are some incredible ways to squeeze more travel for less money in the upcoming winter months after the holidays with Southwest Airlines. Southwest has some rock bottom low fares for winter travel in January and February. I’m talking about super low fares that are not even advertised on the weekly sales email.
Sure, it may be cold in many parts of the country, but there are some advantages to traveling in the early part of the year. Late January and early February are some of the slowest travel weeks of the year.
Why? Many people have traveled over the Thanksgiving and Christmas and are not ready to jump on a plane so soon. Based on increased holiday spending at the end of the year, sometimes it’s just not in the budget to travel in the early part of the year. Also, January is the beginning of a new school semester, and it’s not the ideal time for older kids to miss school.
January and February offer some of the lowest crowds of the year at Disney World, as well as the lowest prices on Disney hotel rooms. Historically, hotel occupancy rates all across the country are low in January. That translates into great deals for those who can make travel happen. As the saying goes, “Get while the gettin’s good!”
Tools for Finding Fares
- Southwest Low Fare Calendar. Just input your destination and month, and choose dollars or points. You can then see departing and returning flights for the entire month, or you can choose a different month. Click on the dates with the lowest flights that will work for your trip, and then you can select your flight on those days.
- Getaway Finder Map. If you don’t have a specific destination in mind, the Getaway Finder Map lets you pick a certain day to see fares to all cities. Input your home city, and leave the destination blank. You can play with the price toggle to filter based on lowest price. In this example, I found three cities under $50 from Dallas on 2/4: San Diego, Philadelphia and New York. You can click on the cities to see the flight schedule for that day.
- Deal finder websites. Many of the airfare deal websites, like The Flight Deal, don’t regularly include Southwest fares, which is a bummer. Southwest isn’t listed in many standard airfare search websites, like Google Flights and Travelocity, either. I’ve found that CheapDFW (which also has Austin/Houston/San Antonio counterpart sites) does feature Southwest deals occasionally, but I still think that stalking the Southwest website through the low fare calendar is more beneficial.
Examples of Cheap Winter Getaways
If you are flexible on the days you can get away and don’t mind missing a few days of school, there are many good deals in January and February. With a family of five, anything around the $100 round-trip price gets me excited!
I see awesome fares to and from Denver from various cities. One way fares: Dallas $35, Phoenix $41 and Los Angeles $44.
The great thing about visiting Denver now is that the Ski Train is up and running again starting in January. You can take a commuter train right from the airport to Union Station downtown, and then transfer to the ski train. You can hit the slopes without even renting a car! Even if I-70 is closed to car traffic, you are still guaranteed some ski time.
I grew up in Denver, so I may be a little biased, but I think Denver is a totally underrated vacation destination. Even if you’re not into skiing, you can take the Ski Train to Winter Park for snow tubing. Or if snow is not your thing, Denver has many indoor attractions. The Denver Mint offers free tours, and the city has many great museums. If you rent a car, drive an hour south to Colorado Springs to experience the brand new Great Wolf Lodge, with its massive indoor water park.
I see deals to Phoenix from many cities including these one way fares: Denver $36, Dallas $44, Chicago $54, Milwaukee $54, St. Louis $54 and Portland $54.
Average high temperatures in January and February still reach the high 60s/low 70s, which might feel a lot warmer than where you are. I’d be tempted to check out the Hyatt Regency Scottsdale Resort and Spa or the Westin Kierland Resort and Spa.
Disneyland, beaches, the Getty Center, Universal….there’s so much to do in LA!
One way fares: Denver $44, Portland $49 and Kansas City $54.
As I mentioned above, Disney World has some of the lowest crowds of the year and lowest hotel prices in January and February. If you’re not into Disney, Orlando and the surrounding areas are still full of wonderful things to do! You can reach beaches within a 1-2 hour drive, or explore the inland rivers.
One way fares: Dallas $44, Atlanta $54 and Baltimore $64.
One way fares: Denver $36, Phoenix $44, Philadelphia $44, New York $44, Tampa $44, Washington DC $54, Las Vegas $59.
Sure, Chicago will be freezing in January and February. It may be covered in snow. But for some of us in the South, it could be a welcome change!
One way fares: Houston $45, New York $54, Boston $54, Denver $54
There are too many good deals to list. Get on Southwest’s website, and explore the deals from your home base.
Southwest fares are constantly changing, and these fares were as of Sunday November 6, 2016. I expect in the next few weeks we will see additional price breaks on January and February fares, especially to northern destinations. If you don’t see what you’re looking for now, keep checking during the month of November for early 2017 prices.
The great thing about Southwest fares is that you can cancel your flight and receive a credit for use up to one year after you booked your original flight. If your plans change, you can always apply your funds toward a future trip. If you book using points, your points are refunded back into your account for future points travel.
Don’t ignore deals on other airlines, though. Frontier and Spirit can offer competitive fares, and sometimes the big airlines price match. Keep in mind that you need to pay for baggage and seat assignments on some other airlines, which you don’t have to on Southwest.
Miles and Points
If you don’t want to pay cash for these low fares, you can use the following miles and points strategies:
- Use Southwest Rapid Reward points. Reward point prices are directly tied to cash prices, so the lower the cash price, the lower the points price. The $36 fare from Dallas to Denver is only 1398 points, and the $44 Dallas to Orlando fare is 2002 points. Those same flights would cost 12,500 points on other domestic airlines! The Chase Southwest Rapid Rewards Premier credit card currently offers 40,000 bonus points after spending $1000 in the first three months (with a $99 annual fee). The 50,000 bonus version of the card is still available through referral links.
- Use Chase Sapphire Reserve benefits. To book a Southwest flight, you can charge it on the Chase Sapphire Reserve card and get up to $300 travel credit per calendar year. Or, you can book it through the Ultimate Rewards portal at a slightly better ratio than transferring points to Southwest. However, Southwest flights aren’t available to book online through the portal, so you have to call Chase to book the flights with points.
- Use other travel rewards credit cards. You can use other credit cards with cash back or travel credit benefits, like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus or the Capital One Venture card. Just charge your flight, and use your points to erase the charge from your statement.
I am very tempted to take advantage of these low fares and go on a small trip with my kids in January. How about you?
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Nancy is a contributing writer for Miles For Family. She enjoys traveling to the beach and is a big fan of Disney. Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids.