This post is written by Blogger Hubby about his very recent trip out to Portland, the Columbia River Gorge and Seattle. This first section details his flight and parking at Detroit Metro Airport. Please read to the bottom for a reader give-a-way.
I recently traveled from northern Michigan to the west coast. After checking fares from the nearby regional airports (Pellston, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City, and Alpena), I decided to drive the four hours to Detroit to take advantage of the substantially lower fares on Southwest Airlines.
Parking – As I had a 7 AM flight out and a 10 PM arrival back, I needed to stay in a hotel at both ends of the trip. Since we had some Marriott points from my sign-up for the credit card, my wife used those points to book me into the SpringHill Suites at the airport. I needed parking for 10 days. Parking seem to be the critical factor in planning my trip. Before she booked me into the Spring Hill Suites, I was trying to find a hotel near the airport with free parking? I couldn’t find one for the length of time I needed and I also found out that you do not get free parking when using an award night through Marriott. I found that paying for hotel parking was as expensive as airport or off-site parking. It turns out the county in which the airport is located charges a hefty parking surcharge. Therefore, I needed to figure out parking before I booked a hotel. The lowest rate I found was $5 a day at a place called Valet Connections. They can offer a lower rate because they are located in an adjacent county without the surcharge. You drop your car off one site and then it is moved to another long-term parking site. They request reservations to get the best price guarantee, but I wanted to check out the place first before I committed to them. I visited the drop-off site the evening before my flight and it looked great. I made sure they had 24-hour shuttle service, and was told to arrive at 5:30 AM for my 7:15 AM flight. I got there a little early the next morning and a modern shuttle bus pulled up about 5 minutes later, and the trip to the airport took about 15 minutes. Great! My pick-up at the airport on my returned also worked great. I called them from the baggage area at about 10 PM and was told a shuttle would be waiting for me. I had to use the ‘skywalk’ to cross over to the rental car and off-site shuttle pick-up stop, and there were two Valet Connections shuttle buses waiting. They loaded me on one and then we waited about 10 minutes for another couple to arrive from the airport. My car was waiting at the drop-off site. I received a coupon with a guaranteed $5 rate and one free day of parking (7 day minimum) for my next visit.
Southwest Airlines – I haven’t flown on Southwest Airlines for years (hmm, make that decade or so) and their ticketing, seat selection and boarding procedures were unfamiliar to me. Their two-free checked bag policy brought back memories of the good old days when traveling by air was easy. My travel-savvy wife booked my flight, with her Ultimate Reward points that she transferred over to SouthWest and she selected their “Wanna Get Away Fare” that offered the lowest price. This ticket was nonrefundable, but if I cancel I could apply the ticket value to another flight within 12 months. She also purchased their “EarlyBird Check-in” for $12.50 as I would not be able to check-in online prior to my return flight. With this, Southwest gave me automatic check-in, improved seat selection and earlier access to overhead storage. I knew it was open seating once you got on the plane, but did not know about the line-up procedures at the gate and how the EarlyBird Check-in would help me. I am familiar with United Airlines that boards you by the type of status you have, type of seat, and your seat row. I also recently read about American Airlines testing a new procedure that allows passengers without luggage for the overhead bens to board first to help speed-up seating.
With Southwest, each boarding pass has a letter and number designation. On my first flight, for example, I had the designation “A11.” At the boarding gate I saw signs with boarding letters A, B, and C; and posts with numbers 1-60 for each letter. At boarding time, they instructed us to get in line based on your letter and in order by your number. Later I learned that for our flight, the boarding numbers A1-A10 were for any Business Select Fare passengers of which there were three. My EarlyBird Check-in, A11 number put me fourth onto the plane so I quickly learned the benefit of the $12.50 fee. Although the line-up procedure eliminated the congestion at the gate, it did not necessarily speed up seating once passengers got on the plane. The open seating worked well to distribute most passengers throughout the plane, but on full flights it was still slow getting the luggage in the overhead bens and people seated. On one flight the stewardess urged passengers to quickly store their luggage and take a seat so the plane could leave the terminal. On the whole I liked the boarding process, but then my highest number during all four of my my flights was A21 so I can’t speak for people with a number in the “C” line. When I returned home, I did a goggle search and found a more complete explanation of how they assign boarding numbers. It turns out to be quite complex because there are several categories of passengers.
READER GIVEAWAY I have the coupon given to Blogger Hubby for $5 guaranteed rate and a free day of parking with a minimum 7 days of parking. Please leave a comment to be entered in this random drawing. I’ll choose the winner on Sunday, August 18th. I’ll notify the winner by email and you’ll have 48 hours to get back to me otherwise I’ll make a second drawing.