When budgeting for a trip to Colorado, one of the bigger expenses may be flights. (If only we were just a hop away from those amazing family-friendly mountains!) The good news is that you can find several ways to save when flying to Colorado. By shopping airports, airlines, ski free deals and airline credit card benefits, you can reduce the cost of flying to Colorado so you have extra money in your pocket for more family fun! Finding the best deals can be trickier than you think, so hop along to learn how to save when flying to Colorado.
Find the Cheapest Airports to Save When Flying to Colorado
Before you choose a ski resort, make sure you can find flights that suit your budget into airports that will work for you. You’ll generally find more direct flights and budget-friendly choices when flying into the large Denver airport than into some of the smaller airports closer to some destinations. Are some of the best family ski resorts near Denver, Colorado, on your must-ski list? Look up the distance you’ll need to drive to factor in time getting to your destination.
Another way to save when flying to Colorado is to stay at an inexpensive motel closer to the airport or city of Denver after landing to acclimate to the higher altitude. We like to fly into Denver late in the day and stay overnight at a budget-friendly hotel before climbing higher in elevation to the ski resort in the morning. That gives us time to adjust to altitude and keep everyone from turning, well, greener than usual. And speaking of hotels ... Undercover Tourist has leapt into booking discount ski hotels for many ski destinations in Colorado to help you get some hoppin' deals!
See If Your Ski Resort Offers Arrival-Day Deals
Sometimes there can be perks to flying into smaller airports that make it worth the extra expense. At Steamboat Springs, you can receive free night skiing on your day of arrival when you fly into Steamboat/Hayden. Just show your boarding pass at the ticket window. And with certain airlines, such as Alaska, you also get free skiing at Steamboat on your departure date, as well! (Free skiing is suspended for the 2020-2021 ski season, but it will be full steam ahead for the 2021-2022 season!) Two free lift tickets and a shorter drive may make a flight worth the price difference. You may be able to go without a rental car in Steamboat Springs, thanks to a great transportation system.
Steamboat Springs has a lower elevation (at 6,900 feet) than some of the Denver area ski resorts (the base of Breckenridge is 9,600 feet!), so the same-day ski deals work better at Steamboat than perhaps other locations. We definitely recommend taking it slow and adjusting to the altitude if you are visiting higher parts of Colorado. Here‘s some advice on how to prevent altitude sickness, which can come in handy when visiting Colorado.
Know How to Truly Find the Cheapest Flights to Colorado
Shopping for the best airline fares has become almost a game these days. When comparing airline fares to the same destination, make sure you know what is included before you book. If you do mess up and realize there are cheaper flights, you usually have 24 hours to cancel and rebook. Sometimes the cheapest fare is actually the most expensive ticket once you select a seat, check a bag or bring a carry-on.
There’s no way you are going skiing with no luggage. You may bring along skis, boots or snowboards. But even if you’ll be renting equipment at the ski resort, you'll still need to bring bulky winter clothes and jackets, so you’ll have at least some luggage. If you are bringing your own sports equipment, know that checked luggage fees can really add up. Do a little homework to find the best airlines for traveling with sports equipment and luggage.
Before you book, be sure to compare the cost difference between the budget airline and an airline that offers a seat, free checked luggage and carry-ons. The budget price often ends up costing more. When traveling with tadpoles, you’ll want the ability to select seats together. “Basic Economy” means different things for different airlines. For example, with United Airlines, you can bring a personal item, but you are not allowed to bring a carry-on. Checked bags are pricier than usual. With American Airlines, a carry-on and personal item are included with basic economy. Once you add a bag to a Spirit Airlines flight, you might be paying hundreds of dollars more than the original quoted fare.
You can add some basic bundles to a Frontier Airlines "Basic Fare" (which comes with a standard seat and a personal item) at the time of booking. With "The Works," you'll pay more per flight (although the price is based on round-trip purchase, so be sure to double the price when calculating). The Works bundle includes a refundable ticket, no change fees, seat selection, a carry-on, a checked bag and priority boarding. The Perks bundle gives you seat selection, a carry-on, a checked bag and priority boarding. These bundles can save money over paying for bags at the airport, but they do significantly increase the cost of flying. Do the math before you buy. Prices vary per flight, making it harder to calculate.
Save on Airline Baggage Costs
There are several ways to save on both checked baggage and carry-ons:
- Look for airlines that offer free checked luggage (Southwest allows two free checked bags per passenger).
- Make sure that both a carry-on and personal item are included in your ticket.
- Use an airline credit card that gives you free checked luggage for that airline.
- Reserve checked luggage and carry-ons at the time of booking a “basic economy” flight. The prices go up at the counter and increase again at the gate, making the cost of a carry-on excessively high. (For one airline, a carry-on may cost $35 at booking, $40 at online check-in, $45 at the counter and $60 at the gate!)
- Look for bundled deals if offered.
- Keep in mind that bundle prices may be per flight, but you have to book for round trip (so double the cost)!
- Familiarize yourself with weight and measurement guidelines in advance.
- Weigh and measure bags at home (you can use a bathroom scale to weigh bags).
- Know that most airlines count the ski bag and boot bag together as one item.
- Follow these tips for flying with skis to ease your journey.
Use Miles or Credit Card Perks
Several months to over a year in advance, see what airlines fly to your destination in Colorado from your home airport. Apply for credit cards with those airlines. You can use airline credit cards to earn free flights, use companion fares and save money on checked luggage. Each Alaska Airlines Visa card has an annual companion fare. Plus, you can earn free flights with the points you earn.
My wife, Flora (aka Mommy Frog), brings her own skis and boots, plus we usually check a few suitcases, too. So we are toadally hoppy to save a lot of money with the free checked bags benefit of our Alaska Airlines credit cards. In fact, we each got a card several months in advance of our trip to Colorado. That way, the tadpoles can fly for just the companion fare fee with us. It’s not exactly free, but it does save us some money compared to purchasing two full tickets for the tadpoles.
Get a Jump on Fare Sales to Colorado
Sign up for fare alerts with your favorite airlines. When you hear there's a fare sale, hop on the computer and search for flights to Colorado. Be sure to shop around. Sometimes, when one airline has a sale, a competing airline that flies the same route reduces prices. We've noticed that when Southwest or Alaska Airlines has a fare sale, the other airline's flight prices seem to be very similar for the same routes. Then, you can choose the flight times that work best for you. Due to the pandemic, we have been seeing some hopping deals on flights!
Save on Change Fees or Cancelations
One thing the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us is to consider an airline's change fees or cancelation policies prior to booking flights. A more expensive flight that allows you to make changes for for free (and includes luggage) is going to save you a lot of money over a budget airline that does not give you flexibility to change plans and charges for every little thing. For example, we have booked and canceled and rebooked so many flights with Southwest during the pandemic because our plans change as the situation changes. But we did not lose any money because the money spent goes into our travel funds. It's so easy to put that money towards a future trip. Plus, the airline has extended expiration dates for those travel funds created during the pandemic. Many airlines are waiving change fees, but definitely check before you purchase.
One thing you can count on is change during the pandemic. We've had the airlines already move our flights around several times without alerting us. If you purchase flights a few months before your travel dates, you should definitely double check your itinerary a few times as your trip approaches to make sure your flight times have not changed. You do not want to arrive at the airport for the last flight of the day to discover your flight left a few hours earlier than you had planned. Usually if the airline makes a change and the new time does not work, you can call and get a one-time change to a flight that works for you with no extra fees. Again, that's a good thing to find out before you purchase. Southwest accommodated our changes when the new itinerary did not work for us.
Save on Airport Transportation
There are a few ways to save before and after your flight. At home, decide how you are getting to and from your departing airport. Don’t froget to reserve airport parking in advance if you will be driving yourself to the airport. Reserve parking as soon as possible for the best prices. Off-site parking prices go up and availability goes down the closer you get to your travel dates. Once you land in Colorado, you’ll likely need a car rental. You can get a jump on saving by booking through Undercover Tourist! Bundle the car rental with a hotel stay to unlock more savings! We love saving money! Some ski resorts and ski towns offer great free transportation around town, so definitely take advantage of that while you are there to save on gas and to avoid driving in dangerous conditions.
If you do not want to drive to Winter Park, why not take a train? When you fly in to Denver a day early, you can take the A-Line to Union Station in Downtown Denver on Friday, Saturday or Sunday. In the morning, hop on the Winter Park Express. Relax and enjoy the scenic journey along the way.
We hope you’ve found these seven ways to save when flying to Colorado hopful in budgeting for your upcoming trip. Be sure to check out our ski blog posts for some toadally awesome tips to save more money and plan a great ski vacation to Colorado. Be sure to get a jump on those Epic Pass tickets before ski season gets underway to save on lift tickets, too!