Tips on Choosing an Airline

I’m picky about who I fly with. Long before the recent horror stories of United and Delta, I agonized over the airline I chose the way some people agonize over which restaurant to eat at. After all, I figure if I have to spend a number of hours cramped in an aircraft with strangers, I might as well make sure I’m as comfortable as possible. Below are some of my criteria when I’m booking a flight:

  1. Price: Price is without a doubt my number one deal-breaker or deal-maker. I scour all of the typical websites: Kayak, Expedia, Priceline, Orbit, etc. to get an idea of what fares go for to my destination. Once I get a rough estimate, I then use Google Flights to track those flights.
  2. Additional Fees: Many airlines will allow you one carry on, and one checked bag without additional costs (I’m looking at you Spirit Airlines). But luggage isn’t the only place you can get hit with a hidden fee. If you book via telephone, want a pillow or have to travel with a pet, you can incur additional charges.
  3. Perks: Another thing to consider is an airline’s frequent flier program. Southwest Airlines has a history and reputation of being one of the cheapest domestic airlines around, and also having a one of the best rewards programs around. If you fly a lot, this will matter more to you than it would for only the occasional flyer.
  4. Duration of flight: I want to be on an airplane for the bare minimum amount of time. More important, I want to be in airports for the least amount of time possible. So I always go for direct flights when they are available. Sometimes connections are unavoidable, so this is of less importance to me than the price of the flight.
  5. Seat of Choice: I don’t like middle seats. Middle seats give me the cold sweats. I will stand watch on my phone when it’s time to check in just so I can get a decent boarding position and avoid the dreaded middle seat. The price and the convenience that Southwest offers is hard to beat, but I very much dislike the cattle call method of boarding an airplane. I prefer to choose my seat well in advance, and not have to worry about fighting someone for it later.
  6. Word of Mouth: If I still have a hard time choosing a flight after going through my top five criteria, I’ll ask others what airline they prefer flying. Everyone has different experiences when it comes to customer service, but if you hear about similar experiences over and over (good or bad) it can become an easy tie-breaker.

Buying airline tickets can feel like a mini lottery. You might get a cheap ticket, but end up paying for it in terms of comfort and quality of service, or the opposite. The important thing is that you decide what works for you, your vacation and your budget.

Las Vegas Restaurant Review: Spiegel’s 1941

Spiegel’s 1941 is located inside the El Cortez in the heart of downtown Las Vegas. The restaurant takes its name from the gangster Bugsy Siegel, the famous mobster and man behind the Flamingo Hotel. His picture graces the walls of the restaurant, giving the restaurant an old-school feel. The restaurant is open daily and twenty-four hours a day.  I found this restaurant by accident one night wandering around Fremont Street, and decided to give it a spin. While I find it to be an affordable “high-end” steakhouse, I think you can find a better bang for your buck in the area.

Menu

Spiegel’s menu is simple. Most of the dishes are American in origin, but there are a few exceptions such as challah, poutine, fajitas and chow mien. The dinner menu features a number of steak and potato dishes, as well as deli items.

Parking

Parking is available at the El Cortez and the surrounding hotels. If you’re unable to find parking at the hotel, I would recommend the Fremont Street Garage. It’s easily accessible and cheap compared to the surrounding parking lots.

Service

The service was decent, but not extraordinary. I didn’t have to wait long for a table or my food, which is unusual on a weekend. The hostess and wait staff are pleasant, but not the sort of friendly I think you would find in more expensive, upscale restaurants.

Drinks

The drinks were a little too strong for me. The prices are reasonable based on downtown Las Vegas standards, but I prefer cocktails to have a flavor other than alcohol. I think you can find better drinks at Commonwealth, La Comida and the Downtown Cocktail Room.

 

I would give Spiegel’s a chance if you find yourself staying at the El Cortez, or if you want to try a steakhouse without completely emptying your wallet. Spiegel’s is also a good choice if you’re short on time and want to get a quick drink or meal. It’s not the best place I’ve eaten at in Las Vegas, but it’s decent.

 

 

Road Trip Tips: Advice on Traveling with Pets

The only downside to traveling is the fact that I have to leave my dogs behind. I’ve got three little ones, and every time I leave their little faces behind it breaks my heart. Of course, if I had all the money I would take them with me wherever I went whether by, plane, train or automobile. Until that time comes, they have to stay home unless I am driving. Over the years, I’ve learned a few tricks to making traveling more fun for all of us:

Take them out on a lot of short rides ahead of time. I take my dogs to the park on almost a daily basis, so they are used to getting in and out of the car without problems. Sometimes, I’ll take them on short errands with me, like going to In N Out or to visit family (but they’re never left in the car alone). Now they insist on coming with me each I grab my keys.  When you make traveling by car fun for them, you have already won half the battle.

Bring the food they are used to. It’s not a good idea to abruptly change a dog’s food under normal circumstances, and it is especially not a good idea to do while you’re on vacation. A change in food can upset a dog’s digestive system, and the stress of new surroundings can compound that.

Take frequent breaks. I try to stop at least once an hour or every two hours to let my dogs out. We stop long enough to take a short walk, have a potty break, and drink water. It does significantly slow down your travel time, but it is good for both you and your pet. Sometimes I catch myself just wanting to rush through the drive and get to my destination, but when you force yourself to slow down and take breaks, you end up enjoying the journey itself a lot more.

Don’t leave them in the heat. This is absolutely essential. In the desert the temperatures can reach well above 100 degrees in the summertime, making the insides of a car reach 10 to 50 degrees hotter on any given day or time. This is an easy rule to follow; the only time it can get a little tricky is if you are on the road and alone. You can’t bring your pet into every gas station you pass by, especially if you need to use the restroom. The times that I find myself needing a bathroom break on the road, I leave out cold water and keep the air conditioning on. I also time myself; I’m never gone for more than five minutes.

Bring plenty of water. This is pretty self-explanatory. I usually bring a gallon for the dogs and some of the 24 oz. Aquafina bottles for me depending on how long we will be traveling. If we’re on the road for longer, I bring more for all of us.  This is an important tip to keep in mind all year, but it is even more important in the warmer months.

Secure them in the vehicle. They make seat belts and crates for dogs that are specially designed for car rides, but I’ve always used their regular crates on trips. Keeping your pets kenneled during a trip not only ensures their safety but yours. Whether you get a ticket for having your pet in your lap, or your furry friend distracts you while driving and causes an accident, having a loose pet in the car can cause a number of headaches.

Go on a walk before you leave. Taking them on a walk before you embark on a road trip will help burn off excess energy, and allow them to use the bathroom. Even if it’s just a quick trip outside, it will be enough to get their brains working and prepare them for the long drive ahead.

Bring something from home. Whether it’s toys, blankets or pillows, items from home will give them the sense of comfort they are missing out on the road. It will also help them to stay calm if they need to be in the hotel room by themselves for a little while.

Originally posted on my other blog, Sparks of Wanderlust