How 2021 will change the way we travel and dine out forever.
By Brad Beckstrom
For 2021, I’ve decided to dust myself off, climb back on my horse, and start sharing my ideas again. I’ve got a pretty good backlog of things I’d like to write about, sticking with my themes of living lean, working lean, and traveling lean.
Speaking of getting back on the horse, we decided to take our first pandemic journey of 2021. For my wife Kelly’s birthday I surprised her with a four day, three night getaway to Miami. Frontier Airlines has been bombarding my browser with ads for $50 round-trip direct flight to Florida. It’s funny, I usually ignore these ads because when I click on them the flight ends up being $350 roundtrip by the time you hit purchase.
But, the $50 round-trip price for a direct flight fascinated me. Usually cheap flights involve long layovers, crappy connections, and out-of-the-way airports. I went through the process with Frontier and, lo and behold, was able to book 2 frugal round-trip tickets for a total of $108.94. It’s like making it to the last level of a game avoiding all those upgrades. It pays to have a few days flexibility when booking with discount airlines.
Of course, I knew Frontier would charge for any baggage. They allow for one personal item, which is not to be confused with a carry-on. Check the size on the personal item. Generally a (small) backpack, messenger bag, or purse will get through without a problem. For checked bags or carry on bags, it’s a $41 fee each way. They give you up to a 50 pound limit so we just put both our luggage (all 46 lbs. worth) in a single large bag and checked it.
I figured this flight would be fairly crowded based on the price. It turned out the plane was crowded but not overly so, and on the way home it was only about 60% full. The airport and parking garage were empty.
I’ll be honest, I probably wouldn’t be comfortable flying if my wife and I had not already had the virus back last March and both had positive tests for antibodies. We still took every precaution and wore N95 masks. Obviously no food or beverage service was available unless you wanted to buy a small bottle of water for $3.99.
The plane was definitely bare-bones, but a newer model. I really got a kick out of the mini tray table about enough room to stand your smartphone up on. Better legroom than some American Airlines flights I’ve been on. Despite taking off in frigid winter conditions and landing in a blizzard on the way home the flights went smoothly.
I hope Frontier continues with these deep discounted flights. They reminded me of discount flights in Europe. We’ve used Ryanair and similar carriers to fly from Paris to Athens or to jump across Spain for similar $50-$60 round-trip direct flights. I mean who really cares when you’re on vacation and jumping on a quick direct flight. It gets you where you need to go. Just think of it as a short train ride.
Speaking of other forms of travel, why didn’t we just drive south instead of risking visiting airports and flying on planes? We have a go anywhere RAV4 hybrid that gets 41 miles to the gallon. The only problem is, on this long of a trip, we would’ve stopped many times, including possibly overnight somewhere along the way. So, just as many contacts as we would likely have hustling through an empty airport and jumping on a plane with air that gets completely filtered and replaced several times a minute. The way I look at it, if you are out in public, you’re out in public. We took all precautions and wore N95 masks.
We reserved our hotel using Chase Ultimate Rewards points. We stayed at Arlo Nautilus in South Beach and were able to get a suite. I’ve stayed in Arlo hotels before – they have some great locations in New York City. Their Miami property had a similar vibe.
South Beach was great with no problems getting restaurant reservations or the crowds that you would normally run into. The pool scene was a little busy for my taste and the $19 price tags on most mixed drinks seemed a little ridiculous. However, it really calmed down after Presidents’ Day weekend ended the day we arrived. The drink prices, however, remained ridiculous everywhere. It was actually cheaper to get drinks from our hotel room minibar if that tells you anything.
There were also quite a few people sitting by the pool using laptops. I haven’t seen this many laptops around a pool since 2004. Lots of people taking advantage of working remotely. There was even a guy in a cabana having a zoom call. I guess these are some good signs that the economy is coming back and people are finding new ways to work remotely.
The biggest change we noticed in South Beach was the closure of Ocean Drive to vehicles. This famous strip of hotels, restaurants, and great bars is the first stop for most people visiting the area. In past visits, I remember lots of supercars, motorcycles, and other vehicles cruising up and down Ocean Drive much to the annoyance of anyone trying to cross the street or dine outside. By closing the most southern part of Ocean Drive and adding lots of outdoor seating, things have really opened up and are much more enjoyable. This gives the area a much more relaxed and international feel. Plus it opens up a clear view of the park, beach, and ocean just across the street.
And all they needed to do was shut down about 1 ½ miles of Ocean Drive to make this happen. I know it may be inconvenient for delivery vehicles but they’ve also opened up some side street parking and I think the increase in business will be worth the inconvenience. There’s a major push to keep this permanent. I really hope other cities take a look at doing this as well. In many cases, they could make it seasonal or have limited hours for delivery vehicles. No more double parking the beer truck in traffic. Fewer commuters and more cafes.
Overall, the trip was a smash hit. We would definitely do it again. Here are a few of my recommendations for traveling during the pandemic.
- Try to avoid crowds, travel midweek, and at odd times. This is often actually less expensive as well. 6 AM flights aren’t so bad when you’re headed somewhere fun.
- Look for deals on direct flights. It’s important to avoid connections and spend as little time traveling as possible. We didn’t choose Miami, it chose us. Direct flight, good weather, and midweek hotel deals.
- When traveling, act like you act at home. If you would avoid a crowded restaurant or busy convenience store, do the same when you travel. Dine outdoors, look for open spaces. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the beach or at a ski resort, get that fresh air. Wear a mask.
- Safety first. N95 masks are now more widely available. We also carry a small pack of wipes to disinfect tray tables and armrests for flights. And, of course, small bottles of hand sanitizer. We noticed hand sanitizing stations are everywhere now.
- Pack snacks or a meal when you travel. Airport food generally sucks anyway and the restaurants that were open were understaffed.
- To find great airfare deals go to google flights or kayak and select explore. Put in your approximate dates for lots of options.
- Sign up for non-airline related points programs like Chase Ultimate Rewards or 2% back cards from Fidelity or Citi. You want a points program that has maximum flexibility. I found that with Chase I can consistently get better points values with the 50% point boost on their Chase Sapphire Reserve card. I can also transfer business points to this card, supercharging points production.