The Wife and I had a great time in Yellowstone this past weekend. It was a nice break from the grind of subways and taxis of our typical trips. Scoring a great deal using Delta points made things that much sweeter. And everyone loves a sweet deal and nearly free travel.
Delta had an award sale a few weeks ago, where you could get short/medium-haul round-trips for 10,000 points. Delta has hidden their award chart so we can’t really say what an award flight “should cost”, sadly. Our best guess is that a Delta award one-way flights should be somewhere in the 7,000 – 12,500 range, for the cheapest flights. If you wait to book or you are trying to book a flight that is in high demand, expect to pay 20,000 – 30,000 points one-way. Yes, those are domestic prices, international is waaay more.
You can see that our 10,000 point round-trips into a regional airport was a great deal. We flew into Cody, Wyoming, also known as Yellowstone Regional. The cash price for our tickets at the time of booking was $394 round-trip. Using only 10,000 points for a $394 equivalent flight yielded nearly 4 cents per point. If you can get 1.5 cents per point with your Delta SkyMiles – AKA: Sky Pesos – you are doing better than most.
Flying into regional airports is usually expensive because only few airlines operate there, thus competition is limited. Cody, WY has three flights a day to Salt Lake and one flight a day to Denver on Delta and United, respectively. Flights into Billings and Jackson are more frequent and you can connect from many other airports such as; Chicago, Dallas, Seattle, Los Angeles, etc.
I like to use my Cap 1 Venture card to cover the miscellaneous taxes and travel fees since I can erase those charges using points earned at 2% “cash-back”. It is always good to have a variety of point with different airlines, hotels, and even cash-back.
If you are not a fan of regional jets – I actually prefer them – you still have some options for getting to Yellowstone. The two cities nearby that operate full-size jets are Billings, MT and Jackson, WY. Delta serves both airports and often flies an Airbus A319 (over 100 passengers). Our little regional jet that took us into Cody, a CRJ-200, only carries about 50 passengers in a 2-2 configuration. The biggest benefit to a regional jet is the fast boarding process. Our plane was full in about four minutes and we were pushing back in ten minutes, not bad.
That was easy.
When boarding in Cody things were pretty simple. The same person checking your bags at the ticket counter is the same person loading them in the plane’s belly. Another huge benefit to regional airports is the rental car return. I parked our rental car, walked about 150 feet, then dropped the keys in a box.
The rental car key return-box is about 50 feet from the security line so no running to the gate. The only downside, at least for me, is that flight frequency is lacking with small airports. With just three Delta flights a day it means you can only go ~ eeny meeny miny ~ when booking your flight. No moe.
On our way home everything had gone smooth so far. We had a tight connection in Salt Lake but we were still able to utilize our zone 1 boarding. This perk is thanks to our Amex Delta credit card. The smoothness was sadly gone about 100 miles (and 20,000 feet up) from Phoenix Sky Harbor. When the plane started a holding pattern the First Captain came over the loud-speaker with some bad news.
“There is a giant dust storm blowing through the Valley and they have us holding for 20 minutes.” No big deal, I was using the free Delta Studio and was halfway through Meet The Parents, a classic. Twenty minutes into that holding pattern the First Captain addressed us again, this time it was a bigger deal.
Actually, we are heading to Tucson, now.
The First Captain, with frustration in his voice, made this announcement: “The visibility at Sky Harbor is zero so they are diverting us to Tuscon.” Everyone starting looking at fellow passengers since we were on a Sunday evening flight. Tucson is only about 100 ~ish miles from Phoenix, but we all had work the next day.
The flight attendant let us know that we had a direct approach to the Tucson airport since we were beginning to run low on fuel. Holding for 20 minutes plus adding 120 miles to our trip means we were cutting it a tad close for comfort.
“You can get up and use the bathroom.”
When we landed in Tucson the flight attendant let us know that we would be getting some more fuel and that we were welcome to use the restroom. One passenger asked if she could get off the plane since she lived in Tucson and didn’t check a bag. Next thing I know the ground crew was wheeling up a portal stair-step, since we never parked at the gate.
I asked the flight attendant and she confirmed that you are indeed able to get off the plane anytime it lands, even in the case of a diversion. If you checked a bag you would be out of luck since the bags won’t be coming off your plane until its final destination. That said, what a nice surprise for the gal that was diverted to her final destination.
We’re definitely going to be late now.
Fortunately, our diversion only caused us to be tardy by one hour and fifty minutes. That is not too bad all things considered. We sat on the ground for about 45 minutes in Tucson, likely waiting for the weather to clear in Phoenix. Airlines are not required to compensate you for any losses when the delay is weather related. That said, when weather caused us to miss a connection (and the last flight for the evening) in Houston last year, United did give us a hotel and taxi voucher.
It never hurts to send a kindly worded email to the airline if the delay caused you a major problem. Just don’t expect any reimbursement unless it was mechanical or a personnel issue.
The blowing dust sure did make for a beautiful sunset. Overall we had a great time in Yellowstone and the Delta award sale on our flight made the trip a smoking deal. We stayed at a great AirBNB for only $30 a night, so flights and lodging cost under $100. Here is $35 off your first AirBNB stay of $75 or more. If you had signed up for the Delta Amex Gold card a few months back at 50,000 points, you’d be sitting real nice. Just that one credit card bonus would have been enough for a family of five to round-trip from Phoenix to Cody, WY. (plus $55 in security fees). Travel can be close to free.