Aspen Travel Planning:
Anticipate The Unexpected
And Sieze Opportunities

Contingency planning for your Aspen vacation is something that will result in a more enjoyable journey. Flying into high altitude mountain airports can be problematical and subject to weather conditions. Additionally, flights into Denver can often be delayed as a result of poor weather conditions in other parts of the country. So, it is good to plan ahead and understand your options should flights be late or cancelled.

Your experience flying in and out of Aspen will more successful if you expect the unexpected and are prepared to respond to, and take advantage of, quickly changing opportunities.

Flying in and out of a high altitude mountain airport can present more challenges than flying in and out of a low altitude airport. There can be weight restrictions in effect due to either temperature or winds. That means the plane can not be filled to full capacity. There can be weather visability restrictions which means planes are unable to either take off or land. If a plane is unable to land in Aspen ... or its arrival is delayed ... that will produce a ripple effect for an outgoing flight (since the incoming plane may be the same plane designated to be the departing flight). In that case the outgoing flight could be cancelled or delayed. Example: if the last incoming flight to arrive in the evening does not arrive, that will likely mean that the first flight out the next morning will be cancelled or delayed. I think you get the picture.

Setting yourself up to take advantage of changing situations and being prepared to take advantage of opportunities that may arise is the key to minimizing the impact to your travel plans. Here are two key strategies for how to do this:

(1) Qualify For Frequent Flyer Status: When flying in and out of Aspen (or any Colorado mountain town for that matter) try and be a member of the frequent flyer program used by your airline of choice. When flights are cancelled frequent flyer member customers will have priority in getting re-booked by the airline on another flight.

Example: Because we live in Aspen, and because most of our airline travel is to destinations served by United Airlines, we think it is ESSENTIAL to qualify as a United premier member (qualification requires at least 25,000 flight miles or 30 flight segments each year on United). To illustrate how important we think it is to have this Premier status, two years ago I discovered in October that I had only accrued 12,000 miles year-to-date toward qualifying for Premeir status. To fix this problem I actually booked a four day roundtrip flight to Shanghai, China in Novermber for the sole purpose of retaining my United Premier status. P.S. Shanghai is a fabulous city.

(2) Avoid Checking Luggage: One of the cardinal rules in our house is to never check any luggage. We pack lightly and efficiently and only use carry-on luggage. Why? Because this gives you the advantage of being able to go on standby for another flight if your flight is delayed. Because of security concerns TSA requires that you fly on the same flight as your luggage. If you do not check luggage, then you can be opportunistic and grab the first available flight to your destination. And, when you combine this strategy with the frequent flyer status, not only can you go stand-by but you get priority on the wait list above those who do not have frequent flyer status.

Example: Just recently I had a reservation on an 11:00 a.m. flight departing Aspen. A storm was moving in that morning so I decided to go to the airport at 6:15 a.m. and attempt to go stand-by on the first United flight out at 7:00 a.m. When I went to the ticket counter I was told that it would be hopeless because the flight was on weight restriction due to high tail winds and that they were seeking volunteers to go on later flights. I told the agent that I didn't care and requested that I be put on the wait list. The agent then asked if I had any checked bags to which I replied "no" (If I had checked bags I would not have been eligible to be placed on the wait list). Ten minutes before the 7:00 a.m. flight departed the tail winds subsided, the weight restriction was lifted and the plane was allowed to fly at full capacity. The bottom line - my opportunistic strategy positioned me to take advantage of the quickly changing situation and departed on the flight.

Now, you may be asking youself ... "How am I going to spend a vacation week in Aspen with just carry-on bags"? Well it comes down to exploring baggage options and making a personal choice. Prior to moving to Aspen, I shipped my mountain bike via FedEx. You can do the same with skis, boots, golf clubs, etc. Your choice depends on the degree to which you choose to isolate yourself from airline travel problems and position yourself to take advantage of opportunities.

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