Melissa L. Smith
Travel Hacking West Coast Wine Regions
Now that we’re getting back into *safe* travel, I thought I’d lend some of the travel hacking that I’ve learned as it applies to West Coast wine country and beyond. I’ve been traveling to client’s cellars throughout the pandemic, fit in a few of covid safe vacations for my husband and I, and a recent property exploration trip to New England, so I’ve become quite adept with arranging top notch travel at affordable prices. One more reason I’m known as the Sky Somm.
First up Southwest. I know, I know, it gets a bad rap, but honestly, it’s not a bad experience for what you pay, AND there are no ridiculous add ons that you have to pay with other airlines to bring checked bags, seat assignments (you do have to check in as early as possible to get in the front of the queue for picking your seats ON the plane), and wifi is reasonable. The service has always been great, and actually fun. They must have a sense of humor verification in their interview process. They are constantly having sales, and if you can work your way to a companion pass, your companion can fly anywhere you do for free for an entire year! We squeezed in a trip to Maui that we paid under $200 for when they were having their $99 each way sale from the Bay Area, and a trip to NYC (fly into Laguardia) for a very reasonable amount.
To get you started on your way to a Companion Pass, Southwest is offering a temporary 20,000 mile sign on bonus (which is becoming unheard of!). I have a link that will allow 5 subscribers to get the referral bonus! (If you want to get deep into travel hacking, the “Chase Gauntlet” episode of Choose FI is definitely worth the listen.)
Where Southwest flies:
The Bay Area ~ San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose are all within an hour of wine country in Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Santa Cruz, Livermore Valley, and all of the North Bay regions that dot the coast and rivers. Sacramento is another hub, and friends that live in Napa tend to use that one to fly in and out of, but I’d rather the other opportunities that OAK and SFO offer.
Portland ~ Amazingly close to Willamette Valley, and my god, what an amazing culinary town. Don’t listen to the people that tell you how terrible Portland is, San Francisco is so much worse in my experience.
Santa Barbara ~ Watch Sideways, and then dive into an incredible wine country that is really starting to grab the attention of the industry.
JSX (formerly JetSuiteX). Yowza, it’s hard to go back to regular travel after you’ve experienced this semi private jet, with its own hangar, 20 minute prior to flight check in, no TSA, and L U X E touches like a full on lounge at the airport and top shelf beverages on the flight. The jets are set at 30 seats, you walk on, and when you walk off your baggage is handed to you. A little expensive, but I’ve gotten great last minute deals on quick trips to visit clients. Enter referral code: 6EOHKY
Where JSX flies:
Oakland ~ A smaller airport that is easy to get in and out of, and is less than an hour to Napa Valley.
Concord/Napa ~ A tiny airport even closer to Napa Valley and beyond.
Monterey ~ Pebble Beach, and gorgeous wine country that you will not be disappointed by.
San Diego ~ Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico’s incredible wine region right outside of Ensenada.
HotelTonight has been a godsend. I’ve been on their app for years and have used it for everything from a mental health visit to Tahoe in the dead of winter in 2016, a layover in Istanbul on my way to Italy for a month, an emergency stay for my father when a connecting flight was canceled in Chicago in the middle of the night, many many necessary last minute vacations, and most recently a hotel with views of the Eiffel Tower for Bastille Day. It’s always great to book direct when you can, but HotelTonight offers a loyalty program that offers last minute deals that can sometimes be massive (and the hotels are unable to match even their rates). Subscribers can get up to $50 off with Referral Code MSMITH2170
AirBnB As a former host, I love supporting others through this home sharing experience. AND the AirBnB experiences are amazing! No generic tours where you only visit the subpar wineries and restaurants! These are locals that truly care about sharing their passion for their community. I’ve signed up for a bunch that you can live vicariously through in future posts as I spend a month and a half in France, Tunisia, and Germany.
Check out off the beaten path wine regions. Healdsburg and Anderson Valley are my latest obsessions, along with Willamette Valley in Oregon, and Los Olivos in Santa Barbara County. Not only will you find a ton of hidden gems, the tasting room prices and bottle prices will be much better than the bigger name regions and properties.
Turo is a great place to rent a car. I was skeptical at first, but my last 3 rentals were great experiences and I saved a ton of money.
Always use Uber or Lyft when you’ve been drinking. This hack alone can save you over $10,000 and a lot of drama, headache, and heartache. Enjoy, but set this rule up for yourself before you get started by having the apps up and running on your phone.
Safe travels! Don't forget to tip your tasting room attendant