Today is Cheap Flight Day! Here’s what you need to know

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If you’re not a frequent traveler, the week of Aug. 23 may have no special significance, but for those of us who spend a lot of time in the sky, it can be even better than Black Friday. That’s because Aug. 23, aka Cheap Flight Day, traditionally marks the start of the fall travel season and is the day that airlines frequently drop fares on many if not most of their routes. Here are some answers to common questions about Cheap Flight Day and some tips on getting the best fares.

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A plane comes in for a landing at Miami International Airport. credit: Getty Images

Why Aug. 23? By Aug. 23, the majority of kids have gone back to school and the demand for leisure travel decreases a lot. Airlines know this, so they drop fares by 20 percent or more.

What happens if I don’t book on Aug. 23? No worries. Cheap Flight Day should really be called Cheap Flight Season, because the reduced fares will continue to be available (and could even drop more) through early November.

Does this apply to international flights? Yes! You’ll see a drop in fares for international as well as domestic flights.

What are the best days to fly to get a good fare? Traditionally, traveling on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays will get you the best deals, but that can vary widely depending on where and when you’re going.

How far in advance of my trip should I book? Usually experts say to book at least 30 days ahead.

Where can I go on the cheap in the next few months?  Great question. Here’s a sample of some deals I found for September and October:

  • Austin to Charleston, S.C., traveling Oct. 5-8: $96 roundtrip on Frontier Airlines. (Note: Frontier is a low-cost airline that charges extra for seats, luggage, etc.)
  • Austin to Philadelphia, traveling Sept. 14-17: $117 roundtrip on United Airlines.
  • Austin to Portland, Oregon, traveling Oct. 13-20: $131 roundtrip on Frontier.
  • Dallas to Reykjavik, Iceland, traveling Oct. 9-19: $260 roundtrip on WOW Air.
  • Austin to London, traveling Sept. 11-18: $475 roundtrip on Norwegian Air.

What sites can help me find good deals? If you want to get out of town but don’t care where you’re going, try using airfarewatchdog.com. You can enter your departure city and it will give you a list of places where you can travel for cheap. I also like kayak.comhipmunk.com and travelzoo.com. And be sure to sign up for weekly alerts and last-minute deal alerts on the major airline websites, including flyfrontier.com/ways-to-save/online-dealstravel.southwest.com/specialoffers and united.com/web/en-US/apps/booking/specials/default.aspx.

What are some other tips for finding deals this fall?

  • Don’t forget to include Houston and Dallas as possible departure cities in your searches, especially for international travel. It can be worth the drive if you can score a low fare.
  • Be flexible with your dates. You know how most airlines offer a calendar view that allows you to see all of the fares to a particular destination for the month? If you have some wiggle room in terms of when you travel, book according to the lowest fare.

Heading to Hamilton Pool? Here are 5 things you need to know

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Those of us who grew up in Austin can remember making spur-of-the-moment jaunts to Hamilton Pool Preserve, where the cool, blue-green waters offered instant relief on 100-degree days.

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Hamilton Pool Preserve is currently accepting reservations for as early as August and September. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

But as you probably know, Hamilton Pool — a natural pool created thousands of years ago after the dome of an underground river collapsed due to erosion — has experienced excessive crowding of late and two years ago switched to a reservation system.

Reservations are required between March 1 and Oct. 31 and on weekends and official Travis County holidays during November and December. You can pick a morning or afternoon reservation (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.); each reservation includes one vehicle with no more than eight people.

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Hamilton Pool Preserve should be on every Texan’s bucket list. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Want to take a dip before summer ends? Here are 5 more things you need to know.

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Swimming is not always guaranteed at Hamilton Pool Preserve — it can vary based on bacteria levels in the water. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman
  1. Bring cash. Cost for a reservation including service fee is $11 and is paid online when you make your reservation. Make sure you bring cash to the park, too, because an additional $15 cash entrance fee is required on the day you visit.
  2. Wear tennis shoes. It’s advisable to wear tennis shoes because a steep and rocky quarter-mile hike is required to access the pool.
  3. Swimming is not guaranteed. Sometimes visitors are not allowed to swim due to high bacteria levels. Call the public information line for the current status of the preserve: 512-264-2740.
  4. Life vests are available but no lifeguard is on duty. No pets are allowed either.
  5. Some August and September dates are currently available. Weekdays in particular are opening up now that school is back in session. Click here to view available dates and make a reservation.

5 places to go swimming with the family before summer ends

It’s almost August, which means there’s less than a month to soak in those long, lingering, school-free summer days. If you’re craving a splash, here are five spots that offer fun for the family.

Camp Ben McCulloch

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Camp Ben McCulloch offers easy access to a rope swing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

First things first, you need to know about the rope swing here, which is flanked by crisp, blue-green water and conveniently located along the trail just to the right of the main parking area. It’s simply too inviting, and too easy to access, to pass up. But those traveling with smaller children or four-legged friends will also appreciate Camp Ben McCulloch for its shady, shallow spots — it’s the perfect place to linger on a hot August day.  Learn more about Camp Ben McCulloch, which is located in Driftwood and also offers camping, at campbenmcculloch.com.

Rock’N River Water Park

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A boy shoots out of a slide at the Rock’N River Water Park in Round Rock. NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This Round Rock water park underwent a multimillion-dollar renovation in early 2017 that doubled its physical size and increased capacity from 600 to 1,200. The lazy river, frog slide and train-theme water feature that enticed visitors before the renovation are still there, joined by features such as a humongous tipping bucket that provides monsoon-like downpours in the Splashville water playground and a rock wall where there’s no need for a harness — the pool below will break your fall. Time your visit with a Round Rock Express baseball game at the Dell Diamond, which is just down the street. Learn more at roundrocktexas.gov.

Landa Park Aquatic Complex, New Braunfels

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Sisters jump into the pool at Landa Park in New Braunfels in 2010. File photo

If you’ve been seeking a spring-fed experience in a safe, controlled environment, look no further than Landa Park Aquatic Complex. The spring-fed pool has steady year-round temperatures around 72 degrees and includes a variety of hard-to-find features including a rope swing, a climbing net and several slides, all overseen by lifeguards. Admission also includes access to the Olympic-size pool and kiddie area located at the top of the hill, a perfect option for little ones who find the spring-fed pool to be too chilly. While you’re there, save some time to explore the rest of 51-acre Landa Park, where you’ll find a miniature train, winding hiking trails, paddle boats, a playground and more. Find info at nbtexas.org/1434/Aquatic-Facilities.

Bartholomew Pool

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Lillian Florence, 8, tried to cross the lily pond bridge at Bartholomew Pool in 2014. RESHMA KIRPALANI / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

This Mueller-area swimming spot combines all the elements of a great pool experience: diving board, 25-yard lap pool, two smaller pools (one with beach entry for little kids that goes to 2 feet, another for older kids that goes to 4 feet), tube slides and various water features. There’s even a “lily pad bridge” for older kids to wiggle and wobble their way across. If you want to make a day of it in Mueller, start at the pool, then head to The Thinkery, the Alamo Drafthouse, Lick Honest Ice Creams or any of the many attractions in the area. Get pool information at austintexas.gov/department/bartholomew-pool-project.

Schlitterbahn New Braunfels

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Grab a gator and float your way across Schlitterban New Braunfels. credit: Schlitterbahn Waterpark Resort

Since it opened in 1979, locals and visitors alike have been making pilgrimages to this water park complex, which spans more than 70 acres and is home to 51 attractions ranging from exhilarating classics like the Cliffhanger tube chute and Soda Straw body slides to family-friendly features such as the Polywog Pond Kiddie Park and Kinderhaven wading pool. Torrent River in the Blastenhoff section of the park is like a lazy river on steroids — crashing waves at every turn make for hours of exhilarating floating. You can even stay the night at the on-site Schlitterbahn Resort New Braunfels — resort guests receive special benefits including early access to the Blastenhoff section of the park before it opens to the public each day. schlitterbahn.com/new-braunfels

Want to visit Austin’s new floating water parks? 4 things you need to know

As of this summer, Austin is home to two new floating water parks — one called Waterloo Adventures on Lake Travis and another operated by QuestATX that’s located near the airport.

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Waterloo Adventures, a floating water park on Lake Travis, opened June 29. Contributed by Waterloo Adventures

Want to get in on the water park fun before summer ends? Here are four things you need to know.

Make a reservation in advance. Both companies request that you book online and arrive early on the day of your reservation to register, sign waivers and attend orientation.

Water shoes are recommended. The obstacle courses can get quite hot on those 100-degree days. Water shoes will protect your feet and give you better traction along the course.

You can buy alcohol there. Both parks have on-site bars where you can purchase a variety of beverages. Food is available, too.

Leave your little ones at home. Children must be 7 years old and at least 45 inches tall to participate. Life jackets are provided and required.

5 cool-weather destinations you can visit in August for cheap

Do Austin’s 100-degree summer temperatures have you dreaming of mountains, snow and ice? Never fear!

Here are five cool places you can travel to in August — for cheap.

Colorado

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The Breckenridge area of Colorado is stunning in late summer and fall. credit: Keri Wiginton

Frontier Airlines offers numerous low-cost nonstop flights to and from Denver. If you travel Aug. 11-16 out of Austin-Bergstrom International Airport, for example, you can find a round-trip nonstop flight for $136.40 (additional baggage and seat fees may apply). Average high temperatures in Denver in August are in the 80s, but you can always rent a car and head to a resort town like Breckenridge, where the average August high is around 70.

Minnesota

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The Minneapolis Sculpture Garden is home to David Nash’s “Standing Frame,” left, and “Spoonbridge and Cherry” by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen. Los Angeles Times photo by Christopher Reynolds

Have you been to Minneapolis lately? Here’s your chance. Sun Country Airlines is offering select nonstop flights from Austin to Minneapolis in August for as low as $96.40 round-trip (additional baggage and seat fees may apply). Bonus: The average August high in Minneapolis is 80 degrees.

Oregon

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Portland Japanese Garden is one of the most authentic Japanese gardens outside of Japan. credit: Mauri Elbel

People say there are a lot of similarities between Austin and Portland, but when it comes to August temperatures, Portland’s are decidedly lower, rarely topping a high of 80 degrees. Right now, you can book a late-August flight to Portland on Frontier Airlines for as low as $136.40 round-trip (additional baggage and seat fees may apply).

United Kingdom

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The grounds of the Tower of London. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Make like a royal and hop across the pond for a change of scenery. Norwegian Air’s new direct flight from Austin to London Gatwick is affordable and comfortable. If you travel Aug. 11-21, for example, a round-trip flight is $574.80.

Iceland

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This Icelandic farm is in South Iceland near the Ring Road. credit: Adrienne Butcher

Want to be as cold as ice? Iceland, that is? WOW Air has one-way flights from Dallas to Reykjavik for as low as $99 each way. For an Aug. 16-22 trip, a flight would cost $248.99.

 

 

Want to visit the World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue? It’s located just outside of Austin

Central Texas may receive a lot of awards and designations, but here’s one I just learned about: Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company, located just outside of Austin in Cedar Creek, is home to the World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue.

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The World’s Tallest Squirrel Statue is located at Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

Yes, it’s true. No city, from San Francisco to Sydney, can top our squirrel. Nuts, right?

Here are some fun facts about this miraculous creature, who is named Ms. Pearl: She’s 14 feet tall, has lived at Berdoll since 2011 and is the star of between 30 and 100 photos each day, according to on-site signage.

You might recognize Berdoll from the towering, scrolling sign out front announcing everything from “vine ripe tomatoes!” to “chocolate covered pecans!” as you make your way down Highway 71 toward Bastrop. Inside the shop, you’ll find items that range from Texas-centric to kitschy — plus lots of free samples.

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Berdoll Pecan Candy and Gift Company contains a variety of Texas-centric gifts. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

The shop is next to Berdoll Pecan Farm and turns out 11,170 pecan pies every year. Traveling when the shop is closed? Stop by the 24-7 pecan pie vending machine.

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Even if the Berdoll is closed, you can visit the pecan pie vending machine any time of day. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

You can visit Ms. Pearl at 2626 State Hwy 71 West in Cedar Creek. Learn more about her here.

From treehouses to trailers, check out these unconventional Texas hotels

Sure, hotels and Airbnbs are great, but sometimes we all crave a little something different.

If you’re seeking a unique stay during your next Texas getaway, here are some spots to consider.

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

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The Nest at Cypress Valley Canopy Tours. Contributed by Cypress Valley Canopy Tours

Cypress Valley Canopy Tours may be known for its zipline tours above the lush Texas Hill Country, but it’s also gaining a reputation for the overnight stays it offers in its treehouses. The property’s Nest, for example, includes two bedrooms, a lounge, a kitchenette/dining room, an outside shower and a small bridge that connects to a bathhouse.

Infocypressvalleycanopytours.com

The Flophouze Hotel

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top, Texas, is made from recycled shipping containers.

Visitors to the Flophouze Hotel, which opened in Round Top in 2017, can choose from a half-dozen shipping-container “houzes” outfitted with eco-friendly and recycled materials such as bowling alley floors. Hammocks, fire pits, cozy chairs and complimentary Topo Chico are among the amenities. Oh, and just to complete the theme, there’s a shipping container pool, too, manufactured by Modpool.

RELATED: You won’t believe this Texas hotel and pool made of shipping containers

Infoflophouze.com

El Cosmico

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Guest trailer at El Cosmico in Marfa, where customers stay in trailers, tents, yurts and teepees. credit: Chris LeBlanc

From yurts to trailers to safari tents, if you’re looking for an unconventional place to stay in West Texas, El Cosmico is the place for you. Self camping is also available here.

RELATED: Stay with the hipsters at Liz Lambert’s funky Marfa outpost, El Cosmico

Infoelcosmico.com

Son’s Island

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Son’s Island in Seguin also offers “glamping.” Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

In addition to being a hidden island paradise that’s just an hour from Austin, Son’s Island offers overnight glamping. Guests receive overnight entry for four people, use of a cabana overnight and a 14-by-9 tent with two cots and foam queen-size mattresses. There’s even s’mores on Friday and Saturday nights.

Infolakeplacidisland.com

Want to try a rope swing? Head to this free swimming hole just outside of Austin

We weren’t planning to try a rope swing that day.

But when my two daughters and I walked past one last week while visiting one of our favorite swimming holes — Camp Ben McCulloch — the temptation was immediate.

They looked at me expectantly: “You go first, Mom.”

It’s been years since I did a rope swing, if ever. But this one, flanked by crisp, blue-green water and conveniently located along the trail just to the right of the main parking area, was too inviting, and too easy to access, to pass up.

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Camp Ben McCulloch offers access to a rope swing. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

First, I got in to test the depth of the water. It was deep. Then I swung the rope back and forth and pulled on it to test its sturdiness. It was sturdy. Safety is paramount in rope swinging, of course — read Pam LeBlanc’s guide to Austin-area rope swings for more safety tips.

At long last, I plunged in, much to the delight of my daughters, 9 and 6, who instantly followed suit.

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Camp Ben McCulloch is a kid- and pet-friendly place to swim on the outskirts of Austin in Driftwood. Kristin Finan/American-Statesman

RELATED: Did you know there’s a tropical island paradise an hour’s drive from Austin?

It was the most fun we’ve had in ages.

Want to try it for yourself? Learn more about Camp Ben McCulloch, which is located in Driftwood and also offers camping, at campbenmcculloch.com.

Ideas for free fun in Galveston

There’s nothing more fun than a trip to the beach in the summer. But costs can add up. Got Galveston in your travel plans? Here are three free things to do.
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Bicyclists roll past the Galveston Pleasure Pier at sunrise, before Sea Wall Boulevard fills with cars. credit: Galveston Island CVB
Tree sculpture tour
After Hurricane Ike ravaged Galveston in 2008, a group of Galveston homeowners decided to band together and turn the devastation into art.
As you travel the island, look for its incredible tree sculptures, which range from the historical (a replica of the figurehead from the island’s famous Tall Ship Elissa) to the whimsical (a pod of dolphins with a mermaid). Kids will appreciate recognizable items such as a guitar, a squirrel and even SpongeBob SquarePants.
Find a list of sculpture addresses online at galveston.com/treesculpturetour — many are centered in the city’s East End Historic District — then take a free driving tour.

Taffy demonstration at La King’s Confectionery

La King’s Confectionery dates back to 1927, when Jimmy King learned how to make “Old World” candy in Houston. In 1976, his son, Jack, moved to Galveston and recreated an old-fashioned confectionery in the historic Strand District.
In summer, it’s a must-visit destination thanks to its working 1920s soda fountain, delicious handcrafted shakes, rainbow rows of candy and saltwater taffy, which you can watch being pulled and stretched in store most Wednesday through Sundays.
During a free hourlong taffy-making demonstration, made using antique equipment, guests receive samples. Call 409-762-6100 or visit lakingsconfectionery.com for more information.

Movie night on the Strand

No visit to Galveston is complete without spending some time in the historic Strand District, which is filled with shops, museums and restaurants.
After a fun-filled day exploring the area, head to Saegerfest Park, which hosts Movie Nights and Music Nights many Saturdays in summer. It’s a great excuse to grab a blanket or some lawn chairs and take in a free family-friendly flick or concert. Visit galveston.com/saengerfestpark for more information.

You won’t believe this Texas hotel and pool made of shipping containers

Move over, yurts, tree houses and Airstream trailers — there’s a new hotel trend on the rise. Now, visitors to the popular Texas town of Round Top, located just 70 miles down the road from Austin, can rest their heads inside a decked out recycled shipping container.

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top, Texas, is made from recycled shipping containers. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

At the Flophouze Hotel, which opened in Round Top in 2017, visitors can choose from a half-dozen “houzes” outfitted with eco-friendly and recycled materials such as bowling alley floors. Hammocks, fire pits, cozy chairs and complimentary Topo Chico are among the amenities.

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The interior of one of the “Houzes” at Flophouze Hotel in Round Top. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

MORE PHOTOS: The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top

Oh, and just to complete the theme, there’s a shipping container pool, too, manufactured by Modpool that recently opened.

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The Flophouze Hotel in Round Top has a shipping container pool. Contributed by Flophouze Hotel

Rates start at $175 a night. Learn more at flophouze.com.