A Fun Way To Save Money: Park and Ride at Mall of America

I’m not a fan of leaving my car at the airport. And I’m all about having a good time right up until I step on the plane. So booking a Park and Ride Package at a hotel in (or around) Bloomington, Minnesota is my new go-to way to maximize my travel budget and turn my pre-flight hours into a bonus mini-break at Mall of America.

I know that sounds a little outside the box. But hear me out. It’s actually a pretty fabulous solution.

Those of us that fly out of smaller, regional airports in the Upper Midwest are usually pretty good at mastering ways to get the best deals from airports close to home. But sometimes the destination or the dates just don’t cooperate. And you can’t ignore that it’s cheaper (sometimes way cheaper) to drive a bit to save big.

I want to travel as much as possible, so I need my money to go as far as possible. Now that I have a family, a few extra dollars per ticket start to add up. And we’re just a family of three. I can only imagine how challenging booking flights on a budget is for families of, say, five, six or eight people.

Exhibit A: We wanted to go to Denver to visit my brother before his birthday, which just happened to be the only week my husband could get off work, a week where fares were much higher than usual out of our home airport. So I broadened our search to include airports within a four hour drive. I found a flight leaving from MSP (Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport) that cost $210 less. That’s $210 less per person.

The bargain center in my brain perked right up. $630 buys a flight and a conference for me, a leisurely long weekend getaway closer to home for all of us or a whole bunch of camping or day trips this summer. Even after paying for gas and hotel in the Twin Cities, we’d still come out ahead. Sold.

So instead of getting up freakishly early, driving for hours and trekking from MSP airport parking with our bags in the dark, pre-dawn hours, we were picked up in our hotel lobby and dropped off right at our gate. Several hotels in Bloomington and the surrounding suburbs offer Park and Fly offers, which include a night’s hotel stay, long-term hotel parking and shuttle service to and from the airport.

Many hotels also include a continental breakfast and shuttle service to MOA itself, so you can park exactly once and get an extra day of vacation before you even board your flight. We stayed at the Country Inn & Suites (a chain that I’m a member of and have found to be consistently good), courtesy of the folks at Mall of America. It’s right across the street from MOA, so we just walked over via the enclosed skyway.

Instead of going to bed early and fretting that we’d miss our alarms, we spent the day before our flight deciding if we wanted to ride a the Ferris Wheel, play mini-golf, replace the boots I’d packed that might not survive the trip, (no tax on clothing or shoes in Minnesota, whoo-hoo!), check out a new restaurant or finally get around to seeing thousands of underwater creatures at the aquarium. Even this debate was kind of fun.

A quick trip is fun way to re-introduce yourself to the Mall of America. Like many native Minnesotans, I’d been to the state’s biggest retail powerhouse a bunch of times before I started working there in my 20s. It’s an annoying fact of travel life (and human nature) that the novelty of any place or experience can wear off over time, even truly novel experiences like riding a roller coaster on your lunch break. (Yep, I’ve done it. I mean, how can you not?)

But it’s hard to stay jaded when visiting this place with kids. There’s nothing like traveling with a toddler to reignite your sense of wonder. E was thrilled just to ride an escalator, so his mind was blown 2.2 seconds in. That kind of delight is contagious.

The trick to enjoying a Park and Ride trip to Mall of America is to ignore the temptation to do everything. You’d need days, and you don’t have that kind of time, so just let that idea go. Plus, you’re supposed to be saving at least a little money and de-stressing before your trip, so shopping until you drop or running the family through a complex itinerary is counterproductive.

Concentrate on finding one or two things you want to try, find deals if you can and allow plenty of time for wandering and random discoveries. (This just might be my travel philosophy in a nutshell…) Here are a few tips and offers to get you started. Feel free to share your favorites in the comments below!

Want to ride at Nickelodeon Universe? Get the most for your money by buying an Unlimited Ride Wristband if you’ll be there all day (a military I.D. gets you $10 off), scoring a Twilight Savings pass for $27.99 to nab unlimited rides after 5 p.m. or checking out special offers that combine the park with other attractions like Sea Life Minnesota or Fly Over America, a flight simulation ride that debuted in 2016.

A toddler tip: Most little kid rides require an adult chaperone, who rides along for free. The Log Chute is deemed little-kid appropriate. which is awesome, but also kind of baffling, because it still makes me scream my head off in the best possible way. So if this is the only adult ride you really want to try, you won’t need a wrist band. Toddlers can also score a discounted wristband on toddler Tuesdays. If you want to try the roller coasters (which, as an adrenaline junkie, I totally recommend), you’ll need your own wristband.

If you’d rather explore the natural world, check out Sea Life Minnesota. You’ll need at least a couple hours to experience the sharks, stingrays, weirdly hypnotic jellyfish and other sea creatures that populate this indoor aquarium and habitat. You can save 20% if you buy tickets online instead of at the door.

If you’re really on a budget, you can always stroll, window-shop and hit up the free attractions.  I always stop to build something at the LEGO Store, check out the displays at Barnes & Noble and sample cheeses at Cheese Brothers. (That’s a random list, but it sums me up pretty accurately.)

There are lots of free events (think book signings, kids events, musical performances and the occasional celebrity appearance), but the people watching might be the best attraction. This is the largest mall in North America and it attracts people from all over the world.

If you’re hungry, I favor the less congested Culinary on North food court (where I had a particularly good falafel pita from Naf Naf Grill). It has lots of quick, affordable options and it’s usually less crowded than the other dining areas. (There’s a nice view and lots of natural light, much-appreciated bonuses.)

If you want to try a sit down restaurant for less than you’d usually pay (and avoid the occasionally insane wait times), roll up between 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. (or arrive for a little late night dining) to take advantage of the Happy Hour Specials. You’ll save money on apps and drinks and enjoy a little much-needed adult time.

You might as well have an extra drink, since if you’re walking or took the shuttle, you don’t have to drive anyway. All you have to worry about is answering your wake up call in the morning. See, doesn’t that sound way more fun than going to bed early?

What about you?
What do you love to do at the Mall of America?
What are you MOA money saving tips?
Where’s your favorite place to eat or shop at the mall?

A note from me. I was hosted by the Mall of America and received free lodging and ride wristbands for this trip. All opinions are my own (always).

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