I’ve flown on a bunch of different domestic airlines in my lifetime. Off the top of my head, I’ve flown on Delta, United, American, JetBlue, Virgin America, Southwest, Alaska, Hawaiian, Silver, Continental, US Airways, Eastern, America West, TWA, Northwest, People’s Express, TED, Song and Midwest Express (am I showing my age?). So why, when it came to booking a flight on Allegiant, did I have second thoughts?
Let me set up the story. Sharon asked me earlier this week to look for a hotel in Pigeon Forge, TN. It’s not an uncommon request from her, as we get friends asking us all the time to help with travel; that’s why we started the blog in the first place. I asked for the dates because I can’t tell what hotel rates are going to be without knowing when the stay is going to be. She told me the date and the location and I came up with some hotels for decent prices. That’s when I get the open ended question of, “Would you mind if I went away for the weekend?” Huh, this was for you? For what? We are already traveling so much this year already, why do you need to go away?
For those of you not following our exploits closely, the most important purchase in our household this year was Sharon’s new Xtreme Purple Jeep Wrangler Sahara Unlimited, that she calls Jeep Jeep.
She obsessed over every part of ordering this car, right down to the cigarette lighter. It was ordered as soon as it was available (Xtreme Purple was a new, special color for the 2017 models) and she even followed the tracking information from the factory to the dealership. It was a big deal! During the process of getting the Jeep, Sharon was brought into the Jeep community (there is such a thing) and got to know several friends online. Thus the interest in going to Pigeon Forge. There is a huge Jeep event happening there and she’d be able to meet her Jeep people and talk Jeep things. I’d usually have nothing to do with this but I’ve been to Pigeon Forge before and would love to revisit the Great Smoky Mountains area again. I might even get to visit Dollywood.
Here’s the catch: the flights into Knoxville (the closest airport to the area) are MEGA expensive. Like, I could fly across the country for less money, expensive. Like, for two people to fly from Orlando to Knoxville on our preferred dates would cost us almost $700. And forget about using miles if flights are that much for cash (for newbies: it would cost way too many miles for flights that are that expensive). However, when searching with Google Flights I got a notice that if I changed my dates I could fly for $91 round trip per person. Why the huge difference? Allegiant flies non-stop from Orlando to Knoxville but only on 2 days a week and those were not the days we were going. Drat!
One thing I’ve learned from my reading of travel blogs is that if your dates are not flexible (ours usually are not) then you may need to be flexible with your airports.
I did some digging and found that while Allegiant did not fly to Knoxville on our preferred dates, they did fly from Orlando-Sanford Airport to Bristol, Chattanooga and Greenville, SC, which are all airports in the general area of Pigeon Forge. The search then went to Allegiant’s website to look for flights.
Reasons I almost booked with Allegiant
- Allegiant airfares are listed from a low of $80 round trip to Chattanooga up to $112 round trip to Greenville. This is compared to flights to the same cities on Delta starting at $244. You can’t just ignore a price difference that large.
- We’re big fans of non-stop flights. There is no chance of your flight being delayed and missing your connecting flight. The flights on Allegiant are all non-stop while all other flights to the area involve a connection. The cities in the area are considered minor markets and so the major airlines fly regional jets from the smaller airports to their larger hubs. This means flying through Atlanta (Delta), Charlotte (American) or Chicago (United, are you kidding with that routing?)
- Allegiant flies out of Orlando-Sanford (SFB) airport. This is a much smaller airport than Orlando International Airport (MCO) yet still has TSA Pre✓ when flying with Allegiant. Parking at Sanford airport would also be closer to the terminal and less expensive than what it would be at Orlando airport.
- I can reserve an exit row seat on Allegiant, ahead of our flight, for $15 each way. Prices for these seats on other airlines can go for up to $50 extra (per flight).
- The best alternate for us to get to the area is with Delta Airlines but their pricing for these routes is starting to drive me crazy. In the two days that I’ve been researching flights, Delta’s price for two tickets has changed from $173 round trip last night to $244 this morning. Now, if I search just for one seat, I can find space for $163, but only if I choose a flight with a three hour layover in Atlanta. I was going to pull the trigger on the $173 flights but I’m not booking tickets at the increased price.
Reasons I didn’t book with Allegiant, yet
- You need to be cautious when booking with Allegiant. While they list very low fares on their website, they charge you extra for everything. I went through the booking process to see what the final cost would be. Bringing a roll-aboard bag as carry-on to go in the overhead bin is $16 per person per flight ($64 total) Booking seat assignments is extra an $10 for regular seats and $15 for the exit row. If I have to pay, I’ll pay the extra $5 for the legroom. ($60 total). We would not need to check a bag for this short weekend but if we did it would cost $20 if we paid when booking, $45 pre departure and $50 at the airport. They also charge for all on board snacks, including $2 for water and soda. That means our $81 ticket would end up costing us $145 round trip. Still not bad but that’s pretty close to the $173 that Delta charges.
- While Allegiant does fly non-stop to several airports from Orlando-Sanford, the flights we are looking at only fly twice weekly (Thursday and Sunday) and only once each day. That means if the plane is delayed, you are stuck at the airport until they can fix it. If the plane can’t be fixed and gets cancelled, there is very little chance you are getting to your location (for several days). That’s a hard pill to swallow for a weekend getaway and if you Google it, you’ll see that Allegiant doesn’t have the best reputation for customer service.
- While Orlando-Sanford is a smaller airport, it is quite a trip from most of the Greater Orlando area. It may be convenient if you live northeast of the city, but it’s not so close for those in the Walt Disney World area (the lower left corner of the map). It would be about a 45-60 min drive for us to Sanford airport, as opposed to a 10-15 min drive to Orlando airport.
- The flight times for Allegiant are not great. Chattanooga is about a 2-1/2 hour drive to Pigeon Forge. The only flight on Thursday leaves at 6:17PM and arrives at 7:52PM. That means if every connection is perfect and we have no wait for a rental car and a quick check in at the hotel, we might be into our hotel room by 11PM. Forget it if there are any delays; we’d be driving around Tennessee in the middle of the night and that’s not the way I’d prefer start to my vacation. The flight times coming home are not any better, as we would arrive in Sanford at 10:08PM. Best case scenario would get us home by 11PM (doubtful) and I’m scheduled to work the next day.
- I can’t get out of my mind all of the maintenance problems that were in the headlines last year about Allegiant. I’ve read up on the topic and it seems that the FAA has cleared the airline and approved the changes they have made to their maintenance program. The airline is flying planes every day with no issues for months and the flights I’ve been looking at have been tracking on time per FlightAware. But I’m still leery.
So what to do?
For now, I’m just sitting tight. I have a Google Flights search for the Delta flights that I want. They were $173 last night and $244 today (???). I’ll see what they are listed at tomorrow and wouldn’t be surprised if they were then $100 or $400. I looked at the seating maps for the flights and the planes are really empty. I still have 3 months until our trip so I can take some time to wait to see what happens to the fares. While it takes every bit of my self control to keep from booking something, I’ve learned that patience is often rewarded. So I’ll wait, for now.