Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently had to book flights for us on routes that offered Basic Economy fares. After studying up on what the restrictions were for each airline and taking into consideration the details of each trip, I decided to book the basic fare for one of the trips and paid the extra money for “regular” economy for the other.

The following is a breakdown of how I made my decisions:

Continue reading “Did I book a flight in Basic Economy?”

Buyer Beware: Do your homework before booking a flight with a “basic” fare

I was doing some serious travel planning over the last two weeks. We are focusing on taking several shorter trips this year and that means I need to book more flights than usual for us. Since I’ve been booking our domestic flights with my Southwest miles or on JetBlue, I haven’t paid much attention to changes the major airlines like American, Delta and United have been making. I did know they started to offer bare bone, or basic airfares, claiming that this will help them remain competitive with low cost airlines.

1024px-Airbus_A380-861,_Korean_Air_AN1960985
By Alex Beltyukov – RuSpotters Team [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Originally, these fares were only supposed to be offered on routes where they were in competition against airlines like Spirit, Frontier or Allegiant.  However, as you can imagine, the airlines have now started to roll these fares out to a larger number of routes, including some of the ones I now needed to book airfare for. Let me spell out what these fares entail for each airline:

American Airlines – Basic Economy

American_Airlines_Boeing_777-200ER_N775AN_PVG_2013-5-21
By Sergey Kustov [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0), CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
When you book a Basic Economy ticket with American, here is what you get:

  • One item that fits under the seat in front of you (no access to overhead bins)
  • Seats are assigned at check-in
  • Fees to choose a specific seat
  • Not eligible for upgrades
  • No flight changes or refunds
  • Board in last group

For more clarification on baggage, American gives this guidance on their website:

You can board with 1 item like a purse or small handbag that fits under the seat in front of you and is not larger than 18 x 14 x 8 inches (45 x 35 x 20 cm). You won’t have access to overhead bins.

All other items must be checked at ticket counters and cannot be carried on. If you take them to the gate you’ll pay an extra $25 gate service fee per item plus the applicable bag fee.

American does have some exemptions for elite members of their AAdvantage program and those who hold a co-branded American Airlines credit card. They can:

  • Take 1 item that fits under the seat (no larger than 18 x 14 x 8 in.)
  • Take 1 item free of charge to store in the overhead bin (no larger than 22 x 14 x 9 in.)
  • Keep their priority or preferred boarding privileges
  • Keep their checked bag benefits

Delta Airlines – Basic Economy

1024px-Delta_Air_Lines_B767-300_N130DL
By Richard Snyder from San Jose, CA, United States of America (Delta Air Lines N130DL Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Delta Airlines version of Basic Economy comes with the following restrictions:

  • With Basic Economy, you will not receive a seat assignment until after check-in or at the gate.
  • Passengers traveling together, including families, may not be seated together
  • You will not be eligible for same-day changes or ticket refunds after the Risk Free Cancellation Period
  • You will board in the last zone and not be eligible for paid or complimentary upgrades or preferred seats, even with Medallion® Status.

Frequent Delta flyers and cardholders of the co-branded Delta Skymiles American Express cards will still get some benefits when flying on basic economy:

When flying on a Basic Economy fare, Medallion members will continue to enjoy waived baggage fees, Priority Check-in, Priority Boarding and Medallion mileage bonuses. However, please note Medallion members will not receive paid or Complimentary Upgrades to first class, paid or complimentary Preferred Seats, or paid, or complimentary Delta Comfort+™ when flying on a Basic Economy fare.

Screen Shot 2017-05-16 at 9.22.50 PM.png
Delta gives members of their co-branded American Express cards priority boarding and one free checked bag even when booking basic economy fares.

United Airlines – Basic Economy

1024px-United_Airlines_777_N797UA
By InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA (United Airlines – N797UA Uploaded by Altair78) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
I hate to be the one to jump on the bandwagon, but United’s Basic Economy fares are the most restrictive of the “Big Three” airlines. Be prepared if you book one of these fares! (I added the bold type below for emphasis)

  • Seat selection and upgrades are not available – When you choose a Basic Economy ticket, your seat will be automatically assigned prior to boarding, and you won’t be able to change your seat once it’s been assigned. You will not be eligible to purchase Economy Plus® seating or receive Economy Plus subscription benefits. MileagePlus members, including Premier® members, cannot use complimentary, earned or mileage upgrades.
  • Group and family seating is not available – Please note that customers traveling in a group, including families, will not be able to sit together.
  • Full-sized carry-on bags are not permitted – You’re not allowed a full-sized carry-on bag unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance™ Gold member. Everyone else who brings a full-sized carry-on bag to the gate will be required to check their bag and pay the applicable checked bag fee plus a $25 gate handling charge.
  • One personal item is allowed – You are allowed one small personal item that fits under the seat in front of you, such as a shoulder bag, purse, laptop bag or other item that is 9 inches x 10 inches x 17 inches (22 cm x 25 cm x 43 cm) or less. Mobility aids and other assistive devices are also permitted.
  • Flight changes and refunds are not allowed – Ticket changes are not allowed with Basic Economy, including advance and same-day changes. Refunds are not allowed except as stated in the United 24-hour flexible booking policy.
  • Certain MileagePlus and Premier member benefits are not available – If you’re a MileagePlus member, you will still earn award miles based on the fare and your MileagePlus status. However, MileagePlus members will not earn Premier qualifying credit or lifetime miles or toward the four-segment minimum, and they won’t receive some benefits. See more details below.
  • Last boarding group – With Basic Economy, you’ll also be in the last boarding group unless you’re a MileagePlus Premier member or companion traveling on the same reservation, the primary cardmember of a qualifying MileagePlus credit card or a Star Alliance Gold member.

Is it just me or it that the MOST NEGATIVE list of benefits you’ve ever read? It almost seems as if they are daring you to buy these tickets. They do list some exceptions to these rules if you have one of the United co-branded credit cards or if you are a MileagePlus premium member, but these are, by far, the most restrictive tickets.

Final Thoughts

I recently had to look through the restrictions of basic economy fares and found that there are major differences between the three major airlines offerings. Delta’s basic economy rate’s only major drawback is that you’re not able to pick your seat until check in. American’s fare has a similar set of restrictions as Delta but additionally does not allow you to bring a bag bigger than one that will fit under your seat (and will charge you a $25 penalty on top of the checked bag fee if you bring said oversized bag to the gate). United rightfully earns the last spot with restrictions that would make RyanAir proud, like that you have no ability to pick or to change seat, can’t bring a full-size carry on (with a $25 penalty, the same as American, if you do bring one to the gate on top of the normal baggage fee), no ticket changes and being in the last boarding group.

While the reasoning the airlines gave to offer these fares was sound, to compete with ultra low cost carriers like Spirit and Frontier, in reality it just does not, to lack a better word, fly. These fares are offered on routes not served by any of the ultra low cost airlines. Other blogs have noted that the fares did not go down in price at all. The previous economy fare just became the new basic economy fare and the regular economy fare increased. The irony of these “no-frill” fares is that low-cost airlines like Southwest and JetBlue still offer lower fare structures and manage to offer wi-fi (still not available on many American flights), free checked bags (Southwest) or live TV (JetBlue) at a fare that is less than these “basic” fares. The true ultra low cost carriers, like Frontier, have fares as low as $39 or offers like Spirit’s $9 fare club. These are true “basic economy” fares that are up front about giving you nothing but a seat and having you pay for everything else. These new basic economy fares are just economy tickets with more restrictions that are the same price as the old economy fares. Buyer Beware!

Have you ever purchased one of these basic economy fares? Did you know what the restrictions were when you purchased it? How was the flight experience?  Let us know in the comments, on Facebook or Twitter. I’m personally not a big fan of these fares, but as always, Your Mileage May Vary.

 

The pleasure of changing or cancelling a flight with Southwest Airlines

I’ve written before about how much we’ve traveled on Southwest recently and even how we haven’t paid for a flight on Southwest Airlines since 2015.  Well, the time eventually came when I had to book a ticket on Southwest with cash instead of miles. I just didn’t have enough Southwest miles left to cover the cost of the flight for both of us on this trip.

Southwest_Canyon_Blue
Photo By Brian from Toronto, Canada – Southwest 737, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=2271529

17761038_1121957987914685_4477871181367452954_oWe are flying to Chicago for a weekend to see Hamilton  (Again. Don’t hate us.) and I know I cleared these dates with Sharon before I booked the airline tickets. But sometimes life happens and plans change. This time we needed to change our travel dates because Sharon was cast in the choir of Encore!  for their upcoming production of Hairspray at the Dr. Phillips Center in Orlando (shameless plug – tickets are on sale here).  This did cause a bit of a dilemma as Sharon now has a rehearsal scheduled for the day we were going to be flying to Chicago, and that just wasn’t going to work.

When we realized this, I immediately was relieved because I knew I had booked the flights on Southwest and they have one of the most generous policies for changing and cancelling tickets of any airline. They do not charge any fees to change flights and will only charge (or refund) the difference between the original and the new ticket price.  If you need to cancel your ticket, Southwest will give you a full refund of your whole purchase price as a credit which would need to be used within one year from when you bought the ticket. If you used points to purchase your ticket, the points will be returned to your account and the taxes would be refunded to your credit card. Any extras purchased, such as EarlyBird seat assignment fees, are non-refundable and would be lost if you cancel the ticket. You may be able to transfer these extras to your new flights if you are rescheduling, but make to sure to call to make the changes. You will not be able to keep the extras if you make the changes online.

Not only is Southwest’s policy helpful if your plans change, but it can also save you money if the price of your flight goes down. If the prices drop on your Southwest flight, you can rebook the ticket at the lower price and get back the difference in points or cash (as a credit for future use). Here is a great post from Deals We Like that describes the entire process of repricing a Southwest ticket if the price goes down.

Chicago_north_from_John_Hancock_2004-11_img_2618
We will still be going to Chicago, just for a day shorter than originally planned.                         Photo BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=104651

Having to change our flights did make me look at prices again and it turned out that for Friday morning, Southwest’s current price was $10 more per person than what I had paid for the tickets for Thursday. However, United was also offering a flight on Friday morning that was $60 less per person. Taking into consideration the $15 in EarlyBird fees that we would be losing, it was still worthwhile to cancel the Southwest flight to Chicago and rebook on United. I wanted to make sure the return flight stayed as it was so I called Southwest to cancel the flight instead of cancelling online, just to make sure. On a side note, our flight into Chicago on United is to Chicago O’Hare and the flight home is from Chicago Midway. We are using public transport and Uber/Lyft/taxis for this trip and are not renting a car. However if we were renting a car, I would have needed to find out if there were any additional charges for using different airports when deciding if it was worthwhile to cancel the flight on Southwest and book on United.

Considering that other airlines charge from $75-$200 to change or cancel a ticket, we were lucky we had these flights booked on Southwest. If you have a ticket booked on a different airline and have a true conflict or emergency, it doesn’t hurt to try and call the airline and explain your situation. If you hit it just right, the customer service representative might be compassionate and work with you to change your reservation.  Then again, you might end up with someone who says “Too bad, so sad. Sorry, can’t help you.” Your Mileage May Vary in getting this trick to work.

Have you ever need to change travel plans after paying for your ticket? Did the airline or hotel help you out or keep your money? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook or Twitter.

We’re Going To Do The Pan Am Experience!

As you guys may have figured out, Joe and I like to travel. But we like to think our travel is different from that of most people. Oh sure, some people like to go to the Caribbean, or to Italy or to go hiking. And some of those are nice sometimes (well, except the hiking. I’m not a hiking sort of person). But for us, especially for me, the more unusual, the more different, the more of an adventure, the more off the beaten path, the better. And if you can add a little kitch to it, well, THEN my life is just complete. So when a friend posted an article on Facebook about the Pan Am Experience, my eyes perked up. I did some research and quickly realized we could potentially visit during our trip to Phoenix, the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, Disneyland and Los Angeles this fall, so I learned as much as I could about it.

It sounded really cool! Here’s what their website says about the experience:

Relive the Magic of Flying Onboard a Luxurious Pan Am 747

Anthony Toth
Photo Courtesy of Danny Liao / Air Hollywood

“From its birth in 1927, Pan American World Airways was the pioneer airline whose routes spanned 6 continents and more than 80 countries. Almost a century later, the name Pan Am is still a very powerful brand, and inside this Southern California motion picture studio sits an exact replica of the airline’s Boeing 747 and everything that made it so special.

Your Pan Am Experience begins at our exclusive First & Clipper class check-in desk. where our Pan Am customer service agent provides each passenger with a 70’s style boarding pass, ticket jacket and first class carry-on tags.

Anthony Toth
Photo courtesy of Danny Liao / Air Hollywood

You’ll be invited into the Clipper Club where you’ll have an opportunity to peruse the vintage Pan Am memorabilia including authentic uniforms, airline seats, handbags, artwork, and more. You can mingle with other enthusiasts at the Clipper Club lounge, share stories, and make new friends.

Soon thereafter, you’ll board “Clipper Juan T. Trippe”, our dedication to Pan Am’s first Boeing 747, where you’ll be sprung back in time to the 1970s. As soon you set foot inside the aircraft, your Stewardesses adorned in original Pan Am uniforms will welcome you onboard with a fine cocktail of your choice as Frank Sinatra’s soothing voice will transport you back in time.

With libation in hand, we encourage you to explore the aircraft – from First Class on the main deck, to Clipper Class aft of the galley, and the Upper Deck dining room. The interiors of each cabin have all been uniquely restored to Pan Am’s original cabin décor and branding elements.

PanAmMikeKelley7
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood
PamAmMikeKelly2
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood
PanAmMikeKelley1
Photo courtesy of Mike Kelley / Air Hollywood

Before we “take off”, the crew will perform an in-flight safety demonstration followed by a brief welcoming message from the flight deck. Soon you will be asked to take your seat as a stewardess sets your table for a truly memorable dining event. Main Deck passengers will sit back in plush Sleeperette seats and relax in a quiet, intimate dining setting while Upper Deck passengers will climb the winding staircase and enjoy a dynamic social atmosphere. Everything from the china to the glassware is authentic with careful attention to the exquisite service delivery of the era and menu offerings of Pan Am.


In classic Pan Am style, you will be served a delightful, gourmet five-course meal, starting with bread selections and appetizer choices like shrimp cocktail or tomato and mozzarella drizzled with a pesto glaze. For the main course, we serve a traditional Chateaubriand carved from the trolley. Guests with dietary restrictions may request in advance a choice of Roasted Chicken with Peppercorn sauce or a vegetarian pasta entree that is sure to please. Each meal comes with garden fresh vegetables and roasted potatoes. Your fourth course is a fine selection of fruit, cheese & biscuits accompanied by port wine. And finally your fifth course is a dessert cart with a large selection of digestifs. Tea & coffee completes the meal.

Anthony Toth
Photo courtesy of Anthony Toth / Air Hollywood

At the end of your flight, we offer all passengers an optional tour of the various production sets at Air Hollywood, including the original cockpit from cult classic Airplane! as well as sets and props used in major motion pictures such as “Bridesmaids”, “The Wolf of Wall Street”, and the hit television show “Lost”.

For the first time since Pan Am ceased operations, you can now relive the magic of this golden era in travel. We cordially invite you to personally experience this unique “flying” opportunity in the tradition of Pan Am.”

DOES THAT SOUND COOL OR WHAT??? Since I got Joe to say we could try to go (it did’t take a whole lot of arm twisting at all), the last hurdle was getting a reservation…and apparently they are NOT easy to get. Like, as in “they generally only offer the event once every 2 weeks and have space for less than 50 guests per event” not easy to get. As it turned out, we lucked out and of the exactly 2 nights we could even possibly do this during the course of our vacation, one of them was one of the nights in October they were going to offer the Pan Am Experience. So reservations for the next few months went on sale last week and guess what? I GOT A RESERVATION! So yeah…we’re doing the Pan Am Experience in Los Angeles! I can hardly wait!

Stay tuned…trip report to follow this fall…

 

FOR NEWBIES: When An Airline Breaks Something In Your Luggage

I went to New York with a friend not long ago, just for a couple of days, to see a bunch of Broadway shows. We were only going to be out of town from Tuesday to Friday morning, for about 70 hours total, so we were able to get away with just using carry-on luggage, thereby saving us the time of having to pick up our luggage from baggage claim, as well as the worry of them losing our bags or breaking something in them.

Since I grew up in Brooklyn and Staten Island, whenever I’m in Manhattan, the times when we’re not in shows are generally dedicated to food – either the yummy things, like pizza and bagels, that aren’t quite the same down here in Central Florida, or restaurants that were simply an important part of my life before I relocated from the Big Apple. Anyway, while we were at one of these restaurants (Serendipity 3, on E. 60th, between 2nd & 3rd), I bought a glass Christmas ornament, just because. It wasn’t very expensive, only $12.50, and I suspected it would give me warm fuzzies every year when I put it on the tree, so I got it.

On the Delta flight home, thanks to (A) the Delta gate people saying the flight was 100% full, (B) being in Zone 3 (of 3) and (C) 95% of the other Zone 3 people already standing on line while the pre-Zone 1 “people who need extra time” folks were being loaded, by the time my friend and I got up to the gate before loading onto the plane, anyone who had a carry on bag that, like mine, was around the size and shape of a regulation 22x14x9 was told they needed to gate check because there was no more room on the overhead. I told them I would prefer not to, but of course that got me nowhere. The Delta employee said the bag would be brought up with strollers at the gate, so no worries. Not wanting to rock the boat and risk not being allowed to go on the plane at all, I agreed and gate checked it.

As it turned out, there was indeed space for my carry-on suitcase above our seats, and I suspect even more space for it above the 2 empty seats directly in front of us AND above the 2 empty “exit row” seats that I saw several rows behind us when I went to use the lavatory. Cue the feeling of minor annoyance. Increase the annoyance to mid range when I was told, upon landing, that my luggage would not be brought up to me at the gate after all, but would go to regular baggage claim, thereby adding a good 20-30 minutes before I could get to my house. And then I got home, unpacked and discovered that my Christmas ornament, which was packed to be safe as carry-on, but not when it was undoubtedly thrown from place to place by Delta employees, was broken into a million little glass crumbs. ARGH!!!

Photo Mar 24, 3 19 54 PM
Part of my broken ornament. The rest was glass dust all over the bottom of my suitcase

Joe tweeted Delta, saying “Wife having to gate check bag on flight home = broken Xmas ornament. Vacuuming out luggage not how we wanted to spend today.” To their credit, they wrote back quickly and said we should call their customer service number. I had a couple of false starts because I didn’t realize I would need my SkyMiles and flight confirmation numbers in front of me (so I had to find those), plus I wasn’t sure if the contents of my baggage counted as “baggage” or not (NOTE TO NEWBIES: It does.) but I finally spoke to a sweet lady named Shay, who said I needed to fill out their online form. She did give me some helpful suggestions (ignore the “reference number” request, photo must be small or just say that you have a photo available upon request, etc.) and off I went to Delta.com to fill out my “Comment/Complaint” form. I got an auto reply the next day that said:

Dear Mrs. Heg,
Thank you for contacting Delta.
We look forward to working with you to resolve this matter. You will receive a response regarding the status of your claim within 2-4 weeks.

We appreciate your selection of Delta and will work to resolve this in a timely manner.
Thank you very much.
Sincerely,

Customer Care – Baggage

That was on March 25th.

On April 10th (16 days after I contacted them – on the lower end of 2-4 weeks), I got a phone call from a Delta representative but let it go to voice mail because I didn’t recognize the 800 number they used and nowadays, if I don’t recognize the number, I just don’t pick up the phone – sorry, I just don’t feel like listening to another robocall about adjusting a headset. They also sent me an email:

Dear Mrs. Heg:
Thank you for the additional information (NOTE: I didn’t send them any other additional information but OK), and we’re sorry to learn that you encountered a problem with your baggage while traveling with us recently.
Please be assured that every precaution is made to have a passenger’s luggage arrive in the same condition as when it was checked into our care (NOTE: yeah right). We succeed with few exceptions, and regret the mishandling on your trip (NOTE: if you had let me keep my luggage with me as intended, and especially since there was indeed room in the overhead, this wouldn’t have happened).
Our check for $13.61
(NOTE: $12.50 + 8.87% NYC tax) to reimburse you for the damaged property will be mailed under separate cover. You should receive it within the next ten business days.
We appreciate, and thank you for, your choice of Delta to provide your air transportation and look forward to being able to welcome and serve you, once again, on board one of our flights.
Sincerely,

Claims Manager
Customer Care-Baggage

And on April 22nd, which was indeed within (albeit JUST within) 10 business days, I received my check.

DeltaCheck2
So there you go – I’m reimbursed. Am I happy? Well, not being out the $13.61 is nice, especially since they were the ones who broke the thing in the first place. But honestly, I’d rather still have an intact ornament as a memory of my trip, and would have been a whole lot happier if I had been allowed to keep my carry-on in the first place, and then none of this would have happened.

With airline travel so uncomfortable and not-user-friendly nowadays, you would think the airlines could at least make “keeping the items they say customers can have with them, with them” would be more of a priority in terms of customer service. Oh, and speaking of customer service, I got a “Give Us Feedback of How We Handled This Situation?” email from Delta on April 11th, the day after they said they were going to send me the check. Only problem was that several of the survey questions had to do with whether or not I was happy with the situation once it was completed…which it wasn’t, because I hadn’t received the check yet. There was still a possibility something could have happened and the check wouldn’t be received, which would have affected my answers. So I held onto the email and waited. But when I tried to fill it out a few days after I finally did receive the check, the survey had expired. So yeah…customer service.

I know I’m not the only one who’s been through something like this. Did an airline ever break anything of yours? Did you have a happy ending with it?

Posts We Like: “When An Airline Proves Twitter Support Is Officially Worthless”

TwitterWe read other travel bloggers all the time, for tips, ideas, news and anything else that can pop up in the world of miles and points. We saw this post earlier this week, from another travel blogger, One Mile At A Time. It discusses how Twitter can be the best or the worst thing ever when you’re trying to fix a problem with an airline.

We just recently used Twitter to fix our reservation with JetBlue and they were great, but we admittedly sent a direct message to them instead of a public tweet. We also tweeted Delta to help us get money back on an item they broke in transit and they were great in quickly giving us a phone number to get started. But in One Mile At A Time’s article, they showed how the airlines’ priorities can sometimes get in the way of good customer service. We agree that it does depend on the airline (or hotel) and the problem you are asking them about.

Have you ever tweeted a company to help get resolution for a problem? How well was it resolved (or not)?

Five reasons why I was going to book a flight on Allegiant…and five reasons why I didn’t.

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?

allegiantair
Why didn’t I book a flight on Allegiant?

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.

photo-jan-30-4-06-30-pm
Sharon & Jeep Jeep on their first meeting

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Looks like I’ll have to find a different way to get to the Knoxville area. (Sunsphere from 1982 World’s Fair)

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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?)

    Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 12.02.10 AM
    While I like to fly, this is not my preferred routing as suggested by United.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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).
  5. 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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.Screen Shot 2017-05-10 at 12.05.36 AM
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Have you ever flown with Allegiant? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments or write to us on Facebook or Twitter.