Browsing Posts tagged budget airlines

Allegiant airlinesOne travel perk of moving to Tampa for a couple years has been a big improvement in flight options. Besides having lots of airports within a 4-hour drive if needed, one 30 minutes away is a hub for Allegiant Air.

Never heard of them? I hadn’t either before moving here, but it’s a godsend for people living in small and mid-sized cities in the U.S. who want to get someplace warm and sunny in a hurry. If flies direct from St. Peterburg/Clearwater airport (with the yummy abbreviation of PIE) to all kinds of places with normally crappy air connections. Places like Lexington, KY; Roanoke, VA, Chattanooga, TN; Appleton, WI; Duluth, MN, Greenboro, NC. They also send lots of flights to Myrtle Beach, Ft. Lauderdale, and Orlando, plus you can get from Florida all the way up to Niagara Falls direct, which would be an easy way to get to Canada too. They have other hubs in Orlando, Ft. Lauderdale, Ft. Meyers, and five cities out west. See the full route map here.

Their fares are routinely lower than anyone else’s by a wide margin, so besides the time factor, the price is enticing too. Just one problem though: you’ll pay for everything after that. Like Spirit and RyanAir, Allegiant looks at the airfare as a base. It’s the starting point from which they pile extra fees on top of to make the real money. So you’ll pay for anything to drink, a seat assignment, using your credit card, and even a carry-0n if you bring a bag.

Allegiant Bag Fee Blues

Is there any way to avoid all this? Well you can avoid eating/drinking in flight and take your chances on a seat upon arrival—probably ending up in the middle. You can use a debit card instead of a credit card. And you can pack lightly. Really lightly.

I’ve now done four flights on Allegiant without paying a bag fee. It wasn’t easy and when I head to a wedding in October where I have to dress up, I’ll pay up to bring a real suitcase. These two trips were just for a long weekend to hang out with my father though, leaving on a Friday, returning on a Monday. The photo here shows the back I packed and my secret weapon—a Scottevest.

baggage fees

Allegiant and Spirit Air both say to avoid baggage fees, your “personal item” must fit under the seat in front of you. Apparently Allegiant Air’s seats are smaller than Spirit’s because while the latter allows dimensions of 16 by 14 X 12 inches, Allegiant limits you to 16 X 15 X 7 inches. That’s a tad larger than the size of a laptop bag for those with a 15-inch screen or less.

Obviously there’s more height than 7 inches under the seat, but their rules are rules and they enforce them with vigor. Gate agents were slapping $35 fines, errr, baggage fees, on anyone who dared to carry two items of any size or had a bag larger than these dimensions. (Talk about a horrible job to get up for every day!)

Despite all the luggage  and bags I’ve reviewed at Practical Travel Gear, I had to resort to a trade show schwag bag to find something of this size. It held my laptop, laptop cord, and the following: one pair of Sanuk Rasta Pouch shoes, one extra pair of pants, a pair of shorts, two collared shirts, two t-shirts, three pairs of socks and underwear, and a small toiletry kit. In the outside pocket I had an inflatable travel pillow I ended up not using.

In my Scottevest went everything else not in my pants pockets: phone, iPod, earbuds, keys, portable charger, loose change, sunglasses, ticket, boarding pass, lip balm, etc. It could have held a lot more (like underwear or some toiletries) if I really wanted to push it.

Would I go through all this for a longer trip? No, even for a cheapskate like me who’s got plenty of lightweight travel clothing, it would be hard for a real vacation. But since my option was to pay $64 in fees or have $64 to spend with my dad over the weekend, it was worth it.

Despite the millions airlines poured into lobbying against it, as of yesterday the U.S. Department of Transportation has mandated that all flights operating in the U.S. must display the entire airfare up front in the booking process. If an airline advertises a sale price, it must be the real total price, not “before taxes and fees.” Since it has become routine for flights to Europe to have as much or more in fuel “surcharges” as the price of the ticket, the D.O.T. could no longer ignore the flood of consumer complaints.

Read this excellent story from Consumer Traveler to get the details. It’s written by Charlie Leocha, whose Consumer Alliance group should get the bulk of the thanks for making this happen.

Besides the honest airfare disclosure, the companies also have to make it easy for you to figure out how much you’ll have to pay to check bags, depending on your flight. All that info now has to be on one easy-to-find page and at the start of the booking screens.

Most airlines and online travel agencies acted in a civil manner this week, sending e-mails to their customers explaining not to be alarmed by higher advertised costs, that they’re just seeing it all up front now instead of having surcharges added when booking. The airline that everyone loves to hate—Spirit Airlines—took a quite different tack though. I got an e-mail from them that looked like this:

In a bout of double-speak that would make George Orwell and Lenin both proud, the company claimed that this law was all a big conspiracy to somehow hide taxes from you so the government could keep raising them. I can’t imagine even the most delusional Tea Party faithful falling for that one since any airline can break out taxes as clearly as they’d like anywhere on their website. But instead of a link to any page explaining the new law, there was just a link to go complain to your congressperson. How bizarre!

As SmarterTravel said in an article about the company’s actions, “Spirit’s overblown reaction to the government’s passenger protection rules—first legal action and now a very public advertising campaign—underscores the carrier’s reliance on a steady stream of passenger surcharges.” Here’s a fuller explanation of what they were claiming and how far removed it was from actual facts.

There are plenty of others out there who look at the airfare as just a way to get you in the door and start doubling or tripling that amount with extra fees and this law won’t help you on foreign domestic flights. So if you’re flying on Spirit’s kindred souls, like RyanAir or Aerobus, you’ll still need to take every advertised fare for what it is: a bait-and-switch gimmick. Here though, the consumers won one over the big corporate campaign contributors.

If it’s your first time visiting a foreign city, you may want to pay close attention to where that flight is actually landing. In some world capitals, even the main airport is a long hike from the center, especially Narita for Tokyo and Seoul’s shiny airport, which is more than an hour away by bus or train, in Inchon.

The big problem though is when your flight to, say, Paris isn’t going to the Paris airport. Last month Budget Travel magazine ran an article on where some of those budget European flights land and how long it’s going to take you to get to the city center from them.

For example, that Air Berlin, RyanAir, or EasyJet flight to London will actually land 32 miles away at Stansted. The train to Liverpool Street station takes 45 minutes and will cost you 21 pounds—about $33.

A Wizz Air flight to Munich is actually touching down in Memmingen, 63 miles away. It’ll cost you almost 30 euros to take the express bus to the city.

Going to Barcelona? The budget airlines flights marked as such actually go to Girona, which is 62 miles away. The 75-minute bus ride after you get your luggage will cost 12 euros.

Most of Latin America is not developed enough that this is an issue—budget airlines are a rarity outside of Brazil and Mexico. The big one to watch out for though is Mexico City. Many airlines (including Spirit and similar Aerobus) fly to Toluca instead, which is an hour outside the city on a good day with not much traffic. The public transportation options are very limited too even if your Spanish is good.

Sometimes this extra hike can be worth it if the fare is low enough after factoring in all the extra fees. Or if you’re on some kind of package tour where you’re all piling into a vehicle together, then no worries. Otherwise, you’ll need to run the numbers with a calculator to see if the savings add up.

Have you gotten an unwanted surprise when traveling to a foreign city?

As most of the frequent flier programs get more transparent on the web and more savvy travelers get clued in to the wonders of travel hacking, all kinds of comparisons keep popping up for which programs are the best and worst. It’s hard to do this without the exercise making a DSLR camera manual look fun to read in comparison. The airlines’ programs all have different points quirks, different elite level perks, and different credit card alliances.

So this information is ripe for an infographic—a way to see the whole array visually so it all makes more sense than a string of numbers and costs. Here are two worth checking out.

This first FindtheBest airline infographic is pretty bare-bones visually, but it collects a lot of info in one place once you figure out that you can click through many boxes to see more detail. Right away I saw things that make me scratch my head, however, like valuing Delta “Sky Pesos” at 4 cents per mile for domestic flights, even though every mileage guru will tell you Delta’s are the hardest miles to actually redeem for anything worthwhile. They’ve got a poor record on redemptions and make it harder to find the info you need for cashing in with partners.

Still, I immediately bookmarked this site because it provides a lot of info in one place that usually requires pecking around on each airline website to find. You can see in one place who the partners are for earning miles, how many miles it takes to get to Europe or Asia, expiration window, and how the airline stacks up to a competitor one-on-one. Tabs take you to elite level perks and more mileage charts.

I would have liked to see more on fees, like how much they charge you to call them, what the fuel surcharges are (some airlines charge them on “free” flights, others don’t), and how much they ream you on baggage. But hey, for a free service, this is quite comprehensive.

Next, this cool frequent flier rundown from really puts the “graphic” in infographic. That section I cut out and stuck in at the top of this post is a sampling of how a bit of information can really pop if you frame it the right way in a picture. Let’s see, I can earn a flight in one year on Southwest and in eight years on Continental. Hmmm, which one has a better payback you think? (Factor in free bag checking and the spending-to-reward gap is even wider.)

The graphic kicks off with a great illustration of annual fees on the lowest level of airline credit cards: $45 on JetBlue, $95 on Delta, for example. With banks paying close to zero on interest yet collecting more than 14% in interest, they’re all loan sharks in that department.

Keep scrolling down though and the differences are more stark, especially in how many points/miles you can actually earn in the first year with any of these cards and how far that will take you. This is mostly about earning miles from credit cards, but since that’s how you can often earn enough for a flight in one shot, that’s the quickest way to travel hacking payoffs. It’s also the way to keep earning miles on the ground paying for things you had to buy and bills you needed to cover anyway. See the full comparison here.


This Cheapest Destinations blog has been around since 2003, which gives it a much longer history than most travel blogs out there. Every once in a while I like to look back at what was bubbling up for discussion and see how those issues are playing out down the road.

Five years ago, some things looked a lot different, for others the discussion hasn’t really changed.

What’s different now for travelers

Back then we were just starting to see the emergence of budget airlines in Mexico. Since then a few have gone under, but the ones that are alive now are healthy and expanding their routes. If you plan it right and don’t mind going through a hub, you can now fly around Mexico cheaply.

Five years ago it looked like in-flight internet was going to disappear. Boeing was the only one offering it, through a service that lost $320 million in one year. But other options took its place, at a better price, and now people can send tweets about the physical appearance of their seatmates. What progress!

Peru visitors were bumming that Inca Trail trekking fees were going up. Now trekkers would love to have those rates again—they’ve gone up quite a bit more. You’ll now probably pay at least $500 per person for that hike, which puts it well out of the range of most long-term budget travelers. Here’s a rundown from one company of where that money goes.

A half decade ago it was really starting to become apparent that India was on the rise because all the mid-range hotels started filling up with…Indians. For shoestring backpackers, there are still bargains galore, but at the mid and upper ranges lodging prices have kept rising since then, especially in the large business centers and main tourist attraction areas.

The endless discussion

Some issues were argued about in hostel common rooms when I first started backpacking in the early 90s and most of those issues still ignite heated discussions today.

For instance, do people and places stop being authentic when they get all the stuff we have already?

Should travelers boycott Burma and Tibet?

Is there such a thing as safe or not safe places for women to travel?

I know one thing for sure. Most of us still need a nap.