With airlines trying to get every nickel from every passenger, it’s important to compare airfare. Just checking airfare on-line may not give you an accurate picture of what you’ll actually be paying for your air travel experience. Many airlines quote only the airfare portion of your trip, which doesn’t include many add-on fees. Unfortunately, this means you’ll have to do a bit of research and some handy calculator work to see what really may be the total cost of your trip.
So, here’s a quick list of fees you will want to investigate before you make your final airfare selection:
- Luggage fees
- Carry-on luggage fees
- Overweight luggage fees
- Seat selection fees
- Early boarding fees
- Food & Beverage fees
- Cancellation/Rebooking Fees (Should your plans change unexpectedly)
- Taxes & Surcharges
One last thing to check is to see if you can earn miles on the airfare you’re paying. Some airlines have lower fares in exchange for not giving you any mileage credit in your frequent flyer program. Most airlines list eligible fare classes to earn miles on their websites.
Airline loyalty may save you more in the long run
There are benefits to airline loyalty. Loyalty can bring perks. Depending on how loyal you are, depends on the number of perks you’ll get. If you have no loyalty, then departure time, flight time, number of connections and more than likely price become your first consideration when booking airfare.
It’s definitely no secret that “great service” is hard to come by with an airline. (OK, OK….if you fly JetBlue, Southwest or Singapore Airlines that might not be true.) But giving most of your business to a certain airline, can have it’s benefits. And, the value of those benefits can add up quickly if you fly even just a few times a year. On most airlines, you can check at least one piece of luggage for free by flying just a few trips a year. If you fly 6 round trips a year, that can save you $300, assuming you pay $25 for the bag for each leg of the trip. So, even if you paid $25 more per ticket for those 6 trips, you’re still saving $150. Of course, the more you fly, the more benefits you get.
We fly United or Star Alliance carriers almost exclusively. We use other airlines only as a last resort. Why? Because we have a top tier flying status with United (1K). Now, it’s not that we LOVE the airline by any means. But since most of our air travel departs from Denver, a large United hub, they have the most convenient flight times and gateway destinations than any other airline at the airport. Luckily, Southwest and Frontier also have a large presence at Denver, so it keeps United’s airfares to most destinations reasonable.
So what do we get for that loyalty? Well, quite a bit actually. We can check up to 3 bags free each to any destination in the world. We can also carry an extra 20 lbs per bag than other passengers (which comes in handy when you’re flying to far flung destinations). We’re at the top of the list for domestic upgrades and should we have to ride in “the back of the bus”, we at least get seating with expanded leg room. On international trips, we get 6 “free” business class upgrades per year. Now, we don’t always get those upgrades, but most of the time we do. We get to board the plane first. Now, you may not think that’s great, but with everyone trying to carry on vs check a bag, it’s a lot nicer when you’re assured if getting to store your bag right above your seat vs half way back in the plane.
Another advantage of being a loyal customer to one two airlines, is that you have the potential to receive better service, should something go wrong. Should a flight be cancelled, airlines will usually give their frequent fliers first crack at open seats on the next available flight and probably will automatically rebook them. Everyday customers will simply have to take their chance, probably stand in line with the masses and hope that they can get on one of the next two or three flights the carrier has available. Loyal fliers also usually get a special customer service number to call vs being sent to the foreign call center for assistance. When a problem arises with your travel, it can be very helpful to talk to someone who’s familiar with the way the system works. These calls usually go to “seasoned” airline employees who have worked in a domestic call center for years and can get you’re issue resolved quickly.
So, is loyalty worth it?
Well, you really have to decide if you want to put your eggs in one basket. We’ve been flying United for almost 10 years and while the airline is just so-so at treating it’s premium passengers well, they are getting better. And, if we added up what that loyalty is worth, it’s certainly worth more than the extra $20 or $40 we may spend on a ticket from time to time. Since we fly to Asia quite a bit, I can tell you that as much as we may complain, those complaints go away when we’re sitting in Business on a 17 hour flight to Singapore at a mid-range economy fare instead of being scrunched up in the back of the bus in Economy.
As airlines continue to add fees for just about everything you can think of, loyalty to one or two carriers does look like it will become more and more advantageous. If you’re just starting out traveling and aren’t sure who you’ll be loyal to, you should still sign up right away for the airlines frequent flyer program so you’ll start earning credit for what you do fly.