¨The best thing about flying first class was that you could be as nutty as a fruitcake and were still treated as the Queen of Sheba¨.
Sarah Kate Lynch
Why Buying the Cheapest Airfare Maybe a Mistake
The airline pricing system may serve airlines well. But it does not really serve customers. For all intents and purposes, it means that customers increasingly must trade inconvenience for the cheapest airfare.
Until eight years ago, I was always willing to do almost anything to get the cheapest airfare. However, I have decided that sometimes the sacrifices required to get the most economical tickets are not worth the cost savings.
The following list summarizes factors other than the cheapest airfare that I consider when selecting the right flight.
Every Fifty-Plus Nomad will have somewhat different definitions of the right flight. However, I have included my list to give my readers some food for thought:
Some Cheap Flights That Are Not Worth the Trouble
- In the winter, keep the weather in mind when booking a flight. Generally, non-stop flights are preferable to connecting flights. By limiting the number of flights, you take, you also limit the number of weather systems that can affect your route. Also, it can be worthwhile to avoid some airports like San Francisco that are infamous for flight delays (and use San Jose or Oakland instead) to avoid weather-related issues. (Keep in mind that when the weather is to blame, airlines don’t pay for hotels or meals for stranded travelers).
- Flights that involve multiple connections are not usually worth it. The more connections, the more chances that something will go wrong. Besides, the longer the flight time, the more stressful the trip becomes.
- I would recommend paying more to avoid trips that involve backtracking. About ten years ago, I flew from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Mexico City because the flight was $100 less expensive than a non-stop flight between Los Angeles and Mexico City. I also flew eight years ago from Miami to Newark to Washington DC to Buenos Aires to save $150 and get more frequent flyer miles. (Frequent flyer miles earned on flights were worth much more eight years ago than today). Both itineraries made the total trip time more than twice as long than the non-stop flight. Nowadays, I consider my time and sanity to be worth a bit more than these relatively small differences in fees. (That said, I may subject myself to these backtracking flights if the price difference is higher than $200 one-way.)
When You Should Consider Driving or Taking Public Transport to a Major Airport
If you do not live in a city with a large airport, it may be better to travel to the major airport via land transport (a car, bus, etc.) than fly out of the nearby airport.
I used to live near and frequently fly from San Luis Obispo, California. I thought that flying from San Luis Obispo was better than driving or taking a shuttle to Los Angeles or San Francisco (both four hours away). However, I discovered that it was better to fly out of Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) after a while. Why?
- Since the number of non-stop flights from San Luis Obispo is minimal, I almost always had to take a connecting flight to my destination. Often, I waited more than four hours for the connecting flight. (Particularly if I was connecting to an International destination).
- Twice the flights from San Luis Obispo were delayed, and I missed my connecting flight. If I had taken land-based transit, I would not have missed these flights. This happened when I was trying to get to Peoria, Illinois from San Luis Obispo. The flight from San Luis Obispo to San Francisco was delayed. Since I missed my connection, I had to fly from San Francisco to Chicago and find my way to Peoria. (Thankfully I was able to share a rental car with someone else going to Peoria. That said, it took twenty hours to get to Peoria. The trip should have taken eight hours).
- The trips from San Luis Obispo often cost me the same or more than if I flew from LAX or SFO. (Even after accounting for the costs of land transport to SFO or LAX).
Take the Bus or a Car If You Are Six Hours or Less From Your Destination
It is also often worth considering driving (or even taking the bus or train) if you can get to your destination in less than five to six hours. (Cars, buses, and trains are handy if your destination is in or near downtown). Usually, it takes almost five to six hours to travel between two destinations by plane, by the time you account for the following.
- A 30 minute or so trip to the airport.
- An hour to an hour and a half at the airport to go through security and check-in and then wait for and board the flight.
- An hour to two-hour flight.
- A 30 minute or an hour trip from the airport to your destination.
If You Have to Make A Connection
- If I choose a flight with connections, I prefer a connection with at least one and a half hour or more layover. Many times, if a plane is delayed, it will be for an hour or less. By booking a longer connection window, you have a better chance of making the connection. Besides, many of the airports that have a lot of connecting flights are immense. It is not unusual to have to walk for thirty minutes to an hour to get to the connecting gate.
- If you have even slightly limited mobility, ask the airline for a wheelchair, especially if you have a flight with less than an hour for a connection. Even though I have no mobility issues, I sometimes wish I had a wheelchair when faced with some of the long distances in airports necessary to make a connecting flight. (In London-Heathrow and Miami International airports I have walked more than an hour to make a connecting flight).
Other Tips for Reducing the Hassle of Flying
- Nowadays, I’d also suggest that you give a slight nudge to international over US-based carriers. In the post 9/11 period, US-based carriers have basically been forced to cut back on customer service. Fortunately, foreign airlines haven’t had to adapt as many cuts as their US-based equivalents.
- Take international non-stop flights as often as possible to avoid the hassle of going through customs, immigration, and security multiple times. See my post on ¨Intermediate International Connection¨ Flights for more details.
Want More Information About Getting the Best Airfare for Your Money?
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