A few days ago we talked about all inclusive vacationing. Frankly, it's a lot more fun to talk about the destination than the journey, especially when that journey involves airline fees. There's something you need to know about airline fees, especially when comparing fares.
transparency now required of airlines to quote their fares as inclusive of taxes. What they don't include when you're looking at your total ticket cost are baggage fees, food and entertainment charges. Once upon a time, airlines served full complimentary meals in coach as well as first class - those days are gone. And let's be real, the food was generally horrible, so in my mind it's not a huge loss.
Southwest makes a big deal of the fact they do not charge for checked or carry-on baggage, which is true, but their fares are also generally higher than other airlines unless a sale is running. Most of the airlines silently pile on charges, while Spirit Airlines is the most hilarious of all, charging $40 for each carry-on bag.
$40. Not for a checked bag, but for a carry-on. As of November 6, 2012, it will be $50, and if you wait to pay at the gate, $100. $100 for a carry-on bag. At that point, just do yourself a favor and walk wherever you're going.
Spirit's pricing is so "transparent" that their website will show you the fare (often something stupidly low), then your responsibility for the fuel (often something stupidly high) and then the taxes. That's how a Spirit $9 fare becomes $80 in real money. Then tack on your carry-on and checked baggage cost, and I don't see how it's possible for you to come out ahead.
Delta, American and United are the last of the old guard and are mostly in harmony when it comes to services and fees. Carry-ons are free, checked bags are not, food and entertainment are on a pay-only basis. The size of these operators often makes them the best choice as they offer the most routes and are often competitively priced. Overtime coach cabins have gotten more cramped with the addition of seats to previously existing aircraft and a tendency toward smaller planes, even on long flights.
JetBlue, Alaska and Frontier are frequent flyer favorites, but routes are limited. JetBlue touts its free first checked bag along with unlimited brand name snacks, free DirecTV and XM Radio, and ample legroom. Alaska is popular for its west coast flights and is known for good service. Frontier funnels almost all their flights through Denver, but scores high marks for ease and comfort.
The latest entry in the US market is Virgin America, an offshoot of Richard Branson's substantial empire. Virgin America is hip and trendy, offering USB ports and power plugs at all seats along with a personal entertainment system and onscreen food and drink selection. WiFi is available for an additional charge ($4.95 - $17.95 per flight depending on length, or $34.95 for a monthly pass). Did I mention the mood lighting? There's mood lighting.
So which is the best? There's no flat answer. If you're into flying bagless, Spirit could be the way to go. For many routes, Delta is a great option and highly reliable. And finally, for those who dig mood lighting, Virgin is the only way to fly.