I recently had the opportunity to fly from Bellingham, WA to Las Vegas, NV on Allegiant Air (note: this was not a free ticket and I paid full fare). It was time for a little vacation, but vacation doesn’t mean I can’t review my flight.
On the blog, I have covered Allegiant quite a bit. I have looked at the possibility of them starting flights from Paine Field, talked about their Boeing 757′s and have explored their recent growth. However, I have never actually flown Allegiant and felt it was about time.
Although I haven’t flown them, I have had a small, odd crush on the airline. They have a very unique business model of flying older MD-80′s out of smaller airports and are geared towards the leisure traveler trying to get somewhere warm. They fly places that other low cost carriers don’t fly offering non-stop service to airports not usually served. They also seem to under cut the competition in fare price.
When booking my ticket I was looking at flights out of Seattle (SEA) and Bellingham (BLI – which is located about 1.5hours north of Seattle). Flying Allegiant out of BLI was $50.00 cheaper than anyone else — even after the fees I ended up paying. Add that parking at BLI is only $9/day vs $28/day at SEA and the 1.5hr drive north sounds like a good idea compared to the 30min drive south for me to SEA (ok, so when I have to drive it from 1am-2:30am when I got back, it didn’t seem so great at the time).
There is no hiding that Allegiant love their fees. If you are just flying with a carry-on. don’t care about where you sit and you don’t eat anything you can get to your destination for dirt cheap. Allegiant has become quite skilled at trying to sell you things during every step of the travel process from going onto their website to getting off the airplane.
This is not to say I blame them for this, I have always said I do not mind fees. If I am traveling light why should I have to pay for people who are not? When booking my ticket these were some of the “upgrades” I was offered. Some of these fees you do not see on every airline (note that the priority boarding fee is the same for each flight, but the other seat fees will differ depending on flight length):
* Priority boarding: $9.99 – allows you to get on the plane first making sure you have overhead room.
* Premium seat selection: $9.99 – you get an assigned seat near the front or at the exit rows.
* Standard seat assignment: $6.99 – gives you an assigned seat towards the back of the aircraft.
* Online checked bag fee: $39.98 – might be more than the industry average, but you want to pay it online, since it will cost you $70.00 per bag at the airport.
You can fly without having to pay any of these fees, but many will end up paying. Allegiant recently went to a new boarding process. First the people that pay the $9.99 for the priority boarding get to board. Then those who need a little extra time (not kids or family) that they need extra time getting seated get to board. Next, passengers with seat assignments get to find their seats. Then those who do not have seat assignments, but have kids that are under 7. Then it goes to open seating and people get to pick what is left as far as seats and overhead bin space. On the flight to LAS, there weren’t many who went with open seating, but it seemed most of the plane was open seating on the way home.
Normally I wouldn’t pay for an assigned seat, but on this trip I was flying with my girlfriend Amy and I wanted to make sure we sat together. I didn’t get the premium seats and even after the $32.00 seating fees (for both of us there and back) our tickets were still $50.00 cheaper than the competition. Since Allegiant flies MD-80 aircraft, paying more to sit up front can be more useful since you are farther away from the jets in the rear of the plane.
One annoying aspect of Allegiant’s fees is most are opt-out fees. It automatically signs you up for the $9.99 priority boarding and seat assignment charges and asks if you are really sure you want to opt-out. After I thought I opted out for everything and I was on the payment screen and I had “additional charges” adding up to around $60.00 that I didn’t know what they were. It took me a while to realize Allegiant already added two tickets for a hotel shuttle and for travel insurance. I could see people not realizing what is going on and paying for them, even if they didn’t want or need them. Even though it was a bit more work to get the tickets (it was almost game like and I think I won) I still ended up with super cheap tickets.
Although their aircraft are a bit older, the ones I flew on (N416NV & N419NV) were quite clean. The new Allegiant seats are a bit unique with not having a standard seat pocket. Instead of the seat pocket being down by the knees, it is up above the tray table and is much smaller. This allows them to put the seats closer together and cut down on turnaround time since there really isn’t room to put trash.
The new seats are also “pre-reclined,” which is fancy airline-speak for they do not recline. For me, this is a non-issue. I rarely recline my seat out of respect for the people behind me. Non-recling seats allow more seats to be put in, cuts down on maintenance costs, which allows more revenue and keeps your ticket cost cheaper. For some reason, so many people do not see this connection. There are many other airlines out there that might provide a bit more room, less fees and a reclining seat, but it will cost you more to fly them.
Once you are on board the plane, you have more fees to consider paying as well. Unlike most other airlines, there is no free food or drinks. Not even that small glass of Diet Coke or a miniature bag of peanuts. A 12oz soda will cost you $2 and snacks range from $2-$6. Of course you also have the choice of beer for $5 or mixed drinks for $7. Considering I paid $3 for a soda and $5 for a bagel with cream cheese at the airport before boarding, I should have waited.
The flight attendants also sell tickets to events and shuttle tickets while on board (at least on my Vegas flight). My biggest regrets of my flight was not getting an Allegiant MD-80 model – which they also sell. They won’t advertise them, so you have to ask for it. I totally forgot on the flight to LAS and was sleeping the entire way back to BLI.
One reason I slept the entire flight back was it was so late. The plane was scheduled to leave LAS at 8:05pm, but we didn’t take off until about 10:30pm. De-icing and flight plan issues caused the delay. Add to that sitting in the plane for about 1.5hrs of that delay with a loud kid in front of us and a group of college kids behind us, it was not fun. At least they did allow us to use our electronic devices and the restroom during the wait. Although it was annoying, what can you do? There are delays in any form of transportation. How many times am I sitting in Seattle traffic and it takes me an hour to go just ten miles (a lot btw)? As always people seem to get angry at the airline for delays; like someone is sitting in a room somewhere making a plane late for fun. The pilots, flight attendants, ground crews, airport personnel, operations managers and everyone else waiting on the last flight of the day do not want the delay anymore than you. These sorts of things happen in a complex business like this and I always find it is best to roll with the punches (although Amy can attest I was getting grumpy at the time).
Allegiant has a smart model that works and they will continue to grow their route map. They own their planes, fly to smaller airports, concentrate on leisure travelers, provide complete travel options and have fees. It obviously is working for them since they have been able to grow rapidly over the past few years and I have a feeling it will continue to work for them. How have your experiences with Allegiant been?
During my time in Vegas, I was also able to take a visit of Allegiant’s head quarters and will be sharing that with you soon. Stay tuned.