The Joy of Holiday Travel
I was so distracted by work and travel and fall getaways during the previous months that it slipped my mind to buy plane tickets to visit my folks in California for Christmas far in advance. After examining fares over the weekend, I ended up spending over $650 on flights later this month. There were flights between $100 to $200 cheaper, but I opted to pay more for direct flights over ones with layovers that doubled the travel time, or having to sit in a middle seat on a 6 a.m. flight I’d have to get up at 3 a.m. for. My Christmas present to myself is comfort and convenience during one of the most stressful travel days of the year.
Rick Seaney, the CEO of travel search engine FareCompare, says that airlines will charge 20 or 40 percent more on non-stop flights over flights with connections, but even so, people will generally pay more for direct flights to avoid spending more time at the airport than they need to or worry about missing a connection due to travel delays.
Some attractive reasons—besides cost—for choosing connecting flights: Being able to break a long flight into two short ones when traveling with restless children, and being able to get a long layover in a city you want to see when traveling internationally.
In a few weeks, though, I’ll quietly thank myself for making this cross-country trip as quick and painless as possible.
This is the second year that I’ll be flying SEA-CID to visit my parents for Christmas. Previously, I’ve flown DCA-CID and LAX-CID, where holiday prices were higher than normal but still within the bounds of what I’d call “reasonable;” but flying from Seattle to Cedar Rapids hits some bizarre hiccup in the system, where a roundtrip flight costs $1,200.
Currently, Hipmunk lists the lowest possible price at “829+” (the plus is important) if you are willing to leave Seattle at 10:58 p.m. on Christmas Eve and arrive in Cedar Rapids at 10:48 a.m. on Christmas morning. (I call this the “Santa Flight.”) The return leg is a 10-hour ordeal, which is more than enough time to fly across the entire country non-stop twice.
If you wanted a direct flight—well, there aren’t any direct flights, so let’s say “if you wanted a more convenient flight, maybe one that got you there in under six hours”—you’d be looking at $1,011+, $1,410+, even $1,796+.
$1,796. I wonder if I could fly to Sydney, Australia on Christmas Eve for that amount. (Not quite; cheapest round-trip to Sydney leaving Christmas Eve is $1,971+. But you get the idea.)
I ended up booking my SEA-CID flights on Frontier Airlines, arriving in Cedar Rapids at 6:29 p.m. on Christmas Eve and leaving 7:10 p.m. the next Monday. The base price plus taxes/fees was $862.20, though it ended up being $923.15 by the time I completed the checkout since Frontier is one of those airlines that will charge you for everything. (I elected to pay for a carry-on bag. I elected not to pay for the privilege of selecting my seat.)
I also bought $10.95 worth of travel insurance, which I never do, because Frontier only flies into Cedar Rapids twice a week, so if the flight gets cancelled, I need to be ready to grab my insurance payout and possibly jump onto another available airline. I am nervous that I don’t actually understand how the travel insurance works, although it seemed to state that they would pay me $400 if my flight got canceled. But, you know, it might have to be a certain type of cancellation. Is snow in Cedar Rapids an act of God?
Anyway. Buying holiday flights always makes me nervous because I feel like there must be a secret cheap price hiding somewhere, maybe if I search every airline and clear my cookies and type the Konami Code before searching. And buying holiday flights to Cedar Rapids feels like THE WORST because I could probably get a round-the-world ticket for the cost of some of those trips. (RTW tickets are hard to price unless you make up an itinerary in advance, but according to Nomadic Matt, I could totally get a RTW ticket for the cost of a holiday flight to Iowa.)
What about you? Do you think of expensive holiday flights in terms of “I could pay two months of rent with this,” or are you happy to pay the costs to see family and help make the holidays magical?
Photo: Chris Waits