Customers keep feeling the squeeze when they fly

Posted at 12:29 PM, Feb 07, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – Many used to consider air travel a luxury, but things have changed over the last 40 years and not everyone has the same experience today.

“I don't think we'll see airlines return to what some call the golden age of flying,” said Henry Harteveldt, who has worked in the airline and travel industry for more than 30 years, and he’s got the planes to prove it.

“They have unbundled everything, so it’s like playing with Legos,” said Harteveldt. “You get to build the experience that you like, and our research shows now close to 70 percent of people feels like this gives them more control over how they spend their money.”

He says this is actually what people want. The only thing that matters is price. Try telling that to Christina Vidal.

“You have to pay to like carry on a bag and there’s all these restrictions,” said Vidal. “You feel very restricted. Yes, you get a cheaper fare, but they’re not putting customer experience first.”

She runs a popular travel blog and Instagram page called Jetset Christina. She flies over 100,000 miles every year. That cheaper fare is not worth it for her. She says she’ll pay more for an airline with more legroom in coach.

“Maybe it’s $10 more but in the end, you want to get back home or to your destination feeling good,” said Vidal.

In the end, travelers today have options.

“It actually depends on what you want as a traveler. If you want complimentary cocktails, a chance to upgrade maybe a little extra space, you probably don’t want to book on one of these budget airlines,” said Ben Mutzabaugh, the senior aviation editor for The Points Guy.

“I mean it’s no secret right that seats have gotten smaller in the last 20 years and they seem to keep getting smaller and smaller and there seem to be extra fees for everything around getting a seat,” said Mutzabaugh.

We compared what you get when you book the same trip with the same amenities on Southwest and Frontier Airlines.

Airlines have a lot of ways to squeeze the most out of you when it comes to booking travel all the way down to what seat you sit in. So, we’re going to take a look at how these budget airlines advertise a great price, but maybe it’s not exactly what it seems.

First, we booked a trip from Denver to Vegas during one of Frontier’s sales. Our base fare was about $57 round trip.

“If you really want a cheap flight, you’re not traveling with a bunch of carry-ons and you’re flexible for your schedule then, this might be the right thing for you,” said Mutzabaugh.

But if you do want any of those things, you’re going to have to pay for them, including choosing a seat. We chose a window seat in the middle of the plane. That’s $27, each way.

“Checked baggage fees and fees to pay for a reserved seat, people really don’t like that because they consider those fundamental,” said Harteveldt.

Southwest includes carry-on and free checked bag, so we got both. To get both of those round trip on Frontier, it’s $152 which brings the total for the flight to $262.80.

On Southwest, for the same dates and close to the same times, the total is $140.96. That includes bags, but you don’t get to choose your seat before you fly. It’s first come, first serve once you check in.

Again it comes down to what you want.

“If you want to get on the plane early, that’s available to you. You’re not going to pay, you’re not going to check a bag, why should you pay for that,” said Harteveldt.

"It's very attractive to try to be the lowest priced airline but you have way more competition in the long run and the customer lifetime value of on just building brand loyalty and building a good experience and being that airline that people come back to again and again," said Vidal.