This post gives the pros and cons of Allegiant Airlines to help you decide whether or not to use it. You will also find helpful tips for traveling on Allegiant Air.
At least in the short term, one thing you probably do not have to worry about is Allegiant going out of business before your trip.
Allegiant Airlines (The actual name is Allegiant Travel Company) attracts considerable attention by making big bucks in this down economy, while providing low fares on nonstop routes nearly never served by other airlines.
Allegiant profits in spite of its rock bottom fares (which went as low as $9 each way LAX to Monterey in 2009) by aggressively pushing hotel and car rental packages on its website and by charging fees above its fares that must make other airlines salivate.
Allegiant considers itself a package vacation company, not an airline in the way we usually think of them.
This is a company that thinks deeply about what it does. From selecting viable routes and airports ignored by other airlines to flying only on days of high customer demand, Allegiant maximizes its revenue. In fact, the airline virtually shuts down on Tuesdays, as it sees so little demand for flights that day.
Frankly, Allegiant serves communities that should have been served by Southwest Airlines long ago, but for years in my opinion Southwest stubbornly stuck to a rigid formula of adding only new airports that have potential for flights all day, all week long. (Since its purchase of AirTran, the policy has changed.)
On the other hand, Allegiant Airlines seems perfectly willing to hire part-time people, in order to serve an airport for as little as once a day several times a week. Based on the money it makes, this has proven to be viable business model.
Allegiant looks for opportunities, even when these do fit its existing operating patterns.
When told that a lot of its customers in Las Vegas were racking up rental car mileages way beyond normal, Allegiant found that many of these people were using its cheap airfares to Las Vegas to access Southern California. Research showed what airports these people were coming from and what airport in California would best serve them.
Not known for flying into incredibly busy airports like Los Angeles International, Allegiant does now!
Moreover, Allegiant has since aquired larger Boeing 757 aircraft so that it can serve Honolulu and Maui from places needing this service. Its flights from Bellingham, WA airport to Hawaii and elsewhere attract thousands of Canadians who face much higher fares at Vancouver International Airport.
Image above courtesy of Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board.
Remarkably low priced tickets come especially easily if you are flexible about dates and can avoid the high fees for checking bags ($35 each if paying at the airport) and for advance seat selection and priority boarding.
However, even with its fees, Allegiant’s total cost can be a remarkable value.
Allegiant’s policy says fill every plane. To do this, it lowers fares as necessary to often astonishing rock bottom levels knowing it will make money via its aggressive fees and car rental and hotel sales. Besides, after a certain point, Allegiant Airlines has already broken even on a trip and these additional sales are nearly pure profit.
One-way tickets. Like JetBlue and Southwest, you are not penalized for buying one-way tickets on Allegiant. This gives the added flexibility that many people wish. You can spend the winter in Florida without having to decide a return date in advance.
The service. In my experience so far, Allegiant employees have been unfailingly energetic, cheerful, and professional. I have flown with Allegiant into and out of six airports with no problems.
I have also talked with many Allegiant Air customers, who have reported no unusual concerns other than the online booking fee described below. (However, the comments below written since this was originally posted tell a different story.)
The comfortable leather seats. On most of its fleet, these do not recline, which gives extra legroom and makes using a laptop easier.
Nonstop flights. You do not connect through “hubs” on Allegiant Air. This airline serves cities that haven’t seen nonstop service to Arizona, California, and Florida for years, if ever, and customers love this.
Note: If you book a connection, you are on your own! You must reserve and pay for each sector separately. Allegiant will not be responsible if you miss your connection. Overnight in Las Vegas or another connecting city if you want to connect more safely–and even this does not totally protect you, as what happens if Allegiant cancels one part of your itinerary?
Think of Allegiant as a charter airline. Its flights are scheduled, but it acts as a charter.
That means, for example, that you have to allow extra check in time or you may be denied boarding. Always check what the current minimum check in time is and pad that, in case you are delayed getting to the airport.
Check in takes time, as Allegiant seems to allot fewer counter agents than most U.S. airlines. Moreover, fewer passengers show up with boarding passes already printed, in order to go through security without stopping at the check in counter.
As with most charter flights and airlines like Southwest, if there is a mechanical problem, you will NOT be put on another airline. You must wait for the problem to be fixed or for Allegiant to send another plane—even if you are in Grand Rapids and that plane is in Las Vegas.
In contrast to Southwest at most airports, Allegiant likely does not have another plane nearby if one of its planes cannot operate.
In some cases, Allegiant has canceled without offering alternative transportation. Of course, Allegiant refunds, but that does not help much if you now must purchase a high last-minute fare elsewhere. Nor does it help you if you have made nonrefundable hotel, tour, and other arrangements elsewhere, in conjunction with your Allegiant ticket.
As a consequence, Allegiant may not be the airline to take when you have tightly scheduled vital business meetings or a cruise ship to catch.
Fees are really in your face. Allegiant Airlines builds its profitability on high fees and lots of them.
Free water? Ha! Free coffee? You must be joking. Instead, you’ll be offered bottled water for $2.00 or a coffee-like drink for around $4.00 (I believe).
On some flights, Allegiant even has a fun fee that some passengers enjoy. You can pay an optional $5 (or more for extra tickets) to enter a raffle.
The winner gets half the proceeds ($135 on my last flight), a few runners up receive prizes like beach towels and bags, and—guess whom?—Allegiant gets the rest. As those bags don’t come from Gucci, that residual money adds up.
Checked bags set you back $35 each (less if purchased online when you book).
During 2012, Allegiant became the second U.S. airline (after Spirit) to charge for carry on bags, a remarkably dubious honor. Fees range from $10 - 35 per bag depending on flight and whether paid online or not.
Choosing a specific seat usually costs $11.00 to 14.00.
Note: Only passengers who have paid the pre-selected seat fee may use online check-in and print a boarding pass before arriving at the airport.
Already having a boarding pass cuts the check-in time needed, if you have no luggage to check, because you can go directly to security and the gate. You will need to ask someone what gate though before proceeding through security.
Because Allegiant MD-80 seats are configured two by three, with no more than a one in five chance that you will get a middle seat, you may wish to take your chances by not paying for advance seat selection IF you are traveling on this aircraft. (You can tell by the seat map showing two seats on one side, three on the other.)
Although you can pay the optional priority-boarding fee only if you’ve paid for seat selection, priority boarding may be well worth it.
Priority boarding gives you first crack at the overhead bins.
This cuts the chance that there will be no room for a somewhat larger than normal carry on, resulting in a $35 checked bag fee. Some airlines do not collect these fees at the gate. Allegiant Airlines (of course!) does.
Paying extra to reserve online has become Allegiant’s most controversial fee. After all, you are paying to use a procedure that likely saves the airline lots of money!
Frankly, I believe that the online booking fee is an ill-advised policy—in contrast to so much at Allegiant that is so well thought out. Why have something that attracts so much negative attention and so many unfavorable customer comments and reviews?
How many customers will Allegiant lose if it nixes the fee and adds $7.00 to 10.00 to its usually already low fares?
At a conference, I listened to Ponder Harrison, Allegiant’s good-humored Managing Director – Sales and Marketing at the time, defending the fee by saying that you can always make your reservations at an airport to avoid it. However, that dog does not hunt.
Not only are airport hours quite limited at most and parking fees in place, you will likely be asked to wait while Allegiant boards passengers.
One of Allegiant’s busiest airports Mesa Gateway near Phoenix lacks the car rental competition you will find at the main airport used by other airlines in Phoenix. That can make prices higher. Also, the hours some companies are open are limited.
If you book through Allegiant, normally cancellable car rental reservations become non refundable. That could cost you big time.
Hotels booked through Allegiant become nonrefundable.
Make sure that the savings are worth it when compared to sites like Hotels.com, which usually have more liberal cancellation policies.
Allegiant does not provide a toll-free number for either reservations or customer service. You must call 1-702-505-8888.
Or, you can present customer service issues to Allegiant’s Twitter account at @AllegiantTravel. Recently, an answer came within moments.
@AllegiantTravel is a good place to keep up-to-date on new routes and specials. Loyal customers are always suggesting new routes.
Overall, its passengers like Allegiant Air. Remember that Allegiant serves many airports that often have not had low fares and nonstop service in years, if ever.
Other than its online booking fee, the lack of enough airport agents, the possible terribly inconvenient and expensive consequences of canceled flights, and a few other things, I tolerate the airline and love its employees. Of course, I do not travel with several bags to check that can add up to as much as $140 extra in fees each trip.
With its low fares, Allegiant Airlines lets people travel to places like Florida, who might otherwise not have the chance.
Just be aware that you are not dealing with a traditional airline and keep in mind the cautions and tips above.
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