Random Thoughts About Booking My Holiday Flights

American, Midwest Airlines, Miscellaneous

Christmas is one of those times where I don’t like to play games with strategizing about the best time to book my flights. I think it’s generally safe to assume that fares will keep going up as it gets closer, at least on the prime days we need to travel. This year, despite all the gloom and doom around the industry, I don’t think it’s going to be much different. People are still going to travel to see their families for the holidays, and the cutbacks on capacity will probably help keep prices up on peak days.

We settled our Christmas plans this week, and as usual, it involves a trip back to the in-laws in Indianapolis. I booked it all yesterday, and I’m feeling pretty good about what we got. Here are some random thoughts.

On our outbound, we’re flying Midwest through Milwaukee on a redeye.

  • Midwest already screwed us once last summer when they canceled LAX service – what’s the chance they screw us twice?

  • I’m pretty excited about the cookies onboard

  • I’m more excited that we’re on an Embraer 190 – no middle seat and that’s great for the redeye

  • I’m most excited that it was only $158 one way per person – that’s way cheaper than anyone else (and not a good sign for Midwest)

  • This is the first time I was prompted for my middle name on a booking – thanks TSA

  • This will be my first time on the baby Embraer 135 – 37 seats makes it the smallest jet I’ve ever been on

  • Think I can get a Miller Lite at 6 in the morning when I’m connecting through Milwaukee?

On the way back, we’re flying American via St Louis on miles.

  • I love this new flexible one-way award structure – we might have flown United back home if they had that option but they don’t

  • There were no coach saver awards but there were first class savers, so both cabins were the same price – guess which one we picked?

  • I’m excited to fly on an ERJ-140 – this means I’ll now have been on every version of the ERJ family

  • I’m also kind of pissed to fly the ERJ-140 – we’re using miles for first class but there’s no first class cabin on this flight

  • I like connecting in St Louis – that place is empty these days and never has a traffic congestion delay

  • If I get a Miller Lite in Milwaukee, I guess I’ll need a Bud Light in St Louis

  • I’m particularly pumped for our MD-80 ride back home – I’ve never sat up front in an MD-80 before and I hear it’s a very nice, quiet ride

  • It’s fantastic that American still lets you hold your reservations – made it less nerve-wracking to book since we were booking separately from our own stash of miles

  • Why do I have to pay the $5 fees with a credit card that matches my wife’s name? Annoying

  • The first class lines will really make travel easier during the holidays

Just a jumble of random thoughts, I know. But I’m pretty happy to have my Christmas travel booked with good flight times on peak days for a fair price. I’m really amused that three of my four flights are operated by Republic or one of its subsidiaries. It’s only the lonely MD-80 at the end that’s actually operated by the airline that has its name painted on the outside of the plane.

Anyone else making their plans yet?

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26 comments on “Random Thoughts About Booking My Holiday Flights

  1. I also made my booking just last week. However, I did not have quite the same experience that you did. The two best intineraries for my city pair were either American or Southwest. So, I had to wait until Southwest extended their schedule to include the holidays, but I found the fare on both carriers to be pretty high. They were each selling $175 each way, which is about double the price you can get on a random day now at $89. So, I waited. I saw Southwest’s big sale, but knew it wouldn’t apply to Christmas, so I waited some more. Then, I was checking last week and found it had gone up to $195 on AA. I went to check Southwest and it had declined to $109. I immediately snapped it up at that price. Went back to Southwest to look the next day and it had returned to $175.

    My advice to holiday travellers is to look early and look often, and if you find what you think is a reasonable deal, grab it, because it could be gone very quickly.

  2. Too early for me and Washington/Baltimore rarely spikes over the holidays. It’s a smaller version of NYC with too many airports and more than enough spare capacity to keep fares low.

    Last year I flew out Christmas Eve which also helped with the price since most want to get there a few days ahead to visit, shop, etc.

    I probably won’t even look at it until October or November unless there’s an irresistable $218 r/t sale going.

  3. This reminds me when I worked for TWA a million years ago and would fly nonrev between LAX and SFO to visit my parents. TWA had a $24.00 oneway K walk up fare that was always available unless it was the end of the year holidays. Since we had two shift bids a year, as soon as we had the one that would cover the end of the year I would know my days off and book comfirmed K each way for Christmas. I knew I could never get on the flight during christmas since it was always sold out, and those K fares didn’t last long for Thanksgiving or Christmas. $48 roundtrip was still a lot lower then what the other airlines had up to the Bay Area on their almost hourly flights, so it was a deal. Back then it was United, PSA, Air Cal, and Western flying between the L.A. basin and the bay area, at least one of those is still around under the same name.

    Brett you do sound excited like a kid at Christmas thinking about your onboard cookie, the E190, and the $158 fare.

    When it comes to Thansgiving travel buy the first good thing you see since most people travel on the same days in a short period of time. For Christmas not everyone goes and returns around the same few days so you have more time to shop around if your travel days are flexible, but should still grab the best you see asap to be safe.

    I think for busy holiday travel periods I would stick with an airline that might still be around later this year and that would have more flight options in case of any weather delays that might pop up. The smaller the airline, the less options for reprotection, that’s one advantage the bigger airlines have is more hubs to reprotect you if the need be.

    Oh and Brett the…. “We settled our Christmas plans this week, and as usual, it involves a trip back to the in-laws in Indianapolis”…..the ‘and as usual’ part didn’t sound to happy, better hope the wife and in-laws don’t read that……lol

  4. I don’t think you’re going to have much luck on a 6:00am beer in MKE.

    I don’t know how much you have vested in United or Mileage Plus, but you can get one-way United flights through other Star Alliance carriers, or at least British Midland. I use them as an alternative earning program because I can see how a one-way Star Alliance award could come in handy someday.

  5. Not so much holiday plans, but booked my flight to tackle the Augusta 70.3 Ironman. I usually fly into Columbia, SC (CAE) and drive, but it was $150 cheaper to fly into Augusta, GA (AGS). That makes no sense to me as CAE is served by all the majors and sometimes Allegient, but AGS is served by only Delta and US Airways. Makes you really wonder what is going on in the airline pricing world.

    Now if only fares would modulate a bit for Canada. Flying to Saute Ste Marie, ON for business soon and my tickets were ~$900. Granted only Air Canada flies there, but still.

  6. I booked my Christmas tickets way back in early March — the furthest in advance I’ve ever booked an airline ticket.

    Mexicana had a $198 fare from JFK to CUN that worked out nicely with a trip the family was talking about taking. We couldn’t get the non-stop for that fare, but for $400 a ticket less than the current fare in that market, I’ll happily take the connection.

  7. Crank,

    Not only did you use the phrase “…as usual” but you also started it with “…settled…” I agree, hope the missus and family don’t see that.

    What amuses me the most these days is that REGIONAL carriers have subsidiaries. It used to be that regional carriers WERE the subsidiaries.

  8. Thanks for the reminder as I have to book holiday flights to the in-laws soon. Unfortunately for me that flight takes me north of the border and finding deals into YYC or YEG are hard to come by.

  9. I have already booked my “Jewish Christmas”. What is Jewish Christmas? Noon flight from Denver to Atlanta on Delta, December 25th. No need to worry about lines and holiday travelers at noon on Christmas!

    This will be followed by a family dinner of Chinese food near the airport. Chinese food is a Jewish Christmas tradition. To top it all off, 11pm Delta 777 from Atlanta to Tel Aviv, to visit the rest of the family.

    I will get to try Delta’s “business elite” for a 12 hr. flight, my longest every, until the 13 hr. return.

    Now I just have to pray that they change equipment to the 777-LR with the lie flat sleepers.

  10. You can also get one way on AS and AC.

    AC mention on their website that ‘classic plus’ one-way awards are available (generally more expensive than a return), but if you call their call centre, they do offer real one ways although there’s a small premium of (2-5k miles I think). Of course they fired the Errorplan guy that leaked that info onto FT….

  11. Re: “the $5 fees with a credit card that matches my wife’s name?”…
    Yes, it is annoying, but it’s a prudent fraud prevention measure taken by the carrier. It is an additional way to be sure the milage awards are being used with the knowledge and permission of the frequent flyer awarded the miles. In this case, I would assume the milage award you were using was in her name.

  12. Just an observation, but checking with Sinnemahoning Sibby, a local but not-so-well-known cousin of Punxsutawney Phil, and reference to my Baer’s Almanac, I see that December is a “once in a Blue Moon” month. (two full moons in the same month, the 2nd and the 31st.)

    The inference is that this has some sort of effect on weather. What, I don’t know, but with Milwaukee and St. Louis being in areas that do have, on occassion, snow, I would be prepared for delays and/or cancellations, which the airlines will duly note as “due to customer service.”

    Wishing you well!

  13. David SF – I agree that those who can be flexible with dates can wait, but with Christmas on a Thursday this year, there are some very peak dates (the Sunday after) that are probably worth booking as early as possible if you can’t be flexible.

    Probably not the best plan to book little guy Midwest around Christmas, but I’m anticipating they’ll still be around by then and hopefully flying the route, thanks to Republic. If not, they can probably reaccommodate me on Delta, I hope.

    And I didn’t mean to sound negative about the trip. The plans were “settled” because we were discussing whether we’d be in Indy or down in North Carolina where her parents have property as well. So it wasn’t settling on being with her parents but rather “where”? And yes, it is as usual, because that’s what we do.

    Rob – Good advice. I was just looking at the programs where I had miles today, so that wasn’t really an option for now. But yes, my plan isn’t to be earning more miles on United in the future. I’ll probably pick another program.

    A – North of the border is tough, but you can always fly Allegiant up there and drive across.

    Jason S – I miss my Jewish Christmases, but that’s what happens when you marry someone who is Christian. Nothing better than Chinese food and a movie on Christmas Day.

    Larry – I understand the fraud prevention piece, but you would think that having simply the same address as the account holder would be enough.

  14. JK – I thought about that, but I’m comforted by the fact that we’re connecting through airports that have plenty of runway capacity. That’s why I don’t like connecting in O’Hare or, even worse, any New York airport.

    Also, an El Niño is forming in the Pacific and that tends to mean warmer and less snowy winters in the Midwest, so . . .

  15. As Mrs. Cranky, I am not offended by his comments, except that he said
    HE was excited about no middle seats….like HE ever sits in the middle

  16. Mrs. Cranky! Welcome to the blog – I’m sure you’ve been here before, but you definitely liven up the place! Visit more often!

    Cranky – no holiday travel for me, since I live next door to the in-laws. But it wil be more important than ever with a new addition on the way in a couple of weeks….

  17. If your concerns include getting a Miller Lite or Bud Light you should stop worrying and set your sights a little higher. Neither example of these swills, a.k.a. lawn mowing beer, is worth the effort of lifting the can or bottle. Both companies make mediocre brews that are still far superior to either of these examples.

  18. Thanks for the entertaining and true blog post today. I’m sure not everyone will agree with all of your comments, but you make what could potentially be a hectic holiday travel plan fun!

  19. My plans have been set for a while now… a big long cruise…. My airfare back home is the one right around holiday time, so that one is already booked (I got the nonstop just in case mother nature unleashes her wrath). I’m waiting for Southwest to put on a sale or a Ding for my outbound airfare…. I have lots of time yet to book that one, and it’s a short leg…

  20. Here I am thinking about booking Xmas flights, so I thought I’d pop over here for a visit and see what you had to say on the matter. Perfect timing!

    Do you think your early planning advice holds internationally? We’re still 133+ days out from when I might start flying home to the U.S. I booked tickets last year in September under the usual “buy early” strategy, only to find that two weeks before the holidays they were selling the same or equivalent itineraries (different fare basis) for $200 less. I was stuck with a ticket that didn’t even allow changes for a fee!

    My family lives near a smaller airport in the heart of (former) Northwest territory, meaning I can connect only via MSP or DTW. Our new Delta overlords have been slashing flights to these two hubs and I am concerned that they will cut the DTW connection altogether.

    Anyone out there with insight here? Thanks in advance.

  21. well, glad someone’s happy about st louis becoming a more irrelevant airport by the day…those of us who live here…not so much.

    used to fly direct to london and paris…now, we’re lucky if we don’t have to connect on our way to chicago.

    anyway, enjoy your travels. unfortunately, by flying AA through here, you’re flying through the worst concourse (in terms of layout, amenities, and appearance).

  22. poetloverrebelspy – First of all, where are you coming from? I think international travel can be different because people tend to spend more time on their holidays around the end of the year. So the peak days for travel are different. If your days are flexible, then you can wait, but if they aren’t, then I’d be concerned.

    rob l – Yeah, I can’t imagine that being in St Louis has been fun as service has continued to dwindle. Look on the bright side – at least you don’t live in Pittsburgh. (Hmm, that’s little consolation, I suppose.)

  23. Haha, I recently booked a similar trip home for the wife and I. Dirt cheap one-way cash fare w/ Continental, and then one-way awards back with American. Being able to drop 12,500 miles on a o/w trip is great, and I really hope that some other carriers pick up on it. And just like your trip, as we were also using our separate accounts, I had to call up my wife mid-reservation to get her credit card info. Definitely annoying, but it all worked out well in the end.

  24. Brett,

    For years, I lived away from family (taught school in West Virginia, then Nebraska, then Germany, and finally California); it was an ordeal every year making travel plans. I wish there had been a website like yours back then, but wait, there wasn’t even the Internet back when I first started having to make the trek home for Christmas!

    I live in the Indianapolis area now and so do all my family members–including my 94-year-old father, and I am thrilled not to have to fly home for Christmas.

    Apropos to nothing–we thought we had it made when we found a relatively inexpensive nonstop US Air flight to Boston for our June eastcoast trip. Yippee! No more arduous walks through Detroit or Pittsburgh airports for connecting flights to Manchester, NH. But, when we got to the airport in Indy we found that the flight had been cancelled due to bad weather back east!! Never in all my years of flying have I had a flight cancelled–delayed, yes, but not completely cancelled. We could wait until 5:00 for another nonstop to Boston (it was 10:00 am then), or we could take an 11 am US Air flight to Boston via La Guardia. Grrr.


  25. I just bought tix LAX-MNL, had 3 choices within 20 dollars, Eva, China Air, and Asiana. I have miles on Eva and China, but for the fare, I couldn’t use miles for upgrades, nor would I earn miles. I pulled the pitch chart up and China was 32 inches, Eva 33 and Asiana. Add in the fact that Asiana is part of Star Alliance and I have 40K miles on US and it was an easy choice. Now…I can non rev to LAX, but that is dodgy, so I am buying a OW on Southwest and will try 2 earlier US flights standby. If I make it, I will apply the SW money I spent to the return flight to PHX and do the same standby gamble.

    Looking forward to Asiana, Eva is great, especially with the new 777’s and China has improved a lot with the 747’s in LAX with the seatback entertainment.

    Oh, and got a ticket on Cebu for 23 bucks to Puerto Princesa, of course my bags will cost that much as well……

    Non rev’ing is great, but nothing beats a real seat.

  26. Just got off an MD-88 sitting up front (N920DE, Delta 1599 ATL-PIT), and indeed it is very quiet; even at takeoff I could barely hear the engines. Add this to my miserable experience a few months ago of sitting at the back of an MD-83 and the ok experience of sitting in the middle — this is a long plane. Enjoy your flight!

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