Airline fares can be quite expensive, which is why fare search sites like Orbitz, Priceline, Expedia and Kayak get put to good use by savvy consumers. When we weren’t finding wallet-pleasing fares from LAX to Honolulu on those sites, we tried Googling “cheap flights to Hawaii.” And that’s when were introduced to Allegiant Airlines and the world of discount airlines.
Research the Discount Airlines
What’s their on-time rating?
Allegiant Airlines had scathing reviews and ranked second to last in customer service ratings out of all U.S.-based airline companies. But their fares were $300 less than the competition. That is tempting. I checked their on-time statistics for the flight we wanted. They were on time 78% of the time, and the average late arrival was only 30 minutes. I can deal with being less than an hour late. Their competition had roughly the same on-time rating.
Do the discount airlines have “hidden” fees?
I decided to scour the reviews in order to find out why they’re so hated. The pattern that emerged was that people were incensed by the “surprise” fees, and then got really ticked off when they spent so much time on the phone unsuccessfully trying to get refunds from Allegiant Airlines for “unfair” last-minute fees. I went to the Allegiant website and found the page with a list of what they charge fees for:
*choosing your seat
*premium seat with more legroom
*paying with a credit card
*printing your boarding pass at the airport
The page also described the fee tiers. It’s cheaper to make these purchases when you buy the tickets. It gets more expensive to purchase after you have the tickets. The fees increase even more at check-in. The fees get astronomical (my adjective, not theirs) at the airport.
Bottom line: Know what you want at the time you purchase the tickets so that you’ll be in the lowest tier for fees. (Note: Even though there’s a fee to pay with a credit card, I still used that option so that if there was a problem later on, I could dispute the charge through my credit card company – as opposed to drafting from my checking account and having no recourse.)
Unfortunately, they only list fee ranges on this page. You have to go through the ticket purchasing steps to find out the exact fees for your flight. If you’ve done your research and know what their competition is charging, you’ll be able to compare Allegiant’s (or any other discount airlines) “final total” to their competition before entering your credit card info and making the purchase.
After adding on seat selections and carry-on for both of us and paying by credit card, our tickets were still $120 per person less than the competitors, plus they offered a better departure/arrival time that fit our schedule, so we went with Allegiant. I purchased directly from Allegiant’s website because it didn’t appear that I would get these “add-on” choices through a third-party website. Note: Allegiant’s online account does not provide an area for your birthdate or Known Traveler Number for TSA pre-check, so make sure you enter this information when you make your ticket purchase!
What do you get once onboard?
Something else to factor into your decision is that there is no complimentary beverage, snack, or meal service on the nearly six-hour flight from LAX to Honolulu. Every offering costs something – including water. There is zero flight entertainment. We knew this ahead of time, so we stuffed our “one complimentary personal item per person” with food from home, bottles of water, and reading material.
Does the discount airline have a functional app?
I was able to check-in 24 hours prior via Allegiant’s app. When I viewed the boarding passes, I got nervous because the app froze, and I couldn’t reach the second pass. So, I opted to print our boarding passes at home (free). On the return flight, the app froze again. After restarting my phone, I was able to get to our boarding passes.
Will an airline agent be available at the airport?
Allegiant instructs you to be in the gate area at least 60 minutes prior to the flight. Problem: There was no gate listed on the departure screen at LAX. Unlike the other airlines in the gate area, there was no official Allegiant gate or desk, so there was no one around to answer questions about where the heck the gate was. Prepare to mill around like you would at a train station, waiting for the platform to be announced. Our gate number appeared 43 minutes before departure. It was a short walk from the screen to the gate.
Paying for priority access might be worth it
Disabled passengers boarded first, then Priority. I’d purchased Priority for my husband so at least one of us would be guaranteed overhead space for the carry-on. Next for boarding are Zones 2 and 3 without carry-ons. Then all of Zones 2 and 3. Then Zone 4. Then Zone 5. I was in Zone 4 and started to panic about there being enough overhead space. I didn’t want to have to pay the exorbitant fee for checking in luggage at the airport. In the end, I had no problem finding overhead space for my paid-for carry-on, but it was a bit nerve-racking. Additionally, I was pleasantly surprised when the male flight attendant grabbed my bag and hoisted it into the compartment. (A nice touch, considering they rank next to dead last in customer service ratings.)
What are the seats like?
The only surprise about the flight was finding out that the majority of the seats don’t recline. At first I was ticked off, but after a while I realized it was nice not to have the seat in front of me suddenly fly into my face when that person decided to recline. There was also ample legroom, even with my backpack under the seat in front of me.