I will preface this post by saying, that while I will mention my preferred airline by name – it is simply a personal preference. I receive no compensation, I just like the company and have generally had a pleasant experience with them.
When I was younger (and by younger I mean during college and med school for the most part) I would usually fly on whatever airline had the cheapest fare. A decade or more ago this worked fine. I was young, they were generally short flights and for the most part even budget airlines still provided fairly comprehensive service. However, as time has gone on there is now quite a large difference between what you get with a budget airline, and what you with with a full service airline (although even the full service airlines now offer “basic” fares that rival what you get with the budget airlines). In the end, two things made me re-think my approach to which flights I choose.
First – what service(s) do you actually get from the airline? A cheap fare is great – but if you have to pay to check a needed bag, or pay for a carryon bag then the cheap fare may not actually be so cheap anymore. Furthermore, paying for food (even on longer flights) or paying to choose your seat or to change your boarding priority can inflate that cheap fare even more! Second – Loyalty. What really made me rethink how I choose an airline is loyalty rewards (ie frequent flier miles and status). There was a point during residency that I realized I was often flying Delta because there are not many direct flights out of Louisville, but a quick little flight to Atlanta and all of a sudden you can go anywhere in the world with one more flight. Thus, I decided to try and make Delta my preferred airline so that I could start earring some rewards. As with most big airlines, a rewards credit card was also available and so I chose one of these offerings as well, in order to earn rewards faster as well as for some of the other perks. Eventually I flew enough that combined with perks from the credit card I “leveled up” to the first level of medallion status and started to unlock more perks. Now I get free checked bags, priority boarding, upgrades and preferred seat options and I earn frequent flier miles faster. I think for most airlines the rewards programs are fairly similar. The important thing is to pick an airline that services your local airport well, and more importantly goes to your preferred destinations – or is part of a large partner network (when I went to Africa earlier this year I booked through Delta but most of the flights were actually on KLM – turns out there are no flights from anywhere in the US to Uganda)
I know that most of what I said is fairly basic, and is not ground breaking. However, in retrospect I could have done better to start earning rewards earlier on in my travels. Cheap fares tempt everyone, as travel can be pricey. I think the most important thing here is to look at the bigger picture and do a fair comparison of the ticket prices based on what services you actually need. Sometimes when I was going to NYC for the weekend a budget fare with a tiny (free) carryon bag was fine. But remember, you get what you pay for, and as I have gotten older I find that comfort starts to trump all.
Until next time – Bon Voyage!