The COVID-19 pandemic has been absolutely devastating for the travel industry. As vaccinations roll out in the wealthier corners of the world, that devastation is starting to ease (again, in the wealthier corners of the world). Resorts are re-opening. Restaurants have been rebooted. And from the ashes of shuttered airlines, a new company has emerged.
Avelo Air started flying just yesterday from Southern California to destinations throughout Oregon, Arizona, and California’s wine regions (their wording) and idyllic spots through the Colorado, Utah, and Montana Rockies. The brand’s mission statement reads, “It started with a group of world-class, highly seasoned airline executives who wanted to build a different and better kind of airline.” Their ethos is to be a budget airline for the post-pandemic world.
This all sounds great. More budget airlines are certainly going to help the tourism industry in the U.S. get moving again. Though it’s important to note that this is clearly a budget airline in every sense. There are no TVs, power outlets, or wi-fi. According to The Points Guy’s breakdown of yesterday’s inaugural flight, space is a serious squeeze:
The seats themselves were tight — had the middle seat been occupied, I definitely would’ve felt cramped. Plus, they don’t recline, which puts Avelo on par with the inflight experience offered on Spirit, Frontier and other discounters.
Moreover, standard seats have 29 inches of pitch. That’s one inch more than Spirit, making Avelo’s legroom the second least in the industry. Again, that’s all good, this is a budget carrier and low-cost is their model. But it’s certainly worth paying attention to for taller and wider flyers.
Okay, so… is Avelo really cheaper?
Budget airlines — like Frontier and Spirit — are notorious for offering incredibly cheap airfares only to drive up the cost for seat selection and carry-on bags. Avelo seems similar, though there are some subtle differences. Let’s look at the full cost of booking a flight right now.
Burbank to Eureka
Avelo Air’s webpage is pretty easy to navigate, though it’s still pretty buggy. I had to refresh about five times to get the “Low Fare Calendar” to load. Anyway, it seems you pay between $80 and $120 for flights to the destination and between $19 and $40 for flights back home.
I test this theory with a different route and …
Burbank to Bozeman/Yellowstone
… yes, this is basically true for all the searches.
The average budget roundtrip was around $110 for the base fare with $96.97 going to taxes and fees. That leaves very little cash on the table for the airline. Which leads up to…
After receiving my fare, I clicked through to see where the real money is being made. First, there was a seat selection fee. The cheapest seats are $4 each and are middle seats in the last few rows. The next cheapest was $5 each, along the window and aisle of the last few rows. From there, the seats ranged from $12 to $32 each. You can skip seat selection, but you should assume that those will be the literal least desirable seats on any given flight.
That’s each way, too. So, in choosing two back-of-the-plane seats at $5, I added another $10 to my bill — not terrible, obviously. But as you can also see from the image above, you also have to pay for a carry-on bag. And that is $35 each way, or $70 round trip.
That takes my total for a roundtrip flight with a reserved seat and one carry-on there and back to a total of $190. Again, not terrible. But not quite as ripping of a deal as the headlines make it sound.
That said, the current deal on checked bags for $10 (which they have said might change) is absolutely a value that keeps the price down and is functional for normal human travel. Spirit and Frontier both have high fees on carry-ons and checked bags, which basically obliterate their savings in many situations. No one flies with nothing.
How Does It Compare:
To compare this fare, I went to Google Flights and searched the same dates. The cheapest roundtrip flight was $195 on Delta with a stop in Salt Lake City for 50 minutes (not a big deal, but direct is better). That also includes a carry-on (both ways) and WiFi on the flight. Delta — being a huge international airline — also offers mileage rewards that you can use to rent cars and fly for free down the road.
This is when I also realize that Avelo glitched out and changed my return date to September instead of August. So, I went back to the website to fix the dates and got the blank pages again as you can see below.
No amount of refreshing brought up flight options back. Perhaps the site was being hammered as news of the launch broke. It’s glitchy for now, be warned.
At the end of the day, if Avelo’s West Coast-centric routes work for you, it is a deal. Let’s say you live in LA and you’re doing wine country, but you’re also trying to make it as a screenwriter and tight on cash. Flying from Burbank to Santa Rosa with a checked back is likely going to be cheaper than a car rental (with insurance and gas) or even the freaking Amtrak. Same if you want to go to airports in rural Oregon — Medford, Eugene, Redmond, etc. The same goes for a little National Park adventure trip to Colorado, Utah, or Montana.
It’s worth noting that those taxes and fees of $96.79 are non-negotiable, though. They won’t change. So even if your flight is literally free and you don’t buy a reserved seat, purchase any food on board, or carry on a single item with you, you’re going to paying at least $110 or so for a flight. Looking around at the flight aggregators this morning, that means you can probably beat the big carriers by around $70 each way on Avelo’s better days. And, depending on your financial situation and how much you value personal space post-pandemic, that might absolutely be worth it.