Spontaneously Seattle

Our schedules have been crazy lately and we've been trying to save up vacation days for an epic 3-month Japan trip next year so we've not been doing much on the leisure travel front. Right on schedule (i.e., May), the summer Business Class fares to Europe happened and sadly we just couldn't make it happen this year.

We weren't going to have an entire summer with no vacation, though, so when we found out that the Monday after July 4th is a work holiday, we decided to do a 5 day weekend trip. It's been a while since we'd been to Seattle so we decided to head over there to see old friends and family and to be someplace with relatively mild weather.

I hopped on to Google flights to start pricing out the trip (sidenote: I usually use Kayak.com for this but I'm really liking how quickly you can look at different fares on Google flights... There's a great tutorial about it over on Lucky's site).

Loving the new Google Flights!

I was already fairly familiar with the available options (JetBlue, United, Delta, American, Alaska have direct service) and their planes all have standard USA domestic configurations. Only on rare occasions will I pay extra for domestic Crappy First Class™ and last I'd read, Delta discontinued the only JFK-Seattle lie-flat service, so Economy Class it is...

I have to admit I was shocked to find that United had the cheapest fare - $600 versus JetBlue's second-place $700.

A few years back I decided it was time to become a free agent and completely ignore getting any kind of elite status with an airline. For someone like me who doesn't have an employer paying for my tickets, chasing elite status just means that I'll routinely choose a more expensive flight just to reach the next goal. But due to their new Mint product, I've been flying JetBlue a lot and logging in to my JetBlue account I gotta admit that Elite crack is tempting! And JetBlue has two bonus promos to chase on top of elite status to make it even worse. So here's the classic elite-chasing conundrum: is it worth the $100 each on this flight to chase JetBlue status? I think some more math is in order, first.

So much temptation!

> UPDATE: LOL he hit Mosaic status without even trying :)
For a daytime transcon, all I really want is a seat where my large body isn't squashed, and that starts right around 35" for me. Most airlines have shrunk their coach seats to 31 or 32" and have branded their 35"+ Economy seats as Premium Economy. Even JetBlue, who historically had 34" pitch for all their seats, is in the process of moving to the narrower configuration to drive paid upgrades to their Even More Space™ seats. The lame part is that US carriers won't publish a price for Premium Economy on a domestic route – you have to buy an Economy ticket and then upgrade it for an unknown price. I know from experience that it's about $100/person/leg on a transcon, so i need to tack on $200-ish to whatever price I'm seeing.
Carriers don't publish Premium Economy fares, making comparison shopping difficult
Oh, and while I have the calculator open, don't forget that my paid upgrade to domestic Premium Economy doesn't include a checked bag (unless I'm on Virgin America), so be sure to account for that, too. If I'm checking a bag, my "$600" Economy fare is now actually $850. Add in the value of three cocktails, a crappy airport meal, and a few bonus miles and I'm now at a point where if I can find a crappy Domestic First fare for under $900, I'm totally going to take it. Sadly that wasn't the case today, the cheapest First ticket was $1300.

In the middle of all this math, my dear husband reminded me that he still has United Gold status due to his many flights back when they were his preferred work carrier. United was already $100 per person cheaper, but then when you add in the fact that we can check a bag and sit in Premium Economy for free with his status, our two flights on United work out to $600 cheaper than on JetBlue (enough to cover 3 of our nights in the Hotel 5 downtown).

Even better - the magic Economy Plus seat with near-infinite legroom was available!
And this is honestly what's so maddening about the whole points game - there are times when having the status is really awesome, but I still think if you're paying for your tickets yourself, it's almost always not worth it. If someone else is paying, well, then it's a slam dunk :) And no matter what you're doing, do the math for upgrades and bags so you're actually comparing apples to apples.

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