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Old Apr 21, 17, 8:37 am   #1
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Commuting weekly by air -- best options to save but avoid change fees/breakage.

Let's say that I want to do a weekly commute SEA-SFO/SJC via air. I know there are many options (AS/DL comes to mind as a good one), but I'm currently tied to UA for international. <That may change if a move to SEA is in order>

What, if any, is available for the commuter who wants to fly out weekly (say 5am on monday and midday Friday) in terms of being cost efficent?

- want to buy as much in advance to get best rates, since this is out of my pocket expense.
- have unpredictable dates to be in Asia for a week at a time, meaning I'd like to minimize the breakage on the weekly commute -- it is unreasonable to make employer pick up the cost for this.

Somebody on this forum must have done or are doing this... is this what PassPlus was designed for, or are there other programs out there for the "regular" (not frequent) traveller?
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Old Apr 21, 17, 8:50 am   #2
  
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So, are you doing Monday morning SEA-SFO or SFO-SEA? I'm assuming it's SFO-SEA given your comment about move to SEA.

I would price out both Mon-Fri tickets and Fri-Mon tickets if you're truly doing this every week. If you need to go to Asia and fly from SFO you would fly home on Fri and possibly just dump the return on Mon. Can't speak to PassPlus.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 8:51 am   #3
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Given that these are relatively cheap tickets compared to the change fees, meaning that you are likely to abandon them rather than change them, consider purchasing one-ways and doing your international travel departing from wherever you are at the time. In this way, you are only abandoning a one-way domestic. It is extremely rare for domestic tickets to be priced based on RT.

If that one-way is significantly delayed or cancelled, you are, of course, entitled to a full refund.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 10:13 am   #4
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
It is extremely rare for domestic tickets to be priced based on RT.
I keep hearing this on FT, but in my experience of 4 years flying weekly from IAD-DEN and back it just isn't the case.

RT IAD-DEN 6/19-6/25, UA980, UA344: $742.40
Same flights but one ways: $764.40

Not huge, but this has been my consistent experience and sometimes the differential is greater. If I go out later in the day the prices match. So can you often find one way domestic for the same price as RT? Yes. But "extremely rare" for them to be priced on RT? I wouldn't say that.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 10:25 am   #5
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tcp1 View Post
I keep hearing this on FT, but in my experience of 4 years flying weekly from IAD-DEN and back it just isn't the case.

RT IAD-DEN 6/19-6/25, UA980, UA344: $742.40
Same flights but one ways: $764.40

Not huge, but this has been my consistent experience and sometimes the differential is greater. If I go out later in the day the prices match. So can you often find one way domestic for the same price as RT? Yes. But "extremely rare" for them to be priced on RT? I wouldn't say that.
I think that the perception of everything being priced one-way comes from the way that UA.com shows the pricing on each leg. I was looking at flights to HI for November and when I looked at doing one-way with miles and one-way paid, the one-way paid was more than a round trip flight.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:08 am   #6
  
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In my experience (which is very different from the West Coast), flights are only likely to price one-ways at 50% of the round-trip if they're between cities were Southwest operates. For example, on Delta one-ways price at 50% of round trip from MKE to many cities, but closer to my home at MSN, the one-way is more like 2/3 the price of the RT.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:16 am   #7
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ryman554 View Post
Somebody on this forum must have done or are doing this... is this what PassPlus was designed for, or are there other programs out there for the "regular" (not frequent) traveller?
I do this route regularly, mostly weekly, yet consider myself SFO-based when it comes to Int'l.

This in one of the routes where the one-ways are 50% of the roundtrip cost. I simply buy one ways far in advance to lock down the best price. If something changes, I can almost always SDC to a better flight the day before or after. Sure, I've had to throw away a few but that's a drop in the bucket. YMMV depending on how many unscheduled trips come up.

However, I've been slowly switching my loyalty to AS, mostly because their mileage redemption options blow UA out of the water in most cases for me.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:20 am   #8
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by tods27 View Post
I think that the perception of everything being priced one-way comes from the way that UA.com shows the pricing on each leg. I was looking at flights to HI for November and when I looked at doing one-way with miles and one-way paid, the one-way paid was more than a round trip flight.
It really is market-based. Hawaii has long been an outlier in terms of travel patterns.

SFO-SEA is currently priced on a one-way basis. The best fares are currently available with a 21-day advance purchase. However, SFO-SEA is a pretty big business route and if you're flying Monday morning to Friday evening, you're likely to run into inventory issues -- UA may choose not to open up the deep discount buckets on those flights.

You may do better flying "against traffic," so to speak; if you're based in the Bay Area, consider flying DL because they're more likely to have traffic originating from SEA on Monday morning than from SFO. (I'd say the same thing about AS, but the VX merger complicates things). This is pure speculation, though, and you should probably keep an eye on fares for a while before choosing a path. :-)
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:41 am   #9
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If you are 1K, take a look at award space far out and see if there's any feasibility in buying miles and then redeeming for tickets for a given period of time. Since you are 1K any cancellation or last minute changes would be free of charge.

Downside is you are subject to award space availability and not just regular revenue tickets.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:42 am   #10
  
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I commute PDX-SFO every two weeks or so and have been doing this for 10 years. What I've learned
- I usually wait to buy my tickets until I'm fairly certain that the trip will happen as planned; I usually know 2-3 weeks in advance
- All it takes is one or two trips to be hosed and I've completely lost any advantage of advance purchase because with change fees etc, I'm often in better shape throwing away the ticket
- I stick with UA due to my international travel, but I'm 30K away from hitting Million Miler status and I'll likely move over to AS at that time due to better overall schedules
- If I were flying on my own dime and or if SJC were an option (its not, I work in SF), I'd seriously consider WN just due to the significantly more flexible travel options for making changes
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:46 am   #11
  
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If you're expecting to change a substantial number of tickets, I feel like WN really comes out on top for having no change fees (and SJC options). Otherwise, I would just find the optimum advance booking period (fares are at 21 days, and after a few months of watching the market you'll know what the inventory sweet spot is - usually in the "less than 8 weeks" area), book that, and eat the occasional abandoned ticket (a cheap one-way SFO/SEA isn't that much).
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Old Apr 21, 17, 11:53 am   #12
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Quote:
Originally Posted by LizGross144 View Post
In my experience (which is very different from the West Coast), flights are only likely to price one-ways at 50% of the round-trip if they're between cities were Southwest operates. For example, on Delta one-ways price at 50% of round trip from MKE to many cities, but closer to my home at MSN, the one-way is more like 2/3 the price of the RT.
Yep. AS also prices RT fares as two one-way's. Given that WN and AS have a very large presence on the West Coast, it's not surprising many fares are priced this way.

However, looking at routes where there is no non-stop competition with either, for example DL's SFO-DTW or LAX-DTW flights, you can see the old legacy model still in effect.

Cheapest one-way LAX-DTW = $247, cheapest RT = $358.
Cheapest one-way SFO-DTW = $445, cheapest RT = $387.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 12:06 pm   #13
  
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Yeah you have a few options:
(*) Flying UA -- This is not exactly what PassPlus Secure was designed for; it's more for if you don't know exactly what dates or routes you need to fly in advance and want to lock in a fixed zone fare. But you could try.

(*) Flying UA -- This is kind of what being UA Gold or higher is for -- book 40 advance-purchase round trips for every weekend as far out as the schedule will allow and if your plans change, use SDC, award flights, or last-minute purchases to supplement your pre-booked schedule. (might be cheaper than using PassPlus)

(*) Flying AS -- Alaska MVP Gold members and higher enjoy waived change fees, a tremendous benefit for a commuter with a semi-rigid schedule.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 3:53 pm   #14
  
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Quote:
Originally Posted by noah View Post
I commute PDX-SFO every two weeks or so and have been doing this for 10 years. What I've learned
- I usually wait to buy my tickets until I'm fairly certain that the trip will happen as planned; I usually know 2-3 weeks in advance
- All it takes is one or two trips to be hosed and I've completely lost any advantage of advance purchase because with change fees etc, I'm often in better shape throwing away the ticket
- I stick with UA due to my international travel, but I'm 30K away from hitting Million Miler status and I'll likely move over to AS at that time due to better overall schedules
- If I were flying on my own dime and or if SJC were an option (its not, I work in SF), I'd seriously consider WN just due to the significantly more flexible travel options for making changes
Southwest begins PDX-SFO in June.
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Old Apr 21, 17, 4:15 pm   #15
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Prior to the merger pmUA trialed a product where you prepaid a certain amount and were then able to book unlimited flights for a set fee.

My memory's a bit hazy on the details but once upon a time UA seriously thought about offering an unlimited pass...if you search the archived PM UA forum you might be able to find the details there. Vaguely recall it being only available to DEN and LAX as well as some other fine print (e.g. you had to book x days prior to the flight, [ ... ] inventory needed to be available, set-fee was determined by stage length, etc.

Not sure on your situation but does it make sense to consider mileage for part of the journey? For example, if you are certain you'll always be on the Monday morning flight to SEA you can book the cheapest ticket there is. If the return is unknown, you can aim to use a free-to-change-as-a-1K-award to go back.

If awards do not make sense, then maybe use UA for the certain flights and AS/WN for the unknown ones to take advantage of their more generous change policies?

Last edited by J.Edward; Apr 21, 17 at 4:32 pm Reason: Add URL
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