SF Bay to DC IAD vs DCA?

Old Sep 27, 19, 11:18 am
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SF Bay to DC IAD vs DCA?

The flights are both non stop both ways and the outbound flight isn't a big deal. However, on the return flight DCA does not have a Priority pass lounge but IAD does which will be very useful for me since hotel checkout is around noon so I'll have hours to burn before the flights. Having access to the lounge would be very nice.

The kicker is I'll be staying at Crystal city which is just a skip from DCA.

How would you approach this trip?
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Old Sep 27, 19, 11:27 am
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I definitely prefer DCA over IAD, but that's largely due to proximity to DC (sounds like from Crystal City you're in the same boat) and because DCA is one of the quickest experiences in terms of getting through security, etc. There's not PP lounges as you note, but you could have the hotel front desk hold your bags and spend a few hours doing something else rather than sitting in a mediocre lounge at Dulles.

Other factors I'd consider between the two:
  • Price - IAD may be cheaper fare than DCA, but keep in mind your transportation costs to Dulles will be significantly higher (Uber $35-$60 vs a few bucks or a free shuttle). You may want to factor this in to your departing flight as well.
  • Aircraft - not sure which type they're using here, but for transcons, I tend to prefer the pre-merger VX Airbus (look for 8 first class seats) over the refurbished Airbus, followed by the 737s, at least in terms of Y seat comfort.
  • Upgrade odds - Dulles routes may give you a slight edge up for getting a seat up front, if that matters. Definitely check # of available seats/upgrades, etc, as aircraft type and travel day can make a big difference there.
  • Travel time - DCA is a few mins from downtown DC, and basically in Crystal City. Depending on your travel times, that could cut into your time spent in the lounge or at your destination, sitting in traffic.
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Old Sep 27, 19, 11:30 am
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  • at noon, it's probably 35-40 min by road from Crystal City to IAD; Uber would run ~$40
  • you could metro to Rosslyn (~10 min) and take the 5A bus (~50 min trip, departs at ~1225 or 1305) for ~$9
  • your profile says Hilton Gold; the hotel would likely let you have a late checkout (maybe 1430/1500) at no charge
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Old Sep 27, 19, 11:35 am
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Originally Posted by be_rettSEA View Post
  • Aircraft - not sure which type they're using here, but for transcons, I tend to prefer the pre-merger VX Airbus (look for 8 first class seats) over the refurbished Airbus, followed by the 737s, at least in terms of Y seat comfort.
  • Upgrade odds - Dulles routes may give you a slight edge up for getting a seat up front, if that matters. Definitely check # of available seats/upgrades, etc, as aircraft type and travel day can make a big difference there.
I agree with you about the pre-merger Airbus--I definitely prefer those aircraft in both F and Y. However, at this point, I don't think there is any way to book a flight and be assured it will be the pre-merger configuration (unless its a 319, but those generally don't fly transcons). On my flight last week, the seat map switched twice within 36 hours of departure (149 seat old, to 150 seat new, then finally to 146 old configuration).
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Last edited by sltlyamusd; Sep 27, 19 at 11:43 am
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Old Sep 27, 19, 11:53 am
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Getting to Dulles from Crystal City will be an expensive trip and time consuming trip. As noted above, I'd stick with DCA unless you want a*slightly* better shot at an upgrade. The 4:15 flight at IAD depending on day though usually sells out F seats before upgrades are processed. I'm a 75k, and lately the F seats are full days or more in advance. I've only seen the newer 320 a handful of times. Just hang at the hotel, or like another poster said, leave luggage and go walk the mall and see the Lincoln memorial. Take the metro a couple stops up and go to Arlington National Cemetery for the changing of the guard - it's a nice walk and a pretty moving experience.
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Old Sep 27, 19, 12:08 pm
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Transportation cost is not an issue since the difference is very small. I'm mainly looking at convenience.

But after reading your suggestions, I think DCA is probably my best bet. You're correct about the late check out, by the time I get into the airport it's really only an hour or two to burn. Find a nice restaurant and work from there would be an option.

Upgrades is important to me but for this trip I'll be booking in V, R class as an MVP, I've already thrown all my hope of any upgrades out the Windows on this one.
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Old Sep 27, 19, 3:17 pm
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There is a PP restaurant at DCA but it's not great. The Turkish Lounge at Dulles is nice, but not really worth the extra time and effort to get to IAD. I'll only fly out of IAD if I'm saving at least $30 after I net out the additional value of the lounge, likelihood of an upgrade, hassle of the 5A, and extra time from DC (unfortunately a very common occurrence)
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Old Sep 27, 19, 3:33 pm
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Originally Posted by dannieboiz View Post
Transportation cost is not an issue since the difference is very small. I'm mainly looking at convenience.

But after reading your suggestions, I think DCA is probably my best bet. You're correct about the late check out, by the time I get into the airport it's really only an hour or two to burn. Find a nice restaurant and work from there would be an option.

Upgrades is important to me but for this trip I'll be booking in V, R class as an MVP, I've already thrown all my hope of any upgrades out the Windows on this one.
DCA has a decent Priority Pass restaurant a few gates down from the gate AS 1002 departs from. That said, if you only have an amex card, you couldn't use it.

Personally I prefer IAD over DCA because (as of this writing) AS only flies the pre-reconfig white leather Airbus planes into IAD whereas DCA often gets the reconfiged A321s. My last two flights into DCA were on reconfigured A321s which were significantly less comfortable in F. IAD also has the Turkish Air lounge a few gates down from the SFO departure gate which is one of the better domestic lounges on PP (shhhh our secret).

RE: upgrades, your expectations are correct. Since you're an MVP, there's zero chance of an upgrade out of DCA and close to zero out of IAD. My experience (via friends who are MVP) is that they have never been upgraded out of DCA and only one was upgraded out of IAD over a year ago, and that was on the early morning departure, back when AS was flying 3x IAD-SFO, before the transcon cuts.

TLDR, I would fly out of IAD A) for the lounge and B) for the much better Y class seats on the older VX airbii aircraft.

Last edited by jjmadison; Sep 27, 19 at 5:48 pm
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Old Sep 27, 19, 4:20 pm
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I've yet to fly from DCA on Alaska. Seems like better paid and award availability is always from BWI or IAD for me and won't pay extra to fly to/from DCA when I have the time to deal with alternate airports and public transportation.

I used to religiously take the 5A bus to IAD from Rosslyn, after the train over from Crystal City, but once they raised the fare to $7.50 from Rosslyn to IAD started taking Metro to Wiehle-Reston East ($3.85 off-peak, $6 peak) and the connecting nonstop airport bus ($5) from there that runs about every 15-20 mins. Just a more comfortable ride for me than being packed on that 5A bus.

I did visit the Turkish Lounge at IAD with Priority Pass a few months ago. Much nicer food selection when they swap from breakfast to lunch and a very cozy separate bar area in the back of the lounge that won't be visible when you first walk in.
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Old Sep 27, 19, 7:35 pm
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IAD is a major PITA because it is a hassle to get from curbside to the gate, whereas DCA is 5-10 minutes with Pre-Check and no more than 15 without. The PP differential would have to be a Michelin-starred restaurant before I schlep from Crystal City to IAD over DCA.
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Old Sep 27, 19, 9:06 pm
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
IAD is a major PITA because it is a hassle to get from curbside to the gate, whereas DCA is 5-10 minutes with Pre-Check and no more than 15 without. The PP differential would have to be a Michelin-starred restaurant before I schlep from Crystal City to IAD over DCA.
Have you found the Alaska fares from DCA competitive to BWI or IAD? I just haven't. They're typically $100RT extra from SFO, if not more, and lowest fare is the sole determinant as to where I book. Give me a good price to DCA that matches or beats other area airports and I'll pay to fly there.

Where do you normally fly to with Alaska from DCA?
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Old Sep 27, 19, 10:04 pm
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Originally Posted by jjmadison View Post
... (as of this writing) AS only flies the pre-reconfig white leather Airbus planes into IAD ...
not so fast: I was on AS1085 IAD-SEA on Tues 24 Sep which operated with N632VA, a 12F A320; AS1089 IAD-LAX on Mon 23 Sep operated with N642VA, a 12F A320 (having come in as AS1095 SEA-IAD)
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Old Sep 28, 19, 6:06 am
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Originally Posted by tom911 View Post
Have you found the Alaska fares from DCA competitive to BWI or IAD? I just haven't. They're typically $100RT extra from SFO, if not more, and lowest fare is the sole determinant as to where I book. Give me a good price to DCA that matches or beats other area airports and I'll pay to fly there.

Where do you normally fly to with Alaska from DCA?
DCA fares, not just on AS, are typically significantly higher than IAD/BWI because both of those are less convenient to DC. Put simply, it takes time and costs money to get to IAD and, once at IAD, it takes time to get to the gate.

On cost alone, $100 more xDCA is a bargain vs. IAD. Time is money.
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Old Sep 28, 19, 9:34 am
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
DCA fares, not just on AS, are typically significantly higher than IAD/BWI because both of those are less convenient to DC. ...
while convenience is certainly a factor, DCA fares — particularly on beyond-perimeter flights, which obviously includeTCONs — are also higher because of limited competition due to slot availability for these operations
Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
On cost alone, $100 more xDCA is a bargain vs. IAD. Time is money.
pass the salt shaker, please ... you are certainly entitled to your opinion as to what constitutes “a bargain”; others, however, do NOT have to subscribe to it, and are equally entitled to determine their own value proposition
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Old Sep 28, 19, 10:07 am
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Originally Posted by jrl767 View Post
not so fast: I was on AS1085 IAD-SEA on Tues 24 Sep which operated with N632VA, a 12F A320; AS1089 IAD-LAX on Mon 23 Sep operated with N642VA, a 12F A320 (having come in as AS1095 SEA-IAD)
I was talking about the IAD-SFO route that the OP is looking for advice on. Good point in LAX and SEA flights. I cannot comment on those.

I fly the IAD-SFO route 2-3x a month and have never seen a reconfig airbus on that route so far, which remains a key reason why I prefer IAD-SFO over the DCA-SFO route. No doubt that will eventually change once more 320s are reconfigured.
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