Fly Brother Survey: Price vs. Comfort

I consider myself to be an ordinarily savvy traveler, especially when it comes to airfare bargain-hunting. But I’m finding myself in a quandary involving what is probably the most expensive plane ticket I’ve purchased to date: São Paulo to Samoa.

"...come to me...come to me..."

A good friend of mine living in Australia is celebrating her birthday next April in Samoa, and she’s invited a few friends over to help with the shenanigans. Samoa hasn’t been on my radar, but like many places (Poland, most recently), all I need is a good enough reason and I’m on my way. Besides, when else would I ever have the chance to go to Samoa?

Normally, if a ticket is too expensive, I just have to let the opportunity pass. This time, though, I think I just might be able to scrape up enough change between the seat cushions to buy my way out into the middle of the South Pacific. And though April seems far enough away, it’s just barely six months from now, and with only one non-stop from the States a week to the island, fares will only be going up.

Air New Zealand runs to Apia from Los Angeles once weekly, and that round-trip is running at a little under $1000. Whatever, I’m going. The problem is in getting to LA from Brazil. Until recently, there had been two non-stop options between Sampa and LA: Delta and Korean Air. Being partners in the SkyTeam airline alliance, they both operated on alternating days, together offering daily service and frequent flier miles on each others’ programs. Last summer, Delta dropped out and Korean’s left as the only player on that route, three times a week. As such, the fare is a princely $1300 (give or take).

The cheapest alternative is AeroMexico, the sole surviving Mexican long-haul carrier, and also a member of SkyTeam. With seven-hour layovers in Mexico City—each way—this option seems roundly unappealing, until you see the sticker price: $890. That’s $400 less than with Korean Air, but nine additional hours of travel time.See the problem?

But price isn’t just the issue. Korean operates their entire 12 hour, 30 minute flight on a somewhat-spacious Boeing 777. AeroMexico runs from SP to DF on the same aircraft, but finishes the LAX leg on a cramped 737. I’m 6’1; cramped’s not cool. Secondly, I can’t speak for or against AeroMexico’s service, but Korean Air has award-winning in-flight service, as most do most of the large Asian carriers, and on a damn-near 13-hour flight, service matters. I live in and love Latin America, and while the flight crews in my neck of the woods are often pleasant enough, I wouldn’t say they’re particularly service-oriented. At least I feel like I could ask for a glass of water at my economy class seat on Korean Air without getting stank attitude (OK, now I’m projecting the North American lack of service onto AeroMexico…my bad, Mex!). In AeroMexico’s defense, Mexico City isn’t half-bad to bum around in for a few hours, but with a bag, it’s crappy. Also, the flight paths are virtually parallel, so stopping at MEX isn’t out of the way, and the flight gets me in to LA with much more time to get through customs and immigration and checked-in to my (once weekly, remember?) Air New Zealand flight than does the Korean Air arrival.So, let’s line up the pros and cons of each and try to make a decision:

Korean Air Pros

Korean Air Cons

  • Almost $1300 ticket price
  • Almost $1300 ticket price
  • Arriving exactly two hours before my Air NZ flight, with no interline agreement in case of delays or other reason for cancelling

AeroMexico Pros

  • Price
  • Price
  • Extra time for connection to Samoa flight

AeroMexico Cons

  • 22-hour travel time each way
  • 4-hours in a cramped 737 each way
  • 7-hour layovers at MEX each way

One last factor is thinking about “money saved” in broader terms. Sure, I’d save $400 on the airfare, but I’d need to spend some money during those 7-hour layovers, mostly likely on a hotel room in order to rest-up from one red-eye only to board another.

So, what would you do, readers? Spring for the speed and comfort of a Korean Air nonstop or keep some cash in-pocket and give AeroMexico a try?

18 thoughts on “Fly Brother Survey: Price vs. Comfort

  1. I live in Germany and I prefer to pay for comfort to go on longer trips. I am 5’4 and you are 6’1. I vote Korean. Enjoy Samoa either way!

  2. You’ll want to determine how much your time is worth. Unless you’ll be able to do work (and I know you have work to do) on the layovers, it’s simply lost time. Also, if you actually do need accommodations on the layovers, then it really becomes clear that paying the extra money for the shorter itinerary is worth the money. It all comes down to how much you value your own time.

    All that said, it’s not a bad problem to have!

  3. Mike Barish made good points. It’s always good to save money, but it sounds like the extra money spent for this particular ticket might be worth it.

    Lucky you. Enjoy the trip (and blog about it of course).

  4. Thanks a lot for the comments, folks! I was already leaning towards spending the extra $400, but the el cheapo in me was creating doubt. I also think I’m just getting old, LOL.

  5. i honestly don’t even see where it’s an issue. pay the extra cash. seven hours isn’t enough time to hang out in MEX in ways that you can from LHR, so there’s no real point, is there?

    if money is an issue, publish something that would earn you that extra $400. [really, for the amount of flying involved, a $400 different isn't that much money. seriously.]

  6. Fala Ernest! =D

    Cara, se eu fosse vc, sem dúvida escolheria a opção mais econômica. Inclusive, há pouco tempo tive a oportunidade de vivenciar essa opção.

    Fui a 2 semanas para Orlando pela AeroMexico, porquê era a opção mais barata. Fiz Brasília / São Paulo / Cidade do México / Orlando, e na volta o contrário. Do México para os EUA, tive que esperar 6hrs, mas te digo com toda sinceridade que não doeu nem um pouquinho. Foi o tempo de desembarcar, pegar a fila de imigração, pegar as malas, despachá-las novamente, comer alguma coisa decente na praça de alimentação, visitar um museu da história Maia que estava em exposição dentro do aeroporto, visitar algumas lojinhas com produtos artesanais, visitar a lojinha do Santo, passar no Duty Free e comprar umas tequilas, e quando me dei conta, já tinha que embarcar novamente. E o serviço de bordo é ótimo, e os assentos bem confortáveis. Nada que vá te matar, pode ficar tranquilo. rss.

    Grande abraço do CS Friend!

    • Hey Thiaginho! Td bem? Saudades do CT e BSB! Acho que a AeroMexico tal vez e a melhor opcao por causa da transferencia em Los Angeles. Duas horas nao da suficiente tempo pra pegar outro voo internacional saindo so uma vez a semana. Obrigado por visitar e comentar, cara!

  7. That Korean Air 2hr window to catch your (once a week!!!) Samoa flight is crazy. I don’t care about the money, or the layovers, or the comfort: your reason for getting to L.A. is too catch this one single flight; there’s no make-up if you miss it by half an hour. I wouldn’t risk this connection, not when we’re talking notorious Guarulhos and LAX.

  8. I’m thinking it isn’t really seven hours in terms of resting up, sightseeing, etc. There is time to clear Customs as you enter Mexico and there is the inevitable, “…get here two hours ahead of departure…” stuff. Travel from the airport to a decent place to flop and you’re talking about just a couple of hours of sleep. Spend the extra cash and go straight to LAX.

    • Geezer, I think I’m being swayed by the “2-hours is too little” folks. As much as I’d hate to be scrunched up in a plane, then twiddling my thumbs at MEX, I’d hate missing my flight to Samoa even more. We’ll see how things pan out the closer I get to buying the ticket. Thanks for commenting!

  9. If you have the ability to pay it off quickly than GRU-LAX is probably better. I’ve done half-day layovers trying to get go eastward and it really sucks having to wait around and carry your things with you. $400 seems doable and completely reasonable to get a better airline (sorry AMX, KAL is way better) and better aircraft.

    Also, smaller planes means you may have to check a carry-on or leave it behind if weight restrictions happen (which happens a lot in S.Fla because of humidity)

    • As much as I like the itinerary and service of KAL, I think I might have to take the Mexico route if only to ensure I catch my plane to Samoa. People have been making good points about the inadequacy of a 2-hour international connection, considering that’s the primary reason for going to LA in the first place. Thanks for commenting, though! Are you in South Florida? I might be ’round that way soon.

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