Due to a technical glitch, American Airlines is finding itself short on pilots for the upcoming holidays. The airline uses a computerized scheduling system to handle pilot vacation requests, and there appears to have been a bug. The software is designed to process all leave requests and either approve or deny based on seniority and flight coverage. Unfortunately, the software had an issue that resulted in too many requests being approved from December 17th through the 31st.
According to Bloomberg the pilot’s union is estimating over 15,000 flights are currently affected. American Airlines has acknowledged the shortage but has refused to discuss the number of flights. American Airlines believes that the issue will be resolved and that no cancellations will be necessary.
To resolve the issue American Airlines is offering any pilot willing to give up their time off 150% of their normal hourly salary. The Allied Pilot’s Association, however, this deal was made in violation of the union contract. As a result the union has filed a grievance to find a solution that will not violate their labor agreement.
At this time there is no reason to panic. Chances are American Airlines will come to a solution that will leave everybody happy, and no planes on the ground. If you haven’t made your holiday travel plans yet, contact us today.
Airfare is notoriously expensive and as a result airlines have begun focusing on no-frills service. Often this means that the cost of your ticket includes nothing more than the ticket itself. Over the past decade this has become more common, with many airlines starting to charge for checked bags. This also led to the rise of “Ultra Low Cost Carriers”, or ULCCs. ULCCs would charge extra for just about every service. Choosing a seat, checking a bag, drinks, snacks, and even carry-on bags would cost extra.
This model is most commonly associated with dedicated ULCCs, including Spirit, Frontier, and Allegiant in the United States. However, the larger legacy carriers have recently implemented their own version of this concept. Enter “Basic Economy” fares.
Basic Economy Comparison Table
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Pay or Auto-Assign at check-in
Choose or Auto-Assign at check-in
Auto-Assign at check-in only
1 Personal Item Only
1 Personal Item Only
Ultra Low Cost Carriers
Frontier is based out of Denver and often offers the cheapest tickets when flying from the Western United States. Often one way tickets can be found for less than $100, but nearly everything comes with an additional fee. Carry on bags stored in the overhead bin start at $30 each way if you purchase online. All of Frontier’s baggage fees are higher if you purchase at the airport on the date of travel. Change fees are $99 plus any additional difference in ticket price.
Passengers are free to check-in online 24 hours before their flight, or at the airport the day of their flight.
Spirit is very similar to Frontier; bags, drinks, snacks, and seat selection all cost extra. Just like with Frontier, paying for your bags when you book the ticket will be cheaper than paying at the airport. Basic seats on Spirit have only 28 inches of legroom, the smallest on any American carrier. The extra cost “Big Front Seats” have an impressive 36 inches of legroom but can cost up to $200+ for each leg of your trip.
Also like Frontier, Spirit offers free check-in online or via their mobile app 24 hours before your flight. Checking in at the airport will cost an additional $10.
American Airlines was the last of the legacy carriers to adopt the basic economy model, starting in February 2017. American is the middle of the pack between Delta and United; more restrictive than Delta but not as bad as United. Seat assignment is available for purchase 48 hours before your flight, or will be automatically assigned at check-in. You can check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight.
Upgrades to Premium Economy can be purchased, but will not be complimentary, even for elite members. All passengers who purchased a Basic Economy ticket will board last, even if they purchase Premium Economy or have elite status. No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.
Delta has the least restrictive basic economy offering of the legacy carriers. You are free to check-in online or via the mobile app 24 hours before your flight, and can select your own seat at check-in. Upgrades to Premium Economy are not available, even for purchase, and basic economy passengers will be the last to board. Unlike American, if you have elite status with Delta you are free to board with the other elites, even with the basic economy ticket. Best of all, basic economy passengers on Delta have the same baggage allowance as other passengers. You are free to carry-on a personal item as well as a larger carry-on for no additional charge.
No changes or refunds are allowed on Basic Economy fares, but they do still earn frequent flyer miles.
United basic economy is… it’s just the worst. If you are not paying to check a bag you cannot even check-in online with a United basic economy fare. Without a checked bag you must check-in at the airport, and you have to wait for a United agent to sign off on your check-in. My last time flying United in basic economy, this actually caused me to miss my flight. It took us close to 20 minutes to get an agent over to the kiosk to approve our check-in and by that time it was too late for us to complete the check-in process and receive our boarding pass.
United does not allow a large carry-on for basic economy passengers, and automatically assigns seats at check-in. You will still earn frequent flyer miles, but unlike Delta and American, these flights do not count towards earning elite status.
Considerations When Booking Basic Economy
For my personal travels, United is the only airline that I refuse to fly in basic economy. With every other airline, it is something that I will at least consider if the price is right.
Understand the Rules
The fact that United does not allow online check-in was not widely publicized. If I had known how difficult checking in would be we might have pushed to arrive at the airport earlier, or avoided booking the ticket all together. For ULCC’s like Frontier and Spirit, knowing that bag charges are cheaper online can save you significant costs. Also, knowing that they do not offer snacks for free means you can purchase a drink or snack in the airport before boarding.
Use Them for Short Flights
For particularly short flights the restrictions placed on basic economy fares will be less noticeable. If you are flying on a smaller regional jet that only has four seats across, you can’t end up in a middle seat. Less legroom would also be more tolerable on a short flight, so the inability to upgrade your seat may not be a big concern.
Be Careful if Travelling in a Group
Without the ability to choose your own seats there is no guarantee that members of your party will be seated together. Even on American and Delta where you can choose your own seat at check-in there is no guarantee that there will be adjacent seats available. There is a new law, the FAA Extension Security and Safety Act of 2016, that will require airlines to make accommodations for families travelling with children 13 and under, but this is not active yet. Until this is officially implemented, it would be best to avoid basic economy if you need to sit with your family.
Double Check Before Booking
When booking a flight directly from the airline’s website the ticket will be clearly labelled as basic economy before you purchase. If you use an online booking engine, however, it might not be as obvious. Even with basic economy fares, you can cancel without penalty within 24 hours of purchasing, as long as your flight is more than a week away. Make sure that you pay close attention to what you are purchasing so there are no surprises when you reach the airport.
Trying to plan an adventure on a budget can be a daunting task, but there are several steps you can take to minimize the stress. It does not matter how big of a vacation you are planning. Whether you are taking a short weekend getaway, a week long cruise, or spending a month abroad; overpaying for any vacation is not pleasant. Thankfully, you have options that will help you make the most out of your vacation budget. Read on to save money on your next dream vacation, and keep more money in your bank account.
Be Flexible Whenever Possible
When and Where You Travel Matters
One of the best ways to save money on a vacation is by being flexible. You have probably seen this in action when attempting to book flights; many websites will ask if your dates are flexible. If you say yes they will then show you the cheapest price available within 3 days. You can take this even further by using a tool such as Google Flight’s Low Fare Calendar. Often you can get much better deals flying on a weekday, or on a date when the airline has many available seats.
Aside from dates, you can also potentially save money if you can be flexible with the airports you are flying between. Sometimes this can be obvious, such as considering both O’Hare and Midway if you are flying into or out of Chicago, but there are other options. Depending on how far you are willing to drive you can find a large number of potential airports to price check. For example, somebody in Chicago might consider going to Detroit. If you are in New York you may consider Philadelphia or even Boston.
Planes, Trains, or Automobiles
Finally, you can also compare different transportation options. If your destination is not too far you can consider taking a train or driving. While both options are slower than air travel, when you add in the time spent in security lines and any delays, the time difference may well be worthwhile for shorter routes. You can also look into combining travel options; on a recent trip to Vancouver, British Columbia, we were able to save $150 per person by taking the train from Vancouver to Seattle, and then flying home. The time difference between taking a direct flight from Vancouver was only 2 hours; well worth the overall savings.
Of course, it is not always possible to be flexible. School, work, and other obligations can restrict the time frame that you are able to travel. These limitations can also make it such that a quick, non-stop flight is necessary, even if the monetary cost is higher. One of the most important things to remember is that your budget is not just the dollar amount spent, time must also be budgeted.
Using Points to Your Advantage
Frequent Flier Miles
When we talk about using “points” to travel, there are many different programs that can come to mind. Many people are familiar with “Frequent Flyer” programs; points that you earn for travelling on a specific airline or airline alliance. These points can be redeemed for free or discounted flights, seat upgrades, or other perks. Unfortunately, if you do not travel often these points can be slow to accumulate, and with some programs they can expire.
Aside from flying, many airlines have credit cards or special shopping portals that can help you earn additional miles. If you travel often, especially if you almost always fly on a specific airline, these points can be extremely valuable. Still, their use can be severely limited since you are limited to specific airlines and restricted to award availability. Just because there are open seats on a flight, certain dates or routes can be blacked out for travel using points.
Hotel and Cruise Loyalty Programs
Airlines are not the only industry that use the point system to encourage and reward loyalty. Many hotel chains offer similar programs, where each night you spend in a participating property can earn points which can later be redeemed for various perks. The same limitations apply as with airlines, with blackout dates and having to stay at specific properties, but you may be surprised as to what all is included in a specific chain. For example, Wyndham owns 15 brands, including hotels such as Days Inn, Super 8, Ramada, and Wyndham Garden. Marriott, which recently acquired Starwood, has 30 brands in their portfolio.
Cruise lines also offer a loyalty program, but these are traditionally handled quite differently from airline and hotel programs. While miles and stays can earn you status with a particular airline or hotel group for a year, cruise status does not expire. The points that you earn for cruising do not translate to free cruises, at least not until you reach the highest tiers, but instead offer you benefits on future cruises. Some typical perks can include discounts on all future cruises, free drinks or internet on board, early boarding, and priority waitlists for reservations.
Credit Card Points, Miles, and Cash Back
All of these points lock you into a specific brand, but there is another option that is much more flexible; credit card points. Cash back credit cards are well known, and an excellent way to save a small amount on all purchases, but there is so much more to credit card points. One example, and my personal favorite travel credit card, is the Chase Sapphire Reserve. Points earned on the card can be redeemed with a 25% bonus when booking travel through the Chase website. It also provides the option to transfer your points to various partners, such as the aforementioned frequent flyer programs. American Express has a similar travel portal program, and Citi has a 4th Night Free program when you book four or more consecutive nights in a hotel through their service.
Consider All Costs
When travelling on a budget it can be really easy to just look at the big purchases, but it is crucial to consider all the costs. For example, you may find a flight that’s $100 cheaper at an airport 200 miles away. At first, this can look like a great deal. However, the plane ticket is not the only cost you need to consider. If it will cost you $50 in gas to make the round trip drive, and $15 per day to park, that cheaper ticket can wind up costing you a lot more.
Maybe you found a hotel for only $50 a night, compared to another that is $100 a night. At first glance it seems obvious which hotel is cheaper, but when you consider all the associated costs it may not be so straight forward. Maybe the cheaper hotel has no airport shuttle, so you’ll have to spend $25 each way on taxi fares. Perhaps internet or breakfast are not included and will cost you an extra $10-$20 per day. In order to truly get the best price on your vacation it is important to consider all the expenses you will incur.
Recently, many airlines have begun offering “basic economy” fares that are cheaper than the ordinary tickets. Unfortunately, these then add on additional fees for large carry-ons, choosing your seat, or checking a bag. Cruise lines will add daily gratuities, and do not include sodas, alcohol, internet, or shore excursions in their listed price. It can be extremely easy to just look at a trip and say, “It will cost me $250 to fly, and $1,500 to take a cruise”. If not prepared, however, you may get home and see that you were charged an extra $50 in baggage fees, $150 in cruise line gratuities, and $75 on sodas while on board the ship. All of a sudden you have gone through your entire vacation budget without even realizing it.
Understanding the Rules of the Game
This is where having a knowledgeable travel agent can really come in handy. For example, most plane tickets are non-refundable and have a large fee to change flights. For that reason I often recommend that travelers on a budget book flights last, when they are certain that the vacation won’t be cancelled. There are some tricks to getting the absolute best price on flights, but they also have downsides. For example, sometimes it might be cheaper to book one ticket between your departure airport and a middle airport, and then a second ticket to your final destination. While the ticket itself is cheaper, you will end up paying for checked luggage twice. Also, if your plans change you will have to pay the change fee twice.
Travel insurance is another expense that can sometimes make sense, but you need to understand the terms. Some travel insurance will reimburse you if you have to cancel a vacation because you lost your job, or had your leave request revoked, but not all. Some packages won’t pay out if you had a pre-existing medical condition. Others may not be valid if a flight is cancelled for mechanical or staffing issues. Many people who are impacted by these rules come to believe that insurance companies will do anything to not pay a claim. However, it ultimately comes down to understanding what the insurance does and does not cover.
Refundable Expenses and Price Drops
Aside from flights, some other aspects of your vacation may be able to be cancelled without penalty. Cruises, for example, are often fully refundable up until 2-3 months before you sail. This also means that if the price of your cruise drops after you book, you can get it repriced at the better rate. Here at Adventures With Anthony we offer the guarantee that you will get the best available rate. If you book a cruise and the price drops before final payment is due, we will automatically adjust your final cost.
Hotels can be the most confusing of all because cancellation policies will vary wildly. Often, whether or not you can cancel a hotel stay is dependent on the exact rate you booked. The same exact room may have both a refundable and a non-refundable option. Sometimes the policy can vary depending on the season or how far in advance you book. Having a knowledgeable agent working on your behalf can make finding the rate right much easier.
Make Sure You’ll Be Happy
This is by far the most important thing to keep in mind. No matter how great of a deal you scored, if you don’t enjoy yourself it will be money wasted. For example, if you absolutely hate flying it might be better in the long run to purchase a more expensive non-stop flight. Otherwise, you may start your vacation incredibly stressed and won’t be able to properly enjoy yourself. Similarly, when planning a cruise it might be better to spend a little more for a ship or itinerary that you are really excited about.
In the end, you need to budget your time, money, and happiness. Focusing exclusively on spending as little money as possible can backfire, but with a little research and flexibility you can maximize all three.
Shortly after announcing the 2019/2020 Deployment Royal Caribbean made a surprising announcement. Four ships – the Majesty, Enchantment, Empress, and Vision – were having their deployments changed starting next year. Unfortunately, this also affects a large number of 2018 and early 2019 sailings that have already been reserved. Some of the cruises affected are cancelled, while others will just have itinerary changes or be moved to a different ship. See below for the current list of cruises that are impacted. All cruises affected by this change will be locked until Tuesday, November 21st. At any point after November 21st, you can make a new reservation if you are affected by these changes.
Empress of the Seas
Empress of the Seas will be moving from Tampa to Miami in May of 2018. All Empress sailings from May 9th, 2018 to March 30, 2019 will be changed to the Majesty of the Seas instead. In addition to changing ships, at least five sailings have had their itinerary changed. The sailings on June 25th, August 6th, September 3rd, September 17th, and October 1st will be changed.
Enchantment of the Seas
Enchantment of the Seas was originally supposed to move from Miami to Galveston, Texas in 2018. Instead, it will be moving to Port Canaveral (Orlando), Florida. Sailings from May 4th, 2018 to April 19th, 2019 are affected. Most of these cruises, including the 9 Night Panama we were so excited about, have been cancelled. Some others will be moved to the Vision of the Seas instead.
Majesty of the Seas
The Majesty of the Seas will move from Port Canaveral to Tampa starting May 7th. Many of the affected cruises will be switched to the Enchantment of the Seas although some cruises will be cancelled.
Vision of the Seas
The Vision of the Seas will move from New Orleans to Galveston. So far Royal Caribbean has only confirmed that cruises starting in March of 2019 will be impacted. This will leave New Orleans without any ship from Royal Caribbean’s fleet. The Vision of the Seas was also expected to go to Barcelona, Spain for European cruises in 2019; no official confirmation yet how these changes will affect those plans.
** UPDATE ** – Royal Caribbean has made some changes to the schedules for Empress, Enchantment, Majesty, and Vision. See the updates here.
Royal Caribbean just announced the first half of their 2019/2020 deployment and there are some BIG changes in store. Today’s announcement includes the deployment for Caribbean, Alaskan, Northeast, and select European cruises. You will be able to book these cruises starting next week, and reserving early often gets the best deal. Royal Caribbean will announce the remaining cruises, including Asia, Australia, and the rest of Europe, next spring. We are very excited with the information that has already been released, and are looking forward to more details.
As their name implies, the majority of Royal Caribbean’s offerings are in the Caribbean. They are sending 13 of their 25 ships to the Caribbean for the summer of 2019 into 2020. The cruises will range from 3 to 8 nights and visit Mexico, the Bahamas, and Eastern, Western, and Southern Caribbean islands. You will also have a lot of options, with cruises leaving from Galveston, three ports in Florida, Boston, Baltimore, Newark, and San Juan.
Short Caribbean Adventures
If you are new to cruising or are just looking for a short trip, Royal Caribbean has you covered. The Navigator of the Seas and the brand new Symphony of the Seas will both be making 3 and 4 night cruises to the Bahamas from Miami. Also leaving from Florida, the fully reimagined Mariner of the Seas will be making the same cruise from Orlando. For something a little different, you can also take the Enchantment of the Seas from Galveston, Texas. The Enchantment will be making 4 and 5 night trips to Mexico and the Western Caribbean. These shorter itineraries will be available for bookings starting the week of November 20th.
7 Night Caribbean Adventures
A main staple among cruise lines, 7 night cruises are a great way to get the full cruise experience when you don’t have a lot of time. All four of the Oasis Class of ships – Oasis, Allure, Harmony, and Symphony – will be based in Florida. Both Oasis and Symphony will be departing from Miami on alternating Eastern and Western itineraries. The Allure of the Seas will be moving to Fort Lauderdale, and Harmony will go to Port Canaveral/Orlando. They will both also be alternating Eastern and Western Caribbean sailings. In addition to the Florida offerings, Liberty of the Seas will be taking 7 night Western Caribbean cruises from Galveston, Texas.
If you want something a little more exotic, the Freedom of the Seas will be departing San Juan, Puerto Rico for the Southern Caribbean. Our own very first cruise was on this itinerary. The Southern itineraries tend to have more ports than their Eastern and Western alternatives. So, if you like visiting as many places as possible, this might be the perfect cruise for you. These will be the first cruises available to be booked, with reservations opening the week of November 13th.
East Coast to Bermuda
There are also a variety of options to visit the Caribbean from the east coast. The Anthem of the Seas will continue sailing from Cape Liberty, New Jersey on 5 night cruises to the Bahamas and 9 night cruises to the Caribbean. Also at Cape Liberty is the Adventure of the Seas, offering 8 night cruises to Bermuda and the Bahamas. In the fall of 2019, the Serenade of the Seas will offer some 7 night cruises to Bermuda from Boston, while the Grandeur of the Seas will alternate 5 and 9 night Bermuda/Bahamas cruises from Baltimore, Maryland. These will all be available starting the week of December 4th.
Canada and New England
All of the ships from the East Coast above will also be offering summer cruises to New England and Canada. Typically, these ships will alternate itineraries, going to Bermuda one week and Canada the next. Adventure of the Seas out of Cape Liberty will offer both the longest and the shortest of these itineraries to Canada. In the summer Adventure will be taking 5 night cruises to Canada and New England, while in the fall she will offer 10 and 11 night cruises. These longer cruises are one way trips; going from Cape Liberty to Quebec City on one cruise, and then returning on the next. Currently, this is the only itinerary Royal Caribbean is offering that visits Quebec City.
The Anthem of the Seas will also be visiting Canada and New England from Cape Liberty. This is a cruise we have done before, and visits Boston, Bar Harbor, Portland, New Brunswick, and Halifax. This cruise will be 9 nights long and will only be available during the fall months. The Anthem is a Quantum Class ship and has a lot of the big amenities that make Royal Caribbean so much fun to sail. The Serenade of the Seas will be offering a similar, 7 night option. Since the Serenade leaves from Boston it is able to complete the remainder of the itinerary faster than the Anthem. The Serenade is also a slightly smaller ship, and as such may be a better option for some cruisers.
Finally, the Grandeur of the Seas is your only option for sailing to Canada and New England in the summer months. Sailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Grandeur will be making 9 night cruises up the eastern coast. All of these options will become available for bookings starting December 4th.
Europe and the Mediterranean
There are some big changes in store for European cruises. Royal Caribbean is adding a brand new port, Portofino, Italy, to select European cruise itineraries. This stop is currently scheduled to be added to the 7 night Mediterranean cruise on the Brilliance of the Seas. This will be running only during the fall months, leaving from Barcelona, Spain. During the summer, the Brilliance will be sailing out of Amsterdam on 10 night cruises to the Iberian Peninsula and 12 nights to the Baltics.
Aside from the Brilliance, the Oasis of the Seas and Vision of the Seas will also be sailing from Barcelona. The Oasis will be sailing 7 night Western Mediterranean cruises in the summer before repositioning to Miami. The Vision will be alternating 12 night Mediterranean itineraries, switching between visiting the Greek Isles and Venice.
If you would rather start your trip in Venice, the Rhapsody of the Seas will be leaving from there. The Rhapsody will sail alternating 7 night cruises; one to the Greek Isles and one to Greece and Croatia. The Greece and Croatia route will have brand new ports that Royal Caribbean ships have never visited before. The exact ports which are new to this itinerary have not been identified yet, but should be announced by the beginning of December. Also leaving from Italy will be the Jewel of the Seas. The Jewel will be going on 7 and 9 night cruises to the Greek Isles and Western Mediterranean from Rome.
Scandanavia and Russia
The last ship that is scheduled for summer European sailings is the Serenade of the Seas. The Serenade will spend the summer in Copenhagen before transitioning across the Atlantic for fall in Canada and New England. While in Copenhagen the Serenade will be going on 7 night cruises, alternating between the Norwegian Fjords one week and Russia the next. The first round of European sailings will be available for booking starting December 11th.
Alaska is going to have some really exciting changes for 2019. The Radiance of the Seas will return once again to complete the open jaw 7 night cruises through the Inside Passage. The Radiance has been a staple ship in Alaska for several years, and is one of our favorite cruises. We have actually taken the Southbound Alaska cruise on the Radiance twice. This cruise goes from Seward Alaska to Vancouver, Canada and then back the next week, visiting Juneau, Ketchikan, Skagway, Icy Strait Point, and the Hubbard Glacier.
The big change for 2019 is the Ovation of the Seas will be replacing the Explorer of the Seas for Alaska glacier cruises. The Ovation is a Quantum Class ship and is much larger than the typical ships which sail to Alaska. The Ovation also has the North Star Observation platform, which promises some outstanding views of wild Alaska. It will be ported in Seattle, Washington, and will take 7 night, round trip cruises. The current itineraries that the Explorer takes visit Juneau, Skagway, Tracy Arm Fjord, and Victoria, British Columbia. Royal Caribbean has not yet confirmed if Ovation will be following the same route, just that it will go on Alaska cruises from Seattle. Both Alaska cruises will be available starting December 11th.
Plan a Cruise
The initial deployment schedule looks very promising, and we are very excited to see what details will come out over the next month. While 2019 and 2020 seem fairly far away, the nature of cruises often means the earlier you can book the better price you will get. Reach out today to find your perfect cruise. Don’t forget, we offer a lowest price guarantee. If a better deal is available after you book until final payment, we will get you the lower price.
Luis and I recently had the pleasure of flying on Asiana Airlines from San Francisco to Shanghai, via Seoul. As this was our first international flight, we upgraded the first leg to Asiana’s premium economy product, Smartium Economy. Smartium Economy is a fairly new product, which Asiana launched this past May on their newly delivered A350s. Since it is so new, there was not a lot of information available when we were first booking our flights. We were very excited to try this new product, even without knowing fully what to expect. We also wanted to see what the standard economy product was like on Asiana to compare the two offerings. With this goal in mind, we purchased the upgrade to Smartium Economy for the first of our four legs; travelling from San Francisco to Seoul. We were also able to get a very good deal on the flights by combining Google Flights with the travel rewards bonus of the Chase Sapphire Reserve.
The first important thing to note is that the seats in Smartium Economy are the same seats as in standard economy. Both Smartium Economy and regular Economy are configured 9 seats across, in a 3-3-3 setup. The seats are 18 inches wide in both cabins, which is nice as some airlines are shrinking seat width to 17 or even 16 inches. There are 4 rows of Smartium Economy seats, row 10 through row 14, for a total of 36 available seats.
What Smartium Economy offers over it’s cheaper alternative is an additional 4 inches of leg room; increasing from 32 inches in Economy to 36 inches in Smartium Economy. Smartium Economy also offers an in-flight amenity package that includes an eye mask, toothbrush, tooth paste, and business class slippers, as well as a blanket and pillow. Standard economy seats, on the other hand, offer only the pillow, blanket, and economy slippers. I personally always travel with my own sleep mask, and did not feel that there was a particularly noticeable difference in the slippers offered in Smartium versus economy.
On the ground there were a few additional benefits as well. Smartium Economy passengers receive priority boarding at most airports that Asiana serves, and also qualify for access to the Asiana lounge at Seoul. This latter perk does come with a fairly major caveat, however. You are only entitled to access if you are booked in Smartium Economy for a long haul flight departing Seoul. This would be a flight to the United States, Europe, or Oceania. This means that even though we had purchased Smartium Economy on a long haul flight, since it was from San Francisco to Seoul, we were not permitted into the lounge. This was disappointing, especially since the cost of a Smartium Economy seat is the same inbound and outbound but the offered perks are diminished.
Smartium Economy is currently on a flat rate pricing structure. Long haul flights, which are any flights outside of Asia, are $150 US per seat. Flights within Asia are either $30 for Japan, China, and northeast Asia, or $60 for flights to or from the rest of Asia. This is pretty much on par with the cost of economy plus or premium economy seats on US carriers. For example, prices for Economy Plus on an upcoming United flight start at $159 for transpacific, and $49 for domestic.
Ultimately I did not feel that Smartium Economy was worth the cost, especially when flying from the United States. We never really used the additional amenities, and I did not really notice a difference in the slippers offered in economy versus Smartium. Surprisingly, I also didn’t really notice the extra leg room. Normally I feel fairly cramped on airplanes, but the 32 inches of leg room offered in regular economy felt comfortable. Many American carriers now have a seat pitch of only 29-31 inches, so Asiana’s standard offering already felt like an upgrade. Priority boarding also felt unnecessary. Despite the large number of passengers needing to board, the process was incredibly quick and smooth. Also, the A350 offers ample storage space for bags, so boarding early did not offer much of a benefit.
The best potential benefit would be access to the lounge in Seoul, but the value of that perk depends largely on how long of a layover you have. It is also important to note that the lounge accepts Priority Pass. That means you may already have access, even without spending the $150 on Smartium Economy. I highly suggest you apply for a travel card with Priority Pass as a benefit if you don’t already have one.
The Asiana Experience
Overall, Asiana was an excellent airline to fly. Compared to the legacy carriers common in the United States, Asiana was significantly nicer. The seat size, even in standard economy, was comfortable at 18 inches wide and 32 inches deep. Boarding was also very quick and efficient. We started boarding 30 minutes before takeoff, with one line for Smartium and one for economy. In less than 20 minutes everybody was in their seats and the flight attendants were making their initial rounds to prepare us for an on time departure. The flight attendants were also very professional and friendly. They did not all speak fluent English, which was not unexpected on a Korean based airline, but there was never any problems with communication.
On the transpacific flight we were given two full meals as well as a snack. The first meal was offered shortly after we reached cruising altitude, and was a choice between a Korean bibimbap or a steak and veggies dish. Both entrees were served with a biscuit, shrimp slaw, and a small desert cake. We were served the second meal two hours before our scheduled landing. We had a choice of a fish meal or a chicken lasagna. The snack was finger sandwiches and was offered midway through the flight. The meals on the return flight included a spicy beef and rice dish for the first meal. Since we were landing in the morning, the second meal offered was a breakfast omelette.
The flight from Seoul to Shanghai was significantly shorter, just over 2 hours. Because of the short flight time I was not expecting anything more than the standard offerings of peanuts or cookies that we expect domestically. Instead we were given a snack that included a yogurt and a pig in a blanket. On the return flight the snack was a beef and rice dish served with a muffin and fruit cup. The meal offerings were plentiful and spaced perfectly throughout the flight. The seats in economy, and even in Smartium Economy, were a little cramped when trying to eat a meal, but nothing too unpleasant.
In Flight Entertainment
Each seat had a 12 inch touch screen entertainment center in the seat back in front of them. The entertainment center had options for movies, tv shows, music, games, flight map, and communication. A remote was also offered which was useful for some of the games, but for the most part I found the touch screen to be most convenient. The movie selections were excellent, with a variety of options ranging from recent blockbusters to classics. There were several movies with English, Korean, Chinese, or Japanese audio and enough selection for me to spend the entire flight watching movies. I have a hard time sleeping on planes, so I ended up staying up and watching movies for the entire 12 hour flight. There was a total of about 30 English movies available.
Asiana also offered earphones in each seat, although I found the audio quality to be lackluster and ended up using my personal earbuds the entire flight. The entertainment center had a USB slot next to the headphone jack to charge a device. There was also a universal plug between the seats for devices that couldn’t be charged via USB. The games available on the entertainment center included several casual puzzle games, such as solitaire and sudoku. There was also a golfing game and a couple of basic platformers. These games seemed to work much better with the available remote than the touchscreen. Wi-Fi was available for the duration of the flight, ranging from $12 for 1 hour to $22 for the entire flight.
The Airbus A350
Asiana’s Airbus A350 was an extremely comfortable plane. The bulkheads offered ample storage which made the boarding process extra smooth. People could easily find space near their seats and quickly store their carry-ons. Take off and landing was also incredibly smooth, probably the smoothest experience I have ever had on a plane. Despite the large engines the noise was almost non-existent.
The one main downside to the plane was the climate control. Unlike most other aircraft, seats on the A350 do not have individual climate control. Instead, the entire cabin’s climate is controlled by the flight attendants. On our flight to Shanghai I was quite comfortable, but it depends highly on the crew. Our return flight was much warmer than I am used to on a flight. I walked past the galley on a trip to the bathroom and was able to see the thermostat. The economy cabin was set to a rather toasty 78 degrees. Personally I would much rather having my own control over air to my seat, or for the cabin temperature to be colder. It is easier to add blankets or a jacket to warm up when cold than it is to cool down when the plane is too warm.
Overall our experience on Asiana Airlines was exquisite. The seats were comfortable, the food plentiful, and the in flight entertainment was vast. Despite the extremely long flight, the journey was comfortable and we were entertained throughout. Asiana’s economy product was more than comfortable enough for a transpacific flight. I would not hesitate to fly Asiana again, although I most likely would not pay for the Smartium Economy upgrade next time.