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.
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
- Nonstop GRU – LAX with same-day arrival
- Large plane the entire trip
- Award-winning service
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
- Extra time for connection to Samoa flight
- 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?