Is Unlimited Air Travel a Good Deal?

Air travel is rarely anyone's idea of a good time. It's expensive, time-consuming and difficult.

There are the byzantine demands of the ticketing process, in which you have to confirm your exact travel dates and times weeks or months in advance and then pay exorbitant fees if you change your plans. (Or if you buy super cheap tickets, sometimes you run the risk of not being able to get your money back at all!) There's the constant nickel-and-dime fees for everything from checked baggage to in-flight snacks. There's the seemingly endless TSA security procedures that have to be planned around carefully while you're packing.

In short, traveling by air can be a drag. Most of us are willing to do it sometimes for the thrill of travel, and many of us have to do it frequently for work. Especially for those in the latter category, flying might be about to get a whole lot better.

In the past few weeks, I've seen two different ventures getting ready to launch that would take a lot of the hassle out of air travel for frequent flyers. There's reason to hope that if these succeed, we'll see some real innovation in how the airline industry treats passengers.

PlaneRed
The first is a service called PlaneRed. This is an entirely new airline planning to launch this fall. For a monthly subscription, you'll be able to fly all you want. Better yet, you won't have to deal with the TSA at all. Their first routes go up and down the Eastern seaboard, but they're hoping to expand quickly.

How will they do it? PlaneRed is planning to operate small planes and fly out of secondary airports, essentially flying under the radar of the TSA's jurisdiction. Their flights will carry only nine passengers at a time, and fly short distances. They're setting themselves up to be a commuter airline, committing to short routes between cities: New York to Washington, D.C., possibly San Francisco to L.A.

I realize there's a political debate to be had about PlaneRed's plan to dodge TSA security. Some people will see that as a perk, while others will see it as a dangerous problem. Like so many politically charged decisions made by private companies, consumers will be able to vote with their dollars on this one: Don't like their approach, don't give them your money. I'm not really interested in PlaneRed's political position.

What I'm interested in is how they're looking to streamline air travel and make it more customer friendly. And more affordable. They're planning to sell subscriptions for just $150 a month, though they acknowledge that price point may not be sustainable. If they can't turn a profit at that rate, they may add a $25 per flight fee, or raise the subscription rate to $200 or even $250.

Even at the high end of that price point, this is a steal for anyone who travels regularly for business. Not only is it cheaper than paying $150 or more per flight, but it gives you more flexibility and better service. No more booking your tickets weeks in advance, no more penalties for last minute schedule changes, no more hassle at the gate. You don't have to worry about missing your flight because the woman ahead of you in security forgot to label her baby's medication and caused a big delay, and you don't need to stress about finding a cheap flight for the meeting your boss suddenly scheduled next Wednesday in New York.

If it works, this is a great deal for people who travel more than once a month.

That seems like a big “if” though. It's notoriously hard for airlines to stay profitable, and these guys are starting from scratch. Their whole business model is a radical departure from the rest of the industry. Will it catch on? Hard to say.

JetBlue
The idea of unlimited flying has some mainstream appeal, though. JetBlue has recently announced that they'll be test-driving an all-you-can-fly pass for the next three months. Users can pay $1999 to travel anywhere JetBlue flies, $1499 for unlimited travel to any of their eastern U.S. destinations or $1299 for unlimited trips to western cities. You can get in on that deal by checking out their website, though the most expansive option has sold out already.

Like PlaneRed's proposed service, JetBlue's Bluepass will give you more flexibility with travel. You can book a flight online as little as 90 minutes before departure, and there are no fees for changing or canceling your plans.

While the obvious appeal is to business passengers, the deal is good enough that it could be a bargain for pleasure travelers as well. The Economist wrote:

SmartMoney's Kelli Grant notes that JetBlue's most expensive plan—for unlimited travel between Boston and any JetBlue city over the three-month period—can get you to many Caribbean destinations. Since round-trip tickets to most Caribbean islands normally cost between $400 and $600, Bostonians with an itch for crystal-clear waters, five or six free weekends between August 22 and November 22, and a place to stay could get a pretty good deal.

Since those Caribbean passes appear to have sold out already, we'll have to wait for this program to continue or expand to take advantage of this deal. The remaining offerings could still be a bargain for new grandparents, long-distance lovers, or anyone else trying to stay close to friends and family in far-flung cities. You'd need to travel about two to three times a month to beat the cost of just buying your tickets separately for each trip, but you'd get the added benefit of flexibility with your trip planning.

Are you interested in an unlimited subscription approach to air travel? Would you consider buying a monthly or quarterly pass instead of individual plane tickets?

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Kate
Kate
9 years ago

Air Canada has had unlimited flight passes for a while now- they’re a great way to bump up your status (they’re star alliance, so also valid on united continental and us airways)

akajb
akajb
9 years ago
Reply to  Kate

Air Canada has also started a Student Pass (I think it’s in it’s 2nd year) designed for students under 25 who are going away fro school.

I haven’t used any of the passes myself (and don’t qualify for the student – too old). But my dad has used them before with good success.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

We have three boys under five with three sets of grandparents who live on the opposite coast who would love to see them more frequently. Getting them out there has become something I take the entire year mentally preparing myself for, so as to survive and function as a (semi) normal adult afterward. Unlimited flying would be out of the question for us financially, but for the grandparents it might be a fantastic idea, especially since flying from our local airport (Key West) is really expensive.

Erin
Erin
9 years ago
Reply to  Erin

I forgot to add that this would be something we would consider splitting with them, since both parties would benefit from more visits (within reason).

Erin
Erin
9 years ago

It looks like the bluepass for $1999 is on sale again for the next couple days

Tom
Tom
9 years ago

The Bluepass thing is only for Boston at this point?

I’m not interested in purchasing one myself, but I think it’s a fantastic idea and I hope it is sustainable. I’m surprised it has taken this long for a service like this to debut for airlines, as monthlong passes are common for buses and subways.

Brian Carr
Brian Carr
9 years ago

Seems like it would be a good idea for sales people or business people (trying to be policitally correct and not say salesman…) who are constantly on the go for work. Aside from that I don’t see much of a benefit.

Des
Des
9 years ago
Reply to  Brian Carr

Dear Bloggers Who Comment on the Blogs I Read, It is always exciting to read a thoughtful, provoking, or insightful comment and notice that the commenter has their own blog. I love to find new blogs with intelligent authors that I can add to my daily intake of media. However, I also notice when you near-spam the comment sections of the other blogs I read, obviously hoping to increase your readership. No, you don’t spam hard enough to get yourself in official trouble. You just leave vapid or cheerleading comments that took little mental energy to produce, and you leave… Read more »

indio
indio
9 years ago

I agree that air travel has become more and more complicated over time. I’m taking my kids on an upcoming biz trip with me. We are going to multiple destinations, so to save money on the check bag fees, I purchased carry on travel size bags for them. When I used frequent flyer miles for 1 ticket, for some reason they booked the return flight into a different airport than the departing one. Then trying to get 3 seats together 3 months in advance is like asking for a dispensation. There are so many inconveniences that didn’t exist 5-8 yrs… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  indio

They will never charge for the bathroom because then you will have a bunch of Gerard Depardieus on every flight

Vinlandi
Vinlandi
9 years ago
Reply to  indio

For years, a certain airline has automatically put my daughter in a seat by herself literally every time we fly with them. Every flight we’ve to go up to the gate counter to deal with the problem. She’s eight now, so you can imagine how young she was the first time this happened.

The same airline is the only company so far that has sent our daughter credit card offers. It’s not like they don’t have her DOB on file.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  Vinlandi

Seems like you could go online and change your seats. That’s what I always do. On our last trip we had one flight with unassigned seats. we got to the gate first thing and they accomodated by putting us together. There was a couple with a baby put in the exit row. They very nicely helped them out as well. They made an announcement requesting two seats together not in the exit row and switched them out. Doesn’t seem like a big issue to me. However, I believe some people are simply not comfortable traveling and the little blips put… Read more »

BIGSeth
BIGSeth
9 years ago

Don’t forget taxes.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  BIGSeth

At least for the Air Canada ones, one of the major benefits are that all the taxes are included in the initial price.

D
D
9 years ago

Among my friends who travel regularly for business, there does not seem to be much pressure from above to buy cheap tickets. They regularly book business class tickets one or two days before departure, probably paying crazy amounts. I’m sure this is not universal in business, but I don’t think the concern about ticket prices is nearly as universal in the business world as it is among pleasure travelers.

SF_UK
SF_UK
9 years ago
Reply to  D

It depends on the company. My employer (a university) won’t let you fly above standard unless there’s a pressing business case or it’s cheaper, no matter how senior you are. A friend who’s an accountant is always sent business class.

Becky+P.
Becky+P.
9 years ago
Reply to  D

I think it might be different if YOU were the business (think small business) and needed to travel various places while trying to get your business going.

I’d think it would be handy. My husband just bought a 15 leg trip from Delta for a visit to the states. We paid $1500 but it takes him from Warsaw to Alaska, Phoenix, Greenville, SC and Tampa and then back to Warsaw. But if he had unlimited (but this is over a 2 month period of time)…there could be real potential in this.

Amanda
Amanda
9 years ago
Reply to  D

I agree D.

DH had quarterly business trips planned a year in advance. Did the company bother with buying 25 airline seats (specifically on different airlines or different times so as not to wipe out the entire staff in the event of an emergency 😛 ) early enough to get a discount? Nope, 1-2 weeks in advance they were scrambling, for each and every trip!

ArandomPerson
ArandomPerson
9 years ago

Huh, I never thought of this.

I would buy one of these for when I did my national park hopping. It would make my life much easier than dealing with multiple tickets.

Nice post.

Amber
Amber
9 years ago

the redplane service looks amazing. Thanks Sierra!

Jeff
Jeff
9 years ago
Reply to  Amber

Actually I think it looks like a joke. It is WAAAAAY too cheap to be possible.

A small aircraft/ small airport network like this is an old idea in aviation, but the idea that you can do it that cheaply is insane.

Ross
Ross
9 years ago
Reply to  Jeff

Right on, Jeff. Anyone who understands the airline industry knows that this is going to be a very difficult service to make profitable, and it will certainly be inconvenient to anyone who uses it. Why? 1. The longest range 14 passenger plane currently flying could barely make over 1,000nm and travels, at best, around 2/3 the speed of other airliners. What that means is you will be making tons of stops on the way to your destination and it will take you well over 24 hours to make it cross country. Also, it will be extremely turbulent compared to other… Read more »

Amber
Amber
9 years ago
Reply to  Ross

Ross from your comment you obviously did not look into the Redplane business model at all. They are most definitely NOT trying to fly passengers cross-country. They clearly say the other airlines are best cut out to do this. Rather they are starting with a very straight, sensible hop – NY to DC – and will slowly expand to other short routes in time. The entire reason it makes no sense to pay for a flight from NY to DC currently is the required 1-2 hour wait time TSA nightmare before you board your flight. You can DRIVE in 4… Read more »

TosaJen
TosaJen
9 years ago

. . . and I keep thinking that air travel can’t get more like the bus . . . .

I can see the business case: the airline gets its money up-front, and most people won’t use it as much as they think they will.

I’m not sure I’d be comfortable hoping for available plane seats when I need them, though.

Ru
Ru
9 years ago
Reply to  TosaJen

A budget UK airline was exploring the idea of standing room only tickets on flights- yep, standing up for the duration of a shorthaul flight, clinging to a loop on the ceiling. It was eventually shelved because of safety concerns. I can’t remember if this was Easyjet, or Ryanair (the company that wanted to put pay toilets in their planes).

Imagine if you combined the standing room only idea with the PlaneRed availability? It really would be like catching a bus!

STRONGside
STRONGside
9 years ago

I think this would be an excellent option. I like the concept for business travel, and it would be really nice if you owned a vacation spot in a luxury destination. I know that is a little far fetched, but many people I know have vacation home in exotic Caribbean locales b/c they are so inexpensive. Their biggest expense is airfare, and this would make it much more reasonable.

babysteps
babysteps
9 years ago

My mom & I used 30-day tickets when I was visiting colleges several decades ago-it was cheaper and easier than separate tickets.

I remember at the desk for initial check-in (this was before non-mainframe internet access) the agent asked if we’d like our boarding passes – yes, we said. The agent then printed out our passes for the entire trip (must have been 10 or more segments each)! We apologized to those behind us in line.

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago

For business travel, my work pays for the tickets. I don’t even see the invoice or care how much it costs, the secretaries arrange with our travel agents and it’s all just “here’s your ticket”. So…don’t care about the money. If flying from a smaller airport means being further from my hotel when I land, that kind of sucks. For personal travel, I only get 4 weeks vacation a year. I’m not sure I can fly enough to make that all you can fly deal really a deal for me? Aside from that, Canada is about 100 years away from… Read more »

Adam P
Adam P
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

I stand corrected on the Air Canada thing, I never heard of such a deal despite friends that fly all the time for work. I don’t think it would benefit me (and I prefer Porter anyway) but will check it out. I learn something new from this blog every day.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago
Reply to  Adam P

Porter also has them, but they’re bulk packages rather than unlimited ones. We used them when my husband was commuting between Toronto and Ottawa.

Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
Kevin @ Thousandaire.com
9 years ago

Thanks for introducing me to PlaneRed. This is very interesting and I can’t wait to see them finally launch!

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Sounds like a gym membership — the only way they can make money is by convincing people to buy subscriptions that they end up using only once or twice a year. I expect canceling your subscription to be just as painful, and year-long contracts required for the good prices.

Bella
Bella
9 years ago

Small airports don’t get you out of TSA jurisdiction completely. I flew a few years ago on a little tiny commuter from the Boston area to Trenton – when you added in parking in Boston for the train it was faster and cost less than the train. I got my bag searched (take everything out and put it on the table, then put it all back together while the plane is waiting) because while they only had 6 people on board, they have to search a minimum of 20% of the bags – so 2 people got searched 4 didn’t.… Read more »

Jaime B
Jaime B
9 years ago

I think PlaneRed is a very interesting idea. I haven’t flown in 2 years and I don’t live on the East Coast, but I think this could be a great service for a lot of people. It seems similar to some of the really cheap airfares you could get in Europe (or could the last time I was there, several years ago). Some of the flights were super cheap but they landed in some small, out of the way airports. Sometimes as much as 45 minutes from your destination (I think this was the case for Barcelona). You had to… Read more »

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

The JetBlue plan sounds good since they already have a network. PlaneRed doesn’t sound like a sustainable business model and why are they cribbing JetBlue’s name? YellowSpeedboat next?

Steve
Steve
9 years ago

I don’t fly enough for it to be worth it for me. And generally I have to schedule my vacation time in advance. However, if this kind of stuff is around when I retire, assuming I still like to travel as I do today, I will be all over it.

Jen @ Master the Art of Saving
Jen @ Master the Art of Saving
9 years ago

Personally, I don’t really travel enough to take advantage of something like that. It does sound like a great deal for frequent travelers though. International flights would totally rock!

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