I Should Have Booked a Nonstop Flight — Reader Mistake Story

Dec 21, 2018

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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Marc, who got stuck with consecutive delays during an inopportune layover:

I live in New York City, and have a choice of three airports. When I visit the West Coast, I can fly from New York-LaGuardia (LGA) with a layover somewhere along the way, or non-stop from New York-JFK or Newark (EWR). My wife and I currently have cobranded credit cards with United, Delta and American, so I typically base my decision on saver award availability, cash prices and flight times.

Recently, I chose LGA for a 7:00 am United flight to San Francisco (SFO) with a scheduled 50-minute connection in Chicago-O’Hare (ORD), because the ticket was slightly cheaper than the nonstop options. I’d still arrive in the afternoon, I could save money and time on the car service to EWR, and I knew there was a United club at both LGA and ORD I could access with my United MileagePlus Club Card.

That morning, we were informed at the gate that the flight was delayed because of a storm in the Midwest. There were no seats available on alternate routes. I was delayed six hours at LGA (after several further postponements), and another six hours at O’Hare, and arrived into SFO early the next morning. If I had flown nonstop from EWR, I would have flown over the inclement weather.

The lesson for me was to give more weight to the risk of a delay, especially during the winter. This makes me more likely to opt for nonstop flights, and persuades me a bit more to apply for a card that has access to more lounges — every airport has delays, but they don’t all have a United Club.

Based on data from the US Department of Transportation collected over the past decade, roughly one in five domestic flights is delayed (by 15 minutes or more), canceled or diverted. If you assume all flights are equally likely to be disrupted and treat each flight leg as fully independent, then your odds of being delayed (or worse) on a one-stop itinerary are over 35%. Add a second stop and those odds jump to nearly 50%. That’s not ideal.

Of course, treating all flights as equal is specious. Some airlines and airports are more punctual than others, and you’re more likely than normal to experience delays during, for example, a winter storm on a holiday weekend. There’s also a huge difference between pushing back 15 minutes late and enduring 12 hours of delays like Marc did. Still, the basic principle holds that more complex itineraries create more opportunities for something to go awry.

Many people prioritize cost over comfort and convenience when shopping for airfare, and that approach works fine so long as you recognize the trade-off. If you’re on a tight schedule or need to hit the ground running, a nonstop itinerary may be worth the extra cost. In any case, lounge access and a credit card with strong trip delay coverage can be useful assets when you find yourself stuck on the ground.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Marc a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I’d like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.

Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image of Chicago O’Hare International Airport via Shutterstock.

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