The Great Debate: Bangor vs Portland

United and Allegiant ticket counters.
United and Allegiant ticket counters.

This seems like a yearly social media event for me. And by social media event, I mean ripping my beard hairs out one by one when I hear friends around the Bangor area, or within striking distance, yelp about the prices of tickets from Bangor versus fares from Portland. Every year, I type long winded explanations on the pros and cons of each, how to get the best price out of Bangor and how you’re getting screwed by a so called “low cost” airline. Then, every year I get 2-3 friends who I have an “I TOLD YOU SO” moment. It’s like I’m at a Sevendust concert and the lights go down, the music starts, the energy in the air moves me to jump up and down, bounce my head to the beat and let myself go of all that is going on in my life while reveling in the moment of bliss.

Ok, so that last for like an hour or so, the “I TOLD YOU SO” moment, ehh, maybe like 3 seconds. But in those 3 seconds I feel bliss and my beard sprouting growth from having been ripped out not 2-3 months prior. After having gone through this again 3-4 times in the first week of the New Year, I figured I needed to do some investigative reporting.

Trip Details

After deciding to do this, my fiance and I decided we needed a break, not from each other, but from the cold. Our wedding is in June, so rather than take a full 2 weeks to venture to Florida, we’re taking a week and then going to Europe for a Mediterranean cruise in the fall.

My lovely fiance is a nurse at a local hospital and fortunately with her schedule, she can work it so the 2 week stretch she will work at the beginning, go away for a week and then work the weekend when we return. The dates came down to flying Wednesday, March 16 to Wednesday March 23rd to Tampa(Yes, I’m well aware that we will be there for the MacDill Air Fest, you don’t think I had that already planned out?). However, Allegiant doesn’t fly on Wednesdays from Bangor so I went Tuesday to Tuesday.

With that, I started to plot out the trip options from Bangor and Portland. From Bangor there are 3 options, Delta, American(US Airways) and Allegiant. Portland has service from Delta, American, Jet Blue, Southwest and United. Portland recently launched service with Elite Airways but they only go to Melbourne.

Next up, I started a Word document with prices for each airline originating from Bangor and Portland. Oh, in a related story, my fiance thought I was going crazy when she opened Word to do some wedding planning stuff. She saw the list with numbers, letters(DAL, AA, AAY, UAL, SWA, JBU) and money amounts, immediately her thought was the movie “A Beautiful Mind”. So I explained that I’m not a genius and I’m not winning a Nobel Prize anytime soon. I’m just an aviation nut. But, she knew that and fortunately, she is OK with it.

Fare and Route Research

Starting on January 10th and everyday thereafter until the 24th of January, I would check the websites for the 6 airlines listed above. Sometimes twice a day, at varying times each day. If the prices dropped later in the day, I would update the earlier price. In each instance, I would search, select the cheapest route, regardless of schedule or route. The problem arises when you have an hour or less to make a connection at LaGuardia, Kennedy, Philly, Reagan, Charlotte or Atlanta. Is it worth the money to cut it that short?

One thing you need to keep in mind is that airlines inflate flying times to make sure they have “on time” arrivals. For instance, flying on Delta Connection from Bangor to LaGuardia, flight time is listed as an hour and 5 to an hour and 10 minutes. The past 3 or 4 trips I’ve timed, from pushback to the time the door opens has been 45-50 minutes. An hour layover at LaGuardia isn’t bad, you can make it from one end of Terminal D to the end of Terminal C West in 10 minutes, you’ve gotta run, but you can do it. That’s the ONLY airport in this comparison that I wouldn’t worry about arriving with 20 minutes to get to your connecting flight. Philly, Atlanta, Charlotte and others, can be brutal.

When searching for fares, look at flexible dates, if your schedule permits. Sometimes flying a day earlier or later on either end of the desired days can be a huge money saver. This can also be applied to a flight with a longer layover in any of the connecting cities,  it might only cost $4-$5 more.

In selecting flights, I took the bargain basement fare, ignoring connecting cities, departure times and arrivals. My dates are also with in the usual 45-60 day window to book in. For the most part, booking before 60 days out, will be more expensive, and anything 45 days and less, you’re pushing your luck on the airlines jacking the fares to you. Also, we’re flying midweek outbound and inbound which is typically cheaper than going say Friday/Saturday to the following Sunday.

All of this can change, just like that. Which leads me to my next bit of advice. It’s been known NOT to purchase your tickets on the weekend. In this I mean purchase, not fly dates. Airlines look at it from the standpoint of families are together on weekends, plan and book trips. This isn’t always the case, but over the past 3-4 years, I’ve noticed this happens more often than not. Also, unless it’s urgent that you book the tickets, don’t log on, check prices and then book. Chances are high that you’ll miss a deal.

All Things Equal(Ish)

In doing this, I’m pricing everything as I would when I fly. With exception of parking. If you live in IMG_0652Bangor or Portland, or have a relative or friend to leave your vehicle with, you can skip parking. When I travel I have 1 checked bag and 2 carry on items. Typically my camera gear in a backpack and a bag with my laptop, iPad/Pod, chargers and snacks in it.

The legacy carriers(Delta, American and United) all charge $25 each way for the first checked bag, as does JetBlue. Southwest, the first bag flies free. It even says on some of the planes exactly where the bag flies for free. Since I’m a Delta SkyMiles credit card holder, my first bag flies for free, as does my fiance’s(if you’re not in an airline reward program, you need to look into it) but for the sake of this article, I’ll include one check bag.

Here is where it gets misleading. And by misleading, I mean all out highway robbery. Allegiant, low cost airline isn’t all that low cost. Not even on base fares. If your schedule is extremely flexible(aka snowbird), you can work it to get the advertised $90 one way fares, I’m not extremely flexible. Just ask my yoga instructor. Hold that thought on the fares for a bit, we’ll be coming back soon. With Allegiant, you’re paying for EVERYTHING. They allow you one free carry on. That’s it. In my case I would need another carry on. Sure, that’ll be $40. WHAT?!? Did I break wind in the jetway? Are you kidding? Yes, $40 for another carry on. Ok, fine. Next I’ll need to check a bag, that’s $60. Hear that? $60 for a checked bag. And I’m not even done yet. Want to pick where you sit? Say an aisle seat in the event you need to make a mad dash to the bathroom because your coffee went through you like greased lightning? Ok, that’ll be a minimum of $12, each way.

So if you’re keeping track at home, we’re up to $124 in fees on top of whatever the “lowest” fare is. Oh, did I mention if you want to use a credit card, they’re going to charge you a fee for that as well. Add on another $15-$16 to the $124, which gives us a grand total of $140 per person in fees. If you pay with a debit card or go to the terminal and pay at the ticket counter, that fee isn’t applicable.

Parking, that’s another thing. At the Jetport, you’re paying $12 per day and in Bangor, $10 per day in the long term lots. Depending on when your flight departs, you’re possibly going to have to go down to Portland the night before. Add in $100 for a room, $20 in meals, gas and tolls for $40 and you’re at an addition $160. With 7 days of parking at the airport, you’re looking at an additional $84, for a total of $244.

You will find park and fly deals at some of the hotels in the area, when I called around, most would let you leave it there a week, but the rate goes up, to an average price around $130, but it also varies by season. For me, it doesn’t matter when I’d arrive back, I’m driving home after I land, but if you’re not one to drive late at night, there’s another $100, but I won’t figure that in. I’ll do a best case going down the night before, staying at a hotel and leaving your vehicle there, that’s $190.

In Bangor, chances are, you’re probably getting a ride to the airport from a friend/leaving it at a friend’s house. If not, you’re looking at an additional $70 in parking. Gas, ehh, it’s next to nothing.

So here in Bangor, you’re looking at an addition $70 and Portland, around $144 going down the day of your flight and parking at the airport garage. If you’re on Allegiant, the low cost carrier, you’re adding on $140 in fees, that’s another $210.

Wheels Up!

Now, what you’ve all been reading for. Close to 1600 words later, you’re sitting there screaming at the screen for me to land the plane. I gathered 2 weeks worth of data for flights from Bangor and Portland to Tampa International Airport or St Pete/Clearwater if you’re going Allegiant. Some of the findings shocked me.

First for Bangor, the average price of all 3 carriers was $380. The most expensive was $535 on Delta, with the lowest being $247, also on Delta. The average price for Delta was $389, American $424 and Allegiant at $321.

Delta, as shown above, came in at $247 for the lowest fare on the 19th, 22nd and 23rd. Most expensive was $535 on the 11th of January and average fare was $389.

American, for whatever reason, from January 12th until the 24th, didn’t change fares, each day it was $420, with the 10th and 11th coming in at $452.

Allegiant’s cheapest fare was $312, which was on the 23rd and 24th of the month with the most expensive coming in at $340.

In Portland, the average price of all 5 carriers was $348. Most expensive being JetBlue at $450 on the 15th and 16th. Cheapest being Delta at $253.

JetBlue had the same type of scenario as American in Bangor, save for the 2 days it was $450, the price never dropped below $420. Average price was $429.

Delta had a high of $356 on January 11th and cheapest on January 19th. The average fare came in at $287.

American had an average of $354 with the cheapest coming in at $333 on January 13th and most expensive of $385 on January 24th.

United, which I was shocked at, came in with a low fare of $258 the 10th of January, a high of $463 on the 24th and an average of $348. Based on fares I’d shopped on previous trips, they weren’t exactly cheap.

Southwest came in with an average of $313 with a low of $281 on the 17th and a high of $377 on the 23rd.

Some observations from JetBlue and Southwest when researching the flights, each day the outbound flight price fluctuated up and down, sometimes by pretty high amounts, then the return flight, fluctuated exactly the opposite. Thus producing a price that came in roughly the same total as other days, with a few exceptions.

American also did this from Bangor as well as Portland, varying connections in the process.

So now, let’s get down to it, take the low prices at each airport and add in fees.

  • Bangor
    • Delta $247×2+$25×2(Checked Bag)+$70(parking)=$642
    • American $420×2+$25×2 +$70=$960
    • Allegiant $312×2+$140×2+$70=$974
  • Portland
    • Delta $253×2+$25×2+$1144(parking, meals, gas)=$700
    • American $333×2+$25×2+$144=$860
    • United $258×2+$25×2+$144=$710
    • JetBlue $420×2+$25×2+$144=$1034
    • Southwest $281×2+$0(no charge for bag)+$144=$706

After looking at all of these, the cheapest price comes from Delta at $342 round trip from Bangor to Tampa. For a flight out of Portland, it’s still Delta, but it’s going to be an additional $125.

 

The Low Cost Airline

I’ll give full disclosure here, I’ve never flown Allegiant. And honestly, I probably never will. My parents and other friends have flown it and people like it. But I prefer the legacy airlines from a safety, price and service standpoint. At least with the legacy carriers, Southwest and JetBlue, you get a free soda and chips, cookies or whatever. Allegiant, you’re paying for that. Maybe that’s not a problem, but if I’m paying $140 or more in fees, If you hate flying like my mother does, a direct flight will keep the take offs and landings at a minimum, unless there is a smell of smoke in the cabin, and well, you know the drill.

It’s convenient, I get that. But it is misleading when you start looking at fares and see the $90 fare outbound(SCORE!) then the return flight is $180-$225. On top of fees. Delta can be relatively fast, the flight we booked has us leaving Bangor at 1pm and being in Tampa at 7pm. Flying from Portland, Delta has a route that goes to Atlanta and then Tampa, which is actually a decent connection, we had 2 hours to get from arrival gate, stop for Chick-fil-A and make it to departure gate. If you plan it for an hour turn around, you’re making it there in 5 hours.

The Delta Fan Boy

I’ve flown 4 of the 6 airlines in the study. Delta, American(both the “new” American and US Airways), JetBlue and United, although it was back in the days of the tulip. You can’t beat the JetBlue passenger experience with more seat pitch and the in flight entertainment options. However, since they only fly out of Portland currently, coupled with the high prices, it’s not always feasible. American is, well, American, the name is different but the customer service and experience is still as horrendous as US Airways.

Delta is still my choice for air travel. Despite being the lowest cost airline in the study, I’ve had relatively good experiences, with the exception of a couple charming people at LaGuardia. Plus, being a SkyMiles member, I get addition perks like free checked bag, priority boarding, discounts to get into lounges and more.

That said, as I was shopping for tickets, my lovely fiance told me she had put in for a day off on the front end of the trip so we were able to travel on Tuesday the 15th. So as I was looking one day in the flexible dates view, $243 per person round trip from Bangor. With one stop at my favorite place in the world, LaGuardia. Plus being a SkyMiles member, no checked bag fees for either of us. Boom! Look out Tampa, here we come!

Taxiing to the Gate

Hopefully you’re not bored out of your skull after having read this. But also, I hope you’re enlightened to the cost differences between the 2 airports as well as airlines. My advice is to shop around for a week or so, if you can. Sometimes things come up suddenly but if you’re planning a vacation you can take a week or 2 to shop, compare prices and then book.

The fares I found along with other costs will vary depending on the time of year, peak/off peak and other variables. This is by no means a scientific study, and don’t throw stale donuts at me in the event you find cheaper prices or can get to Portland for free by hitch hiking. If you’re throwing donuts, make sure they’re fresh and chocolate glazed.


2 thoughts on “The Great Debate: Bangor vs Portland

  1. Great comparison – we fly BGR whenever possible, and prefer Delta (I have their’ AmEx so each passenger gets their first bag free – for a family of four, it makes it worth the annual fee), but for our April Disney trip we are doing Portland and Southwest. We’re going during school vacation week, so flights were sold months ago for the traditional carriers, but Southwest doesn’t release fares until about 6 months in advance, and they do let you know the date of the fare release, so I was up at 6am refreshing my screen to get our tickets for April 16 – probably one of the busiest dates in Maine, 1st Saturday of vacation*. I managed to get our tickets to Orlando for 169pp, but within 2 hours, all seats were sold but their upper tiers, which are around $400. We are coming back from Tampa, and those were 179, so our total per person (all fees) was 348 – for a vacation week and a vacation destination, that’s pretty good, IMO. Our flight down is an early AM one, so I found a hotel with park and fly, although if I was able to come down same day, my employer has a location about 2 miles from the airport and I have in the past parked there and gotten a ride from a colleague, or taken a cab.

    A lot of people have been surprised that I wasn’t using allegiant – but in addition to the fees, I didn’t want to gamble a very expensive vacation on a less reliable airline that doesn’t even run daily. It can be great for snowbirds, as you said, but I wouldn’t want to book a cruise and hope they got me there, for instance.

    This will be our first time flying SW, but my family elsewhere all loves them – AUS, DEN, etc, and my folks just took advantage of their no change fees to alter their return flight when it came to be that they needed to come back from DEN via AUS to take care of some aging grandparent stuff, and they were so glad that they hadn’t booked Delta for this flight, because it would have cost HUNDREDS to adjust the route. Now if we could just entice SW to BGR…. never going to happen, but a girl can dream.

    *Up until that week, Southwest offers a NONSTOP – not direct, NONSTOP – PWM-MCO on Saturdays, and I really think their research team should’ve waited another two weeks to cancel that! I was so hoping to go nonstop, great times, too.

    (long winded reply to a long winded post!)

  2. Living in southern Maine, I don’t really use BGR, but use PWM. I haven’t gone to BOS for a flight in a decade because the prices out of PWM are always the same, if not cheaper. Especially considering the price of getting to BOS.

    No complaints with Allegiant. They are often still cheaper, even with the extra fees. If their fares and fees approach the fare of the the majors, I’ll go with the big guys. Otherwise AY can be great. Avoid the carry-on fee by just carrying a free, small personal item. Pay only to check the bag and don’t prepay for an assigned seat. Or better yet, UPS Ground your bag to destination ahead of time.

    I just flew AY with my GF from PSM-FLL, roundtrip for $110 each, plus $100 for one shared checked bag checked on each leg. Total cost of our flight with all fees for two of us was $320 roundtrip. It would have been about $600 for us both on the other airlines. Parking is free is Portsmouth.

    I did use AY once out of BGR to go to Orlando for 48 hours at the last minute. I took the bus to the BGR station across from the airport entrance, and a cab over to the terminal. It would be easy to do the same coming to PWM from BGR. The Concord Trailway station is only about two miles from PWM. The city bus goes from there, and Uber is also readily available in Portland.

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