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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Good-bye, Moline. Hello, Bloomington!



When travelers decide to go to Walt Disney World, or on a Disney Cruise, or an Adventures by Disney tour, they have to consider how they are going to get to their destination.  This was a bit of a dilemma for our family for our upcoming Walt Disney World trip for a while.  We usually fly.  No, we have always flown.  And, air fares were such that we were considering making the drive in March.

Where we live, there are a variety of airports within a short driving distance for us to choose from in selecting flights.  I had set alerts at Kayak.com to keep me informed about prices from the surrounding airports.  Luckily, and thankfully, a reasonably priced, direct flight, on our favorite airline, AirTran, turned up at the Bloomington/Normal, Illinois airport.  We had never been to that airport before, but we were willing to give it a try.

You see, as of January 7, 2012, our favorite airline, AirTran, would stop making its direct flight from Moline, Illinois.  This is a flight we had grown to count on for our vacation needs.  The flight flew 4 days weekly.  Each time we had been on those flights, they were full.  Personally, I had a bit of mourning to do with the loss of this service.  I was even at a social function in August and was approached by another family that depended on the AirTran Moline/Orlando route for their vacation needs.  At that time, I suggested Frontier, which offers a direct flight out of Des Moines to Orlando, as a replacement.  I had done some checking on prices.  For our March flights, Frontier’s prices out of Des Moines were more than double what we found with AirTran out of Bloomington/Normal.

I decided to take matters into my own hands and contacted the airport in Moline through their web-site.  I explained that I was disappointed that AirTran was no longer providing flights from Moline to Orlando, that we were no longer going to be going to Moline due to this issue, and that we were taking the money we would spend at a hotel, restaurants, other services, including gas and parking and taking it somewhere else due to the discontinuation of the service.

I got a reply from Tracy A. Kotecki, Executive Assistant, Metropolitan Airport Authority of Rock Island.

Here’s Tracy’s reply: 
Thank you for your message. I am very sorry to hear of your plans. However, we will be offering flights to Orlando commencing February 17, 2012. Allegiant Airlines will be the carrier and offers some very competitive pricing. Please visit their web page for booking (www.allegiantair.com ) – some flights as low as $63.00 one way. We hope you will monitor the pricing available through Allegiant and return as a passenger to our airport. We continue to provide friendly economical air transportation.



Here was my reply back to Tracy:

I appreciate your prompt reply. Yes, we had checked out Allegiant Airlines. However, Allegiant only provides that route twice weekly, making it inconvenient for us, as we need to travel on the week-ends. (Allegiant flies on Mondays and Fridays—in March)

Also, Allegiant serves Orlando/Sanford Airport, not Orlando International. Guests, like us, traveling to Disney, would have an extra fee for shuttle, car service, or rental car if flying into Orlando/Sanford. Disney offers its free Magical Express service only at Orlando International.

The reduced air fare of Allegiant is quickly overcome by inconvenient travel dates--more time off work and school, and the extra fees for transportation to the end destination.

We were hopeful that since Southwest acquired AirTran, that Southwest might begin to serve Moline.

Again, thank you for your quick reply.


Tracy hasn’t e-mailed me back, and I doubt she will.

What I don’t understand is why travelers looking to fly to Orlando think that flying into Orlando/Sanford is the same as flying into Orlando International? And, why people, like Tracy, who are supposed to be promoting services, don’t understand the difference?

Can you imagine an unsuspecting guest thinking they were arriving in Orlando and being whisked away by Disney’s Magical Express Service to their Disney Resort who ended up landing in Orlando/Sanford?  Tsk, Tsk, for even considering the flights are comparable!

There was however, a brief interlude when Allegiant did fly into Orlando International.  That is no longer the case and I am unsure of whether that will happen again in the future.  Allegiant may also be saturating a market in the area with service out of Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and now, Moline.

In my quest to at least communicate my concern over the loss of this service, I also e-mailed all the members of the Quad Cities Chamber of Commerce.  I have yet to receive a reply.

This whole issue got me thinking about how we prioritize what we are looking for in flights and how we then decide the time is right to make a purchase.  The number one issue is price.  If the price is too high, we aren’t buying or flying.  The second consideration is whether or not a direct flight or non-stop flight is available.  We have a significant preference for direct flights.  Direct flights also help with price, as there aren’t added airport fees for multiple stops.  The third filter would be times of flights.

For example, we found a Delta flight for $301 per person out of St. Louis.  OK—reasonably priced.  It was not a direct flight, but most importantly, it had us leaving on a Saturday at 4:30 pm or so and arriving in Orlando at 11:00 pm.  Nope.  The return flight was also on a Saturday and had us arriving in St. Louis at 10:00 pm, which would have made it too late for us to drive home, so we would have had to pay for a hotel for a night—an added expense.  Nope, again.  Back to the drawing board.

That’s when I started to think backwards.  I went to the AirTran site, clicked on the route map, and set my origination location as Orlando.  I then had it show only non-stop flights.  The nearest non-stop flight was Bloomington/Normal, Illinois—still within driving distance.

I then checked out the airport—on-line.  CIRA, or Central Illinois Regional Airport.  Amenities included Free Airport Parking!  They even had a “frequent visitor to the airport” registration to earn perks for how often you use the airport.  I registered!

I then checked out AirTran.  There it was.  Flights for $337 per person, round trip, Saturday to Saturday (there was no return flight on Sunday).  Leaving at 9:33 am and arriving in Orlando shortly before 1:00 pm.  Our return flight would leave Orlando at 7:30 am and have us back in Bloomington at 9:00 am, with plenty of daylight to make the drive home.

Now all we need is a hotel the night before and we found a Super 8 with a reasonable rate (less than $50) and a free breakfast!

Good-bye, Moline.  Hello, Bloomington!

Had we taken Tracy’s advice, here’s what the cost would be if flying during the same “week”—I use that term loosely as it would mean Friday to Friday, if you had the extra day/time off:
Flights:  $908 Total
Town Car Service Round Trip from Orlando/Sanford to Disney Resort:  $220 plus tip (Quicksilver)
Airport Parking in Moline for one week:  $35
Motel 6 for night before stay: $62  (no breakfast, but they do have Park ‘n Fly, so it could save you the $35 for parking mentioned above.)
Breakfast:  $20 approximately

Here’s what we are getting instead:
Flights:  $1012 Total
Transportation to our Disney Resort:  FREE
Airport Parking at CIRA:  FREE
Super 8 for night before stay:  $50
Breakfast:  FREE

Magical Disney Vacation:  Priceless!

As far as when to buy air. . . Kayak.com gives you a graph of the price fluctuations for your selected dates and routes.  You can use that data to determine if it is time to buy.  I prefer to shop for air on Tuesdays and Wednesdays as that is when airlines seem to recalculate their flights and prices.  Airlines also tend to adjust airfares at incremental stages, such as 9 months, 6 months, and 3 months before a flight.

After I do the research, and better yet, let Kayak do the research for me, I then use my gut.  I didn’t have as much as we paid for the flights budgeted, as we had flown round trip for less than $800 for all 3 of us previously, but we can make up the difference in our budget in other ways.  I knew air prices weren’t coming down very much, so when I found a flight that met our criteria mentioned above, I grabbed it.  Good thing, too.  We bought on a Wednesday and two days later, Friday, the flights went up to $410 per person—an increase in $73 per ticket.  That’s over $200 more total!

I’m so grateful we got our flights!  Now, we savor the anticipation of an upcoming trip!

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