Airfares got you down? | AspenTimes.com

Airfares got you down?

Eben Harrell
Passengers board the eastbound Amtrak Superliner at the historic Glenwood Springs depot. Aspen Times photo/Mark Fox.
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Ogleflocks. That’s what we used called them. Old guys from Florida without cars. It was an acronym of sorts, a shorthand way for the caddies at the Maroon Creek Club to refer to the flock of carpet-bagging caddies that came to Colorado each summer looking for work.

They came all the way from South Florida without cars. And they were too parsimonious to fly. So how did they get here?”The dirty dog, man,” was the invariable answer.The dirty dog, or Greyhound, bus service is available to budget travelers aiming for Aspen. The nearest Greyhound bus station to Aspen is in Glenwood Springs, a $6, one-hour-and-45-minute Roaring Fork Transportation Authority bus ride away.

The prices are pretty good. A traveler from Los Angeles wishing to visit Aspen from March 19 to March 26, for example, can purchase a round-trip ticket to Aspen for $150, as long as they book a week in advance. Return trips from Phoenix cost the same. Chicago and Houston round trips cost $158, New York City $198 and Miami $218, RFTA fares included.

What’s the downside? Well, a trip from Los Angeles takes 21 hours and 45 minutes, each way. Travelers who leave at 9:45 a.m. on March 19 don’t get into Aspen until early morning on March 20. The Phoenix trip is no better – around 23 hours one way- neither is Chicago or Houston, both of which push the 30-hour mark. Most daunting, a trip from Miami to Aspen will take around 55 hours – two-and-a-half straight days on a bus.Amenities on board a Greyhound coach are minimal. No movies, no music, not even a power outlet. The seats do recline (but not much) and the cabin lights are dimmed at night (but not much). There is no onboard food service, although the bus does stop at regular meal times. Also, if you have to transfer buses, there is no guarantee you will get a seat – seats are first-come, first-served.

There is another option. Glenwood Springs also boasts an Amtrak station. Research reveals Amtrak travel to Aspen is still considerably cheaper than flying. But compared to Greyhound, the prices are high and the travel times just as long.A round trip from Los Angeles, for example, costs $254 and takes more than 33 hours each way. Unlike the Greyhound service, the Amtrak trip requires frequent transfers. A Los Angeles traveler must switch trains at Bakersfield, Stockton, Sacramento and Glenwood Springs before the final (bus, taxi, hitchhike?) leg to Aspen.A trip from Chicago costs $227 and takes 25 hours. New York City costs $344 and takes 43 hours. A 45-hour round trip from Houston costs $371, and that’s nothing compared to Miami, which costs $443 round trip and takes a whopping 67 hours each way. That adds up to almost six days on a train, leaving just over one full day for skiing in Aspen.

Amtrak, it seems, is banking on the business of tourists who want to spend their vacation on a train, enjoying views of the countryside and the throwback pleasure of leisurely travel. Much more than Greyhound, it’s a comfortable ride.A standard seat in coach, for example, is wide and reclines comfortably. For long journeys, a first-class upgrade will land you in a sleeping compartment, complete with private bathroom, turn-down service, a newspaper in the morning and three hot meals a day. Many sleeper compartments have private video systems; all long-distance trains have a lounge that plays a nightly movie. Even if you aren’t in first class, you can spend time in the lounge car, which has wide, curved windows that allow almost panoramic views. And for the trains coming from the East, it’s a pretty storied and beautiful ride through the Rockies.

First-class upgrades range from $300 extra (from Chicago) to $761 extra (Miami) and can go even higher if purchased on the day of travel.In conclusion, research indicates that bus and train travel, although often a more affordable option, would be prohibitively time-consuming for all but train buffs and the most desperate travelers – namely, Ogleflocks.Eben Harrell’s e-mail address is eharrell@aspentimes.com


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