Is price right for new United flight? | AspenTimes.com

Is price right for new United flight?

Naomi Havlen
Aspen Times Staff Writer

Aspenites can soon enjoy a nonstop trip to San Francisco on a new United Airlines Express flight to begin this winter, but at what price?

According to Stay Aspen Snowmass President Bill Tomcich, the flight’s initial weekend fares are just over $500, including tax. A reservationist at United Airlines quoted $623.50 as the price for flying to Aspen the following weekend, from Dec. 20 to 23.

The direct flight, which begins Dec. 13 and runs through April 6, will depart Aspen daily at 8:45 a.m. and arrive at San Francisco International Airport at 10:20 a.m. It will then leave San Francisco at 11 a.m. and arrive back in Aspen at 2:35 p.m.

And Tomcich said the new flight is already showing there is a demand for the nonstop service between the Bay area and Aspen: on Friday a number of travelers were booking the flight as soon as it was available.

“There are lots of flights already sold out in less than 24 hours,” he said. “There is a very high demand for this new flight.”

Both Tomcich and Aspen Chamber Resort Association President Hana Pevny said the flight will attract new skiers to the area, including many who generally have to drive a minimum of four hours to ski in the Lake Tahoe area. The new flight to Aspen will take two-and-a-half hours and will land just a few miles away from the local ski areas.

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But one traveler said high ticket prices may keep her from taking advantage of the direct flight.

“Before the chamber resort association starts jumping for joy at the magnanimity of United Airlines, consider that United is once again taking advantage of their total lock on the flights into Aspen and charging ridiculous fares,” she said.

Although the traveler said she was quoted a $950 fare between Aspen and San Francisco, she did not say where she found that price. A United Airlines ticketing agent did note that a ticket for just over $600 could be lowered slightly by making a stopover in Denver.

The agent noted that the flight with a connection in Denver on the weekend of Dec. 20 still costs $588.50.

According to the traveler who cited a price close to $1,000, the cost of flying American Airlines nonstop between San Francisco and the Eagle County Airport was closer to $400 in past seasons. Tomcich has said he does not know if American will continue to offer that nonstop service next ski season.

“The only way families and young adults are going to consider Aspen as a destination is to make the airfare competitive with other ski areas,” said the traveler. “As nice as a direct flight sounds, only the very affluent would be willing to pay that for a family trip. They could go to many other destinations for much less than that.”

But according to Tomcich, a 2001 study done by the U.S. Department of Transportation showed the average one-way fare paid for every trip in and out of Sardy Field that year cost $242.33. That price is only $7 more than the average one-way fare at Eagle County Airport and $35 more than the average of all one-way fares at ski resort airports.

“It’s more expensive, there’s no question about that, but not ridiculously more expensive,” Tomcich said. “But you pay more because you land only three miles away from the nearest ski area.”

He said at many other airports, skiers pay extra money to use ground transportation to complete their journey to a ski area.

The price of the San Francisco-to-Aspen nonstop flight will depend on the days of travel, how many nights a traveler stays at the destination, and how far in advance a flight is booked. As part of a tour package through Stay Aspen Snowmass or Aspen Ski Tours, the fare may go for under $300, but a last-minute booking on an overbooked flight could go for as high as $2,200, Tomcich said.

[Naomi Havlen’s e-mail address is nhavlen@aspentimes.com]

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