From the Mitten State to the Sunshine State
The convenience (and cost) of flying Allegiant Air
By Jillian Manning | March 26, 2022
About 17,000 passengers will fly in and out of Traverse City in the two-week period surrounding spring break, according to Kevin Kline, CEO of Cherry Capital Airport (TVC). Many of those folks are headed south for warmer weather, especially since TVC boasts three nonstop flights to Florida on Allegiant Air, landing in Punta Gorda/Fort Myers, Tampa/St. Pete, and Orlando/Sanford.
For those of us who’ve spent more than a decade Up North, the option of a nonstop flight is something of a novelty, unless of course you’re headed to Detroit or Chicago. The Allegiant flights also carry an attractive price tag, with tickets (sans fees) starting as low as $50 one way. Northern Express set out to get the scoop on who travels on these flights, where they go, and how it impacts both northern Michigan and destinations in Florida.
By the Numbers
Surprisingly, spring break isn’t the busiest time of year for local fliers. (The gold medal goes to late June, once school is out and before the glory days of summer are here to stay.) However, Klein says spring break remains a top driver for local travel in and out of TVC.
“Our parking lot is full, [we have] a lot of full flights, and concessions are going to be high,” Klein tells us. “It is a peak time of the year. It’s not the peak like July is, but…I would rank it up in our top five in bringing in our best economic activity at the airport.”
Klein predicts nearly 100 percent of seats will be sold for the Allegiant flights over the school break. Allegiant operates two types of aircraft out of TVC—the Airbus A319 (which seats 156 passengers) and the Airbus A320 (which seats 186). With multiple flights to each destination during the vacation window, thousands of passengers will be making the three-hour, 1,400-mile trips.
The airline touts its cheap fares, and at a glance, that $50 price tag can seem too good to be true. Well, technically, it is. Yes, you can get out of town for under $100, but your return flight is likely to be in the ballpark of $125-$250, with last-minute tickets or high-demand days rising above $350 on either end. Then, you can either choose a bundle for your seat, baggage, and other upgrades, or you can buy a la carte. Seat prices range from as low as $1 for a back-row middle seat to $39+ for front-of-craft spots with better legroom. A carry-on bag can cost $18-$50 each way, a checked bag $30-$50.
All told, when we booked a sample trip at the lowest prices we could find with no upgrades—other than a carry-on, since we figured most folks don’t travel with only a purse or backpack—the bill came out to $240 with all the accompanying taxes and fees. Travelers who want a few more bells and whistles are likely to see prices topping $300.
Even with no frills, $240 remains a competitive rate and has the perk of being attached to a nonstop flight, which means no layovers, no getting stuck in O’Hare, and no worrying about whether there will be time to eat or use the restroom as you sprint to your connection. “Convenient” is the word Klein uses repeatedly to describe the Allegiant flights.
So, who is flying Allegiant these days? The answer to that question: just about everyone.
“I think [the senior] population is traveling more often because of the Allegiant flights and the convenience of the nonstops,” Klein says. “But then, because of the cost, you see a lot of families that are going. … This time of year is really focused on families and couples and everybody going on vacation.”
Justin Mortier, a Traverse Citian and managing partner of hospitality group LaBelle Management, has one of those families.
“Our family has utilized Allegiant multiple times,” Mortier says. “The price is more economical for our large family. The warm destinations are very desirable and, most importantly, the direct flights are game changers. Navigating four kids through a large airport to catch a connecting flight can be quite stressful.”
Although most folks are flocking toward Florida for a getaway, Klein also notes that spring break is a busy time for inbound traffic, with snowbirds returning and passengers from other areas of the country headed to northern Michigan.
“This spring break, you’re going to see what I call multi-directional traffic, not just a southern flow of traffic and then a northern flow at the end,” Klein explains. “Because of the pandemic, you’re going to see people start to get back out to go visit family.”
Indeed, U.S. travel is expected to be up for spring break 2022. Vacasa, an international vacation rental management company, finds that 37 percent of Americans are planning to travel during spring break, up from 29 percent last year. The World Travel & Tourism Council believes this trend will continue throughout the spring and summer, predicting domestic travel over Easter to be up 212 percent from 2021 and summer trip booking up 58 percent.
Spring in the Sunshine State
You’ve bought your ticket, boarded your flight, and landed in Florida. What happens then? Well, Disney is an obvious draw for the Orlando/Sanford passengers, and beach and golfing trips are also popular for those who have missed warm-weather activities. Across all three destinations, business booms thanks to the arrival of the cold, sun-starved northerners.
“I see people coming here in droves to just get outside,” says Cynthia Hinson, director of communications and public relations for the Punta Gorda/Englewood Beach Visitor & Convention Bureau (PGEB VCB). “Everyone wants to go to the beach. They want to get in the water. … And because the weather’s so nice—it’s not too humid yet—people can enjoy all the hiking trails.”
Whatever folks are looking for, the data is clear in one respect: people are visiting. The PGEB VCB just announced a $1.6M increase in their tourist development tax—a five percent tax collected via lodging facilities—from 2020. Of course, that isn’t solely from Michiganders flying south, but as the hospitality saying goes, heads are definitely in beds.
“Our hotels are booked out. Our Airbnbs are booked out. You have to plan a couple of weeks in advance—you can’t just come down unless you want to pay top dollar,” Hinson explains.
But for those who planned ahead, a vacation in Punta Gorda may feel a little bit like home.
“Everyone does everything on the water,” Hinson says, mentioning beloved Up North activities like paddleboarding, boating, and fishing. In terms of non-aquatic activities, she points to great restaurants, shopping, and art exhibits. (Does that sound like some NoMi towns you know?)
For readers headed south, Hinson’s top recommendations over spring break include:
- Spring training for the Tampa Bay Rays at Charlotte Sports Park
- The “ZimSculpt” exhibit at Peace River Botanical & Sculpture Gardens
- Fisherman’s Village
- The Military Heritage Museum
- Babcock Ranch Eco Tours
Those of us who are staying home over the break just ask that you bring some sunshine back with you.