Experience booking various USA flight tickets

Apart from ex-India flight bookings, I have had experience booking flights in Europe. [Read comparison of 7 European Airlines that I flew]

Recently I did a series of bookings for my one month long US and central America trip. I booked flight tickets worth about 1 lakh INR, flying to Bahamas, Bogota, Panama, Costa Rica, US domestic and to Canada, in addition to 48250 India-Washington return ticket on Qatar Airways. There have been some unique experiences and observations-this post shares those experiences. It will be a quick reference when you’re booking your flights for travel around the Americas.
Booked for
South West
6 different flights
Free cabin bags, Wifi, snacks

Easy to use interface

Could pay through India debit card
Exclusive on own website,
Not visible on 3rd party portals like skyscanner

No seat selection at all
Copa Airline
Could use frequent flyer # of star alliance partner airlines

Free seat selection
Very expensive
176 $ for 90 min flight compared to 100 dollars for 3 hour flight in JetBlue, South West or Spirit

ICICI blocked my credit card for attempting to pay this airline
American Airline
Didn't book
Full service airline
Has India office
Shows price in INR

Could use frequent flyer # of oneworld partner airlines

Complicated process for India cards
Opted for offline payment but couldn’t change to online payment again

Price went up by 3000 overnight

Won’t accept debit card

Cheap flights if you can manage without cabin bag

Cheaper rates if you pay for 9$ club membership
Only personal item included, decent size cabin bag costs 30-40 $ extra per flight.

Tax added later
Won’t accept debit card

Very irritating website with too many upsell attempts
Jet Blue

Air Canada Express

Was cheaper on 3rd party site than airline website

Can’t modify ticket on airline website as it is booked elsewhere

1. South West Airlines
South West has been the best experience of all. Very easy interface, no irritating upselling, good pricing, basic services included. About half of my flights during the Americas trip were on South West, due to good pricing and easy interface. All my US friends also were highly appreciative of South West.

They accept Indian debit card payment. No option to select a seat- seats are to be taken upon boarding first come first serve.

2. American Airline
I would have avoided them but changed circumstances forced me to book on AA
I had identified a cheaper return flight from Bahamas to FLL on South West but after I booked Washington-Bahamas flight, I realized that the cheap return flight is no longer available for the date I wanted. I believe overnight decision to ban Boeing 737 Max 8 planes is the reason SouthWest had to pull back many flights. Next best alternative was only AA, which was 2x expensive.

I also identified another flight from Miami to Austin on AA- the fare was about 8200- but since I had an issue with payment, I opted for offline payment, thinking I can hold the fare and pay once my credit card issue is resolved. I got an on-hold ticket valid for about 2 days. Good thing is AA has an office in India and shows prices in INR. Next day I tried retrieving the booking and pay via credit card- but there was absolutely no option to pay online. I got a mail asking me to do bank transfer and then contact airline customer care. It was all too much to deal with. I tried making fresh booking but now the fare had gone up by 3k INR. So eventually abandoned AA and booked on Spirit.

Update: My originally Confirmed tickete was later shown as "Ticket Pending" - looks like American has a complicated process for all India issued credit cards. Read full details here. I booked on SouthWest for similar amount.

3. Spirit
Spirit is a bare bone low cost airline. Their base fare only includes a personal item. My bag’s dimension is just a few cms more than this personal item limit. So there is all probability that they won’t allow it for free and ask me to pay a lot at the airport. Adding a cabin bag costs around 35-40 USD- cabin bag costs more than check-in bag and most of the time final price just doubles if you factor tax and cabin bag.

Plus the Spirit website was extremely irritating. It repeatedly tries to upsell unnecessary things. I had initially decided to avoid Spirit-but after the AA issue as explained above, Spirit was next best option- 50 $ ticket, 17 $ tax, 37 $ for bag- total about 105 USD.

4. Copa Airlines
Panama based airline has several flights from its hub in Panama city to various destinations in central america. They are bit expensive like 170 dollars for a short haul  flight barely 2 hours, 3x what South West would charge for similar distance. But in their region they are the masters. I figured instead of flying back to Miami directly from Bogota I can visit two more countries by flying to Panama City, Costa Rica and then back to Miami- cost me 20k more, but since I wasn't sure when I will ever visit that part of the world again, so went ahead and booked.

5. West Jet and 6.  JetBlue
Standard experience. Nothing particular to add

7. Air Canada Express
Booked via 3rd party website as fares were cheaper there than Air Canada website and ICICI promptly blocked my credit card. Now can only do some basic changes on Air Canada website- for everything else I am being asked to go to 3rd party website where I made the booking. Fair enough.

This was just ticket booking experience. Wait till I fly actually-will be able to share more detailed review.

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