If there’s been one bright spot in travel over the past few years, it’s been the shakeup of traditional players in the airline industry. The pandemic has made landing slots easier to come by at in-demand airports and used aircraft are cheap, making the value proposition of starting a new airline a little less daunting.
Avelo Airlines is one of two major startup airlines in the USA to commence operations in 2021. We’re picky about sending deals on ultra-low cost carriers at Scott’s Cheap Flights, so we dispatched two SCF team members to fly with Avelo from Las Vegas to Eureka, California to report back on how the new company is shaping up and whether these flights pass our Bestie Test.
What’s Avelo Airlines?
Avelo is a new start-up airline that launched in April 2021 with a business model that borrows the best practices of two other successful low-cost carriers, Allegiant and Southwest Airlines.
Like Allegiant, most of Avelo’s routes are point-to-point (i.e. they won’t sell you any connecting flights) between smaller airports with low landing fees and no preexisting service. They also prioritize high aircraft utilization—that means they keep their airplanes flying as much as possible, like Southwest, with fast turnaround times on the ground. They’re focused on attracting leisure travelers, and their route network reflects this with destinations like Las Vegas and Florida taking center stage. They also serve many smaller cities, like Redding or our destination of Eureka, California, close to difficult-to-access outdoor destinations, like Lassen Volcanic and Redwood National Park, respectively.
Avelo’s fleet is relatively small for the moment, with six Boeing 737 aircraft. With an average age of 14.5 years, this isn’t a young fleet, but flying older, well-maintained jets is an easy way to save money and keep fares low for passengers. This number is actually lower than many large airlines in the US—United Airlines’ average aircraft age is about 16.5 years, by comparison.
Where does Avelo fly?
Avelo is unique in that it operates two route networks on both the east and west coasts that don’t touch one another. Their largest base in Burbank provides nonstop service to a range of smaller airports in California, the Pacific Northwest, and the Rocky Mountains—Avelo doesn’t sell any connecting flights, for now.
Their second hub in New Haven, Connecticut operates a network of flights to Florida as well as flights to Baltimore-Washington (BWI), Chicago Midway (MDW), and Raleigh-Durham (RDU). Finally, Avelo is building up a smaller presence for flights to Las Vegas—most relevant to our review—with flights to California and Colorado. In fact, Avelo’s CEO, Andrew Levy, has said in interviews that he thinks of the eastern and western networks as two separate airlines with their own fleet and resources.
Booking an Avelo flight
Booking a flight on Avelo is a fairly standard process, with a few notable exceptions. One thing to be aware of is that, like other budget airlines, many of Avelo’s routes don’t operate daily.
It’s helpful to familiarize yourself with the schedule on your route before diving into the booking process—our flight from Las Vegas to Eureka only departs on Thursday and Sunday, for example. That’s perfect for a long weekend in Redwoods National Park, but might be a limitation if you’re traveling for some other reason. Fares between Las Vegas and Eureka began at $29 each way, although we paid $109 one-way to travel the week of Thanksgiving.
You’ll be presented with a menu of optional add-ons in addition to the base fare during the booking process. If you want to travel with a full-size carry-on or a checked bag, it’s $10 cheaper to do it in advance, rather than at the airport, and seat selection ranges from $9 for a regular seat at the back of the plane to $39 for a row 1 bulkhead. For now, Avelo doesn’t offer any other pre-booked services, such as wifi packages or meals, but we wouldn’t be surprised to see them in the future. They also don’t offer service bundles with discounts for buying seat assignments and luggage at the same time.
Avelo also has a very reasonable $95 each way pet fee, if you’re traveling with a cat, dog, bird or rabbit—we didn’t see any passengers with pets on our flight, but the airline seems to have a very flexible policy if you need to travel with a furry friend.
All-in, we paid $147 each for our one-way tickets. In addition to the $109 airfare, we added a carry-on bag for $25, and an extra legroom seat for $13. If our travel dates had been more flexible, the same ticket on Avelo with a carry-on bag and larger seat would have cost just $67 one-way at the lowest available fares.
This compares very favorably to other airlines on this route; an average one-way fare between Las Vegas and Eureka on United or American Airlines is usually around $230 just for the airfare, excluding luggage and seat selection which could push the total cost of a one-way journey as high as $300 for an indirect flight with a connection in Phoenix or San Francisco.
There were three notable exceptions during the booking process. At the time of our trip, Avelo wasn’t a member of TSA Precheck. It has since joined.
Also, Avelo only accepts Visa and Mastercard payments, meaning you can’t pay with a mobile wallet or even an American Express card. Finally, Avelo doesn’t offer any loyalty program or frequent flier benefits—in a sense that’s easier to keep track of for the infrequent flier, but you won’t be rewarded for repeat business. These are particularly notable since 2021’s other major startup airline, Breeze, offers all of these features.
The Avelo experience on the ground
Since Avelo is a budget airline, there aren’t any perks at the airport—we were able to successfully check in for our flights online and receive a mobile boarding pass, though Avelo doesn’t charge extra to check in at the airport, unlike Spirit, for example. While they do have a mobile app, it doesn’t have many features: we weren’t able to use it to display a boarding pass or check flight status, though I had no trouble clearing security with a PDF ticket downloaded onto my phone. Had we needed to drop off checked luggage, the process would have been quick since Avelo only operates flights to four destinations from Las Vegas and there weren’t any other Avelo flights scheduled late in the day. However, the situation could be quite different at larger hubs, such as Burbank, with much higher daily traffic.
We were already aware before arriving at the airport that our flight was delayed. Our flight was originally scheduled to depart at 5:35 PM from Las Vegas and arrive into Eureka at 7:25 PM, with a flight time of two hours. At 11:01 AM, we were notified by email that our departure time had been pushed by 20 minutes, and throughout the day the delay grew longer. We received four subsequent email notifications that afternoon, and our final departure time was ultimately delayed by almost two hours to 7:25 PM.
Given Avelo’s small fleet and tight schedules, it’s likely that delays are common for flights later in the day since there’s little opportunity to regain lost time once a delay occurs. Given that we were first notified of the delay in the morning, it’s probable that our aircraft’s first flight of the day experienced a minor delay which compounded and grew with each additional flight segment—Avelo only has three 737s operating their entire west coast schedule, implying that each plane is flying a minimum of 4-5 segments per day. These delays were not reflected on the airline monitors in the airport, so we appreciated receiving prompt notifications from the airline, even if the early notifications were overly optimistic about our likely departure time.
Once our plane was on the ground in Las Vegas, we were impressed by how quickly the crew sprang into action—the plane cruised up to the gate at a fast clip, and the boarding process commenced in just under 25 minutes. It’s not quite Southwest’s famous 10-minute turnaround from the 1970’s, but I was impressed by Avelo’s efficiency given that our gate agent was still being trained by her supervisor, and suggests that as crews become more experienced, Avelo’s operational performance will continue to improve.
The Avelo in-flight experience
Once the arriving passengers had dispersed, the boarding process for our flight was fast, orderly and friendly. This was helped by the fact that our flight wasn’t full, with about 75% of seats filled. Unlike most flights we’ve taken in 2021, there was ample overhead bin space aboard the aircraft, likely given that Avelo charges less for checked bags than for carry-on.
That said, nobody was tracking who had paid in advance for large carry-on bags, nor was priority boarding strictly enforced. While it’s possible that the gate agent would have taken a harder line if the flight had been on-time, for now it doesn’t seem like Avelo is scrutinizing either very closely.
Avelo uses slimline seats that theoretically provide more legroom by reducing the width of each seat, while leaving them closer together. While the standard seat pitch of 29 inches is tight, paying $13 for an extra legroom seat was a bargain compared to most other airlines from Delta all the way down to Spirit, which usually charge around $40 for a comparable assignment. Avelo’s seat map is heavy on extra legroom, with 60 roomier seats in the cabin ranging from 31-38 inches of pitch at the bulkhead. Given the short length of all Avelo flights, we were comfortable in the cabin and had plenty of room.
Food and drink on Avelo
Oddly, Avelo isn’t selling food or drinks in-flight. We were offered a small bottle of water, hand sanitizer wipe, and a small packet of cookies for free—it’s a nice touch for a budget carrier, but one that we’d expect to change in time.
Avelo’s in-flight entertainment
Avelo has promised that wifi will be available on all flights someday, but for the time being you’ll need to entertain yourself in flight—there’s no seatback entertainment or connectivity options.
Service on Avelo
It’s rare to say the service was a highlight on a domestic flight in the USA, but there was an undeniable warmth and friendliness to all of our interaction with Avelo’s staff, from gate agents to flight attendants. Everyone was engaged and took pride in their work, even if the flight attendants did occasionally stumble over the new in-flight safety script.
This positive attitude seemed to rub off on the passengers, too—while close followers of the airline industry are accustomed to reading about disturbances and bad behavior on budget airline flights, our fellow passengers were also friendly, courteous, and fairly good about obeying airline mask regulations.
Arriving in Eureka was a treat if you like to get up close and personal with your airplane—the airport is sufficiently small that it doesn’t have jet bridges, and deplaning directly onto the runway with boarding stairs is a rare experience for most US passengers. Our plane wasn’t on the ground long in Eureka, since the flight attendants told us they still had one last flight down to Burbank that night, and they were near the end of their allowable work hours.
Fortunately, the last flight of the day was able to depart before the flight crew reached their max duty limit for the day—pilots and flight attendants are only allowed to work a certain number of consecutive hours, and if a delay forces them past that point, they’re unable to continue flying, possibly stranding passengers if a replacement crew can’t be found.
Frequently asked questions about Avelo
Is Avelo a reputable airline?
The FAA certification process is just as rigorous for budget airlines as it is for larger carriers, and Avelo adheres to the same safety standards as every other airline that flies domestically within the USA.
While the Avelo brand is quite new on the market, many members of the Avelo team have also come from elsewhere in the airline industry. For instance, the company’s founder and CEO, Andrew Levy, has a long history in the airline industry as the former president of Allegiant Air and CFO at United Airlines.
Does Avelo allow you to choose your seat?
Yes, you can choose your seat on Avelo for a fee. Seat selection ranges from $9-$39 on Avelo. While the seats at the back of the plane have only 29 inches of pitch, comparable to other budget airlines, the price to book extra legroom seats starts at $12 each way, and represents a good value compared to legacy airlines which typically charge at least $40-$50 for larger seats on a short-haul flight.
If you don’t pay to choose a seat before departure, you’ll be assigned a seat randomly when you check-in.
What baggage is included on Avelo?
Avelo charges for checked luggage, as well as a full-size carry-on bag. That means the only thing you can take on board for free is a small personal item, such as a purse or briefcase. Avelo’s bag fees were below the industry average when they first launched in April 2021, though as of February 2022, their fees have risen to $40 for a carry-on bag and $35 for a checked bag if booked in advance.
Like many airlines, there’s a small price incentive to check luggage in the hold rather than bringing it into the cabin—Avelo is probably hoping to keep the overhead bins clear for paying passengers and keep boarding time to a minimum.
How strict is Avelo with carryon sizes?
Nominally, Avelo has a strict carry-on bag policy similar to other ultra-low cost carriers like Spirit or Frontier Airlines. Everyone gets a free personal item up to 14 x 9 x 9.5 inches, essentially a small backpack or purse. Anything larger incurs a fee starting from $40 each way if you book in advance.
However, in our experience, this policy isn’t strictly enforced, for the time being. We didn’t encounter any of the notorious baggage sizers employed by most airlines to measure luggage dimensions, and gate staff did not verify whether we had prepaid for carry-on luggage during the boarding process.
The members of our party who had pre-booked carry-on bags did enjoy free priority boarding, an unadvertised perk that wasn’t clearly spelled out during the booking process. In time, expect a more consistent application of Avelo’s baggage policies, but for now you might be able to skirt the rules if you forget to book in advance.
How can I cancel an Avelo flight?
Avelo’s cancellation policy is very much in line with other airlines in the Covid-19 world—tickets can be canceled up to 15 minutes before departure for a trip credit valid towards a future Avelo flight. In fact, the wording of this policy on their website is quite similar to Southwest Airlines, which likewise has a flexible, last-minute approach to canceling tickets for a credit.
Don’t plan on trying to get a refund after a no-show at the airport, however, since to receive a credit it’s essential to cancel your itinerary in advance. This could present challenges for last-minute changes, since Avelo only allows cancellation or rebooking with an agent over the phone. Since there’s no self-service option online, you’re at the mercy of potentially long hold times to update your itinerary.
What's great about Avelo:
- Excellent fares
- Service to smaller cities and to airports close to under-served national parks
- Reasonable fees for add-ons
- Friendly service
What's not so great about Avelo:
- The point-to-point network and limited planes in service means delays can pile up
- Not all routes are operated daily so the schedule might not work for you
- Currently no wifi or in-flight entertainment, and no food available for purchase
- Leg room is on the small side (though the fee for a seat with more legroom is reasonable)
Despite our delayed departure, we’d recommend flying Avelo to our friends, family, and SCF members. Conspicuously friendly service, low fares, and reasonable fees for luggage and assigned seating make them a competitive option if Avelo’s route map and flight schedule match your needs.
While their network is clearly geared towards long weekends and flexible travelers (and also lacks wifi, if you need to be productive in flight), their destinations open up a range of unique destinations, from national parks to California wine country, that are currently underserved. We’d also recommend flying early in the day if possible to avoid rolling delays for departures later in the day, and Avelo may not be the best option if you have a very tight schedule for when you need to arrive.
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