How Much Extra is a Nonstop Flight Worth?

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Very soon I’m taking off on an annual(ish) trip with just my oldest daughter. We are going to ski, order room service, watch movies, swim, and spend time together the way we did before our lovely second daughter joined the family. Worry not for the littlest, she will be getting some good one on one time with Dad and my parents…AKA she will be spoiled to high heaven.


To book our flights to Colorado at the lowest saver award level, we had to book an itinerary with a connection coming and going. That is not a huge deal as it is just the two of us, but obviously, four flights for a long weekend trip isn’t as ideal as having just two nonstop flights. In fact, when I was talking about the trip with C a few days ago, she said please tell me there is just one flight to get there. Uh oh.

For the outbound flights, we have to stay with the connection as we are flying on an airline that doesn’t operate nonstops from Houston to where we are going. However, for our return flights, an opportunity presented itself to go from an itinerary with two flights to one nonstop flight since it is now available at the saver award level. That would mean just 2.5 hours in the air to be home instead of an itinerary that is closer to five hours long and inherently has more risk due to having a connection.

Most sane people would agree that a nonstop flight of this length is preferable to an itinerary with a connection and likely worth paying some sort of premium to book. However, I’ve been wondering exactly how much a nonstop flight is worth over one with connections, especially when children are involved.

For us to change the schedule we have now to the nonstop there is a $100 fee…per person. I have not jumped at the chance to spend $200 more dollars just to get on the nonstop, but I haven’t ruled it out either. If it were a $50 per person fee or smaller, I think I would have already pulled the trigger.

Playing into the equation of deciding between paying more for a nonstop or just keeping a connection is the simplicity of travel on the day itself, knowing we need to get home on time if possible as it will be a “school night”, and factoring in the likelihood of delays or cancellations on a nonstop vs. a flight with connections. If I were flying with my toddler instead of my eight-year-old I would lean towards saying an additional $100 per person is worth it, but I have not yet convinced myself of the same outcome with my second grader. Getting a toddler and all their gear locked and loaded on the plane is often the hardest part, so I’d pay extra to not do that twice.

If I had to put money to it, I’d say that on a family leisure trip, a nonstop flight is worth at least a $50 premium per person over one with connections because of how much easier your travel day will be and the reduced likelihood of problems. Unless you are working with a large budget, I’d say it is probably not worth much more than $100 additional per person unless there are extenuating circumstances such the nonstop making it possible to avoid a night of hotel somewhere, or avoid a missed day of school or work, or you have special difficulties getting from one flight to the next because of multiple car seats, or similar. In our situation, we are right on the line of it potentially not being worth it, but still within the realm of consideration, especially since there is school the next day and snow in the forecast.

While you may not always considering changing an existing itinerary, we all choose between different options when booking travel whether paying with miles or cash, and we sometimes have to decide paying more for the nonstop is worth it. I’m curious, how much extra would you pay to fly on a nonstop flight with your family vs. one with a connection? What factors play into your decision-making process?

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  1. At least it finally started snowing here again in CO. Heading up to Keystone with the toddler tomorrow. I think she’ll have fun playing on the snow-fort on top. Probably going to throw her on a board for the first time at Park City next weekend.

  2. I agree with the $50 to $100 each, but of course the larger the family the more that adds up. Would also depend on if connection time is long enough, but not too long, and the flights times compared to the direct flight.

  3. I think that the factor that counts for me it is the total length of the trip itself + the flying time. For a weekend/short trip I would pay more. Same situation if we are talking about long flights, for example 10hrs flight + 2 hours connection. I would be tempted to pay more.
    In your particular example, 50-100 seems to be a good range.

  4. With toddlers, I think their preexisting expectations need to be a factor in that decision. One time I was traveling with my 3-year-old son with a connection at Midway on the outbound and a nonstop on the return. When we landed at our home airport and he realized he wasn’t going to ride those cool moving walkways in Chicago again I had a tantrum on my hands and had to carry him off the plane.

    Won’t make that mistake again.

  5. I would keep the connecting flight. That $200 could be put to good use elsewhere. Not to mention that it is really closer to $300 in pre-tax money.

    The equation would definitely change if the 2 year old was traveling (I say this as someone with a 2 year old at home).

  6. You also have to add up at least 2-3 HOURS drive from DEN to the nearest ski resort, and often there is a heavy traffic on highway, so drive can take even longer (especially on weekend).
    There are some shuttles/buses from the airport to ski resort towns that can save your energy by not driving yourself, but still take few hours to reach there.
    Same on the way back to the airport.
    Definitely worth the extra for direct flights in that situation. Consider total time from door to door (home to hotel) and you’ll see it clear!

    Please be advised of the “mountain sickness” from high altitude of Colorado – some people need a day or two to acclimatize themselves on the mountain (less oxygen, dryness, etc.) 12-13,000 ft high peaks are no joke.

    Personally I haven’t ski in all Colorado resorts, but can recommend Keystone for kids and beginners as a top choice: good lifts, lots of green runs, longest run is 5.5 mi long so that you don’t have to take lifts too often, nice scenery. Price is also on the lower side, and cool base center too. Look for discounted options (ski+stay, specials, etc.) Drink enough hot cider and tea, use lip balm and good amount of sunscreen (SPF50+), stay safe!

    Good luck!

  7. FWIW, $200 for nonstop flights is definitely worth it. Especially at the end of the trip and you’ll both be tired and wanting to get home. At the beginning, at least for me, it’s easier to live with a lousy flight schedule because of the excitement of a trip beginning.

    • Agree. We’ll see how the trip progresses. I hate to spend more money on something that I don’t have to, but will if it looks like it will really improve the day.

  8. It all depends on the situation, time of day, number of people. I don’t think I would set an amount and stick by it. Generally once I book, I Keep the booking unless changes are free. I am willing to book something that is less than ideal, but not something I hate. If it were that bad, for a weekend, I just wouldn’t have taken the trip.

    Here is another way to think about it: would you have paid a $100 copay each direction up front to book the non stop? How about an additional 5,000 to 10,000 miles? If no, I think you have your answer.

    Also, you could hope for an oversold situation or IROPS to get on the nonstop for free.

    Every airline had a different same day change or standby policy. Would that be a cheaper alternative?

    • Good persepctives that I mostly share. The funny thing is the flight I am on looks quite full, less so than the one I want, so we’ll see. I’m not rooting for IRROPS, but keeping an eye on weather. It will be cheaper at T-24, but only by $25 per person. $200 is real money, so I think I’m sitting on what I have for now unless/until I have a reason to change because weather looks iffy or kid seems over tired or something. Otherwise, we’ll see if it is worth $75/each at T-24 or maybe I’ll hit the jackpot and be paid to wait two more hours and take the nonstop if they are oversold.

      • It sounds like you don’t have status (or at least decent status) on the airline you are flying with. Will you get hit in with a close in fee for the change in addition to the change fee?

        • Robert, correct, I just have Silver status on United so that is why there is a $100 fee to change a close-in award. Slightly higher with no status or free if you have really high status. There is no additional fee beyond the $100 pp.

  9. Hi Summer. Do you have any LifeMiles or TYP to transfer into LifeMiles? It occurs to me it would only be 10,000 LifeMiles so you’d save your United miles and get a 2,500 mile discount to help partially offset the cancel/redeposit fee.

    If I’m traveling alone and the connection isn’t likely to have problems then I might chance it. Given your situation I wouldn’t hesitate to spend the extra money to fly nonstop given how Colorado weather can be in winter and the having got stuck a number of times on connections over the years. I’m not wealthy so $100 real money to me but I consider it money well spent if I avoid major delays/headaches.

    • That’s smart – the flight I originally booked was XN so had to book it with UA miles. I would have to double check to see if the nonstop is just extra availability or available for all. If I booked with LifeMiles now it would be an additional $25 per person, though you are right 2,500 fewer miles and no close-in booking fees. Colorado weather is what I am watching for sure.

  10. For $100 it’s a no brainer. High risk of misconnect in winter locations plus multiple checked equipment bags plus child. Plus work/school next day plus savings on airport food plus…
    I must say perhaps the most valuable 1k perk (for me) is unlimited no fee award flight changes.

  11. Summer, how many points would be your break even point to pull the trigger on a direct flight. Southwest quite often will have one direct flight per day to some destinations, like MKE to LAS. I used 4000 extra points to snag the direct flight with pretty decent daytime flight times.

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