How to save $$ on pricey inflight wi-fi

This is a screenshot of Gogo pricing on a recent BOS>SFO flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

This is a screenshot of Gogo pricing on a recent BOS>SFO flight (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

During long summer flights, one of the best ways to tune out the crowded, hot conditions on the plane is focus on something else… like your email or social networking sites.

Thankfully, getting connected via wi-fi in the air is getting easier and faster thanks to advances in technology.

But it’s not getting any cheaper.

With the price for purchasing a day pass with Gogo during a flight now topping $30, here’s some advice on how to save some money.

Gogo is by far the largest inflight wi-fi provider, offering service on more than 2,000 planes including those of Delta, Virgin America, Alaska, United (p.s. flights), American, US Airways and AirTran among others.

The easiest way to save money is to PRE-purchase a Gogo day pass for $16 from the Gogoair.com web site (that rate increased $2 this month from $14). Even if you don’t end up using the pass on the intended flight, it’s good for a year so you can use it later.

The key to saving money with Gogo is to PRE-purchase your pass

The key to saving money with Gogo is to PRE-purchase your pass

Another good way to save is to pre-purchase a smartphone day pass for just $8. It won’t work with your laptop or tablet, but if all you plan to do is monitor email and check in on social sites with your phone, this is an excellent, money-saving option. (Plus, it’s increasingly tough to get the laptop open when flying in coach anyway!)

On shorter flights, or for just a quick check in on longer flights, Gogo offers a 1-hour pass for just $5.

Now, for those technological advancements. Last year Gogo began rolling out a newer, 3x faster service called ATG-4. At first, only a handful of planes had ATG-4 onboard, but rollout is now at a rapid clip.  For example, Virgin America announced this week that all 53 of its A320 aircraft how have the newer, faster service. (You know your plane has ATG-4 when you look at the plane and see two toaster sized white bumps on the  side of the fuselage, as well as a fin-like antenna on the bottom. See video below.) Delta says that about half of it’s wi-fi enabled fleet now has ATG-4 installed.

On recent Virgin flights with ATG-4, I’ve definitely noticed a difference. It’s not perfect, but it’s better.

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Gogo and other providers like Honeywell and Panasonic are busy working on new satellite-based solutions to balky inflight connections, which is great news. The problem is that the new systems will not be widespread for years. I’ve heard a handful of positive reviews of JetBlue’s new Fly-Fi system (now on 49 planes @$9 per hour but free during beta), but have not had a chance to try it yet. Have you? My experience with United’s satellite-based system has been spotty at best (it’s been “out of service” on nearly every flight for me), but I did receive emails from a TravelSkills reader flying to Australia recently, which is a pretty cool feat when you think about it!

To me, inflight wi-fi is the greatest thing to happen to business travel since the rollout of the jet engine on commercial flights. Even though the technology is far from perfect, I’ve used it enough to know that I’m not going to get the same speed or reliability that I get at home or the office. And there are times I don’t get the service at all, which only serve to remind me how reliant I’ve become on having wi-fi on the plane.

What about you? What’s your experience been with in-flight wi-fi? Have you used systems other than Gogo on airlines such as JetBlue or United or Southwest? Please let us know about your experience.

–Chris McGinnis

(Disclosure: Gogo is a regular sponsor of the #TravelSkills chat on Twitter www.travelskills.com/chat. Virgin America is a sponsor of this blog.)

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