The Lengths I’ll Go To Avoid A Domestic Redeye

Filed Under: Travel

I’ve flown well over four million “butt in seat” miles. Suffice to say my rear is sore!

I love flying every bit as much as when I first started, though there are certain areas in which my perspective has changed drastically.

One of those areas is domestic redeyes, which I’ve literally taken hundreds of over the years. I’ve always sort of viewed them as necessary evils:

  • While they were never enjoyable, in theory it’s much more efficient not to “waste” an entire day flying from the west coast to the east coast, but instead doing it overnight
  • Taking a redeye can save on hotel costs
  • Redeye flights tend to be easier upgrades, since lots of people do what they can to avoid them
  • I can’t actually sleep on non-flat surfaces, so for me they were sort of torturous, because I wasn’t alert enough to work efficiently, but at the same time couldn’t sleep
  • Nonetheless, back in the day it wasn’t unusual for me to do a couple of them in a week, and then just take a short nap upon landing

I’m trying to get from Los Angeles to Tampa tomorrow, and while trying to book a flight it occurred to me that it has literally been years since I’ve taken a domestic redeye in a non-flat bed (such as American’s A321 service between Los Angeles and New York). Actually, if my memory serves me correctly, the last domestic redeye I took was on Alaska from Seattle to Fort Lauderdale about 2.5 years ago.

If you’ve gotta do a domestic redeye, this doesn’t suck!

In booking a ticket from Los Angeles to Tampa tomorrow, I’m faced with two options:

  • A nonstop redeye from Los Angeles to Tampa on US Airways with an upgrade which can immediately be confirmed
  • A connecting flight on American, where my upgrade has a good chance of not clearing; not only do I have to connect, but I’ll likely be in coach

I was on the purchase page for the nonstop Los Angeles to Tampa redeye flight, and as I was about to click purchase, I said to myself “at 10PM tomorrow I’ll start asking myself for five hours why the hell I booked this. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Don’t do it.”

And I didn’t. Instead I went back and booked a connecting flight. My odds of clearing the upgrade aren’t great, but at least I’ll get to sleep in a “real” bed.

The irony in all this is that while I’ve completely written off domestic redeyes, lately it seems like 90% of my international travel has been in the dark. Like, I can’t even count the number of 3AM flights I’ve taken out of the Middle East, Southeast Asia, etc. But that doesn’t bother me in the slightest, since I’m rarely fully adjusted to local time.


Where do you stand on domestic US redeyes — are they a necessary evil, or do you avoid them at all costs?

  1. I travel Nashville lax often and will route myself just to get on the aa 321t first class to/from Jfk and get in the flagship lounge to booze. My wife thinks I’m nuts. But it’s fun!

  2. I didn’t realise red eyes were so contentious! I need to get from Las Vegas to Orlando and had assumed a red eye would be the best solution, do you have any other suggestions?

  3. I won’t do them either. The last one I did was KOA-LAX, in 2009. Now if I’m flying back from Hawaii I’ll take late afternoon flights and overnight somewhere cheap in SEA or LAX or whatever, and I’ll leave the west coast in the morning even though, as you allude to, it eats up a lot of the day. Overnight coach redeyes just kill me for days

  4. When I was younger, I could take the redeye, land and get a partial day of work in. Slept from take off until landing. Now I don’t get the same rest and it does make it more difficult. That said, living in Orange County means I have to wake around 2:30 to catch that early morning flight to the East Coast from LAX. So I take the redeye and land, hopefully my room is available, do work on the computer or phone that day and get some sleep the following night. No matter which I take, I lose a day.

  5. Never did any, but about to do so. From YUL to YVR around 19:00 for 5 hours.

    I live in Vancouver, so it doesn’t bother me as much. Think back to the period that I end up in coach..

  6. I’m saving that hotel room cost next month for the flight home from San Francisco. I wanted hubby to come along for the final show of Ducks Breathe Mystrey Theatre – a comedy troupe who started in Iowa City in the mid 70s when we were in school there. He doesn’t like to fly all that much and didn’t want to fly across the country & back for a long weekend. I’m using this year’s IC Ambassador 2-4-1 cert with a terrace suite at the Mark Hopkins, so it’s bad enough for two nites with just me but not 3. I’m using miles & found a good outbound 1 stop. For the red eye at saver rate I’m flying SFO-LAX (a new city pair for me), then to JFK on the AA A32T in business with any early leg down to DCA. I leave SFO at 7PM Sunday & get to DCA at 9:30 Monday morning. Time for another nap then I can do my weekend chores, laundry, food shopping, etc. ✈️

  7. Ben, your “delima” is amusing. Some people have to get from city A to B because of business reasons so that basically dictates what they fly. It doesn’t seem like your reason to fly to TPA is a business reason, but then again, who wants to fly Y, but if you hate redeyes then don’t take it and take the gamble that all the other people with upgrades… If you don’t want to do that then take the redeye… Not that hard.

  8. After my first redeye, I swore I never would do that again. Then I did transcon redeyes in coach on United twice a month for 5 years straight. If I was lucky, I had an empty middle seat next to me. Back then there were no CPUs. It seemed after the first couple I got a routine and got used to them. I very much welcomed saving pretty much a whole day of travel.

  9. I have always loved red-eyes, but after doing them for 15 years (and getting 15 years older), I do not enjoy them as much anymore.

  10. I’d put up with a redeye going TATL or TPAC. Maybe to South America. But domestically, HELL NO.

  11. Even with a flat bed, those flights aren’t long enough for me to get enough sleep. Forego the meal and just sleep only gets me 4-ish hours. I can’t land at JFK, shower and be productive after that. Plus with Wifi, flying all day to get East isn’t the waste of time it once was. At least for me.

  12. Domestic I will try and avoid redeyes but am breaking that trend recently, Next one is SFO to FLL then connecting in. Even in first class (cough) they are not comfortable. I am curious if I will be able to book p.s. flights in future via EWR but perhaps upgrades are tough on those. So by and large, I avoid them. International flights I’ll try and find a late nighter.

  13. I was faced with taking a red eye flight from Salt Lake City to Charlotte a few months ago. Thankfully I had a full row to myself in the back of the flight and was able to sleep pretty much the whole flight.

  14. What’s your point? I didn’t get what you’re trying to say in this article. How is it useful to the readers?

  15. Your situation is very different from many of us given you do not have to be at a certain place at a certain time 20-30x per week (reporting to work, meetings, events, family plans, etc). While I don’t have a family (that gives me more wiggle room) and if I can help it I try to avoid redeyes, however more often than not I don’t have much choice schedule wise. Fortunately, I only have to take them several times a year tops since my travels are dominantly personal. Sometimes an event runs until the afternoon on Sunday which is too late to catch any daytime flight to the east coast or taking a redeye will allow me to save a vacation day while enjoying an additional full day at the destination on a thurs-sun trip.

  16. Really. After 8M AIS miles I still redeye and complain a helluva lot less than you.

    Not your “greatest” post.

  17. Lucky, it has been a while since you’ve taken a redeye if you think upgrades are easier to clear on them! I’ve taken over a dozen Wednesday and Thursday night ex-LAX redeyes this year, and they have been by far the toughest routes to clear on as an ExPlat…always packed and huge number of elites (based on the upgrade waitlist). Just make too much sense for many business travelers rather than missing a whole day!

  18. My last one in June allowed me to spend a day as a tourist in Seattle. But I paid for it all weekend

  19. Look at the bright side. If your upgrade doesn’t clear on American, at least you will have a USB/Power Port and and IFE at your seat. That is something a couple other legacy carriers (cough) US Airways (cough) should learn for even their FIRST CLASS! Anyway, that is the booking I would’ve picked, and an American economy seat, a nice $7 sandwich purchased in the terminal, and a Starbucks Frappuccino sounds better than a US Airways first class seat (minus a couple inches of recline and seat pitch). And to be honest, the economy seat on American feels like a first class seat compared to the “pre-reclined” seats on Spirit (shivers). Enjoy the flight!

  20. Look at it this way. The day after a red-eye is shot either way you go. You’re either tired from the red-eye or you’re flying because you didn’t want to take a red-eye.
    Now do you want to spend another night in a hotel or go home and nap in your recliner with your TV?
    The mistake you’re making is assuming that because the red-eye has physically located you in one place that you have to be lucid, but for some reason you’re perfectly happy “wasting” all day flying the next day.

  21. I decided to book a last minute trip from SF to NYC a few weeks ago. The redeye made the most sense for maximizing time in the city and minimizing PTO days.

    I had a hard time choosing between American’s F and J. Is it better to book F when you’re awake and will enjoy all the service? Or is it better to book F when you want to get a good night’s sleep?

    Personal preference I guess. FWIW, I ended up booking F and it was totally worth it. Did UA on the way back.

  22. Most airlines seem intent on turning day into night with shades down straight after take-off. Those who wish to see the passing view are looked upon as disruptive nusiances!

  23. I actually like US redeyes for the “saving money on a hotel room” reason. Hubby hates them. The United p.s. flights on United are great (nearly lie flat seats in business), but I don’t like to waste upgrades or pay a bunch of $$ for p.s. redeyes since I don’t drink or eat on those flights.

  24. @Lucky – the obvious question is why didn’t you consider LAX-TPA on DL? Leaves at 10:10 AM… 99.9% sure your AS status won’t get you the upgrade on a Monday, but still… 🙂

  25. I actually take the oppoiste view – I’ll take redeyes whenever I can, as it gives me more time onthe ground. Two to three hours of sleep is more than plenty if its a one off.

  26. @ W — Don’t disagree with you there in general, but I think the key is it being a one off. I guess after doing hundreds of them it became so commonplace that I just can’t stomach the thought of taking another one. I’m sure I wouldn’t be so opposed to them if I didn’t have such a history with redeyes.

  27. @ DiscoPapa — Heh, touche! Ultimately I’ll take American with a connection in Dallas, shot at an upgrade, and good economy seat over being a peon on a nonstop Delta flight. Though I was tempted. 😀

  28. I think I can count the number of domestic US red-eyes I’ve taken on one hand, and the last one was…well…it had to have been 10+ years ago. Moral of the story: I avoid red-eyes like the plague.

  29. I flew a LAX-DFW redeye on Wednesday. It was a 2:30hr flight. Needless to say it ended up being a very rough day following the flight

  30. @ Chris M. — Certainly a toughie. Personally I’d probably do first for the redeye for the private sleeping area, and then business for the daytime flight, where I’m less bothered by having a seatmate.

  31. @ Matthew — Except in my case time isn’t really “wasted” flying, since most flights have wifi, which allow me to work. So admittedly they’re not as efficient as days I spend on the ground, but for me they’re certainly not wasted. Definitely a case of “your mileage may vary,” though.

  32. @ Joe — Other alternative would be to take a daytime flight. Though depending on what your priorities are, a redeye certainly could make sense.

  33. I avoid Domestic red-eyes. The flights are too short, and flying West to East coast is also the shortest time due to wind. LAX – IAD can be 4 hours. Then you are tired all the next day and have to go to bed when you arrive.

  34. My wife and I have to move our daughter into her college dorm, so the choice to get from HNL to YVR is either a nonstop redeye on AC or a nonstop redeye on WS….OR a daytime flight on HA to the U.S. west coast (with a good chance of an upgrade to F Class) and then a short hop up north. Even though we’d save on a hotel night by taking the nonstop, we’re all in agreement that sleeping horizontal on a real bed is worth the added cost.

  35. Hi Lucky!

    First of all, wish you good luck with the up getting cleared!

    I also have my fair share on 321T routes. Sometimes, if time allowed, I’d switch to other flights just to get a higher chance of up getting cleared. Not sure if it will apply to your case tho.

  36. and I agree with you that between confirmed AWE flights and waitlisted AA transcon, I’d rather ran a risk with 321T since the other one in C/F is just marginally better for a red-eye.

  37. I am with you on not taking a red eye. I don’t sleep well on them at all. But, I had to book one from San Diego to Orlando this week for the whole family for an emergency situation…..I don’t have the money, status or points to be in better seats and now we are all stuck in middle seats all over the plane. Not ideal at all, but we are hoping to get their before a parent is no longer living. I am sure I will be screaming internally at my self all the way there 🙁

  38. I did several and have several more booked. Miserable for sure, but limited vacation days and time is gold.

  39. Working office hours in Miami and loving both Cali and Vegas, the only option to have two days of mini-vacations is to take those red-eye flights.
    Arriving to Miami at 5-7am, going home to take a shower and change and by 10am you are “almost” ok at work.
    But yes, if you can’t sleep in a plane, it’s a disaster. Well, for me even on a daytime flight it’s a torture to sit awake for several hours, doesn’t matter in coach or first. Thanks god, usually I fall asleep easily

  40. Lucky willing to sit in coach!! Let me check my eyes lol 🙂

    Paying for business/first (in either cash or points) on domestic services is never a value proposition, but sometimes the “thrill” of being squished into seating 3 or 4 together is enough to open the wallet or points balance to escape such joys (unless, of course, you are fairly sure loads will be light).

    Given Ben’s strong distaste for the back of the plane, I’m surprised this is not such a time for him (I’m assuming he’s made some decent coin with this blogging gig, and is not short on points lol). Not that I’m recommending he do so when he knows he’s got great chances of a status upgrade for nix, just in these sets of circumstances.

    But if Lucky is going to sit in coach, I hope he gives us a trip report on it just for the novelty 🙂

  41. I think I got more sleep on my 1 hour flights between Dublin and London than on my 10 hour flights from PHX to London recently. I don’t mind a domestic redeye if in F as long as I can get a shower before I need to be somewhere, and the expectation is not a full day or work upon arrival. Though I do try to avoid really short redeye flights such as PHX to DFW or SEA to ORD.

    To me the worst part about a red eye is arriving and not having a hotel room available until normal checkin time. It’s one reason that west coast to Europe is often better than east coast to Europe for me.

  42. I totally agree with Ben. I tried doing red eyes every week, Sunday night, to be at work and ready to go Mondays at 9-10 am, via a 3.5 hour flight from SEA to DFW, with a short hop up to OKC afterward. I always upgraded on AS to 1st so I could sleep but sleep was nowhere to be found. Ever. I know 3 hours of sleep isn’t much anyway, but I couldn’t even sleep more than 30 minutes sitting up. After four weeks of this routine, I gave up and just decided to forego my Sundays and get an actual night’s sleep in a hotel Sunday night. Maybe it’s age. I just can’t function without the sleep like I could in my college days.

  43. I have to take a red-eye for business reasons (working as a silhouette portrait artist for a Google event in Mountain View to doing silhouette art for a wedding in Nashville area, and then,
    The Sarah and James Polk museum in Nashville area), and was wondering, how do you book a hotel to be ready for you at 6:20 a.m.? I have never done a red-eye, but I rarely go to bed before 4 a.m. (I am an artist). What is the secret to get an early check-in? Is it booking two nights although you arrive almost at check-out time? I don’t mind paying for two nights, but would prefer paying for 1 1/2 days, or something like half a day and the night. I am cool with the Google event, it just ends later than commercial flights leave and I need to be in Nashville, the next night.

  44. @Cindi Rose… Two words… Elite Status.

    I have had many hotels cut me a break when arriving at 08:00… even giving me a suite. But, I’m not sure that would have happened had I not been a Hilton Diamond or Starwood Gold.

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