Flying Cheap? At What Cost…

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Look, traveling on a budget is a priority for my family. I believe in flying cheap whenever possible.

Or at least I did until a flight I took this summer. I learned that sometimes, it might be worth paying a bit more up front!

First of all, like errrrbody else, I’m still waiting for my money tree to sprout. It hasn’t happened just yet (must be the lack of rain here in Arizona?) so until it does, we live and die by The B Word.

The Budget.

This includes our travel budget. It’s why we embrace the road trip when we can and fly on frequent flyer miles when possible. We are more likely to stay at a Holiday Inn or crash at a friends house on the road than a 5-star resort. Saving money getting there means we can spend more when we arrive.

So being a cheap traveler, I decided a last minute flight to Colorado wasn’t going to happen for the $400 price my typical airlines wanted to charge. I made the decision to fly Frontier, for less than half the cost.

Ahhh, Frontier.

It seemed like a well thought out decision.

It was a direct flight, I was flying solo, it was less than 2 hours, and I had a carry-on. How bad could it be?

Here are a few things to know before you get lured in by those low, low prices.

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget

Flying Cheap? At What Cost

 

No TSA Pre®  

ETA 6.28.17: Frontier has been added to the TSA Pre program. Phew. This was a big no for me- but one that has been updated since my experience last year. 

I love TSA Pre® I recently got my number, and this is the best thing ever when it comes to flying. With a pre-check number, you are sent through a different (usually shorter) line at security. You are allowed those pre-9/11 luxuries such as wearing your shoes and leaving your laptop in your bag.

TSA precheck allows you expedited entrance through airport security lines.

It’s awesome.

Frontier does not participate in this program.

Not a deal breaker, but something you may want to be aware of before you book. Especially if you have a newly acquired number you want to use… and can’t.

#WhompWhomp

YOU PAY FOR EVERYTHING

The flight might be cheaper, but be sure you check out all the fees that you might encounter.

Bags: you’ll pay $30 for the first bag on this airline. IF you pay it in advance online. It’s $35 to $60 if you wait to do it at the airport. While bag fees are pretty standard, Frontier charges you for CARRY-ONS for goodness sake! $35 for the honor of carrying on your bag.

That’s shenanigans, man.

Seats: they charge you for the good ones. Basically, anything other than back middle seat will incur a charge of some sort.

I paid $6 for my aisle back of the plane seat. This wasn’t a huge issue, but it was pretty annoying to see that the aircraft was less than half full. The airline attendants said we could move up if we wished… and I wished.

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget

I scored a full row to myself. These seats were more comfortable and roomier than the $6 version at the back of the plane. Might be worth paying if you desire a bit more comfort, especially on a longer flight.

And yes, there was a difference in the actual seats. By the way, they didn’t recline on my plane. Not in the back or the ones closer to the front.

What was the same in the front as the back was the size of the drink/snack/laptop/whatever-you-use-it-for-tray.

It was TINY.

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget

I wasn’t even sure if a drink would stay on this thing! My Gigantor laptop certainly wouldn’t. Not that it would matter (see wifi below).

Drinks: you pay for those. Any and all drinks had a price. No freebie sodas for you! Yes, even a coke costs you on Frontier.

To their credit, they had an extensive drink and snack menu with quite a few reasonable (for an airline) priced options. But don’t you dare think for a minute that anything is coming free on this bird.

You won’t get a free mixer with your booze, for example.

You do shots? Wolf it! 

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | BudgetWIFI

There is none.

Savages, I tell you.

I discovered this as we waited to board the plane. I almost wept as I hastily downloaded a couple of Veronica Mars episodes to get me through the flight.

I haven’t brought reading material on a plane since wifi became a thing, so I was completely unprepared for an unconnected flight.

YOUR TIME

One of my favorite sayings is “Time is Money”. I’ll use this when I’m talking about staying at a deluxe monorail hotel at Walt Disney World, for example. If I can spend a little more money to save an hour of transportation back and forth from the Magic Kingdom all week, then I think it’s money well spent in time savings.

This flight was horribly late.

It arrived late. We boarded late. The doors were closed and then reopened. More staff members came on board.

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget

It wasn’t looking good.

And it wasn’t. Ultimately we were delayed over four hours. The crew did allow us to deplane, but once we left, we were not allowed back on until they were ready to take off.

Who cared? I had wifi in the airport! I had a reprieve! 

A lot of people did care, however. Some life events were going to be really jacked up if they didn’t get home that night.

What I learned from my fellow travelers is that this is a regular thing for Frontier. They are known for mechanical issues that cause long delays to correct the problem. Hearsay said longer than normal airlines, and that a replacement plane isn’t often brought in. Hey, I’m okay with flying safely, so I’m ok that my flight was delayed.

But if it truly is a “thing” they are known for: no thanks.

In this particular case, it was no big deal that my 11 pm flight arrived at 3 am. But what if I had my kids on board? What if we were on our way to a race weekend? Or a business meeting? Or just about any other important reason you might be flying…

Frontier did attempt to make it right by sending all of us a $50 credit to use on our next flight.

I felt this fell short. Free drinks and snacks on the plane would have gone a long way. Reimbursing carry-on luggage fees and seat purchases would have also been a good-faith way of reaching out to us. None of that was offered.

Just a $50 credit in case we ever wanted to fly the Frontier skies again.

I can’t say that that’s high on my list at this point.

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget

WHAT WAS GOOD ABOUT FRONTIER

The crew was pretty awesome. This was a flight from Denver to Austin in June, and as late as it was for me, I’m sure it was digging deep into their overtime. Well, if they get overtime. I have a feeling that it doesn’t work quite like that!

They kept us informed with candor. They were kind and funny and never got cross, even when one particularly snarky passenger tried to start something. (And no, it wasn’t me!).

BOTTOM LINE

The reason why you are traveling might impact your comfort level on taking a flight on a cheap airline. And don’t forget to add up all the extra costs that your typical airline might include in the price of your ticket. You may decide the savings isn’t worth the hassle!

Have you ever had a trip that just didn’t go right?

Looking for budget travel options? You might decide to save money by flying cheap. Here's 5 things to know before you book that low fare! Frontier Airline | Travel | Budget


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Comments

  • Great write up! It’s definitely important to know what you’re getting into.

    My friend flew Frontier to PHM this year and 2-3 weeks before our trip her flight times were changed – WHAT?! Now, she was getting in at midnight instead of 5 AM like a traditional red eye. She’d planned a red eye to reduce hotel costs and minimize time off from work and then she was stuck in the airport all night long because she didn’t have Magic Express or hotel at that hour.

    I remember another woman at PHM mentioned her flight time was changed as well. She’d planned to leave after the half around 3ish? Her flight was changed to 11 AM – not enough time! Thankfully, they were willing to cancel her flight and refund her due to the change. My friend may have been able to get a refund too, but it was so late in the game that a new flight would have been WAY more expensive.

    As for other budget airlines, my friend just flew the first WOW Air flight to Europe from California and said it was a good experience overall. They also nickel and dime for everything and have strict bag and bag weight policies (even for carry-on), but if you know going into it could still be fine. She did say they had a delay coming back and the airport terminal was really bare. My sister flew Allegiant to Hawaii and was delayed over four hours (pregnant and with a toddler) BOTH ways. Their Customer Service rep hung up on my mom on the phone because “I can’t help you. She shouldn’t have traveled with a baby if the flight was going to be too long.”

  • Erika says:

    I flew Spirit to the Garmin HM in Kansas this spring, because of the price. It sounds like the pricing policy is pretty similar to what you had on Frontier, although we didn’t have the delay or service issues, and a VERY SMALL carry-on is allowed free, but just the one.

    It was fine – I chose it for the price, and I knew what I was getting into, so it was fine, but definitely no frills.

  • Jen says:

    Your experience seems pretty similar to mine on Spirit going to Chicago. I thought I was saving money and booked on Expedia. Then it turned out a fee went to Expedia. Then we had to pay an additional $8 each for our seat assignments and $40 for each carry-on. My Spirit flight to Chicago actually ended up costing more than the United flight home again. Very basic, uncomfortable seats, tiny trays – your pics could have been taken on the plane we were on. They were on time though. I’ll say that much.

    I’ve got to say even United was stripped down from the last time I flew. No inflight movie or even audio entertainment. You’re expected to bring your own device.

  • Yeah, this is why I haven’t flown Frontier despite their appealing prices. Once I added everything up it was equal to or more than my usual Southwest! Especially those bag fees, yuck. As a travel agent I have clients who are like “oh I found these really cheap flights on Frontier/Spirit” and I try to warn them away as best I can. I did have a flight delayed once on Delta, supposed to get into Orlando at around 2pm and didn’t arrive til 9pm – and it was only a $50 gift card in that case too. $50 that I never used because I never had the desire to fly with them again after that!

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Patty Holliday


If she isn’t chasing her four kids around Northern Virginia, Patty is chasing four bars on her phone to share her authentic and fun stories on social media and her blog, My No-Guilt Life. She’s also one half of the Marvel Moms, an online community for discussing the Marvel fandom. You can catch up on her runDisney fun at No-Guilt Disney.

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