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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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?
Patty Holliday is a Marvel loving, Disney obsessed wife, and mother of four. She’s a travel agent specializing in Disney & Universal vacations- and loves a candid confession. Find her in Virginia (or anywhere frequent flyer miles or her trusty minivan takes her.)