Here's a traveler's guide to flying Spirit, Frontier
The ticket price only gets you a seat on the plane. And we don’t mean an assigned seat – for free, at least. Spirit Airlines spells it out on its website: "A ti
1. The ticket price only gets you a seat on the plane. And we don’t mean an assigned seat – for free, at least. Spirit Airlines spells it out on its website: "A ticket with us gets you and a personal item from A to B." The airlines charge for seat assignments, checked and carry-on bags, and snacks and drinks, including water.
2. Bags don’t fly free, even carry-on bags. Passengers are allowed one free personal item that fits under the seat, such as a backpack or purse or laptop bag. The airlines closely monitor the size of those carry-ons. Want to bring a standard carry-on bag to put in the overhead bin? You’ll pay. Carry-on bag fees vary by carrier and when you pay for the carry on. (See No. 6 below.) Frontier’s prices start at $35 each way, Spirit’s at $35, Allegiant’s at $18. Note that Spirit and Frontier’s carry-on fees are higher than their checked-bag fees, so check the bag unless you refuse to hassle with baggage claim. Spirit and Frontier's carry-on bag fee includes priority boarding.
3. Unlike major airlines, most of which now charge $30 for the first checked bag and $40 for the second, the discounters’ checked-baggage fees vary by when you pay for the bags and, in some cases, the route and time of year. Want to check one bag on Frontier? That’ll be $30 one way if you pay when you book your ticket online, $38 if you pay after you book your ticket but before online check-in, $40 if you pay during online check-in or through the reservation center, and $50 at the airport ticket counter or kiosk. Spirit's bag pricing is dynamic and can have travelers paying one price for a bag on the flight out and a different price on the flight back. The general price range for one checked bag on Spirit: $31-$37 during online booking, $41-$45 before and during online check in; and $52 at the airport ticket counter or through reservations. On Allegiant, travelers will pay $25-$30for the first checked bag during online booking, $45after booking but before they get to the airport and $50at the airport. Bottom line: Pay for your bags when you book your ticket.
The airlines have so many different bag prices, Allegiant and Spirit have online baggage fee calculators, and the airlines' fee tables have more lines than an income tax form.
4. Don't over-stuff your bags. The weight limit for checked bags on Spirit and Allegiant is 40 pounds, not the standard 50 pounds allowed at major airlines and Frontier. Overweight bag charges apply in all cases.
5. Whatever you do, DON’T bring a bag to the gate in an attempt to dodge bag fees. This might work on major airlines, which often ask for volunteers to check their bags for free on full flights where overhead bin space is bound to fill up. Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant charge hefty surcharges to check bags at the gate. It’ll cost you $62 on Spirit, $60 on Frontier and $50 on Allegiant If you plan to bring a carry-on, pay for it when you book your ticket.
6. Want to snag discount airlines’ lowest fares? On Frontier and Spirit, join the club. Frontier’s Discount Den membership is $60 a year and it gets you discounts for up to six people per reservation. As with airfares, savings vary by route, travel dates, flight time and other factors. On a one-way, nonstop flight from Denver to Washington, D.C., in mid-July, the Discount Den fare was $10 lower than the standard fare.
Spirit offers the $9 Fare Club, which is $60 per year and covers up to nine passengers on the same reservation. In addition to fare discounts, $9 Fare Club members pay less for bags. On a flight from Chicago to Fort Myers, Florida, for example, the carry-on bag fee is $28 versus the normal $37, and a checked bag is $23 versus the normal $32, if paid when booking the ticket.
7. Want to save more money? Buy your ticket at the airport. Yes, the airport. Unlike major airlines, Allegiant, Spirit and Frontier have a usage fee for booking tickets online or through the reservations center. Allegiant charges $18, Spirit, $9-$21, and Frontier charges $19. The fees are each way and are included in the fares listed on their websites.
What's not listed: an additional usage charge for travelers who call their reservation centers. Allegiant's call center fee is $15 each way per ticket, Frontier charges $10 per booking and Spirit charges $35 per booking.
Airport ticket hours are limited and vary by airport. Also, read the fine print of fare sales because some sales only include tickets booked online, so it would be a waste of time to go to the airport. Lastly, never wait until the day of your trip to buy a ticket at the airport (on any platform) because last-minute fares are generally airlines' highest fares.
8. Picky about your seat or must sit with your family or other traveling companions? Then pay to reserve one in advance. There are no free advance seat assignments as there are on major airlines (though the number of free seats available on those airlines is shrinking). In addition to reserving standard seats, Frontier and Spirit also sell seats with extra legroom. Passengers who don't pay for a seat assignment will be assigned open seats at check-in.
9. Don't want to be nickel-and-dimed? Frontier and Spirit sell a package of perks you can add on to your ticket price. Frontier has the Works bundle and the Perks bundle, which includes a carry-on bag, checked bag, assigned seat and priority boarding. The works bundle also includes a couple extra perks, including ticket refunds. For a Denver-Nashville trip in June, the "perks'' package was an extra $140 round trip on a $237 ticket, the "works'' package, an extra $150 round trip. Spirit sells the "Thrills Combo,'' which includes a checked bag (up to 50 pounds instead of the usual 40 pounds), a carry-on bag, seat selection and more. The price for the Thrills on a sample Chicago-Fort Lauderdale, Florida, flight: $75 each way. Prices vary by airline and flight, so do the math to see if it saves you money over buying bags, seats and other "perks" separately.
10. Print your own boarding pass. Spirit and Allegiant charge to print boarding passes at the airport. Spirit charges $2 to print a boarding pass at an airport kiosk and $10 if an agent has to do it. Allegiant charges $5 per boarding pass printed by an airport agent at select airports. (The airline doesn't have kiosks.)
11. Beware of limited rebooking options if your flight is canceled or delayed. The discounters don't have as many daily flights to destinations as their larger rivals and don't have agreements to transfer stranded passengers to other airlines. Allegiant passengers are the most vulnerable as the vacation airline offers one daily flight a few times a week on most routes. If your Rockford, Illinois, to Las Vegas flight is canceled for weather or mechanical reasons, for example, the earliest you will get out is the next day.
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