Avoiding fees on ultra-budget airlines

As somebody who is constantly on the lookout for ways to make travel an affordable reality in my life, I’ve naturally taken an interest in ultra-budget airlines such as Spirit and Frontier. For a while I actually shied away from them entirely, opting to fly with Southwest Airlines for nearly all of my domestic travel (I do love Southwest Airlines). However, airlines such as Spirit and Frontier do have some of the most affordable rates around, so they are worth taking a look at.

The first thing I should say about these airlines is that they are absolutely no-frills. They have fees for pretty much everything, and they aren’t as comfortable as other airlines (not that it’s comfortable on a plane usually, but you get the picture). Still, if you’re able to pack extremely light and endure being cramped on a plane for a while, you’ll be able to save a lot of money getting from point A to point B. Here are some strategies:



You probably shouldn’t pack any heavier than this guy did.

Possibly the best way to save money is to pack light. Really light. These airlines charge checked bag fees and carry on bag fees. If you need to pack more, chances are you can still bring along everything you need for less money than a traditional carrier, however, both of these airlines do allow for a small personal item to fly with you for free. Think a small backpack or large purse. If you’re only traveling for a short amount of time such as a weekend or you’re willing to do laundry at your destination, you can probably get away with packing everything you need in your personal item. Just make sure to check your airline’s current standards thoroughly before you pack and make sure you stick to those guidelines, or you could end up paying a surprise costly check-in fee at the airport. To pack everything you need in a small personal item, I recommend wearing your heaviest clothing and shoes onto the plane. Plan to wash some clothes at your destination, and don’t waste space packing things like shampoo, conditioner, etc. because you can purchase those items once you reach your destination.

Also keep in mind that these airlines have weight limits for checked bags. If your bag exceeds the weight limit, that’s even more fees you’ll have to pay. Might not be a good idea to pack that stack of books you have been wanting to read and instead opt to bring along your Kindle. Just saying.

Boarding passes


Make sure to print those boarding passes at home or you’ll get charged a fee for having it printed at the airport. It’s not much more, but these fees do add up!

Seat selection


We’re definitely not in first class any more, Dorothy.

Don’t expect to be able to select your own seat without paying a fee. That being said, Southwest doesn’t have seat selection either without an early boarding fee, but other airlines such as American or Delta do have that. If seat selection is important to you, take it into consideration.

Food and beverage


Don’t expect anything like this on your flight.

You will not be provided with any free food or beverages on these airlines (even water) so plan accordingly. I recommend bringing a water bottle on board with you. Save money by packing your own and filling it up in the airport after you go through security rather than buying one of those expensive bottles in the airport store. For food, you can usually purchase snacks on board so that’s always an option, but you can also pack a few protein bars or other compact source of nutrition and use those to get through your time in the air.

How much is comfort worth to you?


With all of the above being said, keep in mind that airlines like Spirit and Frontier usually have less leg room and seats that don’t recline, so you’re not going to be comfortable. If you’re willing to deal with that in return for some cheap fares, go for it. However, if these things are important to you, you might want to price out how much more it would be to go with a different airline. If the cost difference is negligible, you might want to take comfort into consideration.

Add up the fees before you book.


It is also worth noting that you should add up the fees you’ll expect to pay before you purchase your flight and compare it to other airlines. For instance, Southwest Airlines includes two checked bags for free and does provide free beverages and some snacks (usually just peanuts or cookies, but still) as well as free boarding passes. If you’re planning on packing heavy and purchasing food and beverages on board, add up those fees and include them in your comparison to a competitor like Southwest who offer these things for free. You may end up finding out it would be easier and cheaper to go with the other airline, but this will vary from situation to situation.

Have you ever flown on an ultra-budget carrier? What was your impression? Was it worth it?



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