“How do you find cheap airline tickets?” The most common question I receive from friends, family, and my followers. And even after I answer the question a million times and write several blog posts on how I score deals, people still think I have this unique talent or a top secret website that helps me stay under budget. The truth is, I have the same exact tools as everyone else, I just choose to use my tools a little differently.
From conversations with others, I have realized that my approach to finding deals is a bit different. First of all, I am incredibly persistent. If I have an idea of where I want to go, I don’t hop on the computer once, look at prices and call it a day. It’s a multi day event of looking through several sites and comparing dates and price graphs. If I don’t like what I see, I try it again on another day. Second, I’m flexible with my schedule and destinations. I know not to fly to certain destinations around holidays, spring break, and winter break. I am also an advocate for traveling during a destination’s shoulder season because there are always great deals on flights and lodging. I am also aware that the best deals tend to be midweek, typically Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and we make room in our schedules to fly on those days.
But the biggest difference that separates me and most people… I’m willing to put up with some BS if it means saving a ton of money. And the most BS I have ever encountered in the travel industry is flying with a budget airline.
I have been in a relationship with Frontier Airlines, a very popular budget airline, since 2016. And I don’t mean to make an insensitive remark when describing this relationship, but it truly is toxic. It honestly reminds me of this horrible ex-boyfriend I had in my teens. Every time I encounter Frontier I’m like “never again! I can’t do this anymore!” But every once in a while, I have a great flight and I’m like “oh, it’s not so bad, I could do this again.” Yeah… it’s toxic, it’s rude, and it’s manipulative, yet I keep coming back.
Every year since 2016, we fly Frontier several times a year. At one point we were flying almost every month! It is one of the ways we are able to see new places and afford a quick getaway. This year alone, we flew to Florida twice for only $25 from Denver. I mean how can you beat that?! So here is my advice on saving the most money and keeping your frustrations to a minimum.
Here’s the deal: Frontier charges for carry-ons and check-in bags. If you’re traveling with a family, those additional charges add up quickly making the budget airline no longer a budget. If you absolutely cannot pack light then forget Frontier and book with Southwest. But if you’re willing to make a sacrifice, here’s what you do:
- Consolidate: If you’re traveling with others and need to check in a bag, find a really big bag and consolidate everyone’s items. Also, make sure you purchase your bag while you are booking your ticket. If you decide to purchase a bag after, it is more expensive. If you decide to purchase a bag at the airport, you’ll probably end up paying the same amount you bought your ticket for.
- Don’t buy bags at all: In addition to packing light, I have learned how to pack like a chipmunk storing food in its cheeks. Have you seen those viral photos of people wearing a ton of clothes to avoid baggage fees? That’s kind of what you need to do. I only bring essentials: underwear, tops and one or two bottoms. If I have big items like a scarf or gloves, I wear them! I also like to bring my big snowboarding jacket that has many pockets. You can use a big jacket as a blanket on the plane and a place to stuff additional items, like liquids in the pockets.
When it comes to Frontier, there is no room for change. Their policies are strict!
You need to be 110% sure that you will not be changing or cancelling your flight. If you’re not comfortable with that, then I suggest booking with Southwest. To handle the anxiety of “what ifs”, I typically book my flights with Frontier about a month or less from the travel date. That way, I feel like I have more control over the unexpected. In the weeks leading up to my flight, I check weather reports, we take vitamins and probiotics, and I make sure we have a way to get to the airport on time. If you find yourself having to cancel or change your ticket, here’s the expense:
- Flight changes 60 or more days in advance cost $0 in change fees.
- Flight changes between 14 and 59 days in advance are $79.
- Flight changes 13 days or less before departure will cost $119 in change fees.
When boarding, make yourself look smaller.
I am not even kidding when it comes to this. Prior to boarding, you will see a ton of signs asking you if you are sure your bag will fit and if you’ve paid for your bags. Sometimes, they will force you to check the dimensions of your bag while waiting at the gate. And sometimes, they’ll just give you a hard time with their ridiculous reasoning. Once I had a tiny purse the size of a wallet hanging over my jacket. A Frontier representative informed me that I would have to pay $60 prior to boarding if I wanted to bring my tiny purse with my backpack. She was rude and the exchange was unnecessary so I literally had to put the purse on the side pocket of my backpack to avoid being charged. Now I know, don’t draw any attention to yourself. If you have anything extra with you, no matter how small, consolidate it into a pocket of your bag or jacket, and make sure your hands are free when you’re boarding.
Don’t buy a seat!
A lovely trick of Frontier’s is to cause uncertainty in their customers in hopes that they spend more money. While booking your ticket, you may notice several pop-ups asking if you’re sure about your bags or if you’re sure about not purchasing a seat. If you need the additional leg room then I suggest booking with another airline such as Southwest. But if you’re here to save money then you don’t need to buy a seat! I do have concerns about us being seated together, but in the many flights we have taken, we have only been separated twice and this happened when I forgot to check-in on time. Typically, if you make reservations together, you will be seated together.
Curious about seat prices? Here’s a quick breakdown:
- Standard Seats: Prices start at $5 when booked online, but will cost more if you book via call center, at the ticket counter or kiosk.
- Stretch Seats: Prices start at $16 when booked online, but will cost more if you book via call center, at the ticket counter or kiosk.
Bring a snack!
The only thing free on Frontier is a cup of water. If you plan on eating, you can order from their menu or grab some snacks and drinks before boarding the plane. In my opinion, I don’t mind splurging on their menu since they have a pretty good snack and beer selection. I usually like to treat myself if I saved a ton of money on my ticket, seats and bags!
You get what you pay for and you need to remember that!
The seats are hard and don’t lean back, the tray tables are the size of a small Ipad and often times, the seats and tables are filthy. In addition, you will most likely encounter someone rude. My husband and I have learned to laugh things off because we try to remember, you get what you pay for!
The attendants at the gates are sometimes rude and will yell at people if they’re not moving fast enough. It’s a draw with the flight attendants, some are nice and will welcome you aboard. And some will glare at you and act like you are the biggest nuisance for literally just existing. I make a conscious effort to always be kind to everyone I encounter on Frontier even if they are the biggest grump.
At the end of the day, I realize that I like saving money and that Frontier ultimately gets me from point A to point B. It’s definitely a mindset! I like to travel often but I like keeping money in my bank account so as long as I don’t have high expectations, a budget airline works for me.
Thoughts, questions, your experience with a budget airline… let me know!