Is it actually worth it to fly budget airlines?

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Yes, budget airlines tack on costs for every bag, beverage and boarding pass you need to print. But learning how to play the budget airline game can save you a lot of money.

Is this price too good to be true?

When you’re searching for a flight you’ll likely be drawn to those ultra cheap fares from Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant or any other budget airline. But once you start the booking process you’ll quickly notice fees tacked on for seat selection, luggage and early boarding. And if you’re flying round trip, these fees are doubled to accommodate each way. Not to mention the fees that come up when you get to the airport. If you didn’t check into your flight, print or use the app for your boarding pass, or need to check in luggage not previously included in the initial booking, the extra costs can soar.

But putting in a little extra effort and being aware of all extra costs can make those budget flights worth it.



Don’t assume a carry on bag is cheaper than a checked bag. Budget airlines charge roughly the same price for the two, with many airlines making it cheaper to fly with a checked bag. Why? Checking a bag speeds up boarding and frees up space in the overhead bins.

This is great news for all you over-packers like me. Or, if you’re traveling with another person, in a group or as a family, consider sharing a checked bag instead of having multiple carry ons. On our recent trip to Phoenix, my husband and son shared a checked bag while I had another checked bag. This saved us roughly $100.

Everyone gets a personal item, but be certain your personal item fits the dimensions required by the airline. Failing to follow the guidelines can cost you dearly at the gate.

Keep in mind, you’ll need to pay for a bag for both legs of your round trip.

Seat Selection

Selecting your seat is always an extra cost not configured into the original price of the flight. If your flight has multiple stops, you’ll need to pay for each leg of your trip. You can always throw the dice and let the airline select your seat for you*. This is great if you’re traveling solo or don’t care about being separated from your group.

*If you’re traveling as a family with kids, please select your seats. There is no law that will guarantee you and your child will sit together if you don’t select a seat. Frontier is one of the few airlines that guarantees one adult will be seated with a child they’re traveling with under 13 without paying extra for seats. If you’re traveling as a family please don’t rely on the kindness of strangers to switch seats so you can sit together. Or at least be prepared to offer them money for their seat to compensate.

A quick word on bundles

When booking your flight you’ll see prompts to purchase bundles. These include things like carry on bags, checked bags, seat selection and priority boarding. Often, these include things you may not need and may not be worth the price. But they can save you if you need a bag for every person or want to select your seats for each leg of your trip. This is especially helpful for trips with multiple stops that require selecting seats for multiple flights.

Before your flight

You booked your flight, already paid for your bags and maybe even selected your seat. You’re probably thinking a bulk of the sneaky gotchas are out of the way. But don’t be fooled, failing to follow certain steps can cost you big time when you get to the airport.

As soon as you book your flight, download the airline app. This will allow you to check into your flight, get notifications about your flight, and add any extras like bags or seat selection. It is always cheaper to make purchases for bags and seats before you get to the airport and the app makes it easy.

24 hours before your flight, check yourself and everyone in your group into the flight using the app. This will also load everybody’s boarding pass onto the app, which will save you time and possibly money when you get to the airport. Yes, you will get charged if you have the ticketing agent print your boarding pass for you.

Checking into the airport

When you arrive at the airport, many budget airlines will now have you print your own luggage tags at a kiosk and maybe even ask you to check your bags yourself. Having a ticketing agent assist you when these options are available will cost you additional money. As ridiculous as this sounds, remember: Doing all this yourself is the reason you are saving money on this flight.

Boarding the plane

If you’ve completed your check in, made it through security and are waiting at your gate, you are probably thinking that there couldn’t possibly be any more fees. However, there is one more place these budget airlines might try to get your money. If your checked bag or personal item is too big and doesn’t fit in the example bins right outside the gate, you will need to pay to check these and the fees will be exorbitant. Be prepared and know the dimensions allowed by your airline for carry on and personal items.

Food and drinks

It’s no surprise prices for food and drinks on a budget airline are outrageous. If you are not above paying $5 for a bag of Cheez-It crackers, go ahead and treat yourself. Even my go-to gin and ginger ale will set me back about $12 and sometimes it’s worth it. But remember, you can pack just about any snack in your personal item. Also, consider bringing an empty water bottle through security as many airports have places you can refill it for free.

When is it worth it to fly a budget airline vs.a full service airline?

I ran through a similar itinerary in Delta and Spirit to see if the flight would be cheaper.  Same days, similar times.

The total I would pay flying Spirit and adding a checked bag with nothing else would be $249.18.

The total for basic economy flying Delta would be $196.20

In this case, flying Basic Economy on Delta would ultimately be cheaper. The only downside is I get a carry on bag and not a checked one, which I prefer. I also wouldn’t have the option to go back and select my seat or purchase any upgrades, if needed. If you can fly with just a carry-on and are ok with no seat selection or upgrades, Delta Basic Economy would be the best option.

However, let’s say I was flying with my family and wanted to add another adult and child to the itinerary. For Delta, I would need to upgrade to the main cabin to select seats together. The total would be $828.60.

This would also mean everyone would only get 1 carry on and with a toddler I would need to consider if I want to be responsible for another carry on in addition to my own not to mention I would likely have a stroller I want to check at the gate.

To fly Spirit, I could select a bundle to include 3 checked bags, seat selection and priority boarding. This would cost us $780.54.

The costs are not too different, but everyone having a checked bag instead of a carry on is a big seller for me.

Ultimately, the key to making your budget airline flight actually worth it comes down to two questions. How flexible are you when it comes to baggage and seating and how willing are you to do much of the leg work you typically expect a full-service airline to do?

If you can:

  • Be prepared with your luggage and even share a checked bag with someone in your group
  • Be flexible with seating
  • Be willing to check yourself into your flight, get your boarding pass and print your own luggage tags

Then a budget airline might actually be worth the trouble. Putting in a little extra effort and being aware of all extra costs can make those budget flights worth it. Do your research and compare airlines to ensure you’re truly getting the best deal.