Are Budget Airlines Worth It? Here Are 6 Of The Best Tips To Cut Your Costs

Are you thinking about saving money on airfare by flying with budget airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier, or Spirit Airlines? Here are my tips to find cheap plane tickets and the best flight deals. Recently, Wes (my husband) took a couple of last minute flights to visit family and we booked his flights on budget…

Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Last Updated: September 30, 2019

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Are you thinking about saving money on airfare by flying with budget airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier, or Spirit Airlines? Here are my tips to find cheap plane tickets and the best flight deals.

Recently, Wes (my husband) took a couple of last minute flights to visit family and we booked his flights on budget airlines. I had first started looking for flights like I normally do, with traditional airlines like American, Delta, and Southwest. But, everything was super expensive because we were booking last minute.

Are Budget Airlines Worth It? Here Are 6 Of The Best Tips To Cut Your Costs #budgetairlines #cheaptickets #moneysavingtipsThen, I got the idea to look at some of the budget airlines, such as Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit so that we could save some money.

I found a super affordable flight on Allegiant, AND it was direct. Whereas all of the expensive flights had multiple stops and would take all day.

My first thought was that something had to be wrong since the price was so low, so I asked around to see if these discount flights were the real deal.

I had numerous people tell me not to do it, but I had more people tell me that these cheap plane tickets were too good to pass up.

Well, I bought the Allegiant flights, and it went well. Then he flew again a few weeks later, and he used Allegiant again.

Despite my concerns, everything was fine! The flights all arrived on time, and we were able to save hundreds of dollars (not to mention he saved hours with each flight because they were all direct!).

And, you’ve probably seen this as well. You’ve probably searched for flights and have seen huge price differences. Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit tend to offer super cheap pricing, like unbelievably cheap plane tickets. A ticket on a normal airline may be $200+ each way, and the low-cost airlines may only cost $40.

Examples of random flights I found through budget airlines:

  • Austin, Texas to San Juan, Puerto Rico for $70 on Spirit Airlines.
  • Fort Lauderdale to Cincinnati for $48 on Allegiant Airlines.
  • Los Angeles to Las Vegas for $25 on Frontier Airlines.

So, what’s the catch?

There’s got to be a catch, right?

Well, there are things that you should know when it comes to flying a budget airline. Whether you travel full-time or if you’re looking for an occasional flight, you probably are looking to save money on your flight!

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As I quickly learned, budget airlines, such as Allegiant have a lot of random fees. Or, at least they felt random to me since we have only ever flown on major airlines such as American Airlines, Delta, and Southwest.

Since I am who I am (a personal finance nerd), I did as much research as I could so that there wouldn’t be any unexpected surprises before Wes flew. After all, I didn’t want this flight to cost more than one with a “normal” airline that we are used to! I also didn’t want any additional hassles or confusion.

Helping you save money on airfare while also helping you avoid confusion or stress is exactly what I want to help you with today. So, I’m going to cover flying Allegiant Air tips, flying Frontier Airlines tips, advice for other budget airlines, and more. 

There are low cost airlines all around the world. Many of these tips will apply to those budget airlines as well. 

6 tips for saving the most money on airfare with a budget airline


1. Those add-ons, add up!

When booking with budget airlines, it’s key to remember that they make a lot of their money with add-ons. So, while $5 here and $10 there may not seem like a ton, it can add up easily if you are doing it for roundtrip flights and/or for a whole family.

Here are some of the most common add-ons you’ll find with cheap flights:

  • Carry-on bags (you may pay double for these if you pay the day of your flight)
  • Checked baggage fees (also sometimes double if you wait until you’re at the gate)
  • Extra leg room, or “stretch” fees
  • Selecting a “standard” seat when you book
  • Cancellation fees
  • Change fees
  • Extra charge to bring a pet
  • Unaccompanied minor fees

The best way to easily save money with low cost airlines is to know about all of the add-ons in advance. This will help you avoid any fees you don’t want to pay for.

If you accepted every add-on that they charge, you may end up paying more than a normal airline ticket.

By knowing about all of the add-ons and fees, you can keep your cheap flights super cheap and not encounter any surprises!

To keep it simple, try to think of it like this – the airfare you purchase is simply a seat on a plane that is going to the destination you want. Anything beyond just a seat will most likely come with a fee. This can include the things above, even water, your specific seat location, and more. I will go more in-depth below.


2. Watch your baggage.

Depending on which budget airline you choose, you’ll probably be charged for your baggage, even if it’s a carry-on. And, the amount that you pay can depend on whether or not you tell them and pay in advance (such as when you purchase your airfare).

With most of the bigger airlines, you’re probably used to getting a free carry-on item. But, that’s not the case with most budget airlines – many of them charge for carry-ons. Because you’ll have to pay for your carry-on item and your checked luggage with discount flights, you’ll most likely want to pack light in order to save the most money.

Here is sample pricing of what budget airlines may charge:

  • Frontier Airlines- On a flight from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, Frontier Airlines will charge $35 for a carry-on bag if you pay for it when you’re booking your flight. But, it goes up in cost after that. If you pay for your carry on at the airport kiosk, the price goes up to $55. If you wait until you’re at the airport boarding gate, the fee is $60.
  • Allegiant Airlines- On an Allegiant Airlines flight from Fort Lauderdale to Cincinnati, you will pay $20 to bring a carry-on bag if you do it when you’re booking your airfare. If you pay for your carry-on item after the booking but before you get to the airport, the price goes up to $45. If you wait until you’re at the airport boarding gate, the fee is $50.
  • Spirit Airlines- For a flight from Austin, Texas to San Juan, Puerto Rico, Spirit Airlines charges $38 for a carry-on bag if you pay for it when you’re booking your flight. If you pay for your carry-on after you have booked your flight but before you get to the airport to leave, it will cost $48. If you wait until you’re at the airport boarding gate, the fee is $65.

And, you’ll want to watch the weight on your bags. If your bags weigh more than a certain amount, you’ll be charged for that too.


3. Drinks may cost money, even water.

While you may be used to a more traditional airline offering you a free non-alcoholic beverage, that probably won’t be the case with a low cost airline.

When I was looking up flying Frontier Airlines tips and tips for other budget carriers, I learned that Frontier charges $2.99 for water. Allegiant charges $2 for water and soda, and Spirit charges $3 for each of them.

Like most traditional airlines, budget airlines have lots of drinks to choose from, and they also have lots of snacks too. On many of the budget airlines, they sell “bundles” with drinks and snacks at a discounted price.

What I recommend doing so that you can save the most money is to bring a reusable water bottle to the airport and fill it up before you get on your flight. You can also pack food from home (as long as it’s not liquid) so that you can eat food on your flight while not paying a ton for snacks.


4. Choosing your seat will cost you.

If you choose a seat for your flight, then you’ll most likely pay more for it. The fees vary and is dependent on the seat you choose. One of the flying Allegiant Air tips I found was that the fee you pay for changing your seat can change from day to day, and this is the same for many of these discount flights.

To save money, simply don’t pick a seat. You’ll be assigned one at check in. You will also save yourself some stress trying to figure out which day of the week is going to be the cheapest to pick a seat.


5. Have your boarding pass ready.

This is a helpful tip for any airline you fly, but it’s especially important if you are flying a budget airline because you may be charged a fee to print your boarding pass at the airport. This printing fee is usually around $5.

To save money, I recommend having your boarding pass ready before you head to the airport – whether that means printing it out or downloading the mobile boarding pass. 


6. Buy your airplane ticket at the airport.

Surprisingly, with budget airlines like Allegiant and Frontier, you can actually save money when you buy your plane ticket at the airport.

Yes, this means that you don’t book your flight online or by phone – you are physically going to the airline’s ticket desk and buying it at one of their ticket counters.

I learned about this in USA Today’s article Here’s how you can cut airfare for tickets on discount airlines Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit.

To quickly summarize (although, I highly recommend reading the full article), the budget airlines have a fee for booking made online or by phone, and is usually around $20.

This means that you may be able to save $40 on roundtrip flights (instead of being charged a $20 online or phone booking fee for each way). This can add up quickly if you have a big family that you are traveling with.

Now, this can take a decent amount of time to do, as you’ll have to go all the way to the airport, probably pay for parking (unless you have someone drop you off and circle around for you when you’re ready), and so on.


Despite the fees and add-ons, budget airlines can save you a lot of money.

I realize that some of the things I just told you about, like being charged $3 for water or $40 for a carry-on, might make it sound like flying with a budget airline will be a bad idea. But, that’s not the case at all!

Flying with a budget airline is a great way to save money on your travel expenses. For some people, this means they may be able to travel even more. For other people, finding some of the best flight deals with a budget airline will be a way to take trips they couldn’t afford with one of the major airlines.

These airlines look at all the extras they charge for as, well… extras! Not everyone wants or needs extra leg room, to bring multiple pieces of luggage, etc. Instead of charging everyone a little more, they only charge more to the people who want those things.

It’s like going out to eat and eating off of the a la carte menu. 

To summarize everything I talked about, here are my tips for how to make the best of a budget airline:

  • Be aware of what airport you’ll arrive at. Many of the budget airlines fly into smaller airports near the bigger ones. So, please be mindful so that you aren’t completely lost or confused when you land.
  • If you do want any extras, pay for them when you book your flight, not when you get to the airport. This will usually save you the most money.
  • Don’t pick your own seat.
  • Bring your own boarding pass.
  • The cheapest way to fly on a budget airline is to not choose any of their options and pack really, really light!

Have you flown with a low-cost airline? Why or why not? Where do you go for the best flight deals?

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Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Author: Michelle Schroeder-Gardner

Hey! I’m Michelle Schroeder-Gardner and I am the founder of Making Sense of Cents. I’m passionate about all things personal finance, side hustles, making extra money, and online businesses. I have been featured in major publications such as Forbes, CNBC, Time, and Business Insider. Learn more here.

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  1. Kiara

    Ive had a few close calls with budget airlines going out of business after I’ve bought tickets. One time the airline helped me find a new ticket at no extra cost, and the other two times the airlines went out of business weeks after my trips (WOW Air to Iceland and Swoop to Ireland).

    Now that I am more mature and have a bit more money, I don’t think I’ll risk it again. I would have been completely screwed if I wasn’t lucky with timing with WOW and Swoop.

  2. Hi!
    I love traveling and on my first trip to Croatia I was happy 😆 paying $600 for a one-way ticket. That was cheap back then (1999). Nowadays with long haul airlines Norwegian Shuttle, it’s possible to fly from Split, Croatia to Los Angeles for only 220€! That’s roughly $300 which is literally half of what I paid before. No catch! My one and only warning is to pay the $12 fee in case you need to rebook due to illness. It’s hand baggage only but I found a way to dress in light layers and buy second hand clothes in the USA to not pay extra. Also I discovered that the US to leg tends to be even cheaper (150-200€, so $200 on average) so it was worthwhile to pay for one suitcase for the return trip. Don’t plan on buying food on board; use a backpack instead of a purse and include snacks. Really, it’s possible and even fun to save money; then I can spend it if I want on something where I’m actually visiting or buy presents for family and friends who accept me in their homes. Their website is

    1. Mark Itzko

      I flew Allegiant from Florida to Pennsylvania , good non stop flight, they really take care of veterans. I’m flying again to Pennsylvania but on Frontier since Allegiant only goes from where I leave from Monday Wed Friday. Hopefully Frontier will be just as good

  3. Dani

    In my experience, you can buy the add-ons (luggage) when you do online checkin, but sometimes they won’t let you “get through” that without buying a seat. Frontier’s hub is out of Denver, so pretty much everything from here is a direct flight for us when we use them, and so we use them a LOT.
    I didn’t know about saving $$ buying at the airport–I have never seen a fee for tickets when purchasing online. Weird!

  4. Liz

    I have been using them more and more frequently mainly because of the convenience of a direct flight at a significant savings. I just bring my one personal item or if I know I need a carry on, I pay in advance. Knock on wood, it’s worked out so far. Plus it gives me the chance to take more trips that I prob would not have been able to otherwise.

  5. I am with you where I would only book a direct flight with a budget airline. The few times I flew them with connections is wehre I ran into issues. I booked a frontier flight from FL to Seattle in November for June. It had 1 connection of about 90 minutes…Come March they changed my flight to a 4 hour connection!! When I called to complain they wouldn’t do anything about it and said it was non-refundable. But whenever I flew the airlines with no connections I had no issues.

  6. Trace Hopper

    Flew Spirit from Detroit to San Diego and opted for seat purchase as we’re taller than average. The seat was the most flat cushioned seat everrrrr. Too long of a flight to be that uncomfortable. Then when we stopped ( no plain change) we had to exit then reboard in our zone for the same seats. A quick hop in a pinch…maybe. But the phrase you get what you pay for was true for that flight.

  7. As long as the airlines you spend money with helps you save money and balance your personal budget and get to your destination safely, I’m all for reserving airline tickets with a “budget airline.” 🙂

  8. Joseph

    I do find many guides about travel cost but this was worthy,although price may vary from season to season or we need to book tickets atleast a month before to get some lose?

  9. JFK

    Last month one of my friend has got $49 sale of southwest airline and booked 5 tickets but this kindly of offer rarely shown. I liked your tips. Thanks

  10. Augusta

    I think you made some good points, one thing I would also be aware of is that when airlines fly to different airports, rather than then big ones, e.g. LQW (?) London Gatwick rather than LHR (as it was for a recent air transit flight I took), or a Rayanair flight I was going to take from Stockholm to Paris France (it went from I think the Nynkoping airport IIRC, which is just outside of Stockholm) rather than the bigger/main Stockholm Arlanda is that if the regular subway or bus service does not go there, in addition to all the other costs you mentioned you can end up paying more expensive fees just to get to the airport. It costs something like £20 to get to London Gatwick on the special train rather than maybe ~£5 to go to LHR on the subway. In the worst case you might have to take a taxi, Those costs can add up and especially if you are in a foreign city. (This was my experience in Stockholm as well I had to take this Flyingbus to get to the alternate airport which cost significantly more than taking the subway, and remember to double to cost (as with the luggage) if it’s a round trip ticket.) Maybe in Your own town you know cheaper ways to get around or can get a friend to drive you. Or perhaps in your city the discount carrier flies out of the main airport, fair enough then.

    It’s fine if budget airlines want to operate in this manner and have everything be added on, but to be honest it leaves a sour taste in my mouth and seems slightly unethical that I feel their business model is set up on making at least a certain fraction of people unexpectedly pay double for checking their bags at the airport. If they advertised more up front that everything will be added on, and themselves published an informational sheet about everything you mention here that would be fairer, rather than numerous travellers finding out at the gate, as I think you or someone else mentioned on a discount airline review that the gate is always a mess with tons of people being unexpectedly hit with baggage fees. You may say that they warn people online and in the fine print of the ticket but if such a large number of people or fraction of passengers are always being surprised at the gate with added fees then clearly there is something wrong in their communication. If they are an absolute bare bones and budget airline, that’s fine but be open about that. And it’s great that you and other bloggers are helping people out after many people’s trial and error (expensive error) but that shouldn’t be necessary in my opinion. Things should be made very clear up front so people can make their own decisions. Similarly if they don’t want to offer glasses of water that is fine but they can explain and make clear that there will be no glasses of water on the flight.