Ultra Low Cost Airlines
June 25, 2017
We travel for an infinite number of reasons. However, when cost and destination are the two major factors, ultra low-cost airlines have emerged to fill a gap within the airline and travel market.
To be clear, when I write about ULC airlines, it’s the three main United States no-frills, low-fare, nothing included, airlines; Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit airlines. While a few months back I wrote about my experience with the new basic economy airfares on major airlines like Delta and United, these ULC airlines are in a class of their own.
ULCs are defined by their lack of any benefits included in your paid fare. Many see this as a nickel-and-dime form of aviation, but I prefer to see it as you pay for only what you consume. They are not unique to the US market and similar airlines like EasyJet and Ryan Air in Europe have been around much longer.
Here are a few things consistent across the US ULC brands:
- You pay for your base fare which is a seat and a personal item.
- Your free personal item size varies across the three, with Spirit having both the smallest and strictest of standards.
- You will have to pay to choose a seat, any seat. If you elect to not select a seat, you will be assigned one at check-in. A host of factors can determine which seat you receive.
- You will have to pay for carry-on and checked bags. Additionally, the checked bag fees will be LESS than the carry-on fees (there’s a reason why).
- You will have to pay for anything you want on the flight. No free snacks, beverages, etc.
- All have some form of a “bundled” service you can add-on to your fare, which can include priority boarding, a checked bag and seat selection. These packages can save off a la’ carte pricing.
- You can find really cheap airfares, many that rival that of the major carriers, even with their new basic fares.
I don’t travel for work any more, but my leisure travel has increased each year with nearly 10 trips on the books already for 2017. As I write, I’m wrapping up a flight on Allegiant between the Orlando-Sanford airport and Belleville, Ill., to visit friends for a long weekend. As an unintended consequence, I’ve traveled all three ULCs in the past two months. I have a few thoughts, feedback, and reviews.
- While I once thought Allegiant at the back of the pack, my recent flight puts them at pace with Frontier and Spirit in service and expectations. Updated aircraft, similar no recline seats and very limited legroom. As a 6’ 1” man, it hasn’t been a concern for basic comfort and no worse than a bus or backseat of a car.
- The reason checked bag fees cost more are two fold:
- There is a fixed cost to paying for baggage services at airports. The airline needs to recoup this fee and they know …
- Time is money. I often joke Orlando has the slowest baggage claim in the world, and airlines know there’s added value to walking right off a plane and on your way to your final destination.
- All three airlines offer different ways to save:
- Allegiant has discounts and promotions running almost constantly. My recent trip was $114 round trip, which was a bargain.
- Frontier has a membership program that has a fee, Deal Dens. This service provides limited discounted seats on many flights and if you fly round trip at least twice in the year, you’re likely to save the annual membership dues.
- Spirit has their $9 fare club, which is similar to Frontier, but does cost a bit more. However, the $9FC has early access to promotions in addition to discounts on checked and carry-on baggage fees. I purchased this membership and have already saved my fee twice over with 11 more months on my membership.
- You will have to pay for everything, even water. I bring an empty Camelbak water bottle on all my travels, and it’s easy to find a fountain to fill in an airport before I board. Sodas, alcohol and snacks aren’t cheap so plan accordingly.
- All three have been just as reliable on departure and arrival times, more so than the larger counterparts when I’ve flown them. However, these airlines rarely have priority at an airport (except for Allegiant which often flies into regional airports and is the only carrier to service the destination). I’ve not encountered an issue, but my friends have typical travel delay stories they could share. Who doesn’t for any airline?
- You will have flight times that may be very early or vary late. Just like most major airlines, the trade off for cheaper flights is when costs are low.
- The staff are just as friendly, maybe more, than the big carriers. A, “Hello,” and a smile when boarding or exiting the aircraft is always appreciated and you know you enjoy it, too, at work.
- I would recommend any of the three airlines with all of the above in note. Don’t expect that free cup of coffee or bag of pretzels.
Go! Book your airfare. Patience is key. Savings is great. The world awaits.
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