How to Take Full Advantage of Stripped-Down Airfares

Taking vacations is my favorite. I love being able to get away as a family (or a couple!) and just be together without any of the normal distractions. I inherited a traveling spirit from my parents, and we've been blessed to be able to go to so many amazing places.

Aaron and I have kept that spirit alive in our marriage and family, and we try to arrange our budget to be able to do one bigger vacation every year if possible. Sometimes, if we’re lucky, we can squeeze in an extra mini one or two. As we admitted in our road-tripping-with-kids post, road trips are not our favorite, and 9/10 times we will choose to fly somewhere over driving (unless it’s within Colorado of course).

Over the years, we have tried multiple airlines. We’re very budget-conscious when it comes to flights, and will pretty much always go with the cheapest flight (as long as it’s nonstop and not redeye). Typically that has led to us flying Spirit Airlines or Frontier Airlines. After a couple of really bad experiences with Spirit, we’ve decided never to fly with them again, if possible.

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Frontier doesn’t always have the best reputation either, though. As a “value” airline, it lacks many of the things that used to be expected as part of a flight; free refreshments, comfortable reclining chairs, free baggage, etc. All of that is really nice, don’t get me wrong. I would love to fly in comfort with a “free” cup of soda while munching on some peanuts, knowing my (free) carry on is happily stowed above me. However, if those “luxuries” are going to cost me an extra $100+ per ticket, forget it.

There are some ways to take full advantage of flying Frontier. These tips will be helpful regardless of which airline you fly though, especially other budget airlines and tickets. Even the bigger airlines are starting to charge for extras and/or offer stripped-down tickets, like United’s Basic Economy tickets, which are actually even more restrictive than Frontier’s tickets.

Frontier tickets have options to pay for all of the things if you want them. We typically don’t however, because then it loses its effectiveness as being more budget-friendly. Here’s how we take full advantage of the stripped-down fares of Frontier and make it work for us:

Pack Light

This used to be really hard for me. I like to be prepared for any situation, so I used to pack really heavy. When flying Frontier, though, you need to pack light if you want to avoid baggage fees. If you don’t mind paying a little extra for bags, then, by all means, go for it.

We usually choose to consolidate our packing into one personal bag each, typically in the form of backpacks. We like to get in and out of the airport as quickly and efficiently as possible, so we love the backpack option because it keeps our hands free to corral kids, push the stroller, etc. It also saves money that we can use on fun stuff on our trip instead.

If you’re going to pay for bags, it’s slightly cheaper to check a bag than to pay for a carry-on, but if you want to avoid waiting around after you land, the extra $5 or so is probably worth it. Also, paying for bags at your time of booking on the Frontier website is the cheapest. Doing it at the airport and gate are the most expensive options, so try to plan ahead.

How to pack light with kids

If you’re traveling with kids, like we usually do, you’re probably wondering how in the world we keep our luggage to personal backpacks only. It takes some pre-planning for sure, but to us, it’s so worth it. I’m a major packing list nerd. I’m actually a list nerd in general, but especially when packing.

Figure out everything that you’re going to need based on where you’re going, taking into consideration the weather and activities you have planned. Then I look at the list and figure out what isn’t actually necessary. After the first edit, I then look at it again and figure out if any of that stuff can be purchased where we’re going.

Diapers are one example of something we typically will buy at our destination. I’ll pack enough diapers for the day of travel plus a couple of extras, and then we’ll buy a small pack for the rest of our trip when we’re there. Same thing with baby food/formula/etc. Obviously, if you’re going somewhere where you won’t have access to a car, this isn’t the best option.

If you’re visiting family or know you’ll have access to laundry facilities, it makes it even easier to pack light because you’ll be able to wash clothes. Also, rolling your clothes up really does save space and lets you pack more stuff in a bag!

When you fly internationally, bags fly free (carry on and checked bags included), up to a certain number per ticketed passenger. In that case, you can pack all the things you’ll need or want. We still pack lighter so we have room for any souvenirs, and to make navigating the airports easier, but we do typically check two bags in that situation.

Also, remember that kids gear like strollers, car seats, etc, fly free on pretty much every airline. If your infant doesn’t have a ticket, you’ll need to check the car seat either at the counter or at the gate (we’d recommend the counter because lugging a car seat around an airport sucks!!). Checking the stroller at the gate is a great option, because you’ll have it throughout the airport, and they’ll bring it to you in the jet bridge after you get off the plane. Super helpful.

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Pack Your Own Snacks

As fun as it is to get an in-flight beverage and snack, paying a premium for that is so not worth it, at least to us. Plus we can bring our own favorite snacks instead of settling for their peanuts or pretzels, and buy a full-sized drink in the airport. Frontier offers in-flight snacks, but they are grossly overpriced. No thanks!

Check Fares Directly on Their Website

I’m a big fan of sites like Expedia, and I’ll usually check Expedia first to see what their prices are, but then I go to Frontier’s website to compare, and most of the time their website has a cheaper fare than what’s available on Expedia (or the other search engine sites).

If your goal is to save money, it doesn’t hurt to play around with bundling hotels and flights to get the best price. Sometimes it will be cheaper to book your flight on and your hotel on Expedia, other times it may work out to book both through Expedia, even if the flight portion would be cheaper directly through Frontier.

You can book hotels and cars through Frontier’s website as well, although we have not personally done this. As an avid note taker, I write down the deals as I’m searching so I can compare them all and be sure I’m getting the best overall price. Try Groupon for hotel deals on your specified dates, too!

Consider the Discount Den

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The Discount Den is Frontier’s yearly subscription service that will get you their lowest possible fares that can be used on up to 6 people in your reservation (as long as you are one of those people). It’s $49.99 for a full year, and it has the potential to save you A LOT. We just became Discount Den members this year for the first time when purchasing our Nashville tickets, and honestly, I wish we would have done it sooner.

They don’t always have Discount Den fares available for every flight, but they do have them available for most of them, and a lot of times it will save you a significant amount of money (especially if you’re traveling with multiple people), even when you add the $49.99 price into the total.

We saved about $200 booking Discount Den tickets for our Nashville flight in July, and that was after subtracting the subscription fee. Now we have access to those deals until next spring. Even if you’re only planning on flying once this year, it’s worth doing the quick math to figure out if it will save you money on that flight.

Take Advantage of Mobile Tickets

Am I the only person to get anxiety about misplacing my plane ticket while at the airport? It totally freaks me out, because if you lose it you’re totally out of luck. Thankfully most airlines now offer mobile ticket options so you can download your plane tickets directly to your phone, either through an app or onto your iPhone wallet (or Samsung/Android equivalent).

Frontier offers this service now, too, through their free app. We used it and it was so quick and easy; you just open it up, they scan the barcode and you’re done. You can swipe to scan the other tickets that are in your party. So simple and quick!

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Upgraded Seats

We never pay extra for seats on the flight. On Frontier, you can pick your seats at booking if you’d like to, but you’ll have to pay. If you don’t want to pay extra, like us, you can wait until it’s time to check-in to your flight 24 hrs before take off, and you’ll automatically be assigned a seat.

This can be a little bit of a gamble if you have more than one person in your reservation because you’re not guaranteed that you’ll be able to sit together. We’ve always gambled on it and waited. We do recommend checking in right at 24 hrs to help your chances of getting seats together.

We’ve personally never been seated apart, but it can happen. In that case, you can try to get the boarding agent’s help or flight attendants to help rearrange seats, but again, there’s no guarantee. We have littles, so that makes it a little riskier, but as I mentioned before, we’ve always had success checking in right at the 24 hr mark and getting seats all together.

If the thought of potentially not sitting with the other people in your party gives you anxiety, paying a little extra (I think the cheapest paid seats are about $9/person) may be worth it for you. Do what’s going to work best for you; sometimes paying a little extra for something is worth it.

Make it Work for You

We’ve personally done all of the above things, but they won’t always work for every family or every trip. Pick the ones that work for you, and go with those. Flying doesn’t have to be a total budget-buster, there are ways to make it a lot more cost-effective. Pick your favorites and try them out on your next trip. Frontier doesn’t always have the best rep, but for us, it’s worth saving the extra money on flights, and so far we’ve been impressed with their customer service.

In June, I had to fly back to Michigan for my wonderful grandpa’s funeral, and I flew Frontier. My flight home was scheduled for super early on Father’s Day. When I got to the airport, I found out that something had happened with the airplane at it’s original destination, and we were delayed more than SIX HOURS. Kind of a nightmare situation, BUT, in Frontier’s defense, mechanical issues with airplanes are a fact of life, and plane schedules are so complicated I know it couldn’t have been easy to orchestrate getting another plane to Detroit.

Their customer service was also really great; they kept us up-to-date with the latest, both in-person and via email communication, all of the passengers received a lunch voucher for a free lunch at the airport, and we all received a $100 Frontier voucher for another flight.

It didn’t change it from being super inconvenient and upsetting to miss most of Father’s Day with my husband and kids, but they legally didn’t have to give us any of those vouchers for this situation, and I appreciated that they recognized how frustrating of a situation it was to be in. Thankfully I was flying alone though, three little kids stuck in an airport would be even worse!

To be honest, Southwest Airlines is our favorite airline to fly, but we haven’t flown them in a few years because it’s always several hundred dollars more, and saving money on flights is more important to us. I still check their fares every time though, just in case.

And for what it’s worth, this post is not sponsored in any way. Frontier Airlines doesn’t know or care who we are, haha. We’ve just flown with them a lot over the years.

Pack your bags, grab your mobile tickets, and get out and explore this beautiful world God created!

Happy Flying!

Flying with kids? Make sure you check out these tips first!