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This Secret Trick Can Save You Money on Budget Airlines

By Bennett Kleinman
Read time: 4 minutes

Budget airlines like Allegiant, Frontier, and Spirit are fantastic for flying on the cheap. But even though these ultra-low cost carriers charge fares as low as $20 one way, that cost rises considerably once you factor in all of the extra fees that are a key part of these airlines’ business model. Some fliers are shocked to see how expensive the total is just before checking out, but what many travelers don’t know is that there are methods for avoiding certain fees on budget airlines — as long as you’re willing to put in a little extra time and effort. Below, discover the simple tricks that can save you money on airfare on budget airlines.

Why Hidden Fees Exist

Close-up view of passenger holding drink in airplane seat
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In order to keep their base fares at rock-bottom prices and attract price-sensitive travelers, budget airlines charge additional fees at seemingly every turn. You’ll likely end up paying a pretty penny for things like checked baggage, seat selection, in-flight beverages, and even printing your boarding pass at the airport. At the end of the day, some tickets on budget airlines won’t actually save you much versus a traditional legacy airline such as Delta or United, once you factor in all the fees. While some charges — like those for checked or carry-on baggage — may be unavoidable, there is one fee many travelers don’t even realize they’re paying for. It’s the hidden charge for making your reservation online or over the phone.

The Convenience Booking Fee

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If you look at the breakdown of your ticket price carefully, you might be surprised to see that budget airlines charge a sizable fee for making bookings online or over the phone. The extra cost can sometimes be more than the airfare itself. The name for this extra charge varies depending on the airline. For example, Spirit levies a “Passenger Usage Charge” of up to $22.99 per ticket, Allegiant charges a $22 “Electronic Carrier Usage Charge,” and Frontier adds $23 for their “Carrier Interface Charge.” Whatever it’s called, budget carriers use these extra “convenience” fees for simply booking a ticket online to keep base ticket prices low. As a traveler, it can add considerably to the total cost of your ticket — especially for families.

Avoiding Those Fees

Traveler checking phone with airport departures board in background
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So how do you steer clear of paying these additional booking fees? Unfortunately, the only way to avoid them altogether is to make your reservation in person at the airport. That may not always be possible — the cost of travel to and from the airport may be larger than the potential savings, you may not have time to take off work, or you might just value the convenience of reserving flights online. But if you have the time to visit a nearby airport and are flying on a strict budget, then it can be worth stopping by the ticket counter to save about $40 for each roundtrip ticket.

Potential Issues to Be Aware Of

Traveler checking in for flight on self-service kiosk at airport
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Given that budget airlines make much of their profits by charging extra fees, many carriers won’t make it easy to purchase tickets in person. It’s worth checking to see when the in-person ticket windows are actually open. Spirit generally has flexible hours when it comes to their ticket kiosks, but other airlines such as Allegiant are usually only open for an hour or two each day. Also, online booking services generally offer lower baggage fees than in-person kiosks, so the cost may end up being the same. Check carefully with your individual airline to determine if the savings would be worth venturing out to the airport.

Other Tricks to Save Money on Budget Airlines

Tourist with backpack on street in Spain, seen from behind
Photo credit: martin-dm/ iStock

Fortunately, there are a few other ways savvy travelers can avoid the typical fees charged by low-cost airlines. The first tip may be obvious: pack light. Spirit Airlines, for example, allows you to bring a personal item on board, but it must fit under the seat in front of you and can only measure 18 by 14 by 8 inches. Hefty fees are charged for carry-on bags that must go in the overhead and checked bags (usually over $50 each way). If you absolutely need to carry on or check a bigger bag, you’ll pay significantly less if you reserve a bag while first booking your ticket or while checking in online versus paying for it at the airport.

Second, check in online before leaving for the airport and opt for an e-boarding pass on your phone or print your ticket at home. Checking in and printing your boarding pass at the airport will set you back a whopping $25 per ticket on Spirit. And if you’re not picky about seats, skip those extra fees and you’ll be assigned one at check-in. Lastly, try to stock up on food or drinks at the airport before your flight instead of shelling out for an in-flight soda. 

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