When I think about how much flying has changed just since I took my first flight roughly 32 years ago, my head nearly explodes. Gone are the days when checking a bag and carrying on a bag were included in standard airfare across all airlines. Even the standard complimentary beverage and bag of peanuts is a thing of the past on many airlines. With the emergence of and growing popularity of budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier, and Sun Country, even major airlines like United are going the "budget" route. Though the budget ticket price may seem lowest, does it always end up the lowest after all the add-ons?
Read on to see how to compare overall flight costs to make sure you are getting the best flight price possible.
Know what you need:
The first thing you need to determine is what exactly you need.
1. How much luggage will you be traveling with? Can you make do with just an under-the-seat personal-item-sized bag, or will you need to either carry on or check a bag?
2. Are you traveling alone and don't care where you sit? Are you traveling with another adult and don't care whether or not you sit together? Or are you traveling with a child and need to make sure you sit together?*
*This may change, as the Biden administration is seeking to change the rules regarding parents traveling with minor children and airlines separating families from one another (although, forcing another passenger to entertain my toddler for a few hours while I sleep doesn't sound all that bad... just kidding... kind of...).
3. Will you need extra room, either by purchasing seats in business class or choosing an exit row or "extra legroom premium seat"?
Next, determine what add-ons the airlines you are comparing charge:
This part will take a little digging, as each airline is different, and their fees are subject to change at any time. Some (like Spirit) are different prices depending on your deparature and arrival cities, time of day, and (who knows what?!) other factors.
1. Southwest has made a name for themselves by not charging baggage fees, and gosh, I hope they don't change that anytime soon! They also don't assign seating and, therefore, don't charge extra for seats.
2. Budget airlines like Spirit and Frontier always charge for carry-on bags, checked bags, and seat assignments for their base ticket fare.
3. Some other airlines like United and Jet Blue offer various packages. The lowest level, "basic economy"-style package works just like budget airlines, with the higher packages including various perks like bags, free seat assignments, priority boarding, and free changes and cancellations.
4. For domestic flights, Delta and American Airlines still allow a carry-on bag (plus a personal item) and charge only for a checked bag.
Finally, compare the total costs:
1. Grab a pen and paper and jot down the numbers.
2. Start with the base flight costs, add any additional costs for baggage, seat assignments, etc., and determine which airline actually offers the best deal.
I have recently used this method to compare Southwest vs. United for flights from Houston to Pittsburgh and to compare Spirit vs. Southwest for flights from Houston to Tampa. The Southwest flights ended up cheaper for our trip to Pittsburgh after adding baggage fees and seats on United. But for our trip to Tampa, even with the $70 for a checked bag and $14/person for seat assignments, Spirit was still less than half the cost of Southwest.
Obviously, there are other factors to consider when comparing flights, like flight times, nonstop vs. connections, etc., but when looking strictly at flight costs, use this strategy to make sure you aren't leaving money on the table.
Navigating the labyrinth of flight fares can be both daunting and time-consuming, but comparing flight costs is an essential skill for any travel enthusiast seeking the best deals and savings on airfare.
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