I’ve never flown Frontier Airlines before, but after a very unofficial Facebook survey of my friends’ experiences, the general consensus was it “wasn’t that bad.” It didn’t get any glowing reviews, but it didn’t get any horrible reviews like I’ve heard about Spirit Airlines, so I decided to include it in my flight search for a couple trips to the East Coast this summer.

I would consider myself savvy in the ways of low cost airline carriers since we were on a tight budget on our Round the World trip and flew whatever airline was the cheapest for short flights. I knew to watch out for the tricks of the trade with all the add-on fees for everything from checking bags to choosing your seat to even printing a boarding pass at the airport in some cases. I did my homework and made sure to factor all those little things up when comparing Frontier’s fare to the competition.

When the all-in price on Frontier was almost $200 less on each round trip ticket, I decided to take a chance and double-down this summer flying them twice in three weeks, once by myself to Washington DC and once with Jan to Jersey. But was it worth the cost savings?

If you’ve never flown Frontier, here are a few factors to consider:

To Check or Not to Check…

It’s a little counterintuitive that checking a bag costs less money than a carry on, but it helps speed up the boarding and disembarking processes, therefore allowing them to turn the plane quicker between flights, which means more money for the airline.

Carry on $30/bag in advance, $40-60 at airport
When I flew solo, I threw down the extra 5 spot to carry my bag on. I was very thankful with that decision on the day of the flight because I severely underestimated the summer vacation crowds at O’Hare. I arrived at 6am and it may as well have been the hottest club in the city, but unfortunately I was anything but VIP (see Pre-Check note below). All security lines in the terminal were snaked well past their designated areas, which led me to board the plane late. I was worried that there wouldn’t be any overhead space left for my bag, but instead I felt like a baller; there was plenty of room left because so many people checked their bags!

Lines galore at ORD in the summer…

CAUTION – Depending on the airport, they may be very picky with the size of your carry-on bag. This didn’t happen to me, but my friends had to place their carry on into the metal bag sizer at Trenton airport and because their bag didn’t slide in (it technically fit, but didn’t slide in), they were forced to pay the premium to check their bag at the gate. Trenton is an extremely small airport (i.e. one gate), so I’m sure the gate crew had some extra time on their hands. Just be aware that this could happen.

Check – $25/bag in advance, $30-60 at airport (for first bag, additional bags are more)
When traveling with Jan, we decided to check one large bag so we could bring home food from Jersey. Jan’s mom is an amazing cook, so even though I really hate checking luggage, her food is 100% worth it! Little did we know that Frontier is too cheap to pay for a baggage belt at O’Hare, so not only did we have to stand in line to get your baggage claim ticket, but then we had to stand in another line to drop our bag off for TSA screening. Thankfully we had plenty of time because I wasn’t going to repeat the same mistake I made a couple weeks prior, but it was still annoying.

Baggage Claim shack at Trenton airport. It’s fully equipped with a man powered belt.

We were very lucky because on our way home our bag topped in at a whopping 58 pounds (the checked bag limit is 50 pounds), but we weren’t charged extra at Philadelphia airport. We were fully expecting to have to do some rearranging to lower the bag weight, but when the agent didn’t say anything, we got out of there as fast as we could! According to the website, a bag exceeding 50 pounds will be charged $75 – yikes!

However, we were not so lucky when we retrieved our bag at O’Hare and discovered that the handle support bar was bent. This could happen on any airline, especially with a bag as heavy as ours, but it didn’t help our overall experience.

Personal Item Free
If you are super-thrifty and are going on a short trip, you could get away with just a personal item like a backpack.

Verdict: In my opinion, it’s worth it to pay a little extra to carry on your bags. The extra time spent on the front end to drop off your bags and on the back end to pick up your bags at your destination, is time taken away from your trip. Of course, the exceptions to this rule are if you are very price sensitive and/or if you are traveling with multiple people. If you do check a bag, I’d check a large bag that can carry multiple people’s belongings to get the most for your money. Just be sure it stays under 50 lbs!

Choosing Your Seat

If you want to choose your seat ahead of time you need to pay extra. The price range varies based on flight and when you choose your seat (i.e. upon booking vs. check-in). It is cheaper to choose your seat when originally booking your tickets, starting at $6 per seat per way, according to the website. On my flights choosing a seat upon check in started at $12 per seat per way.

I did not choose my seat ahead of time for any of the flights. When flying by myself, I ended up with an aisle seat each way. When traveling with Jan, we were seated together both flights without pre-selecting our seats. On the way there we were assigned a window and middle seat, and on the way home it was a middle and aisle seat. It’s a gamble, but it really wasn’t worth the extra $24+ round trip for us to sit together. We’ve been on many-a-flights and not sat next to each other.

I do love window seats though…

Verdict: If you do decide to take the risk, then be sure to check in as close to the 24 hours before your flight as you can so you can get the best chance to sit together and/or not get randomly assigned the dreaded middle seat if you are flying by yourself. My caveat to this approach is if you are traveling with children. Don’t take a chance on being separated from your child because it could very well happen!

In Flight Experience

On three out of the four flights, the seats were all the same – minimal cushioning, no headrests, smaller than normal under seat storage, and they don’t recline. However, the most surprising factor to me was the tray tables. They may as well just call them cup holders because that’s about all they will hold. I laughed out loud when I saw them.

Seriously?

One plane we rode on was a “regular” plane with real tray tables, cushioned seats with headrests, and a personal TV, which of course you had to pay for, but that’s the case on most airlines these days anyway. I’m guessing they bought that plane from another airline and haven’t converted it yet to the smaller seats.

As you would expect, all food and beverages, including soft drinks and juice, are at a cost while on board. However, they will give you a Dixie cup-sized water with no ice for free if requested. How generous.

Verdict: This airline is most definitely not for business travelers who may need to get some work done based on the tray table size alone. It also would be tight for any tall people, but I don’t think it is significantly different to other airlines’ economy seat pitch. They do have seats with more legroom, but of course they come at an extra cost to reserve. Lastly, make sure to pack some snacks and drinks before boarding!

No TSA Pre-Check

This is obviously a non-factor if you aren’t TSA Pre or Global Entry, but Frontier does not participate in the Pre-Check program. We were aware of this, but we thought it’d be worth a shot to try to sneak in the Pre-Check line. We managed to get through the first agent when flashing our Global Entry cards, but we couldn’t outsmart technology. When we got to the front of the line and the security agent scanned our boarding pass the machine flashed red and we were sent away to the regular security line. So close, yet so far…

Conclusion

I would agree with my friends’ opinion of Frontier being “not that bad.” My experiences were fine, but I personally value being able to go through TSA Pre-Check and earning miles on an airline that has a more robust frequent flier program. Plus, now that Jan is traveling for work, I can piggyback off his status on several airlines when traveling with him. In conclusion, I would fly them again in the future on a short flight (less than three hours), but probably only if the cost savings were more than $100 after all additional fees were considered. And I would most definitely carry on my bag!

Have you flown Frontier? Do you have anything good or bad to say about your experience? Let me know in the comments!

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