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How to Survive Budget US Airlines (Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant Air)

Most people who travel around the US will ride with the major domestic airlines: Southwest, Virgin America, Delta, US Airways, or Jet Blue. However, there are some cheaper budget airlines that less people know about, similar to RyanAir and EasyJet in Europe.

Which ones are they? The three US budget airlines are: Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Allegiant Air.

Spirit Airlines Budget

Why yellow?! It even looks cheap…

Okay. Admittedly I do have some mixed feelings about flying with budget airlines because of the delays I had experienced on one of my trips. But I haven’t had problems where the flights were noticeably uncomfortable or the attendants were particularly rude. I have a feeling that this can all be a hit or miss. Based on the bad reviews, I’m sure there have been plenty of cases where flight experiences were below satisfactory.

A decent amount of people are against flying with these cheaper airlines – Spirit in particular – but if you’re able to save $70+ you might as well do it, if you care about maximizing your travel budget! That’s another $70+ you can pocket towards travel luxuries.

But to really survive these airlines, you’ll have to strategize a bit when you fly with them.

What do I mean by that? Well, I’ll explain below.

How to Survive Budget US Airlines

The guidelines I’m mentioning are accurate as of March 3rd, 2016 (please correct me if anything changes!).

Essentially, riding with budget US airlines means you’ll be riding very minimally, just like with any budget airlines around the world.

1. Bring ONLY One Personal Bag

So this is the main thing to note. You’re only allowed one personal item free when you fly with these airlines. Normally you get the carry on plus the personal item, and possibly 1-2 checked items, right? Not here.

These personal items must be stored completely underneath the seat in front of you. To make sure you fulfill the requirements, here are the exact dimension restrictions:

Spirit Airlines –  16 x 14 x 12 inches (40 x 35 x 30 cm) including handles and wheels.
Frontier Airlines – 8” tall, 14” wide, and 18” long including handles, wheels, and straps.
Allegiant Air –  7 x 15 x 16 inches (17.8 x 38.1 x 40.6 centimeters)

2. Use a Frameless Backpack

To hack this crappy one personal bag rule, fit more in your bag by using a frameless backpack over a stiffer, more restricted bag or purse.

My trusty high school Jansport has never failed me…and I don’t mean the regular Jansport. I mean the BIG Jansport backpack:
jansport spirit airlines

Price: Around $40

Many travelers recommend these daypacks that can magically fold down. A lot of people praise the New Outlander:

outlander backpack spirit airlines

Price: Around $20

3. Wear Hella Crap

If you need to bring more stuff, be prepared to layer up and wear your possessions like this girl:

Layering Flight

Yes, be like her.

3. Eat Before You Fly

Thinking you can eat pretzels or peanuts on your flight? Think again. You’ll be charged for ALL o’ dat.

Frontier is the only one out of the three that will hand you a free cup of water if you ask for it. (But this water theory is based on research, not personal experience).

Flight Snacks


4. Purchase Plane Tickets at the Airport (For Spirit and Allegiant Air)

Say whaaat? So I haven’t tried this, but if you try booking online through Spirit and Allegiant Air, you’ll see that they add certain fees when you’re checking out. For Spirit Airlines, the fees are $17 each way (total $34) when booking online. However, if you buy these tickets at the airport their prices are actually cheaper because they waive the fees.

5. Do Not Go For Assigned Seating

Assigned seating = extra fees.

6. Sign Up for their E-mails

If you’re cool with budget airlines, stay updated by signing up for their e-mail notifications. Frontier’s $19 deals are hard to pass up!

Frontier Flights


I’d say that Spirit Airlines, Frontier Airlines, and Allegiant Air are for those who like to travel minimally on a budget. I’ve actually been toying with the notion of going around the United States via airplanes rather than road trips because of these extremely low rates. Frontier offers 55+ destinations, Spirit offers 67+, and Allegiant offers 115+ and because of this, it’s highly possible to visit a lot of the US without breaking the bank. And if you follow these guidelines, you’ll be able to avoid any extra hidden fees that might be sprung upon you.

What do you think? Have any stories about your budget airline experiences? Leave a comment below!

budget us airlines

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  • Reply
    March 7, 2016 at 7:49 am

    this is so useful! lol @ making a day trip to the airport just to buy tickets. I don’t think I’ve ever even seen their counter

    • Reply
      March 7, 2016 at 9:41 am

      Haha right? But I can see the appeal if you lived close to the airport! I’ve seen tickets from the bay to Chicago or Dallas for around $100 round trip…if purchased at the airport it would only be $66 RT! Pretty sick.

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