Saving $400 On Flights, Or Not…

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I’ve spent some of this morning pricing out airfare and looking at miles and points options for our planned family trip later this year to Orlando.  It Low Cost Carriersmay be our first trip we take as a family of four, so I certainly want to keep the travel logistics as streamlined as possible.  The logical first choice for us would be flying on a nonstop United flight out of Houston where we have elite status, free checked bags, free extra legroom seats, and other perks.   That may be what we end up doing to keep our stress levels as low as possible for our potential first trip with two kids, but I’m being tempted elsewhere.

It is pretty stinking hard to sell the United option as best to my budget minded self when the price is 3x another nonstop option. The hitch is that other nonstop option is Spirit Airlines, but still….

United is selling flights for the dates we want for $331 each round trip and Spirit Airlines is selling flights the same dates (with good flight times) for $134 each.  Heck, if we jiggled with our dates we could even fly for 5,000 Spirit miles round trip.  To learn all about the different options to use miles and points to get to Orlando, feel free to check out the e-book I wrote on the topic

But What About the Fees….

Let’s ignore the fact that Spirit Airlines is an even less comfortable airline to fly than the others in United States for a moment, and the fact that my husband would likely disown me for booking our first family trip for four on Spirit, and just talk about fees.  We aren’t going to be able to pack in back packs for this trip with two young kids, so we would be looking at bag fees that would start at $35 for a full-sized carry-on and $30 for a checked bag.  Believe it or not, Spirit does actually allow a complimentary checked stroller and car seat per child, so there wouldn’t be extra fees there.

However, we would certainly probably have at least one carry-on and one checked bag for our crew in addition to the “personal items” allowed by Spirit.  That is a conservative estimate, and we could need more bags, but at a minimum that is $130 in bag fees we would encounter on Spirit.

If we wanted pre-assigned seats together that would cost another maybe $100 or so for the trip.  My experience shows that we would probably get assigned seats together for free at check-in anyway, but to ensure it in advance would cost extra.

Spirit is Still Cheaper, But…

Let’s assume we were just going to need to purchase three tickets and fly the baby for free as a lap child.  That would be $993 for United, and at least $532 for Spirit with the bag fees, more if we wanted pre-assigned seats.  That is a savings of over $400 for flying Spirit instead of United for three tickets to Orlando.  I don’t want to fly Spirit for this trip, but at what point is it totally crazy to avoid them?

Cheap Flights to Orlando

Since I have status, perks, and miles to use with United, I will probably choose them for this trip, especially to keep things as simple and comfortable.  However, when I no longer have high tier airline elite status (and I think that day is coming soon), United’s attractiveness over Spirit will be even more diminished for our family.  At some point I think it is crazy to avoid the low cost carriers, especially because the legacy carriers ain’t all that great!

How does your family reconcile spending the dollars or burning miles to fly “traditional carriers” vs. packing lighter and flying the low cost carriers?

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  1. Have you considered shipping stuff ahead, ordering supplies online for delivery to your hotel, or employing one of the shopping services in the Orlando area?

    You could probably reduce bag fees and make it much easier to wrangle two kids and gear to a rental car or shuttle when you only have two adults.

    Many of the Florida tourist hotels are familiar with receiving shipments and will hold your packages for you. Just send it to the hotel with your name, res #, arrival date c/o hotel.

    • I agree with JL100. Apply for the SW cards and get the companion pass for one of you and fly with the baby on your lap. The following year, get it for the other. It definitely isn’t hard to get the companion pass applying for one of the cards and then doing some shopping through the portals (especially when they have the 1800-Flowers deals like they do right now).

      Yeah, I know you won’t be flying first class, but if you are losing your status, that is going to become a much more frequent thing.

        • While driving to Hobby may be more inconvenient for you than a drive to IAH, you’re looking at an additional approximate 20 minutes in the car. Hardly the end of the world, especially if you consider flying Spirit to be an inconvenient (really uncomfortable) option compared to United for a 2.5 hour flight.

          I’ve never flown with Spirit, so I’m hardly an expert on the subject. Yet, how bad can it be to justify spending hundreds of dollars more than their direct competitor? This is not a particularly long flight.

          If more people would ditch United for Spirit, United would likely eventually need to respond with lower fares.

  2. Get the Big Front Seats and I’m sure your husband won’t disown you after that. He probably won’t even notice you’re flying Spirit!

    • Joseph, yeah that is what we did last time and it worked. Of course x 3 or 4 tickets round trip that gets the price back to the realm of united.

  3. Our first trip as a family of four was from Washington DC to San Diego. From my experience, you could definitely do it with one checked bag. We all just used the same suitcase and packed light. And one of my kids was still in diapers. When I had children under two, we bought seats for them, but I now don’t think I would. My daughter-in-law, who is a pediatric university professor, recently flew with a lap baby cross country. I’d love to read a Spirit review!

  4. I’ve had the same issue for mid-con flights to LGA, AA or Spirit? For hundreds of dollars in difference across all the tickets, we’ve flown Spirit. (The paid-for extras: $1 each for 2 coffees.) The cabin and seats were actually perfectly fine. We’re not huge people. The key was whether their once-a-day flight time worked for us or not. But the real key, as we all know, is Spirit’s limited ability to recover from irregular operations. So, for you, United might really be the best choice.

  5. NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO… Don’t do it Summer!!!! I know Spirit has their fans and their target audience.. but you are not are above Sprit… I won’t fly just for the principle of it!

  6. Doing the Southwest companion pass thing as well. I do a lot of domestic travel. Back when United used to give out upgrades to 1K’s for free I would exclusively fly them, but since they insist on selling Upgrades for what they can I have switched to Southwest. United’s switch to revenue based influenced me as well. If you can purchase Anytime or business select flights for work the points rack up ridiculously easy. A list is also easy to achieve (just ask for a challenge)

    You and your husband could both get Companion passes and you wouldn’t need to do the lap infant thing, which isn’t that safe or comfortable in my opinion.

    BTW being UA premier means able to transfer up to 50K United miles to Marriott points and then into Southwest points once you reach 270K (using Marriott travel package) which earn you a companion pass & a week at a Marriott Resort.

  7. A regular backpack (like a kids’ school backpack) on Spirit is not charged as a carry-on. As long as it can fit under your seat, there is no charge and it’s considered a personal item. My family has flown Spirit a few times with those backpacks without any problems or extra charges.

  8. I used to avoid Spirit like crazy with all the stories about shortest legroom but I actually sat on a Spirit plane last month and I didn’t feel it was too cramped (I’m 6′ 2)
    If you purchase your family tickets at Spirit’s IAH counter, you can actually bring down the cost to about $100/ticket since you can avoid the passenger usage fee (about $17/flight). That would save you more than $500 over United and surely would tip it in favor of Spirit!

  9. I think it depends on your spirit for adventure or risk (pun intended). If all goes well, you’ll congratulate yourself on being thrifty. If the plane has a problem, us canceled, delays start piling up, the crowd control is poor and/or one of your little ones decides this is the day to have a meltdown…well, it will be memorable. Sometimes I have spent the extra money just because I didn’t want to worry how things would go.

  10. Given Spirit nasty bag fees, one might consider ground transportation. However, Amtrak is a joke for the route suggest and not a real money saver. Frontier Airlines saves time and just as expenses. One could ride on Megabus for about 7 hours to New Orleans as cheap as $10 and then another bus to Orlando for $25 that segment. But, only certain travelers, aka myself, would consider a half day ride.

  11. Spirit Airlines has join the dining program trend. Spend $30 at a certain restaurant within a certain period and receive 1000 miles. When no one want to trade for your Spirit miles, you might want to gift magazines to others, as one blogger suggested.

  12. My husband is a pilot (not commercial though – corporate – so no free flights etc). He generally flies Southwest, Jetblue and Virgin in the US. This is based more on safety, attitude, ease of changes etc. We will not fly some of the low cost airlines based on perceived safety concerns. So when he has to catch up to his plane, he is on JB on SWA more often than not so those are the airlines we have the most points with. I love them both for different reasons and have crossed the country multiple times on both. On our family trip to Florida we are going on JB and returning from a different city to use SWA points back. And my husband has flown as a commercial pilot as have many the people he works with.

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