I bought a $30 round-trip flight to Las Vegas, and this is why I ended up canceling it

Oct 30, 2019

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

As TPG’s points, miles, and deals reporter, I’m always on the hunt for a good deal. So when I spotted a deal from Newark (EWR) to Las Vegas on low-budget Frontier Airlines for $30 round-trip, I bought it on the spot. I had to do it! It sounded like a story:  Flying to Vegas on a $30 budget.

Yes, it’s hard to stick to a $30 budget, even on a budget airline — but my plan was to see if I could get from Newark to Las Vegas without spending any extra money. No onboard food. No seat assignment. I would return the next day.

I booked the ticket directly with Frontier using The Platinum Card® from American Express for 5x Membership Rewards on airfare (5x points on the first $500,000 on these purchases per calendar year). According to TPG’s most recent valuations, that added up to a whopping $3.

However, if you’re interested in booking a cheap Frontier ticket yourself, I recommend using the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card or the Chase Sapphire Reserve, which both offer phenomenal travel protection in the event of cancellations. Both offer trip delay insurance and trip cancellation insurance. You also receive baggage-delay insurance and lost-luggage reimbursement.

Seating

To keep to my promise to stay at exactly $30, I would have to forgo an assigned seat and leave it to random assignment at check-in.

The cheapest seat-selection options for my Newark–Las Vegas flight would set me back an extra $22, in a middle seat or the last rows. Sitting in the middle seat on a transcontinental flight (with no IFE or inflight Wi-Fi, mind you) didn’t seem fun. Fees for the most coveted seats, the exit rows and the first three rows of the cabin, ranged from $50 to $88 extra, each way. My bargain-hunting determination was beginning to evaporate.

Unlike the credit cards of full-service carriers, a Frontier credit card wouldn’t get me a free seat assignment (along with a free full-size carry-on), unless I spent $20,000 in a calendar year.

Food

I wouldn’t get complimentary food and drink on either leg of my round trip, but I was prepared to stuff my backpack with snacks before departure. Alcoholic drinks cost $7.99 each, and sodas, bottled water, coffee and snacks are $2.99 each. But you can bundle:

  • Breakfast on the fly (1 coffee, 1 snack): $4.99
  • Snack Attack (2 soft drinks, 2 snacks): $9.99
  • Make it a Double (2 adult beverages): $13.99
  • Happy Hour (2 adult beverages, 1 mixer or soft drink, 1 snack): $16.99
  • Buy 3 Get 1 Free (4 adult beverages): $23.97
  • Double Happy Hour (4 adult beverages, 2 mixers or soft drinks, 2 snacks): $29.99

Even if I decided to pony up and pay for food on board, it wouldn’t have been nutritious. In fact, Frontier came in dead last in a ranking of the top healthiest airline foods in the U.S. and Canada. It also received the “Shame on You” award.

Change and cancellation fees

I booked my ticket in August for travel in early December. In September, Frontier announced that it would allow travelers to change or cancel a flight for no fee (other than paying any fare differential) up to 60 days before the beginning of the trip. Changes from 59 to 14 days before departure now cost between $49 to $79. Changes or cancellations made within 13 days of departure are subject to a $119 fee unless you purchased the Frontier WORKS bundle of services and benefits.

Confronting a pair of cross-country flights in a (likely) middle seat with no IFE or Wi-Fi, I gave up, and canceled.

Bottom line

A ticket for $30 for a transcontinental flight is unbeatable, but how you get there matters. If you genuinely don’t care about a middle seat at the back of a cramped jet or pricey carry-on and checked bag fees, Frontier can suit your needs. The carrier is also great for short vacations or last-minute trips.

The price convinced me to click and buy, but on second thoughts, suffering at the back of a Frontier jet (and then doing it again the next day) just didn’t seem worth it.

Featured image courtesy of Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images

Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
$250
Balance Transfer Fee
N/A
Recommended Credit
Excellent/Good
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.