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

Oct 30, 2019

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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. 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

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