Legacy or low-cost? Some math will help you choose an airline

Question: I’m planning to take my kids to the East Coast this fall. A nonstop flight at my preferred time on Delta is $445, but on Spirit Airlines with one stop it’s $215. What am I missing?

Answer: Not a thing. Making a stop along the way and flying a low-cost carrier versus a legacy carrier are two classic ways to find lower airfares. And for the right traveler on the right trip, that’s all there is to the discussion.

But are you that traveler and is this that trip?

The writer is an experienced traveler. The mother of two preschoolers, with a third child on the way, will be traveling without her husband on this trip, so she’ll be managing the kids, the baggage and the connection hassles solo.

You already can see where this is going: Being a smart woman, she’s opting for the nonstop this time.

But for next time, when she’ll likely have a hand with handling the kids and the connection, she asked about what might be the best option.

That’s when the decision about Delta versus Spirit becomes a math problem:

Fare + add-on fees = Delta price

or

Fare + add-on fees = Spirit price.

Spirit and other low-cost carriers win your consideration with very low base fares — Spirit even advertises $9CQ flights. If you travel light and don’t have many opinions about your perks, layover and service, you can save significant money.

But if not, check this out:

If you want to choose seats (and a parent of toddlers does want seats together), you’ll need to add on $1-$50 per seat assignment. The theoretical $215 Spirit price is now $216-$265.

If you want to bring carryon baggage, you’ll need to add $25-$100, depending on whether you pay at booking or at the airport. Price now: $241-$365.

If you want to check baggage, add on $20-$100. Price now: $261-$465. (A second checked bag per person adds on $30-$100, and every bag after that is an extra $75-$100.)

Feeling peckish? Snacks aboard Spirit cost $1-$10. Beverages are $1-$15. Price now: $263-$490.

On Delta, the add-ons also add up, but there are fewer of them. The base fare of $445 includes a free carryon, seat assignments, soft drinks and light snacks.

To check a bag, you’ll pay an extra $25 (additional checked bags are $35-$100). Price now: $470.

To upgrade your snack, add $3-$5. To get an adult beverage, add $5-$7. Price now: $473-$482.

On this route at these prices with careful decisions, you could certainly do better financially with Spirit. But if you choose all of the typical add-ons, you also could end up paying more for the “privilege” of having a layover on the way. Do the math before you decide.

Get travel news daily at www.sctimes.com/travel, on Twitter @LisaSSchwarz, and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimeslisa. Send questions to lschwarz@stcloudtimes.com.
Lisa Schwarz

About Lisa Schwarz

By day, I'm a St. Cloud Times editor guiding coverage of politics, government, public safety and business beats. By night, I'm leading the cubicle jailbreak as the Times Traveler. Follow me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/LisaSSchwarz and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sctimeslisa
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