Many frequent flyers shudder at the thought of flying with one of the new brand of ultra-low-cost carriers like Allegiant that have gained considerable traction over the past few years. However, there’s not much to fear – and a lot of opportunity available – to those who know what to expect, and how to get the most, out of carriers known mostly for eye-poppingly low fares.
Allegiant regularly advertises fares as cheap as $25 each way, an amount that would have been unheard of even five or ten years ago on the cheapest routes. They’re able to do so due to unbundling of fares. Checked bag? Extra. Carry-on? Also extra. Want a soft drink on the flight? Pony up.
Understanding Allegiant’s Baggage Fees
The secret to limiting these fees comes down to planning ahead. Bag charges can be as low as $15 if requested in advance, and checked bags are often cheaper than carry-ons, despite larger allowances for weight and size. Of course, the dimensions and heft of your bag are two factors to keep in mind, as well: checked bags weighing more than 40 pounds – lower than the 50 pounds common on other US carriers – will result in a $50 surcharge per segment, while bags in excess of 70 pounds will cost an extra $75. Bags greater than 80 linear inches – that’s height + width + depth – will also incur a $75 upcharge, separate from any fee charged for excess weight.
Carry-on bags may be up to 9x14x22 inches in size. This is in line with the allowable dimensions on other domestic carriers, meaning any true carry-on size bags will be considered acceptable.
Interestingly, Allegiant does allow for a personal item, such as a purse, briefcase, laptop bag, backpack, or camera bag, free of charge. The limits for bags of this nature are 7x15x16 inches, though, so don’t attempt to bring a rucksack on board as your personal item. Thanks to this rule, minimalist flyers on short trips might be able to stuff a few days’ worth of clothes in a backpack and avoid bag charges altogether.
The Nickels and the Dimes
The most disastrous bag fees are waiting for those who don’t plan ahead. Showing up at the airport without pre-purchased bags will result in greatly-increased fees, and those appearing at the gate with a bag larger than carry-on restrictions allow will be out up to $75 for the mistake.
Of course, bag fees are common across most carriers these days, but the more stealthy fees are the ones to be most wary of when flying on ultra-low-cost carriers. Allegiant, for example, charges a $5 fee just to print each boarding pass at the airport, so be certain to download their mobile app for a digital ticket or print yours out at home before heading to the airport. Booking by phone will cost another $15, as well.
Most infuriatingly perhaps, using a credit card instead of a debit card to purchase your airfare will tack on an additional 3.2%. Despite this upcharge, I still recommend paying with a credit card in order to not only earn points that can help defray the fee, but for the benefits good credit cards offer in case of baggage loss, flight delays and cancellations, and other unforeseen events that aren’t reimbursable when using most debit cards.
The Extras Worth the Extra
Those who complain about ultra-low-cost airlines the most typically fall into one of two groups: those who don’t plan ahead, and those who refuse to spend any more than the minimum possible amount. However, for a few dollars more – and still a fraction of what legacy carriers would demand for the same flight – it’s possible to ride on Allegiant in something resembling comfort. Allegiant doesn’t offer any seat selection option free of charge, so unless you pay up, you’re liable to be split up from your party or worse, placed in a middle seat.
Prices for seat reservations can soar as high as $80 per ticket, but this is extremely rare. Typically, exit row seats and those near the front of the plane – branded Legroom+ by Allegiant – can be had for an amount closer to $20-30. Compare that to the average of $12-$18 Allegiant charges to reserve the middle seat in the last row of the plane, and two options become clear: either allow Allegiant to assign you a seat for free, or pay up for the extra room.
Legroom+ seats are downright spacious compared to many legacy carrier offerings, especially to seats found on the regional planes often used at the same destinations Allegiant services.
If being one of the first to board can bring you peace of mind, it’s possible to purchase priority access, placing you in the first group to board. This has always seemed silly to me; unless I’m flying business or first class, I’m normally in no rush to get to my seat, but it’s an option that appeals to some.
Finally, note that Allegiant participates in TSA Precheck. That means that one of the best “upgrades” you can purchase is membership in either the TSA’s program, or the Global Entry program, that provides access to both Precheck and expedited immigration when returning to the United States from international flights. Global Entry costs just $99 for a five year membership, and can save countless hours of hassle at airport security and customs for regular flyers. Make certain to input your “Known Traveler” number when booking a ticket.
No Miles Included
Allegiant does not offer a frequent flyer program or any form of elite status, unfortunately, so don’t expect to earn free flights anytime soon. Many of their routes are also between locations that are poorly serviced by other carriers, and Allegiant’s fleet is often stretched very thin fulfilling all the routes. That can lead to cascading delays and a combination of inability and unwillingness by Allegiant to rebook passengers on alternative flights, should problems arise. This is true for most ultra-low-cost carriers, so if the timeliness of your trip is the most crucial factor, turning elsewhere might be your best bet. That said, for those looking for value who don’t expect many frills, aren’t afraid to pay for a few perks strategically, and have a bit of patience, carriers like Allegiant can offer unparalleled value and open up the possibility to explore parts of the country you might not otherwise visit.