Flying Frontier: Cheapest Award to Vegas?

Flying Frontier: Cheapest Award to Vegas?
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Trip Review: PointsAway In Las Vegas

Part 1: Exploring Denver International
Part 2: Coworking Paradise: The New Gold Spike Las Vegas
Part 3: McCarran’s Best Secret: The American Express Centurion Lounge at LAS
Part 4: Flying Frontier: Cheapest Award to Vegas?

The Value of Frontier

We’ve spoken about Frontier’s fairly amazing domestic travel chart in the past for a trip plan to Alaska, but it’s also a great choice for travel to Las Vegas for those traveling from many East Coast cities. In this case, I flew out of Orlando through the airline’s hub in Denver with continuing service to Las Vegas for a total of 10,000 miles each way.

Flights from Orlando and Jacksonville to Las Vegas are often quite expensive, between $250-$450 depending on how far out you can plan, and that directly affects the number of miles required by Southwest, which would normally be my other choice for such a flight. At 5,000 miles less roundtrip than American or United at Saver Economy levels and up to 10,000 miles less than Southwest depending on fare prices, Frontier often offers the lowest miles route to Las Vegas from Orlando.

Flights & Fees

Flights on Frontier are most easily described as falling somewhere between Allegiant Air and Southwest on the quality spectrum. Some routes, such as Las Vegas to Denver, are at least in part operated on aging A319s that can be uncomfortably hot and cramped. Other flights, such as the long haul from Denver to Orlando, are operated on newer A320s with better climate control and more space.

Frontier is at the, well, frontier, of the airline pricing strategy of “unbundling” amenities once considered the norm while flying. Checked bags require a fee, though the fee is typically only $20 per bag if paid for when checking in online.

Don’t book Frontier flights through sources other than their website if you don’t want to be saddled with a fee for your carry-on.[/quote_left]Beware: if you book a Frontier flight using a method other than the company’s website, FlyFrontier.com, you will likely be saddled with a fee for a carry-on bag, as well! Any tickets booked on FlyFrontier.com, even its cheapest Economy ticket tier, allow for a free carry-on, so this is easily avoided. It’s worth noting that award tickets also allow for a free carry-on bag if you want to avoid the checked bag fee.

Aside from baggage, Frontier also charges $1.99 for a full can of a Pepsi-branded soft drink and more for snacks, as well. Seats each have 5-inch video screens offering two dozen channels from DirectTV, but these require a fee ranging from a few dollars to short flights to more for longer journeys.

Seat Upgrade Options

The company also offers Select seats, including Exit Rows, as an option for a fee varying by length of route and Stretch Seating, offering six inches or more of additional leg room in the plane’s first four rows, on a fee schedule also varying by length. These upgrades are available when booking award tickets. For my flight from Denver to Orlando, I spent the $40 to upgrade from the back of the plane to 1A.

While many miles and points mavens out there have countless stories of traveling in great luxury, I’m somewhere between proud and embarrassed to confess this was my first time riding in 1A on any flight. While certainly no First Class, the extra legroom is legitimate and may be worthwhile, especially for taller passengers, on longer-haul flights.

Given that award flights cost a mere $5 of security fees each way prior to adding baggage or seat upgrade charges, award flight passengers in particular may find Stretch Seating to provide a fair value. To provide some perspective, I wrote this review from 1A on a 15” MacBook Pro and had more than enough room when it would have been impossible to even open it up all the way in the cheap seats.

Aside from the tick-tack fees for beverages, I found the crews on all four of my flight segments to be just as courteous and helpful as on any of the legacy carriers, though not as chipper perhaps as the crews on Southwest or JetBlue. The same held true at check-in and at the gates.

Nuts & Bolts of EarlyReturns

Frontier’s EarlyReturns program is a 1:1 transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, which is how I was able to rack up the miles necessary for the free flights. Transfers took place within five minutes.

I chose to book my itinerary by phone instead of online because only one ticket remained at the 10,000 point level for the dates I knew I’d likely be traveling but I wasn’t yet certain I’d be making the trip. Booking by phone allowed me to place the itinerary on hold for seven days, more than enough time to firm up my plans and transfer the Membership Rewards points, and proved to be well worth the $20 given my uncertainty about the trip.

Changes can be made to itineraries with no charge up to 8 days prior to departure, while cancellations and redeposit of miles to your EarlyReturns account require a $79 fee. That places EarlyReturns somewhere between Southwest’s outstanding no-fees policy and JetBlue’s more punitive, but admittedly fair, schedule of fees for changes and cancellations.

Between taxes, checked bags, a seat upgrade and phone booking, my “free” flight came in at $110, but could have easily been knocked down to $50 including one checked bag if I’d been certain of my travel dates earlier and hadn’t wanted to try out the Stretch Seating product.

Overall, I’d recommend Membership Rewards earners in particular take a look at Frontier for their domestic travel in the future. Frontier also flies to Mexico, Costa Rica, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic for 15,000 miles each way.

While most flights still connect through Frontier’s Denver hub, the airline is increasingly aggressive in adding direct service out of Trenton, which may offer a better connection option for some flights. Where Frontier flies, if Southwest and JetBlue fares prove expensive, Frontier’s flat-rate points program – at a lower points per flight rate than American or United – can be a great solution for the traveler at peace with a budget travel experience.

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About PointsAway
Casey Ayers is a consultant and entrepreneur with a passion for travel. After amassing enough miles and points to travel anywhere in the world for almost free in less than six months, he developed PointsAway as a way to help others make travel dreams big and small come true.
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