In February, Denver-based Frontier Airlines announced its intention to buy Spirit Airlines. It spurred a lot of local excitement and a round of low-cost sales that people snatched up, me included.
I definitely paid a premium for it in the end.
My cousin’s memorial service was set for early April in Annapolis, so I booked flights in and out of Baltimore a little less than a month ahead. As it turned out, I would be flying Spirit going out and Frontier coming back.
I thought it would be a serendipitous way to compare the two providers.
First, I forgot that the low-cost Spirit offers only a hard plastic seat for its bare-bones price. My carry-on cost me an additional $50. That said, I also got upgraded seats for both legs for about the same cost. That felt like a wash.
While my brother booked a direct flight through United, my Spirit flight took me through Fort Lauderdale. That is a pretty big detour from Baltimore, but by taking off a couple hours before him — and having only a 50-minute layover — I would arrive at about 11:45 p.m., only 30 minutes after he did.
Since we were booked on the same Frontier flight back, and were scheduled to arrive at roughly the same time, we could split a rental car and make the half-hour trip from BWI to Annapolis together.
Things started to fall apart from the moment I stepped off the DIA terminal train.
The plane scheduled to take me to Fort Lauderdale didn’t deboard its prior flight until five minutes before we were scheduled to take off. By the time we took off 40 minutes later, I knew my connection would be in jeopardy.
Good news? Our late start meant we would deboard in the same terminal as my next flight. That would give me a chance to make the 10-minute window.
Bad news? We sat on the tarmac for 15 minutes waiting for our gate.
Good news turned terrible? My next flight was delayed. I had not missed it. I would even have time to grab a late dinner while I waited. Of course, we got off the plane at 9:01 p.m. — and everything in Fort Lauderdale airport apparently closes at 9 p.m. sharp.
So I waited. And waited. And waited.
We did not board until midnight. And then waited some more.
But at least there was some pre-flight entertainment. As we waited to take off, the cabin suddenly flooded with some gas vented throughout. The entire plane looked like a cloud on the inside. I figured that would cause us to turn around for maintenance. I was wrong.
Despite the malfunction, we did take off, and I finally arrived in Baltimore at about 2:45 a.m. and called my brother, who had been dutifully waiting at a nearby Denny’s for three hours.
At least my flight back wouldn’t be on Spirit. Unfortunately, if was with Frontier.
After a wonderful weekend with family, my brother and I were prepared to leave for the airport when Frontier notified us that our flight had been canceled. No rebooking, no new flight, just canceled. We had to fend for ourselves to get back.
We broke open our laptops and I found the next available flight out of Baltimore was the following night for $319. I booked it to ensure I got a seat back. However, my brother found us a flight out of Dulles in Washington, D.C., that left in the morning for $473. I called Frontier and canceled the first flight. Or I thought I did. I still haven’t received the promised refund.
After spending two hours on the phone with customer service a few days later, they eventually refunded $245 for the flight I actually took.
That meant the flight I originally booked for $153 ended up costing me $700 net.
What did I learn about low-cost carrier Spirit and Frontier? Both cost far more than they are worth. I guarantee all my future travel will be with American, United, Southwest or anyone but those two airlines.
Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq
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