Flying on an ultra-low-cost or “budget” airline may not be for everyone, but sometimes it can save hundreds of dollars. These savings only apply if you know what you’re getting and pre-purchase any necessary extras ahead of time. The amount of savings depends on the type of traveler.

Save Money on These Routes by Flying Budget Airlines

Those who pack the least will save the most, especially if you can pack just a small personal item. For domestic flights, if you normally check a bag regardless, and only bring a small personal item onboard, you can also save big by flying an ultra-low-cost carrier. For those that are able to travel with just a carry-on bag plus a personal item, your savings will be less.

For transatlantic international travel, the difference between a budget carrier and a traditional airline is minimal these days. Most airlines now have similar baggage policies and the main difference is that a traditional carrier will include a not so tasty meal service.


Related: A New Look at Basic Economy for Transatlantic International Travel


Unfortunately, you can no longer expect free advanced seat assignments when you purchase the lowest fare available on any airline. There are only a few that still include this perk and probably not for much longer.

There are certain routes that consistently see large price differences between a budget airline and a legacy or traditional “full-service” airline. These are mainly on routes with the least competition. If you’ve always disregarded budget carriers when searching for flights, you may want to check for any potential savings when flying these routes.

While you’ll often save even more on smaller market routes that only have nonstop service on budget carriers, I focused on some more popular routes. Keep in mind, the savings can add up when traveling in a group and you can often share bag fees with your travel partner(s) to save even more.

For these comparisons, I’ll include a cost analysis for 3 types of travelers. For the sake of simplicity, I’m limiting this analysis to airfare and baggage only. And I’ll assume the weight of everyone’s bags meets the requirements of each airline. Other factors such as seat selection and food/beverage onboard will alter these results.

  • Minimalist Molly – Only travels with a small backpack that fits underneath the seat.
  • Simple Sally – Always travels with a carry-on sized bag and a personal item. She doesn’t mind checking her carry-on bag if it’s cheaper.
  • Freehand Freddy – Always travels with a checked bag and a personal item. Never brings a bag onboard that does not fit underneath the seat.

Budget airlines include: Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, Sun Country, Norwegian, and other similar carriers.

Traditional airlines include: Alaska, American, Delta, JetBlue, Southwest, United, as well as partner airlines and other similar carriers.


Related: A New Look at Basic Economy for Domestic and Short-Haul International Travel


Fares were researched on May 31, 2019, and represent the lowest available roundtrip price with flexible travel dates. Since airfares fluctuate constantly, these comparisons will vary greatly depending on when you search and are only meant to show as an example.

Atlanta – Los Angeles

Airlines flying nonstop: American, Delta, Southwest, Frontier, Spirit

  • Molly: $197 on Frontier or $317 on American, Delta, or Southwest. $120 savings.
  • Sally: $257 on Frontier or $317 on American, Delta, or Southwest. $60 savings.
  • Freddy: $257 on Frontier or $317 on Southwest. $60 savings.

During promo code sales, Frontier’s airfares sometimes dip below $100 and Spirit’s fares are often in the $120-$175 range after promo code discounts are applied. However, this route is often excluded in promo code sales. The traditional carriers sometimes hover around $200-$250, but fares are mostly in the high $270-$300 range or more.

Boston – Las Vegas

Airlines flying nonstop: Delta, JetBlue, Spirit

  • Molly: $183 on Spirit or $257 on Delta or JetBlue. $74 savings.
  • Sally: $243 on Spirit or $257 on Delta or JetBlue. $14 savings.
  • Freddy: $243 on Spirit or $317 on Delta or JetBlue. $74 savings.

Spirit often has promo code sales, which can bring its airfare down in the low to mid-$100s roundtrip. JetBlue and Delta sometimes have sales around the $200 range, but fares are generally in the $260-$300 range or more.

Los Angeles - Philadelphia

Airlines flying nonstop: Alaska, American, Spirit

  • Molly: $233 on Spirit or $297 on Alaska or American. $64 savings.
  • Sally: $293 on Spirit or $297 on Alaska or American. $4 savings.
  • Freddy: $293 on Spirit or $357 on Alaska or American $64 savings.

Spirit’s airfare can usually be brought down to the $150 range during its promo code sales, while American and Alaska sometimes compete with fares around $200-$250. The lowest available fare on traditional carriers generally hovers around the $300 range.

Cleveland – Las Vegas

Airlines flying nonstop: Frontier, Spirit

  • Molly: $167 on Frontier or $312 on American, Delta, Southwest, and United. $145 savings.
  • Sally: $227 on Frontier or $312 on American, Delta, or Southwest. $85 savings.
  • Freddy: $227 on Frontier or $312 on Southwest. $85 savings.

Frontier sometimes has sales that hover around $100, while Spirit’s fares can be brought down to the $120-$150 range with promo code sales. Since no traditional airlines fly this route nonstop, there are larger savings by flying a budget carrier.


Related: Everything You Need to Know Before You Fly Frontier


Detroit – San Diego

Airlines flying nonstop: Delta, Spirit (seasonal)

  • Molly: $213 on Spirit, $334 on JetBlue (connection required), or $387 on Delta. $121-$174 savings.
  • Sally: $273 on Spirit, $334 on JetBlue (connection required), or $387 on Delta. $58-$114 savings.
  • Freddy: $273 on Spirit, $394 on JetBlue (connection required), or $447 on Delta. $121-$174 savings.

You’ll get even bigger savings if you purchase a Spirit flight during a promo code sale, which can bring the price down to the $150 range. Delta’s nonstop fare usually remains stubbornly high on this route, but American and United sometimes have flash sales for connecting flights in the low $200 range.

Philadelphia – San Juan

Airlines flying nonstop: American, Frontier, Spirit

  • Molly: $199 on Frontier, $331 on JetBlue (connection required), or $402 on American. $132-$203 savings.
  • Sally: $259 on Frontier, $331 on JetBlue (connection required), or $402 on American. $72-$143 savings.
  • Freddy: $259 on Frontier, $364 on Southwest (connection required), or $462 on American. $105-$203 savings.

This is a relatively new route for budget carriers and is often excluded in promo code sales. However, the savings are significant—especially compared to nonstop flights on American.

Denver - Orlando

Airlines flying nonstop: Southwest, United, Frontier, Spirit

  • Molly: $157 on Frontier or $174 on Southwest. $17 savings.
  • Sally: $217 on Frontier or $174 on Southwest. $43 more.
  • Freddy: $217 on Frontier or $174 on Southwest $43 more.

Today’s search didn’t produce the best example of savings on this route. However, I often see flights on Frontier dip below $100 during sales. United sometimes has some good deals as well, but United’s Basic Economy product has the same baggage restrictions as the budget carriers. Southwest is a steal on this route if you’re able to snatch a low fare. These usually sell out very quickly.

Minneapolis – Los Angeles 

Airlines flying nonstop: Delta, Sun Country, Spirit

  • Molly: $127 on Spirit or $231 on Delta. $104 savings.
  • Sally: $187 on Spirit or $231 on Delta. $44 savings.
  • Freddy: $127 on Spirit, $248 on Southwest (connection required), or $291 on Delta. $61-$104 savings.

Not too long ago, American and United were also flying this route nonstop and fares were pretty cheap on all airlines. Since those airlines have canceled nonstop service, Delta’s fares are usually quite a bit higher than the budget carriers. Spirit usually has the lowest prices in the low to mid-$100s and Delta will sometimes lower its fares to match Sun Country just below $200.


Related: What You Should Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines


Dallas - Cozumel

Airlines flying nonstop: American, Sun Country (seasonal)

  • Molly: $292 on Sun Country or $541 on American. $249 savings.
  • Sally: $352 on Sun Country or $541 on American. $189 savings.
  • Freddy: $352 on Sun Country or $601 on American. $249 savings.

Seasonal nonstop service on Sun Country Airlines drastically reduces the price on this route. American hasn’t lowered its price much to compete either. You’ll save a significant amount if you can adjust your travel plans and fly on a date that Sun Country flies. Sun Country’s lowest fares remain fairly consistent at around $300. Sales to Cozumel on the major airlines are extremely rare but occasionally you may be able to snag a flash sale, which could be in the $300-$400 range.

Orlando - Paris

Airlines flying nonstop: Norwegian

  • Molly: $415 on Norwegian or $677 on Icelandair. (connection required). $262 savings.
  • Sally: $415 on Norwegian or $677 on Icelandair (connection required). $262 savings.
  • Freddy: $515 on Norwegian or $797 on Icelandair (connection required). $282 savings.

Here’s a route where the only nonstop service provided is on a budget carrier. This means you’ll save both money and time by flying Norwegian instead of a major carrier. The catch is you’ll have to fly on the limited days of the week that Norwegian operates. Norwegian’s fares sometime dip into the mid-$300s range and flash sales can bring the major carrier’s fares down in the $400s. These are somewhat rare from Orlando and will always require a connection.

New York - Stockholm

Airlines flying nonstop: SAS (from Newark), Norwegian (from JFK)

  • Molly: $377 on Norwegian, $491 on Finnair (connection required), or $634 on SAS. $114-$257 savings.
  • Sally: $377 on Norwegian, $491 on Finnair (connection required), or $634 on SAS. $114-$257 savings.
  • Freddy: $477 on Norwegian, $575 on Finnair (connection required), or $690 on SAS. $98-$213 savings.

Depending on where you live in the city, your savings will vary on which airport you have to commute to. Occasionally SAS has really good sales that bring the price down to just under $400, but you’ll have to get to Newark for that flight. Many New Yorkers prefer JFK airport and with Norwegian’s daily nonstop service often in the mid-$300 range, you’ll save both time and money.


Related: JFK vs LaGuardia vs Newark: Which NYC Airport Should You Pick?


Los Angeles - Paris

Airlines flying nonstop: Air France, Delta, Air Tahiti Nui, Norwegian, XL Airways

  • Molly: $368 on Norwegian or $526 on Air France or Delta. $158 savings.
  • Sally: $368 on Norwegian or $526 on Air France or Delta. $158 savings.
  • Freddy: $468 on Norwegian or $646 on Air France or Delta. $178 savings.

Flights to Paris have come down considerably over the last few years thanks to Norwegian and other budget carriers. One route that rarely gets matched by the major carriers is from Los Angeles where the nonstop flight is often in the $500-$600 range. Flash sales sometimes bring connecting flights down to the $350-$450 range, but if you prefer to fly nonstop, you’ll often save by flying Norwegian.

Jacksonville - Raleigh

Airlines flying nonstop: Frontier

Travel dates: Departing Thursday, June 6, and returning Tuesday, June 11.

  • Molly: $57 on Frontier or $407 on American. $350 savings.
  • Sally: $117 on Frontier or $407 on American. $290 savings.
  • Freddy: $117 on Frontier or $467 on American. $350 savings.

Here is one last example to show how the savings can be even more significant on a small market route and/or if you are searching for exact dates rather than just the lowest available fare with flexible travel dates.


Related: How to Pack in Just a Personal Item Sized Bag


Avoid Budget Airlines on These Routes

On the other side of the coin, there are many routes where it often doesn’t make sense to fly on a budget carrier. These are mostly on routes where there is a lot of competition from multiple different legacy carriers. You’ll often find similar fares on the major airlines when flying these routes.

Chicago - Dallas

Airlines flying nonstop: ORD to DFW: American, United, and Spirit. MDW to DAL: Southwest

  • Molly: $169 on Spirit or $97 on American. $72 more.
  • Sally: $229 on Spirit or $97 on American. $132 more.
  • Freddy: $229 on Spirit or $157 on American. $72 more.

For some reason, Spirit is currently charging a premium on this route. Occasionally, this route does go below $100 on Spirit, but since it’s often the same price on the major airlines, there is not much reason to choose Spirit on this route.

New York - Paris

Airlines flying nonstop: Air France, American, Delta, Norwegian, United (from EWR), Level, La Compagnie (EWR to ORY)

  • Molly: $289 on Norwegian or Level or $286 on Air France, American, Delta, or United. $3 more.
  • Sally: $289 on Norwegian or Level or $286 on Air France, American, Delta, or United. $3 more.
  • Freddy: $389 on Norwegian or $406 on Air France, American, Delta, or United. $17 savings.

This popular route has been below $300 on the major carriers fairly often lately. Since Norwegian and Level basically have the same price, you’ll probably prefer to just purchase a ticket on one of the major airlines and enjoy classic service and a free meal onboard.


Related: How to Fly Norwegian Air


Los Angeles - Denver

Airlines flying nonstop: American, Delta, United, Southwest, Frontier, Spirit.

  • Molly: $115 on Frontier or $111 on Delta or United. $4 more.
  • Sally: $175 on Frontier or $111 on Delta. $64 more.
  • Freddy: $175 on Frontier or $112 on Southwest. $63 more.

Since all major carriers and the two largest budget carriers fly this route, it’s usually always pretty cheap on any airline. Many times, you’ll actually pay more to fly on a budget carrier so choose your airline wisely when flying between Los Angeles and Denver.

Baltimore/Washington D.C. – Ft. Lauderdale

Airlines flying nonstop: Southwest (from BWI and DCA), JetBlue (from DCA), United (from IAD), Spirit (from BWI).

  • Molly: $174 on Spirit or $162 on Southwest. $12 more.
  • Sally: $234 on Spirit or $162 on Southwest. $72 more.
  • Freddy: $234 on Spirit or $162 on Southwest. $72 more.

We often see lower fares on this route with certain sales on Spirit bringing the price down to the $110-$130 range and the major carriers usually match with similar prices. As you can see in this example, you’ll usually pay more to fly on a budget carrier between the DC area and Ft. Lauderdale.


Related: Which Washington DC Area Airport is Best? National, Dulles, or BWI


San Francisco/Oakland/San Jose (Bay Area) – Las Vegas

Airlines flying nonstop: From SFO: Alaska, Southwest, United, Frontier; From OAK: JetSuiteX, Southwest, Allegiant, Spirit; From SJC: Delta, Southwest, Frontier

  • Molly: $66 on Allegiant or $121 on Alaska, United, or Southwest. $55 savings.
  • Sally: $106 on Allegiant or $121 on Alaska or Southwest. $15 savings.
  • Freddy: $116 on Allegiant or $121 on Southwest. $5 savings.

Cheap flights are available from all Bay Area airports to Vegas. And although it is usually cheapest on Allegiant from Oakland, we often see Southwest and other carriers priced around $98 roundtrip from all airports. The advantages of flying Southwest outweigh the savings you’ll get by flying a budget carrier.

Boston - Madrid

Airlines flying nonstop: Iberia, Norwegian

  • Molly: $231 on Norwegian or Iberia. Same price.
  • Sally: $231 on Norwegian or Iberia. Same price.
  • Freddy: $331 on Norwegian or $351 on Iberia. $20 savings.

Another transatlantic route where we rarely see much of a price difference, if at all, between budget carrier Norwegian and Spain’s flagship carrier Iberia. Sure, it’s slightly cheaper to check a bag on Norwegian, but you’ll likely be willing to fork over a little extra to fly on a major airline. Fares are often under $300 on either carrier.


Related: How to Pack for an Extended Trip in Just a Carry-On Bag


Atlanta – New York/Newark

Airlines flying nonstop: To LGA: American, Delta, Southwest, Frontier; To JFK: Delta, JetBlue; To EWR: Delta, United, Spirit

  • Molly: $127 on Spirit or $121 on United. $6 more.
  • Sally: $187 on Spirit or $181 on United. $6 more.
  • Freddy: $187 on Spirit or $181 on United. $6 more.

Since Spirit started flying between Atlanta and Newark recently, you’ll find the lowest fares between these two East Coast markets flying in and out of New Jersey. On a rare occasion, we’ll see a promo code sale on Frontier, which can lower its price to around $100 to LGA, but this route is usually excluded from promo code sales. Major airlines often have sales below $200 on this route and you usually won’t save too much by flying a budget carrier.

These are just a few examples of some popular routes. There are many more like these in both categories. It’s always a good idea to compare the total cost when doing your flight searches. If you don’t add everything up before you purchase, you may end up paying more to fly on a budget carrier or you might miss out on some significant savings. Sign up for airfare alerts to find out when prices drop on all airlines—or choose any carriers you wish to omit from your fare alerts.


Related: A Guide to Airline Baggage Fees


Featured image by VIAVAL / shutterstock.com

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