Once a hometown-only airline for the twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Sun Country Airlines has expanded to include nonstop flights from several cities around the U.S. Along with the expansion, Sun Country has transitioned into an ultra-low-cost carrier. While not as restrictive as other carriers in this category, there are a few things you should know about this niche market airline.
Tips for Traveling on Sun Country Airlines
Before you book a flight with Sun Country Airlines, you’ll want to know all about its fee structure and how it operates. To avoid any surprises along the way, follow this step-by-step guide on what to expect when flying with Sun Country Airlines.
What to Know Before You Book with Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country is a unique airline that primarily offers service to/from its main hub in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP). In recent years, the airline has expanded to include more nonstop flights to/from places like Dallas (DFW), Las Vegas (LAS), Nashville (BNA), and Portland (PDX). Many routes are only offered on a seasonal basis to fit specific demand patterns in each market — flying Minnesotans to warm weather vacation spots in the winter and filling in for high-demand summer travel in other markets where other airlines lack nonstop service.
Sun Country now operates like an ultra-low-cost carrier in some ways and more like a traditional carrier in other aspects. Similar to Allegiant, Frontier, Spirit, and United (Basic Economy), Sun Country Airlines charges a fee for any bag larger than a 17” x 13” x 9” personal item. This means most travelers will have to pay a little more than the initial price shown just to carry their belongings.
The bag fees are very straight-forward on Sun Country. It’s up to $30 each way for either a carry-on bag (up to 24” x 16” x 11” and 35 lbs.) or the first checked bag (up to 62” linear and 50 lbs.) as long as you pay for your bags during the initial booking. A second checked bag starts at $40 each way. Bag fees are slightly higher if purchased after booking or at the airport. Active members of the U.S. Military receive a free carry-on bag and two free checked bags. And if you hold Sun Country’s credit card, you’ll get 50% off the first pre-purchased bag.
Since most airlines charge similar fees for checked bags these days, travelers who normally always check a bag anyway and only take a small personal item on board should not disregard Sun Country because of bag fees alone. You’ll find the same to be true for seat selection. Sun Country also has a fee to choose a specific seat, but since the major airlines like American, Delta, and United have implemented Basic Economy fares, this is the same for the lowest fares across most U.S. airlines. And you can always avoid paying a seat fee by simply skipping this step and receiving a free seat assignment upon check-in. But you do not get to choose which seat.
With its main hub is in Minneapolis/St. Paul (MSP), Sun Country competes heavily with Delta on several routes. Delta often competes on price for most domestic routes but many times Delta will require a roundtrip purchase and a minimum stay for its low fares, whereas Sun Country sells its low fares on one-way flights, and therefore, has no minimum stay. On international routes, Delta is less prone to compete on price and the savings can be significant when flying Sun Country. The same is true for the seasonal routes from Sun Country’s focus cities around the U.S. — it often has fares significantly lower than the competition. To differentiate itself from other ultra-low-cost carriers, Sun Country does include things like inflight entertainment and complimentary beverages.
No Change Fee Policy on Sun Country Airlines
One major plus for Sun Country Airlines is its no change fee policy and change fee waiver that it offers. Any change made to a Sun Country flight at least 60 days prior to departure does not incur a change fee. And if the price drops this far in advance, you can rebook your flight and receive a travel credit to use within one year from the original date of purchase. Change fees are also very reasonable within 60 days of travel. Changes made between 59-14 days prior to travel, incur a $50 fee each way, and changes made less than 14 days before departure have a $100 fee each way. This is much less than what you’ll find on most other carriers.
For even more peace of mind, you can also add on a change fee waiver to your reservation during the initial booking. This allows you to make one change to your itinerary without incurring a change fee anytime between 59 days and 1 day prior to departure. Changes made 60 days in advance or more are still free and will not count as your one-time waiver. A fare difference may apply, but this can potentially save a lot of money if travel plans change last minute. The cost of the change fee waiver varies depending on route and travel dates. I found this to be as low as $30 after checking a few different routes, but there isn’t a fixed price listed for the change fee waiver option.
Risk of Being Stranded When Flying Sun Country Airlines
Sun Country made headlines in April 2018 when it left passengers stranded in Mexican resort cities Cabo San Lucas (SJD) and Mazatlán (MZT) after it had to cancel its last flights of the season from these two cities due to a blizzard in Minnesota. The airline received a lot of backlash for how it initially handled the situation by simply refunding the passengers for their Sun Country flight and leaving passengers on their own to rebook a (very expensive) flight back home on another airline.
After days of negative press and concerns from politicians, Sun Country decided to reimburse these passengers for any excess costs incurred to get home and stated, in hindsight, it should have provided an extra “rescue flight” to fly passengers back home. In the end, Sun Country did the right thing by providing some relief to the high costs incurred to its passengers, but due to its poor handling of the situation initially, the airline damaged its brand and made travelers aware of one important risk when flying any budget carrier with limited service — it can always be a gamble when things go wrong.
Since Sun Country doesn’t have any agreements with other carriers to fly its passengers during irregular operations (IROP), passengers flying in markets where Sun Country has limited service should have a backup plan in case of flight cancelations. Many domestic routes to/from Minneapolis (MSP) have daily service so this is less of a concern, but other routes within the U.S. are more limited and international routes are often only flown a few times each week.
Have a Backup Plan When Flying Sun Country Airlines
A few ideas to have some sort of insurance plan in these rare cases include using frequent flyer miles, booking a fully refundable backup flight, or using a trip protection service such as Freebird. Having a stash of frequent flyer miles can give you more options for last-minute bookings that won’t cost an arm and a leg, but these will still be hard to use if there are widespread cancelations due to weather.
If you have miles on Southwest, you can book a backup flight ahead of time and simply redeposit your miles for free if your Sun Country flight goes off without a hitch. You can also purchase a paid ticket on Southwest as a backup and get a full travel credit if you don’t use that flight as long as you cancel before its departure. Make sure you would plan to fly Southwest at some point within a year if you choose this option since you will not be given a cash refund.
Possibly the best insurance plan out there for these irregular operations situations is to purchase trip protection from Freebird. For just $19 per one-way or $34 roundtrip, you’ll be able to book a flight to the same metropolitan area on any carrier if your original flight is either canceled or delayed by more than 4 hours. This coverage is limited to domestic U.S. flights — including Alaska, Hawaii, and Puerto Rico — and must be purchased at least 2 days before your first flight departs.
How to Book a Flight with Sun Country Airlines
When booking a Sun Country Airlines flight, it is generally slightly cheaper to book directly on Sun Country’s website. However, you’ll want to make sure to compare with multiple booking sites to make sure you’re getting the best deal. Since Sun Country charges for carry-on bags, you may very well find a better deal on another carrier that includes more baggage. And to find out about special sale fares and price drops, sign up for free airfare alerts.
Booking on Sun Country’s website is very straight-forward. After choosing your dates, you’ll see a list of fares over a one-week period and you can scroll left or right to show fares within two weeks of the dates you chose. After you’ve chosen dates, click “Continue” and then enter passenger information.
Extra Fees on Sun Country Airlines During the Booking Process
The following step requires you to choose what type of baggage you plan to bring on the flight. Make sure to add any baggage you require at this step to avoid higher bag fees after booking. If you plan to travel with just a personal item, just click on the “all I need” button for the “Under Seat” category. There is also the option to add priority boarding at this step.
After clicking “Continue”, you’ll be offered the opportunity to choose specific seats for a fee. Sun Country offers three levels of seats, Standard, Better, and Best. The “Better” seat features 2 extra inches of legroom and the “Best” seat gets 4 extra inches plus extra recline, preferred boarding, and one complimentary alcoholic beverage. If you don’t want to pay a fee to choose a seat, you don’t have to. Simply scroll to the bottom of the page without selecting a seat and click “Continue”. A pop-up will appear prompting you that seats will be randomly selected at check-in. Just click “continue without all seats” to avoid any extra fees.
Next, Sun Country will offer hotel and resort packages. Sometimes these can be a deal for those specific properties, but you can often find better deals by booking something else separately. If you just want the flight, scroll to the bottom and click “Continue”.
On the final review and pay page, you’ll be given the option to add a change fee waiver to your ticket, which allows one no-fee flight change within 60 days of travel as stated above. Read over all of the charges carefully to make sure you are only paying for what you need, enter the payment information, and click “accept & pay”.
If it is at least 7 days from the date of departure, you’ll have 24 hours to confirm any plans and cancel for free as per Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations. If you are making a last-minute booking within one week of travel, you may want to book your flight on a third-party site such as Expedia or Priceline to take advantage of the 24-hour risk-free cancelation policy.
Check-In and Boarding for a Sun Country Airlines Flight
Online check-in is available for domestic flights between one and 24 hours prior to departure. If you didn’t pay for your bags when you booked the flight, it will cost $5 extra at this stage, but make sure to pay for any extra bags you’ve decided to bring along during online check-in, because it will be another extra $5 at the airport counter. International flights require check-in to be completed at the airport.
All passengers must be checked-in 45 minutes prior to departure for domestic flights and one hour prior for international flights. Sun Country requires you to be at the gate at least 30 minutes before departure for domestic flights and one hour prior for international flights. The boarding door closes 10 minutes prior to departure.
If you have any question as to whether your personal item is too large, I would recommend to carry it over your shoulder or at your side rather than roll it on board (if it has wheels). As long as the bag doesn’t look extra-large, it will likely be ok to bring on board without any extra fees. If you know it is too large, be prepared to pay any fees. Sun Country doesn’t list an extra gate check fee but does state that “additional charges may apply”.
The Sun Country Airlines In-flight Experience
While Sun Country no longer has a First Class cabin, it hasn’t skimped on in-flight service when compared to other ultra-low-cost carriers. All seats recline and come with full-size tray tables. Most seats also have in-seat power with USB charging ports. With a 29”-30” seat pitch, the standard seats can be a little tight on legroom compared to major airlines, but are slightly roomier than both Frontier and Spirit. For a little more legroom, choose a “Better” seat with a 32” pitch or a “Best” seat with 34” pitch.
Although Sun Country doesn’t have in-flight internet access, all passengers can connect their digital device to enjoy complimentary streaming entertainment from Sun Country’s library, which includes movies, shows, games, and music. And don’t worry about staying thirsty onboard. Sun Country’s service still includes complimentary non-alcoholic beverages. Beer, wine, liquor, and snack boxes are available for purchase with a credit or debit card. Cash is not accepted on board.
After any major change like Sun Country has undergone, there are sure to be customers who do not like the new way of operations. However, Sun Country has maintained its focus on service and does not nickel-and-dime as much as other airlines in the ultra-low-cost category. I still hear decent reviews for Sun Country Airlines from travelers who know what fees to expect and are happy with the friendly vibe that comes with a smaller airline.