Occasionally, there are times where traditional hub-and-spoke flag carriers just don’t make sense. While Southwest offers lots of direct flights in point-to-point service from many airports throughout the US, Spirit, Frontier, and JetBlue have also added lots of options away from the hub flights. Some decry Frontier as a lesser carrier, but our experience was great, here’s why.
What Was Our Route?
While Pittsburgh is our home base, Cleveland is just two hours away and offers alternative point-to-point operations that our PIT does not. From Pittsburgh to Fort Myers (RSW), just Southwest flies the route directly. Southwest opened this route with affordable options but as of late, this two-hour flight has climbed from $120/each way to nearly twice that amount and $400 is just too much for easy, direct flights to Florida.
We flew Cleveland to Fort Myers (RSW) on Frontier, leaving on a Friday morning at 9:35AM touching down in the Sunshine State just before noon. Our return was booked on Sunday night from Fort Myers at 7:15PM landing in Mistake By The Lake at 10PM, tucked in at home by 12:30AM.
Why Did We Fly It?
Allegiant flies Pittsburgh to Punta Gorda, about 45-50 minutes north of Fort Myers but they can’t be trusted. Their schedule is inconsistent and their equipment is reliably unreliable. Three out of the last four flights for friends or family members have been delayed 12 hours plus (in one case) or cancelled and rescheduled for more than a day later (the remaining two of three cases). I just can’t take the chance that my cheap flight will actually go, and that’s not worth the savings to me.
Flying an airline with which we hold status (American or United) would require a connection and would eat at least 5 hours in each direction in addition to being more expensive. That’s not worth it for a short weekend trip and we can do better.
Some options we have tried in the past have included flying the very convenient Jet Blue Pittsburgh-Fort Lauderdale route (also departing the morning and returning in the evening). It adds a 2.5 hour drive once landed in Florida and prior to departure but it eliminates the connection and often a lot of cost. We have done the same on Southwest to Orlando, American direct to Miami, Southwest to Tampa (all with approximately 2-3 hour drive to Fort Myers).
Michael O’Leary of Ryan Air used to say
“passengers will fly from somewhere to nowhere or nowhere to somewhere but not nowhere to nowhere”
What he meant was that passengers from Pittsburgh might drive to Latrobe, PA and fly Spirit to Fort Myers, but they won’t drive to Latrobe, and drive from Punta Gorda when they arrive. He’s right. Before we were looking at our situation as either paying a premium to fly from home to where we were going, or taking on a 2-3 hour drive once we land but avoiding the connections and saving some money. But once we found out about Cleveland’s direct flight to Fort Myers, it made so much more sense to just fly direct from there and eat the two hours before and following our flights getting home to Pittsburgh, instead of driving to Fort Myers.
The Price Was Right
Combined, the three of us flew for $378. All-in. I mentioned in another post that we are fortunate not to have to pack anything of substance when we fly to Fort Myers because we leave our belongings at my parents house. That’s not to be confused with travel-cacheing, but it does allow us to avoid the onerous extras on Frontier flights that others might not be able to avoid.
Still, $378 (before I cleared out my Capital One Venture ‘miles’ because I’m not intending to continue my business with them) is still a great deal and cheaper than Southwest wanted for just one roundtrip, let alone all three. Our net costs were less than $330 after I cleared my Venture account.
In fact, roundtrips out of Pittsburgh generally are north of the $300 mark on a weekend for a single ticket to just about anywhere, including the discount destinations. For us, it really was a no-brainer and if we needed to add-on comfort aspects in order to make the journey more tolerable, our low initial price left us the budget to make that happen.
What Was So Great About It?
The service we received was pleasant. Our check-in agent at CLE was kind, welcoming and helpful. Our FAs on board were engaged and seemed to generally like their jobs. It reminded me of Southwest FAs a few years ago. One was very sweet to our daughter, another was joking with me, even the gate agent was full of personality. I hate to say it, but having one seems to be a differentiator in today’s current domestic airline environment.
The flight was on-time in departure and arrived early. Boarding was slightly early and wrapped 15 minutes before it should have. We pushed back several minutes ahead of schedule and therefore landed early too. There were 188 passengers onboard our A321 which was very new and held more than 230 pax. It felt wide open though it was clearly quite full. Part of this was due to the carry-on restrictions, the other part was the plane was 20% empty (though other carriers would be overload at 188 seats).
The equipment was new and reliable and that shouldn’t be too much to ask for, but it really is.
We weren’t harassed for our bag sizes or extras we declined. We weren’t even asked to put our items into a bag sizer though it was near us at checkin – I don’t know if we would have passed if we did. RyanAir is a little stronger-handed and confrontational, though I don’t mind flying RyanAir for short, cheap flights around Europe. EasyJet and Air Asia are a little more expensive but are pleasant to deal with. We found Frontier to be an excellent value for money.
Have you flown Frontier lately? Have you had an experience more like this family’s or like ours?