Airline Review: I Flew Frontier to Miami for 30 Bucks

Your flight probably won't be that cheap, but despite awful customer service ratings, Frontier did the job for me.

It was good news for Philadelphia travelers when Frontier Airlines announced in September it was returning to the Philadelphia market after a two-year absence. Not only would fliers get low fares from the new airline, it could push down prices among the competition.

“It’s going to force the legacy carrier that dominates the Philadelphia market, U.S. Airways… it forces them to bring down fares on those particular routes,” TravelPulse founder Mark Murphy told Fox 29 last year. “We have been waiting in Philadelphia for this to happen.”

Frontier is a low-budget carrier that nickel and dimes you. Checking your bag costs money. Carrying on your suitcase costs money. (A small personal item, to be stored under the seat, is free.) Extra legroom costs money. Soda and other drinks cost money. The airline also does offer an option called Classic Plus that’s fully refundable and includes most standard features, but those tickets are more expensive.

Frontier began flying again to and from Philadelphia on December 20th. When it made the announcement it was returning to the area, the airline was offering $14.99 fares to and from Miami. I booked a quick jaunt to Miami. I’d fly down one night, then fly back the next. (Frontier isn’t always this cheap, a ticket to Miami costs about $325 round trip this week. Booking the same trip in February is around $225 round-trip.)

Frontier does not have great customer service ratings. J.D. Power ranked the airline last among low-cost carriers in last year’s customer satisfaction study, though that survey did not include the loathed (and profitable) Spirit Airlines. But complaints abound, with scores of online reports detailing problems with the company.

Sure, this is true of any airline. But there are specific gripes customers have with Frontier. Several complaints said that, when flights are canceled, the company does not have agreements with other airlines. Stranded travelers either have to wait for the next flight, or pay up for another airline, per comments. (Frontier did not respond to a request for comment in time for this article.) Fortunately, Frontier is second among nine major airlines in the lowest number of canceled flights. The company’s customer satisfaction score did improve last year; satisfaction ratings for low-cost airlines tend to be higher than legacy carriers because of lower expectations for the cheaper airlines.

And so I thought I might be in for a bad experience when, two months before my trip, I received an email confirming a change to my itinerary: I’d be arriving in Miami on Wednesday night. I’d also be flying out of Miami on Wednesday night. I was scheduled to be in Miami for 45 minutes.

I considered just riding this itinerary, and spending a cool 45 minutes in Miami. But fearful of missing my connecting flight, I gave Frontier a call to make a change. It took about 10 minutes to book a new flight. Frontier was accommodating: Whatever change I made wouldn’t cost me anything. I ended up staying in Miami for two days instead of one.

I only fly occasionally. I hadn’t flown a budget carrier before. Here is the good news for those in the same boat (airplane) as me: Flying on Frontier doesn’t feel that much different than flying a legacy carrier. I had to pay $15 to check a bag, and I had to pay $2 for a soda. Otherwise, everything was pretty much the same. Several passengers complained of a hard landing when we hit Miami, but I didn’t feel a thing. (It’s possible I’m just a badass.)

The biggest downside was the long wait. I’d checked into my flight online and paid for my checked bag online, too. But I still had a 25 minute wait to drop my bag off at the counter, as there wasn’t a kiosk to scan my ticket. Then, more waiting: We had about an hour delay due to a mechanical issue with the plane once we boarded. Eventually, a maintenance crew fixed the problem and we were on our way. Of nine major airlines studied by the Wall Street Journal last year, Frontier Airlines ranked last in on-time performance; overall, it outpaced American and US Airways.

The trip back from Miami was similar, though our flight left closer to its scheduled time. But I had another long wait at the counter, one that I timed at exactly 25 minutes and 34 seconds. It took another 13 minutes to print my boarding pass. But after that it was smooth flying. The flight attendants and other staff were accommodating and cheerful. Given a survey, I’d give Frontier good marks for the price.

Frontier Airlines currently flies from Philadelphia to Miami, Tampa, Orlando, Cancun and Punta Cana. In March, it adds Atlanta, Charlotte and Chicago’s O’Hare. The airline also flies out of Trenton and Wilmington to a variety of destinations. Your flight might not be $30, but it should be cheaper than the major airlines.

Follow @dhm on Twitter.