Cost comparison: Is it actually cheaper to fly budget airlines?

(Photo: Associated Press) FILE

WARWICK, R.I. (WPRI) – Low-cost airlines have landed in Rhode Island, and discount fares are driving new competition.

In 2017, Allegiant Airlines, Frontier Airlines and Norwegian Airlines added flights to and from T.F. Green Airport.

“For Providence, it’s great because we’re seeing airfares come down,” said Tim Howes, associate professor of business at Johnson and Wales University.

“It’s also providing a lot of good competition for some of the other legacy airlines,” he added.

Consumers can find great deals on budget airlines but everything is al a carte, from seat selections to a can of soda.

And Howes points out, what passengers end up paying is often significantly more than the advertised cost.

“For most of these discount carriers like Frontier and like Norwegian, if you’re going to go overseas, you’re looking at between $35 – $70 each way for bags, whether it’s a carry-on or a checked bag,” Howes said. “For most of us, we’re usually bringing things with us or we might want a bottle of water, or we might want some food, and those things are going to cost.”

“Oftentimes it still comes out to be a better deal, but you need to know that,” he said.

Cost comparison

To compare total flight costs, Eyewitness News searched for flights between T.F. Green and Tampa (PIE), departing Friday, Dec. 8 and returning Friday, Dec. 15. To ensure an accurate comparison, all searches were conducted Nov. 10 between 4:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The results:

PVD
to TAMPA (PIE)
Flight Round Trip Fare One Checked Bag (RT) Carry-on Baggage (RT) Seat Assignment (RT) Snack & Bottle of Water
(RT)
TOTAL
Allegiant Nonstop $76 $44 $32 $20 – $50 $10 $192
American One Stop $211 $50 Included Included Included $261
Delta One Stop $268 $50 Included Included Included $318
JetBlue Two Stops $559 $50 Included Included Included $609
Southwest Nonstop $235 Included Included Included Included $235
United One Stop $268 $50 Included Included Included $318

To compete with low-cost carriers, Delta, American, and United all have “basic economy” fares. The tickets don’t come with seat assignments and on United and American, basic economy passengers do not have access to overhead bin space for carry-on baggage.

Susan Campbell (scampbell@wpri.com) is the Call 12 for Action and Target 12 consumer investigator for WPRI 12 and Fox Providence. Follow her on Twitter and on Facebook.