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Are Budget Airlines Truly Budget? Crunching the True Cost of That “Cheap” Flight

You’ll find Spirit, Frontier, Allegiant Air, and plenty of similar budget airlines on the departures boards at airports in many places popular with tourists, including beach towns, Vegas, Mexico, and the Caribbean. 

But budget airlines are no longer sticking to regional or domestic markets. Now you can even fly airlines with similar pricing concepts across the Atlantic Ocean: French bee shuttles travelers to Paris, PLAY can take you to Iceland and then on to Europe, and Norse Atlantic flies from the U.S. to London and Oslo, Norway.

Exactly what is the budget airlines concept? Any average traveler would likely point to two features: low fares and add-on fees.

“It’s their entire business model,” says airfare expert Scott Keyes, founder of (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights). “When you search for a flight, the cheapest fare that pops up will almost always be a budget airline.”

For that reason, even flyers who have shied away from taking one of the budget airlines may, at some point soon, find themselves wondering what the experience is like—although even the largest, longest-running airlines now emulate the budget airline formula in some way with the addition of basic economy tickets.

To show you in detail what flying a no-frills airline entails—and where the pricing pitfalls are—we took a day trip on a cheap flight to one of the nation’s most popular leisure destinations: Orlando, the land of Mickey Mouse and Harry Potter.