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Why I Spent 1 1/2 Hours Going To The Airport & Back Without Flying

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How To Buy Tickets At The Airport

How To Buy Tickets At The Airport & Save Big

I drove 30 minutes to the airport, hung around for 30 minutes, and then drove 30 minutes home.  Why would I do that?  Who wants to go to the airport when they really don’t have to?  Well that 90 minutes saved me $160 on my plane tickets so that is why I did it. I’ll show you how to buy tickets at the airport and save big.

RELATED: Flying Spirit Airlines Is Not That Bad, But It Is Different

Update 11/23/22:

I just did this again last week to snag some roundtrip flights to Orlando for under $100 per person on Frontier. I figured it was worth a reminder to people that this can lead to cheap flights and some big savings.

Save Money By Purchasing Tickets At The Airport

I have talked about this in the past, how Spirit charges $20 each way to book tickets online.  It is a built in fee that most don’t realize is there.  And it is not just Spirit Airlines but pretty much all the low cost carriers do it like Allegiant, Frontier etc. I wanted to go into a little more detail and break down my savings and how to do it as painless as possible.

My Figures

I found some roundtrip flights on Spirit to Orlando for the four of us for $607 all in.  I could have booked these with Citi ThankYou points for around 49,000 ThankYou points.  But if I drove to the airport to book the tickets I would save $160 ($20 each way per person for 4 people). That reduced the price to $447. That effectively dropped the value of the ThankYou points to under one cent a piece, not a good redemption.

It isn’t that simple though since I had to drive there and park.  I parked in short term parking and since I timed it right it only cost me $4 to park. The roundtrip drive was 50 miles in total which at 50 cents per mile cost me $25.  So the savings were more like $130.  Would I spend 90 minutes to save $130 again? Heck yeah I would! It is kind of like earning $86 an hour. But I did some things that insured my time investment would be minimal.

RELATED: 5 Things You Need To Know Before Flying Spirit Airlines

How To Buy Tickets At The Airport
Notice the lack of lines, that is where proper planning comes in!

Guide: How To Buy Tickets At The Airport

I did a few different things to make sure the process was as smooth as possible:

1. Search Your Flights Before Going

First things first, get all of the info you need before going.  The airports, the flight times, the cost etc.  Write it all down.  I witnessed other people trying to buy tickets and the agent was reciting all of the different flights and prices for the day.  This wastes their time and your time.  Know what you want before you go.

2. Write Down Every Traveler’s Information 

The second thing you want to do is write down everyone’s name and birth date. The agent will be inputting this info by hand and by writing it down they will make less mistakes, ask you less questions, and you will save a ton of time.  The agent was so excited when I pulled out my paper with everything he needed.  If you have bad hand writing them type it up.

3. Know When To Go

This might be the most important tip.  You want to time this right. You want to pick a time or day when traffic is light and when where there is a gap in flights.  Before heading down I checked Spirit’s traffic for the day. I use flightview and they let you narrow it down to each individual airline. Spirit had a flight going out at 2PM that day and then a gap till 4PM.  Everyone for that 2PM flight would be through the lines by 1:30PM and most of the people for the 4PM flight would not show up till 2:30PM or later.  So 1:30-2:30 was the perfect window to get to the airport. Traffic is also light that time of day. Also be sure there are still flights happening for the day because if there are not there will be no one at the counter.  Don’t just drive to the airport hoping it will work out.

4. Proper Parking 

Most people have probably never used short term parking.  The set up at DTW is the same as long term parking in the parking structure next to the terminal.  You enter in the same place but you veer to the right when going to get your ticket.  The short term area is right by the elevators for easy access and charges by the hour versus by the day.  So be sure you use the right lot to save yourself some money.  If I went into long term parking I would have paid $14 for the day versus $4 for half an hour.

How To Buy Tickets At The Airport: Final Thoughts

I hope this will help you save some money and time the next time you decide to fly a low cost carrier.  If you live within an hour of the airport and multiple people are flying this will usually make sense.

You can also line it up with other times you are flying so you don’t need to make a special trip to the airport.  My next flight wasn’t for two weeks and this was the lowest I had seen the flights so I didn’t want to risk waiting.  If you have weekends off Saturday or Sunday is a good day for traffic purposes on the road and at the airport.  I ended up getting our roundtrip flights for around $120 a person when taking all costs into account. I will take that any day!

Does anyone else do this regularly?  Share your tips in the comments.

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Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann
Mark Ostermann is a father, husband and miles/points fanatic. He left the corporate world after starting a family in order to be a stay at home dad. Mark is constantly looking at ways to save money and stay within budget while also taking awesome vacations with his family. When he isn't caring for his family or taking a weekend trip, Mark is working towards his goal of visiting every Major League Baseball ballpark.

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  1. Thank you for this information. I followed your instructions and saved over $300.00 on my flight!!!! You are truly awesome 🙂

  2. Thank you for the article.
    …Does this work with all airlines? I want to purchase from Southwest….

    Too bad you don’t live in an area where where you could take a train to the airport I hated living there but Minneapolis was the best because the airport is a stop on the light rail train… …….

    • Lee it only works for the low cost carriers like Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit. Southwest will give you the same price as booking online as will the major airlines like Delta and United.

      • Oh wow seriously?. I was going to book online found a good deal for Delta but someone told me it would be cheaper to buy directly from the airline. I didn’t really want to make that long drive but if it’s not worth it…..

        • This only works for low cost carriers like Frontier, Allegiant & Spirit. It will not be cheaper to purchase Delta at the airport so just go ahead and book it online.

  3. Does anyone know if you still get the savings if you book a flight flying out of a different airport? I have a small airport close to me that Frontier flies out of and it would be a quick drive, but the Frontier flight I want is out of a different airport which is much farther away. Do you if they will book a flight for another airport and you’d still be able to save the fee?

  4. #2 should be: Create a frequent flyer account with all of the travelers’ information including known traveler numbers, and give the agent those. Any other approach leaves the door open for typos, which I have had cause problems with ticketing twice out of only four or five times that I have booked at the counter or over the phone.

    • That is a good tip Kenny! I always check the names etc. before leaving the counter but FF # etc. can eliminate potential issues for sure.

  5. I picture Spirit flights like those trains in Japan where they push people in with sticks to get the doors to close because they’re so overcrowded. Not that the plane would be overcrowded, but you would have to pay a fee to be spared from being prodded with sticks as you board (‘$11 fee for stick-prodding-free boarding, or simply become a credit card member to upgrade to a no stick prodding fare class’)
    Seriously though, please review the Spirit flights. I find LCC reviews to be interesting reads.

  6. If you are paying for bags, then you need to consider the added cost of paying for baggage at the reservation counter vs online. When you buy baggage at the airport reservation desk you pay $55/$52 for the first carry-on/checked bag. The cheapest prices of 35/32 are only available when you buy online at the time of booking. Paying for baggage online after booking through check-in is in between at 45/42. So if you are paying for bags, some or all of the savings if you have multiple bags, are forfeited.

    • Good point Craig. I usually only fly Spirit for short trips and take a backpack to keep the costs down but something you need to add into your calculations if you are taking luggage.

  7. Spirit does not seem the have that charge for a Dfw-las rt. There is a $9 passenger facility charge on the rt but not each way. The total rt was $98.

      • Apologies, I was looking in the government section in error.

        One strange thing though, the fee on my cheap dates, dfw-las 5/7-5-9, was $14.99 each way rather than $19.99. On expensive close dates, it was the $19.99. Don’t know the break point of the price drop.

  8. At lga, the centurion lounge is land side. So it’s possible for Queens residents to sneak in without dealing with tsa. U need to get creative with a boarding pass. A short subway+bus ride is 2.75, enough said.


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