AIRLINES

4 airlines flying out of Phoenix offer cheap flight programs. Here's how much you can save

Michael Salerno
Arizona Republic

Would you pay a monthly or annual fee to an airline if it means a chance to save money on flights?

Some airlines, notably the ultra-low-cost Frontier Airlines and Spirit Airlines, are betting yes. They offer paid membership programs with perks like exclusive lower airfares not available to nonmembers.

Spirit and Frontier recently expanded the number of flights they offer at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, so now is a good time for Arizonans to consider whether airline subscription plans will help them save money. 

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How airline subscription plans work

When Frontier Airlines announced two new routes from Phoenix in September, it offered promotional one-way fares of $89 to Detroit and $99 to Cincinnati. Members of the airline’s subscription program, the Discount Den, could pay $10 less for flights to each city.

Spirit Airlines advertised an $85 one-way fare between Phoenix and Kansas City, another new route. But flyers had to be members of the Spirit Saver$ Club to get that fare. The lowest fare available to nonmembers was $93.

Frontier's and Spirit’s memberships are among the most prominent of these programs, but they’re not the only ones. Here's a look at airlines' premium membership clubs and what they do and don't do.

(Some airlines, such as United and American, offer memberships with perks such as airport lounge access and seating upgrades. This article focuses on memberships that offer fare discounts.)

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Frontier Airlines Discount Den

A Frontier Airlines plane at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport's Terminal 3.

Cost: $59.99 per year; a one-time enrollment fee of $40 is required in the first year.

What it offers: Access to Frontier’s lowest airfares and special promotions, a Kids Fly Free deal where one child 14 or younger can fly for every adult Discount Den fare purchased, and the ability to share the discount with up to nine people on a member’s reservation.

What it doesn’t offer: Discounts on extra charges such as bag fees.

Is it worth it: It depends on how frequently you travel, your routes and your travel dates. The annual cost could pay for itself if you travel often, especially on higher-demand routes.

For instance, nonstop one-way flights from Sky Harbor to Orlando, Florida, on the days before Thanksgiving (Nov. 23) and Christmas Eve (Dec. 24) were priced at $209 for Discount Den members, a $30 savings from the standard fare of $239. Keep in mind the fares do not include taxes and charges for checked bags and other services.

If you travel with children, the Kids Fly Free offer could make the Discount Den subscription worthwhile. But there are numerous blackout dates. Read the fine print at  flyfrontier.com/kidsflyfree.

Details: flyfrontier.com/deals/discount-den.

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Spirit Saver$ Club

The inside of an airplane with passengers in the seats

Cost: $69.95 for 12 months, $99.90 for 18 months or $129.90 for 24 months.

What it offers: Discounts on airfares, bag fees, seat selection fees, shortcut security and shortcut boarding for members and up to eight guests on their reservation.

What it doesn’t offer: A kids fly free perk.

Is it worth it: The Spirit Saver$ Club FAQ page says members can offset the enrollment cost in as little as one booking. Naturally, that will depend on where and when you fly.

We priced a Nov. 8-10 Phoenix-Seattle trip. The standard rate was $164.16 round trip; the Saver$ Club rate was $149.16. Selecting travel options a la carte, the route also comes with $93 in carry-on bag fees ($91 for members), $97 for seat selections ($86 for members) and $6 for a security shortcut ($3 for members).

With these optional fees included, the total standard fare came to $360.16. A Saver$ Club member would pay $329.16, a savings of $31.

The savings can be greater for routes outside the continental United States.

A Nov. 2-11 Phoenix-Puerto Rico trip showed a standard round-trip fare before fees of $345.54. The Saver$ Club fare was $58.18 lower at $287.36.

A Nov. 5-16 Phoenix-Costa Rica trip came out to $578.85 at the standard rate. Saver$ Club members can book the same itinerary for $490.26, a savings of just under $89. Bag fees, seat selection and other optional fees are extra.

The Spirit Saver$ Club could benefit frequent flyers as well as those flying to the Caribbean, South America or Central America. 

Details: spirit.com/savers-club.

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Alaska Airlines Flight Pass

Cost: $49 per month for one round-trip flight every two months; $99 per month for one round-trip flight every month; $189 per month for two round-trip flights every month. Travelers must commit to 12 months of membership; one year at the lowest level would total $588. 

What it offers: Frequent flights to a handful of destinations in California, Arizona and Nevada. The cheapest flights are priced at $14.61, representing a base fare of 1 cent plus taxes. Travelers must book 14 days in advance unless they chose the Flight Pass Pro option, which starts at $199 per month and allows booking as late as two hours ahead.

What it doesn't offer: Unlimited flight discounts. Travelers receive a fixed number of flight credits based on the plan they select. Credits are deposited in a person's Flight Pass account monthly or bimonthly, depending on the plan, and expire if not used by a certain date.

Is it worth it: Some aspects of Alaska Airlines Flight Pass are attractive, like the fact that there are no blackout dates (though some dates have higher fares than others).

However, the Flight Pass subscription is more expensive than Frontier's and Spirit's. Its destinations are extremely limited, mostly serving cities in California. It currently offers only one destination from Phoenix, and that's San Francisco.

Flight Pass could benefit Arizonans who are frequent Bay Area travelers. Round-trip main cabin fare for an Oct. 20-24 Phoenix-San Francisco trip was advertised at $277.20, but it's just $29.22 with Flight Pass. Members can upgrade to premium class or first class for an extra fee. 

Details: flightpass.alaskaair.com/asa/subscriptions.

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Volaris v.club

Cost: $3.99 per month or $38.99 per year for an individual membership; $5.99 per month or $64.99 per year for a duo membership; $14.99 per month or $149.99 per year for a friends and family membership good for up to eight people.

What it offers: Airfare discounts and other promotions, as well as hotel deals and vacation packages at Yavas.com, an affiliate of Volaris. The airline specializes in travel to and from Mexico.

What it doesn't offer: Friends and family memberships let children ages 2-12 fly for almost free, but only within Mexico. It doesn't apply to international flights.

Is it worth it: Pricing several itineraries between Phoenix and Cancun, Monterrey and Mexico City, the average savings was $15-$20 each way.

An Oct. 14 flight between Phoenix and Guadalajara was $128.04 one way at the standard basic fare, which doesn't include fees for carry-on bags and other options, and $109.54 for v.club members.

The savings are greater for people who choose the higher fare category that includes two carry-ons, a checked bag and a place in the first boarding group. The fare for that category was $252 for the general public and $221 for v.club members.

The membership may be worthwhile for people who travel often to Mexico, given the low cost of membership. When budgeting your trip, know that Mexican airports charge a use fee known as the TUA. Each airport levies a different TUA fee, ranging from $20 to $60.

Details: vclub.volaris.com.

Reach the reporter at Michael.Salerno@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @salerno_phx.