Help Me Hank: Taking the fear out of no frills flying

The smart way to fly no frills airlines

With the holiday travel season fast approaching, it can get expensive to fly when the whole family is going along for the ride. Many travelers on a budget
will consider discount carriers like Spirit, Frontier, and Southwest. Unfortunately, you've probably also heard some horror stories about add-on fees, trip delays, and a lack of customer service.

Spirit Airlines, for example, often finishes last in Air Quality Ratings. The industry's annual report card put Spirit in last place in 2015, just below Envoy and Frontier. Spirit had the worst on-time performance (69 percent), while Hawaiian Airlines had the best (88.4 percent).

Numbers like those made one busy working mom nervous when her husband booked a trip from Houston to Denver on Spirit for her family of five. She took us along for the ride and learned how savvy travelers can remove some of the fear of flying no frills.

Do your homework before you book!

Since the tickets were booked, Amy Davis decided to make the best of it and learn all she could about flying a discount airline. One of the first lessons, do your homework before booking. One common fear for Davis and other travelers is delays and cancellations.

"Half of us flew Spirit, half of us didn't, and it was a big joke that okay... we're lucky we're here! Let's hope we all get home," said Laura Mogelson as she waited for a flight at Detroit's Metro Airport. She was in town over Labor Day weekend for a family event.

You can fight that fear by checking the website www.flightstats.com. Just plug in the flight number and you'll find out how often any flight is on-time- delayed or canceled. Davis found out her flight from Houston to Denver was on time 69 percent of the time. She felt that was a pretty good bet since she was saving $470 dollars on the ticket price by flying Spirit.

Davis videotaped her trip and reported this about the boarding process, "It's 5:21, the plane was supposed to begin boarding at 4:56 for takeoff at 5:41, but we were in our seats by 5:37. So, that wasn't too bad."

Help Me Hank also checked with a local travel expert. David Fishman of the Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield says there's something else you should check. "The other thing is look and see if they have more than one flight to that destination, on that airline, on that day, " he said. If there are not additional flights and your flight is canceled you could get stuck.

Track all the fees you will have to pay!

Once you choose your flight, do more homework and track all the fees you will have to pay for things like your seat, your checked bags, your carry-on, and even food. Laura Mogelson said she experienced some trial and error when she booked her tickets on Spirit. "It all of the sudden was 30 percent more than it originally was. So, then I scratched that and started over."

Fishman also says it's important to pay any fees online as soon as you can because those fees are lower than later in the process. For example, if you pay for a checked bag when you purchase your ticket, it's $21. Check the same bag at the airport and you'll pay $50. You pay even more for carry-ons with Spirit:
$26 while booking and $55 if you pay at the airport.

Our traveling mother from Houston found you do get to bring a decent-sized person item on board that measures 16" by 14" by 12". She found her son's little rolling bag was well within those dimensions.

Once you're set with your bags, think about packing your own food or buying snacks at the airport. No free snacks on board and a bottle of water will cost

While some people don't like the fees, we found a frequent Spirit flier who says navigating the fees pay off for him. "If you're booking online, you can see everything. It's your choice if you want to buy it or not," said Farruk Khan of Sterling Heights.

Flexibility is key!

Finally, our travel expert leaves you with one more piece of advice. Based on his experiences, he says the key to no frills flying is flexibility. "If you need to be somewhere at a certain time, at a certain place, no frills is not going to work for you," said David Fishman of the Cadillac Travel Group in Southfield.

In the end, Amy Davis of Houston says her trip went fine. However, she agrees with Fishman, saying if she had to be somewhere at a specific time, she would have been less comfortable booking those tickets.