Many travelers prefer nonstop flights because they save so much time compared to flights with a connection.
Others favor nonstops because they are traveling with family. They just can’t imagine hustling children across a big airport to get to the next flight. So they pay for the nonstop, no matter how much it costs.
Being trouble-free and getting somewhere fast isn’t the priority for a small number of travelers who depart from Northwest Arkansas National Airport each day. They’ll tolerate a layover that can be six hours or more if it saves hundreds of dollars. On the plus side, those who are stuck somewhere can find good things to do during a long layover.
Which airline serving XNA offers the best opportunity to save real money if a person is willing to wait for a few hours? That’s Frontier Airlines.
Frontier’s only nonstop from XNA goes to Denver (every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday). Federal data shows 15 people a day go to Denver on Frontier and then fly on to San Diego, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles or some other western destination.
With long layovers and low-cost flights in mind, FareFlightNWA examined airfares and the time it takes to fly Frontier to three western destinations compared to competitors American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines. In every instance, FareFlightNWA assumed the traveler would depart from XNA on April 10 and fly home to Arkansas on April 14.
FareFlightNWA relied on data from the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022 to see how many XNA passengers make the trip to the three metros and how many they paid.
The historical data shows 36 people a day took a flight from XNA to an airport in the San Francisco Bay area. Thirty-two of those 36 people flew American, United or Delta. Frontier averaged just four each day.
Those four people saved big, paying an average roundtrip fare of $220. The average fare was far higher on United ($738), American ($684) and Delta ($546).
While the federal data doesn’t have information about the length of layovers, Google Flights makes it possible to see how long the layovers are for future flights.
It takes 16 hours for a person to fly Frontier from XNA to San Francisco on April 10. That includes an 11.5-hour layover in Denver. It’s a 5.5-hour layover in Denver on the way home on April 14. The roundtrip sells for just $157.
The best option among the three legacy carriers on the same travel days is $657 on American. It goes through DFW on its way to SFO. The layover at DFW is an hour going and a little more than an hour coming home.
Salt Lake City
Frontier is the least expensive option from XNA to Salt Lake, and about three people a day make that trip on Frontier. For $347, the layover in Denver is four hours going, and the traveler will spend the night in Denver with an 11.5-hour wait in Denver on the way home.
United’s roundtrip fare on the same dates is $631, and the layover in Denver is about 1.5 hours each way. There are less expensive options on both American ($582, two layovers each way) and United ($612, 25- and 29-hour layovers in Denver), but the $631 option is the way to go. After all, if a layover isn’t a concern, a traveler would fly Frontier for $347, right?
The historical data shows the average fare was actually even cheaper on Frontier ($142 roundtrip) compared to average costs of more than $600 on American, Delta and United.
Remember this is about cost savings versus time savings. In most instances, you can’t accomplish both.
Frontier, which carries about four XNA travelers each day to San Diego, goes there for $157. The layover is 11.5 hours on the way to San Diego on April 10, and it’s 12.5 hours coming home on April 14.
American can get an XNA traveler to San Diego for $657, and there are layovers of one hour and 1.5 hours.
Flying Frontier to San Diego, San Francisco or Salt Lake City is less expensive in terms of dollars but far more expensive in terms of time. Remember what they say: Time is money.
Even with Frontier’s expensive bag fees (near $50 each way), it’s still the best-priced option by a wide margin.
The people who want to save the money should prepare themselves for Denver, Frontier’s largest hub. The Denver airport is great, and it’s a terrific place to kill time. The layovers in the three examples always exceeded four hours and crept toward 13 hours sometimes, and that assumes everything stays on schedule.
Another layover option would be to intentionally make it super long, potentially 24 to 36 hours. That would provide ample time to leave the airport, sleep at a hotel and experience the layover city. Denver is perfect for just that scenario.