So really. . . . What’s the difference in airlines? Tradition? Low-Cost? Ultra-Low-Cost?

December 14, 2021
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There is a broad range of airline options from traditional carriers, low-cost carriers, and ultra-low-cost carriers.  It’s like a shopping mall with high end options and more economical choices to meet the different desires and needs of air travelers.  


So, what’s the difference?

How many different airlines have you flown? Here are the airlines that fly out of CVG Airport in three easy categories:

  1. Full-Service Traditional Carriers: Delta Air Lines, American Airlines, United, Air Canada
  2. Full-Service Value/Low-Cost Carriers: Southwest, Alaska Airlines
  3. Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers (ULCC): Allegiant, Frontier, Sun Country, Viva Aerobus

All of them safely get you from point A to point B. And, how lucky for the Cincinnati region to have all these airlines fly out of the Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky International Airport!  Travelers from Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana and beyond can take advantage of these options!


However, there are some major differences you should know about before you book your next trip.


First, let’s talk about the full-service players at CVG – which includes traditional and value/low-cost.


There is currently a great mix of carriers in operation in the US and Canada. Hawaiian Airlines is one of them, but it doesn’t fly out of CVG yet, but believe me – I’ve put my vote in the suggestion box!


These full-service airlines offer many routes, both domestic and international.

In general, most full-service airlines (traditional and value/low-cost) offer some pretty nice benefits:


  • Cabin classes – Usually, these carriers offer multiple classes of service on each plane – first, business, economy, etc.
  • Food & Drink – On-board soft drinks and light snacks are generally included with your ticket. (Shoutout to Delta cookies! They are, hands down, a must have on any Delta flight!) There are also usually additional snacks, sandwiches, or small meals available for purchase. On international flights, alcohol is typically also included in your ticket price.
  • Fare classes – Some fare classes have seat choice included with your ticket price. However, be aware that Delta and American have begun offering no-frills basic economy tickets that do charge for seat assignments. Southwest offers an open seating style with boarding group approach.

Flight changes – If your flight is cancelled due to weather or equipment issues, these carriers often can rebook or revise your travel plans quickly or route you through another city to get you to your destination shortly after your original arrival time.  This happened to us on a flight from CVG to London.

  • While at the gate, the agent noticed our connecting flight was going to be delayed so she was able to quickly reroute us to another connecting airport that got us to Europe at nearly the exact same time.
  • Baggage – A carry-on bag is generally included free of charge. Checked baggage is included with some tickets. On Southwest, your first two bags are free on all flights. It should be noted that with some basic economy tickets on other traditional carriers, a baggage charge can still occur. (Pro Tip: Get the airline’s credit card to save on bag fees. I’ve used the Delta American Express card, and it gives you free checked baggage on all flights.)
  • Seat – Sometimes you have more leg room and/or more comfortable economy seats. Delta, American, United, Southwest, Alaska, and Air Canada all have seats that recline.
  • Entertainment – Often these airlines have in-flight entertainment options either on seatback televisions or tablet/phone-based services.
  • Customer Service – They usually provide more phone support when you need to speak with customer service and typically have company representatives who are based in each market working at check-in and at the gate.
  • Rewards – Solid airline miles rewards, or frequent flyer, programs that can result in free travel and upgrades are pretty much a given.
  • Kids – Both full-service options – traditional and value – offer services for unaccompanied minors (usually at an additional cost.)
  • Networks – Many of these full-service carriers are part of a global network offering loyalty programs and airline partnerships that enable global access.
    • Delta Air Lines is a member of the Skyteam global alliance.
    • Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are part of the oneWorld Alliance.
    • United Airlines and Air Canada are a part of the Star Alliance.
A late-night snack while playing video games? Definitely a full-service traditional carrier! (American Airlines, btw)

But what about those other airlines?  You know, the ones we get fun emails from promising $29 flights to Florida. I’m often asked, “what’s the catch?” from new travelers.


They are what’s known as “ultra-low-cost carriers,” and they can be an amazing way to save money on your next trip.


Ultra-low-cost carriers (ULCCs) at CVG include:


Overall, the common theme is in their name – these airlines save money on their operations and pass the savings onto the customer.

Frontier may be an ultra-low-cost carrier… but they have some of the coolest looking planes around!

But there are some notable differences you should be aware of:

  • Most planes only have one class of service. This puts more people into the plane and allows flights to be cheaper.


  • Most everything is an add-on. It’s a la carte with everything, so you choose what you want or need.
    • Want to pick your seat? If yes, add it to the tab.


    • Want to bring a carry-on item? No problem, but you might have a fee for it.
      • Pro tip: Do not try to take an oversized item or a carry-on item for free. If you’re caught, you’ll often have to pay a higher fee to check the bag at the gate than if you had just checked it before your flight.


    • Want to check a bag? You’ll definitely pay for it.
      • Pro tip: Some airlines, like Frontier, allow you to prepay for your baggage before your flight and save money.



    • Want priority boarding? This may be an additional fee if it’s available on your airline.


    • Need a drink or snack? On some airlines, soft drinks are provided. Generally, snacks are available for purchase.


  • Some airlines offer the ability to join a club for an annual membership fee, like Frontier’s Discount Den, in exchange for lower prices on flights than regular customers.  This can result in even greater savings when you’re loyal to one airline or have a trip planned for a family of four or five people.


  • Seats. (Oh, this is a big one for a lot of people.) Depending on your airline, some seats can be narrower, have decreased legroom or be less comfortable overall than full-service carriers. Some seats or even entire planes on ULCCs can have seats with limited or no recline ability.


  • The low, advertised fare is often priced one-way and may not include mandatory taxes and fees.


  • Basic customer service options are available.  Some airlines offer limited call-times or longer waits to speak to an agent. Others utilize third-party companies on the ground and might have fewer staff based at the airport. These carriers are great at working through customer service needs via social media – I recommend a DM any day of the week!


  • Generally, there are no in-flight entertainment options.


  • ULCCs may not fly to or from a destination every day of the week. This can be especially important to note if planning a time-sensitive or business trip. As I noted earlier, a full-service carrier can often offer fast rebooking or re-routing through another airport to get you to your destination; ultra-low-cost carriers don’t have the same network, airline partners, or volume of flights. This happened to us while returning from Las Vegas with an ULCC, and we had a flight cancellation. The airline could not get us home for two days, so we had to cancel our flights with them for a refund and re-book with another carrier (at a higher cost).


  • Generally, most ULCCs will not allow unaccompanied minors to fly.  Frontier, Allegiant, Sun Country, Viva Aerobus (for international flights) specifically spell this out in their terms and conditions.
Carry-on luggage often flies free on full-service carriers, but you’ll pay extra on ultra-low-cost airlines. Make sure to carefully review all fees before booking your ticket!

So… which is better?


There’s no right or wrong choice.  We’ve flown with almost every full-service carrier – both traditional and low cost, as well as the ultra-low-cost carriers in the US and some fun ones abroad. (“Wizz Air” is my favorite name for an airline, and Ryanair straight up sells lottery tickets on-board!) 

We aren’t fancy, keep our expectations in check, and generally enjoy most every flight we take regardless of which airline we’re on. Know what you are getting when you book!

Ultra-low-cost carriers often provide convenient nonstop travel options that full-service carriers may not. Traditional carriers focus on frequency of schedule options to their hubs to provide connecting opportunities. Low-cost and ultra-low-cost carriers focus on origin and destination nonstop flight options. In 2021, low-cost carriers Allegiant, Frontier and Southwest offered nonstop flights from CVG to a combined 12 popular leisure destinations that major carriers only offered on a connecting basis.

Here are my top recommendations on what to choose depending on your type of trip:


  • Important Business Meeting: Full-service – Traditional or low-cost. I want to know that I can get to the client meeting or conference on-time and get home to see my family when it’s over. I’ve also flown a traditional carrier out of CVG and taken a full-service low-cost carrier for my return flight to save money. As a full-service low-cost carrier, Southwest is a major business travel airline.


  • Family Vacation: I lean toward ultra-low-cost carrier. If you’ve got flexibility and have a bunch of plane tickets to buy for your family, you can save big by flying with a ULCC.


  • Destination Wedding: Full-service– Traditional or low-cost. If your flight is cancelled, you have a better chance of getting rescheduled on a full-service airline and making it to the ceremony.
  • Emergencies: Whoever is the fastest/cheapest. Emergency and bereavement fares are sometimes available but usually aren’t very cheap.  In this case, take whichever flight can get you there.
  • Fun Weekend Trip: Low-cost or ultra-low-cost carrier. Tired of your usual road trip vacation destinations? Oftentimes, I can find a 3–4-day trip with a low-cost carrier that gets us to a faraway destination for the same price or even less than a trip to Gatlinburg.

Planning your next vacation?  Check out my Deals page as well as the Travel Navigator page and find your next cheap flight deal.

Brick-lined streets of Savannah, GA are just a non-stop flight away from CVG!

Let me know where you’re heading next. I love seeing your travel photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can reach me @JayKruzOfficial. 


Get out and see the world. Just pack a smile, and every flight can be a great one!


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