Costco visits and Netflix binges are usually as wild as I get on weekends. But my recent text messages suggested an unpredictable and glamorous life.
“Hey, this is random,” I asked a friend, “but do you want to go to Vegas next week?”
I had pitched the idea to my editors a few months earlier. I’d buy Frontier Airlines’ GoWild! summer pass promising unlimited travel from spring through September, with a few caveats. One of the biggest: You can only reserve your domestic flights one day in advance, so a roundtrip ticket is out of the question.
Given the city’s reputation for glamour and luck, it seemed to me appropriate to begin in Las Vegas — assuming I could get a ticket.
The promotion, then sold at $399 (it’s now $499), comes with several blackout dates, and the GoWild! fare isn’t available on every flight Frontier offers. Still, booking my weekday flight from Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport ended up not being a problem, though it required a layover in Denver.
Finding someone to come with me on a last-minute sojourn to Sin City? Not so easy. Expensive flight prices on other airlines or a general aversion to Vegas stopped friends and family from taking the leap. Days before I headed west, I realized I’d be on my own.
Like other low-cost carriers, Frontier charges for pretty much everything, from seat assignments to sodas. “No blankets, no headphones,” I overheard one flight attendant respond to a passenger’s request. Want a specific seat, or one that reclines? That’s extra. A soda and some pretzels? You’d better have a credit card. In-flight movies? In your dreams.
I ended up paying around $77 for taxes, fees and a carry-on bag for my journey there. (I was impressed by the many travelers I saw who managed to cram all their necessities into the single small backpack Frontier allows as a “personal item.” One passenger had nothing but a small Chipotle bag with a jacket inside.) On my way back, I purchased a $106 bundle that included seat selection, a carry-on and checked baggage. While I didn’t need the extra luggage, I was glad to have my choice of chair. The flights I traveled on were almost entirely full — perhaps a reflection of the pass’ success? — so an aisle seat near the entrance allowed me to board and deplane with less hassle.
Frontier’s main hub is in Denver, and travelers from Baltimore will often need a layover there; some other flights connect through Atlanta, Georgia, or Orlando, Florida. (The airline also offers seasonal direct flights from BWI to Puerto Rico and Mexico.)
Despite the stipulations and extra fees, GoWild! offers a good deal for flexible travelers who don’t mind going solo — or having a long day of travel. (There’s even an annual, all-you-can-fly pass option for the more adventurous among us.) In the end, I hitched a ride to Vegas for less than $200 round trip at a time when many round-trip flights there were listed at $600 or more with other carriers.
I left Baltimore not knowing exactly when I would return. At first, this prospect seemed stressful but later felt exciting. Who knew? Maybe I’d have a change of heart and decide to head to Seattle instead of coming home. But it did require some spontaneity and guesswork in planning out my itinerary.
Discount airlines can be a gamble. I was happy to see that the flights departed and generally arrived on time, and the seat and plane appeared to be in good condition. (Frontier bills itself as the country’s “greenest airline” given the fuel efficiency of its relatively new fleet.) Flight attendants on all my journeys seemed friendly and experienced, with a seen-it-all assertiveness I appreciated. One had no qualms about telling a passenger their music was playing too loud on their headphones (to the collective, silent “thank you” of everyone in the vicinity).
In the end, three nights in Vegas was more than enough for me. When an Uber driver informed me that an electronic dance music festival was coming to town for the weekend and that the streets would soon be even more choked with traffic than they already were, I decided it was time to go home. Fortunately for me, there was a flight leaving Friday at 1:27 a.m.
After one more layover in Denver, I returned to Baltimore around 11 a.m. exhausted, but ready for my next adventure. I may be a homebody at heart, but there’s still something fun about going wild.