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Mike Polk Jr. took a $40 round-trip flight to Florida for a day. Here's what he learned

Flying high with low expectations

CLEVELAND — I traveled to and from Florida in the same day for a grand total of $40 and you can too! Assuming, of course, that you’re willing to check your expectations and your pride at the door. 

But don’t check them at the Frontier gate, there’s a $35 upcharge for that.

Extreme discount airline travel is certainly not for everyone. If you’re a person accustomed to a more traditional and comfortable flying experience, it can be quite jarring.

As a lifelong member of the lower-middle class, I’ve had no trouble adjusting to the “no frills” nature of the experience and I’ve been happy to take advantage of the ongoing battle between budget airlines like Spirit, Frontier and Allegiant as they compete to offer the lowest prices and, consequently, most dehumanizing flying experiences in the industry.

Not so long ago, air travel was a pricey luxury reserved largely for white collar business folks and people of means. The expense rendered most Americans earthbound and tragically bus-dependent.

RELATED: How much Florida fun can you squeeze into one day? Mike Polk Jr. nabs $40 round-trip flight from Cleveland to Tampa to find out

But somewhere along the way, airlines realized that by cutting back on many of the frills, such as adequate legroom, in-flight entertainment, complimentary beverage service and a competent, cordial work force, they could offer ticket prices that opened up their business to an untapped demographic: my unprosperous family and friends.

I sincerely think it’s a great development. These discount flights allow people whom in the past couldn’t have afforded to travel the ability to visit places they may have otherwise never seen and to do so affordably and conveniently.

But you get what you pay for, as they say. And you don’t want to go into this adventure without some basic info on how to best navigate the system. So here are a few tips I’ve learned from my recent Florida day trip and other experiences traveling via “The Megabuses Of The Sky.”

Abandon any hope of comfort, ye who enter here

One way the airlines have cut costs so considerably is by packing as many people onto their re-painted, former Pan Am planes as possible. That means smaller seats, less leg room, no recline option, etc. It’s best to limber up and stretch at the gate before entering the plane. Because you’ll essentially be treated like immobilized veal for the duration of your flight.

Avoid the baggage fees

Bag fees have been one of the biggest money makers for these discount airlines as they’ve become more and more stringent about charging for all but the smallest of carry-ons. I made the grave mistake of grabbing some Burger King at the airport before getting on the flight home from Tampa and I would not have been shocked if the gate employee had tried to charge me a baggage fee to bring it on. Beat the system by limiting yourself to a child-sized backpack (see video above). Wear cargo pants for additional storage.

Pre-refresh yourself before boarding

Airlines like Frontier now charge for everything, even tap water. Don’t let them win. While drink prices are still a bit steep at airport bars, they’re dwarfed by what you’ll be charged for libations on the plane. Pre-flight tailgating is definitely the more financially sensible option.

Keep those expectations low

Recognize that traveling this affordably comes at a non-financial cost. But remember that you’re still getting an amazing deal. I went to Florida and back for $40! That’s insane. It’s tough to go to the movies these days for that amount of money and I went to the bottom of America and back.

Check out my brief but magical journey to Tampa Bay, one of Florida’s most Floridian places, in the video above. Bon Voyage.

Click here to see Frontier's current flight deals.

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