Allegiant, Southwest or US Airways: Which will give you the best deal on travel?

Taking off for the perfect summer vacation can be pricey, but will flying a smaller airline really save you money?

With several airlines promising the best deal, I looked into which airline will truly give you the best overall deal on air travel.

We compared Allegiant Air which is an a la carte airline, Southwest Airlines and the hometown US Airways. You'll have to fly out of Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport when you fly Allegiant, but I found some incredible prices on airfare.

Let's break down some of the additional fees.

On Allegiant, you get one free personal item as long as it fits under your seat. Otherwise, you'll pay anywhere from $10 to $25 for that item. If you prepay for the carry-on, it will cost you $35 at the airport and remember that's just one way. Since I'm the Smart Shopper, obviously I'll take the cheaper route, so we will prepay in this comparison. It's another $15 each way for each checked bag and the price goes up depending on where you plan to travel. We're going to pass on the snacks, since they range from $2 to $13 in this comparison.

What about flights.

Allegiant has fares to Las Vegas for just $39.99 each way. That's nearly half the price of Southwest Airlines or US Airways.

Let's look at little closer before you get excited. Don't forget those fees.

The Southwest ticket is all inclusive, meaning it includes two 50-pound bags, a carry on, a basic drink, and food. US Airways allows a free carry on, but charges $25 for the first checked bag and $35 for the second, but they offer basic drink and food too. Allegiant on the other hand is a la carte. The price just includes the flight. Everything else is extra.

We did a search comparing similar flights and included in the cost two checked bags and one carry-on because Southwest Airlines offers this in their fare price. We did not include the additional costs Allegiant Air charges for food and snacks.

We specifically looked at flights from Phoenix to Las Vegas leaving on June 2, 2013 returning on June 7 for each of the three airlines. Southwest Airlines price was $141.80 and that includes two checked bags and a carry-on bag.

US Airways was $170 and that includes a free carry-on bag plus with two checked bags. The fee is $25 for first checked bag and $35 for second and that is for each way. So now, the total to add to that fare is $120. US Airways total cost for that round trip ticket is $290.

Allegiant's roundtrip fare is $79.98 for just airfare. That includes the $4 each way discount for paying with your debit card on their website. For your carry-on bag it will cost you $10 each way and two checked bags are $14.99 each bag, each way. Allegiant checked bag fees vary depending on where you travel to and from. So, for this trip to Vegas your total for checked bags is $59.96. Now your total cost to fly to Las Vegas is $159.94.

How about San Francisco?  Both Southwest and US Airways fly to San Francisco. Allegiant flies less than 20 minutes away to Oakland, California. We checked prices for flights leaving Phoenix on August 2nd, returning August 9th, with all of the same amenities.

Southwest will cost you $311.80 roundtrip and US Airways $312. Don't forget bag fees tack on another $120 for US Airways which makes the total ticket price $432. Allegiant fees for that flight will cost you $105.96 to be exact. Then add that to their $167.78 airfare making Allegiant's total cost $273.74. Still, they beat Southwest Airlines by more than $38.

We compared several more fares between the three airlines and in most cases, Allegiant starts off with the best price at least on airfare. It's the fees that kill your wallet. Another downside, Allegiant doesn't fly to as many cities or major airports as Southwest or US Airways.

Still, if the airport isn't a big deal and you don't have any bags, you can save a lot flying Allegiant. If you're checking bags, Southwest Airlines was our overall winner.

My advice: plan in advance and do lots of research. Remember, many travel comparison sites don't compare prices for, Southwest and Allegiant, so go directly to their sites to do your own research.

Please be aware we compared the rates at the time we did the research for this story.

Rates may have changed since then. In addition Allegiant will be increasing their baggage fees if you pay at the airport. If you prepay those fees will not be going up.

This fee increase starts May 1, 2013. They will go up from $35 to $50 in most cases and if you fly to or from Honolulu it will be $75. These fees are for the first and second bag.

If you need 3rd or 4th bags checked in, you will pay $100 each way. 

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