How To: Making The Most of Budget Airlines

Though I’ve never taken a flight with Spirit or Frontier airlines, budget airlines based in the United States, I’ve taken a few trips with European budget airlines, EasyJet and Norwegian, and Asia’s AirAsia, and their policies are pretty identical.  When perusing various travel groups and blogs, it seems that people either love or hate budget airlines, there’s very little middle ground. But, I’ve noticed that there are either two reasons that people hate these “new guys” to the travel block (new-guys is in quotations because this model has actually been around for a while (about 1978) – think Southwest, but this post will focus on the newer model that has exploded over the past two decades):

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  1. They are met with what seems like “hidden” fees from charges to select your seat, charges for a checked and carry on a bag, additional fee for food and beverages (including water), and even a charge to print your boarding pass, canceling out the allure of the “discounted ticket”.
  2. The stigma or idea behind a budget airline

Let’s first understand what a budget airline is and who the major players are. Then, I’ll walk you through the ways to maximize on these airlines and their enticing pricing, avoiding as many “hidden” fees as possible.

What is a budget airline?
Sometimes referred to as a no-frills airline or low-cost carrier, a budget airline operates with an emphasis on minimizing costs by reducing and sometimes eliminating traditional services and add-on’s that you’d find on a legacy airline (think Delta, South African Airways, etc). Said in fewer words, they offer less comfort at a lower cost or a bare-bones carrier.

An important thing to note, budget airlines are just as safe as normal or legacy airlines. In fact, they often have the same plane body/type and a newer aircraft fleet, it’ll just have a more basic interior. See more on this below.

Who are the budget airlines?
AirAsia, EasyJet, Norwegian, Southwest Airlines, AirAsia X, Jetstar Airways, WestJet, IndiGo, Ryanair, Eurowings, Scoot, Jetstar Asia, PAL Express, Peach, Vueling, Airtran Airways, Allegiant, Frontier, Jetblue, Spirit, Sun Country, Virgin America, Thai Lion Air, Mango and many more.  Almost every country in Europe, and across the world, have their own low-cost carrier. Check <<HERE>> for a more comprehensive list.

Where do they fly?
Budget airlines typically focus on shorter to medium-haul, direct flights between two cities, regardless of size. They tend to stick to regional travel (seeing fewer routes between say North America and Europe) but the industry and this model are rapidly expanding.

How To Make The Most of That Budget Airline Ticket?
1. Know that the interior of the plane will most likely be way more basic than any aircraft that belongs to one of the normal airlines. From less legroom and less comfy seats and oftentimes lack-of on-board entertainment like in-flight wifi or a backseat tv, it’s best to prepare to not have these amenities. Bring your own blankets, travel neck pillow, magazines, music, and download off-line movies on your own handheld device. Consider ahead of time if you’ll need additional leg room/space, some low-cost carriers have extra-legroom seats and/or exit rows for an additional charge! For travel blankets and neck-pillows check stores like Marshalls/TjMaxx or Amazon.

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2. This second tip is especially important for long-haul flights (flights 7hrs and longer). Consider that the low-cost carrier may not serve food/beverages and if they do, there will most certainly be an upcharge. With some airlines requiring you to pre-select and purchase your meal before your flight. On my flight to London with Norwegian airlines, I decided to forgo the airline meal and packed my own snacks instead, purchasing my beverages after I went through airport security. Being an overnight flight, I also pre-planned by eating dinner at the airport (sometimes I’ll just do this at home) and slept through most of the duration of the flight. Plan ahead by eating before your trip, packing snacks and airplane-friendly meals, or buying food once at the airport! Don’t forget to grab some water.

3. Read the fine print. It is no secret that these airlines will “nickel and dime you” for what you may deem as a basic flight amenity. Some of the low-cost airlines aren’t up-to-date with technology and may not accept mobile boarding passes, requiring you to have a printed boarding pass. These same airlines may also charge you to print your boarding pass once at the airport, approximately $10 USD. To avoid these charges, read the fine print, and print your boarding pass at home (or at work, or at the library, or ask a friend).

4. Luggage. The biggest gripe that people have with budget airlines. Luggage can be very expensive, in upwards of $50-75 one way for one piece of luggage sometimes (often each leg of your flight will have a separate luggage charge). Depending on the length of your trip or where you are going, it may be hard to avoid checking a bag. Some ways to minimize this charge is purchasing your checked bag ahead of time before you get to the airport. Also, be mindful of the size and weight restrictions to avoid further surcharges. I usually try to only take a carry-on when traveling, but most (if not all) budget airlines also charge for carry-on bags, be sure to check this and check the size and weight restrictions for what is allowable for a carry-on. Some low-cost carriers will actually allow a free personal item (small backpack or handbag), if you’re really savvy, pack for your entire trip in this personal item and avoid baggage fees altogether. Each airline has its own policy, so please read up each time! Additional tip: Grab a portable luggage scale to check the weight of your suitcase to stay within any airline limits.

5. Additional fees. Sometimes airlines will have additional fees for processing or even using a credit card. Be mindful of any fees outside of those listed above.

To summarize: Plan ahead, pack your own snacks, water, blanket, and pillow, be prepared with your own in-flight entertainment and be mindful of additional costs for things like a printed boarding pass or luggage fees. Low-cost carriers are great for just that, their low cost! Compare the price of a ticket on a budget airline versus a legacy airline, being mindful of additional charges for either airlines and book from there!

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To this second group of travelers, who just don’t like the thought of a low-cost carrier because they enjoy the frills, comfort, and brand name- know that there is nothing wrong with this. Everything isn’t everyone’s cup of tea! Budget airline’s target audience is actually frequent or leisure travelers who want a cheap ticket for a quick and easy trip (they definitely aren’t targeting those who travel for business).

However we get there, the most important thing is that we get there, and do it safely!

Happy Travels.

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