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The Truth About Budget Airlines

The United States hasn’t jumped on the budget airline trend yet, but countries like Europe and Asia have embraced it. If you’re flexible to what day and time your flight is, you can get a flight for much less than a train would be. Booking a flight through a discount company can save lots of time and money, but it’s important to be aware of how a budget flight can add up.

Be Flexible With Locations

Say you want to go to Zurich, Switzerland, but the flight is a little pricey. Consider flying into the cheaper option of Frankfurt, Germany instead and then taking the train down. It’s often much cheaper to fly into certain airports depending on the location. On that note, be careful you know which airport you’re flying into. There can be several within a large city, and you don’t want to spend the money you just saved on a taxi trying to get to your hotel all the way across town. Spend a decent amount of time researching your options.

Use Different Search Engines

There are many different ones to use, and all will come back with a different price. Use a variety to compare which one has the best price. Sometimes it’s cheaper to book directly through the airline’s website, so take a look at that as well when comparing.

Don’t Make Tight Connections

Budget airlines are not known for being on time. They can often be delayed by hours, or just flat out cancelled. If you have booked several budget airlines together in order to get to a farther destination, the airlines most likely won’t refund your ticket on your later flights because your original one was delayed. Space them out several hours apart, or consider exploring the city for a day before taking another flight to your next destination.

Beware of Hidden Costs

One downside of budget airlines is they charge you for almost anything extra. If you want to choose your seat in advance, there’s a fee for that. If you have an additional bag besides your one small carry-on, there’s a fee for that. It’s best to pack as lightly as possible for flights like these to maximize your savings.

Marissa Pedersen

Marissa is a freelance writer, travel blogger, and social media marketing manager from Seattle. She runs the travel blog Postcards to Seattle, which captures all her journeys from around the world. She likes to stay active wherever she goes, from kayaking in Italy to snowboarding in the Alps.

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Hacking The Budget Airline

Buying tickets on a budget airline can be a great way to save, literally, hundreds of dollars on airplane tickets. However, while most people will be dazzled by the low, low ticket prices, they’ll fail to notice the dozens of quirks that can make budget airline travel challenging.

For starters, travelers will encounter hefty baggage fees. Most budget airlines allow only one (very small) carry on bag with no complimentary checked bag. Fees vary from airline to airline, but are often upwards of $50 for each checked piece of luggage! Plus, many budget airlines charge by weight, so going over the allotted limit will result in extra fees as well. Curtail this problem by packing everything into your carry on. It’ll be tight, but if you minimize clothing to essentials and opt to buy toiletries at your destination, you’ll be able to make it work.

Another annoying surprise that many travelers discover on budget airlines is that there generally aren’t any complimentary food or drinks, which means that packing your own will be essential. It’s especially important to bring water, which most likely won’t be provided on the flight (or will cost you a few dollars.) Other creature comforts that definitely won’t be provided: pillows or blankets. Thankfully there are a plethora of compact blankets and pillows available that roll up tightly and pack well in carry ons.

Don’t expect TVs or in-flight movies, either. While this may not be a problem if you’re taking a quick local flight, it can make for some serious boredom if you’re going to be traveling for three or more hours. Make sure to download a movie on your smartphone and take a look at how to fashion a first-class entertainment experience with nothing more than a phone and a ziploc bag.

But while you’re enjoying your state of the art entertainment center, do be mindful of your seatmates as space is limited. Space is tight on budget airlines because they’re attempting to fill the plane with as many seats as possible in order to reduce costs, which is also why there are no upgrades available and why most customers will be assigned seating once they arrive at the gate. To give yourself a sense of privacy amongst all the other passengers, plug in some noise-cancelling earbuds and throw on an eye mask. You’ll still be surrounded by a lot of people, but it’ll help you to relax and feel more centered.

Once you arrive at your destination, you may find that the airport is located miles from the city center, often in a small rural community. Though airlines will provide transportation to and from the city, the added time can be a big detractor for some customers. Check to see if this will negatively affect travel before booking because most budget airlines do not allow customers to change flights.

At the end of the day, though the inconveniences of the budget flight can add up to some real frustration, careful planning can help to ensure that your travel experience will be a pleasant, peaceful, and affordable one!