9 Tips for Flying on a Budget with Low-Cost Airlines

This article originally appeared on Radical FIRE and has been republished here with permission.

Do you want to save money when flying with a low-cost airline, but you’re wondering: are low-cost airlines really worth it? Here is my experience and tips for flying on a budget with low-cost airlines.

When we went on our mini-retirement in September (2019), we booked some last-minute deals just before we went. Of course, we went looking for low-cost airlines since other airlines were extremely expensive. 

We decided to find cheap plane tickets and go with a low-cost airline to save costs. I have some experience with low-cost airlines from my years as a student, so my experience came in handy. Finding the cheapest available tickets or the best low-cost flight deals in your travel search can be a rush in itself. This is because you’re looking for the best airfare deals that will be beneficial for your plans.

In my experience, budget airlines are worth it in saving money and time. Often, the premium airlines don’t have direct flights to places you want to visit, making you need to take an indirect flight that costs a lot more time. Obviously, the low-cost airlines offer the cheap flights and the cheap airline tickets most of the time. 

For example, I flew for $250 from Copenhagen to Los Angeles in January 2017 with Norwegian airlines. I flew for $40 from Bogota to Cartagena (within Colombia). I flew for $80 from Los Angeles to New Orleans with Spirit Airlines. 

But, what’s the catch? There has to be a catch with these kinds of prices. How can different airlines offer different travel deals and how do I truly find the cheapest flights and deals to fit my budget?

Yes, budget airlines do have other ways to make money, which is different from other airlines. They charge you extra for everything, which can be very frustrating when you don’t know this. 

I always check beforehand the restrictions on the flight, making sure that what we’re booking is the best time versus money tradeoff. This helps you save money on flights and gets you to your holiday destination without stress. 

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Let’s go into my experience: how can you travel on a budget with low-cost airlines? What kinds of things do you need to keep in the back of your mind?

Low-Cost Airlines Are Safe!

There are often a lot of people skeptical about budget airlines. There’s this conception that flying with them can be a terrible experience? And that they’re very unsafe when choosing them for your next trip?

I want to start by stressing that budget airlines are just as safe–no need to worry about that.

This article states that the latest industry figures show that departure LOCATION is the determinant of airplane safety–NOT airline. 

Any airline knows that having a history of crashes or reputation damage is extremely bad for business. This will cost a lot more money than can ever be saved on safety procedures. 

9 Tips for Flying on a Budget with Low-Cost Airlines

Here are the 9 tips for flying on a budget with low-cost airlines!

1. Compare Flights

The first step is to go to a website like Skyscanner or Kayak and compare the prices of the airline. 

You need to make sure you’ve collected the flights that are cheap and have little layover time. Except when you want to have a couple of days to explore a specific area, layovers are just additional time spent traveling that can be spent more efficiently. 

Once you’ve found a couple, go to the specific carrier’s website and check if it’s available there cheaper. And more often than not, it’s really cheaper. 

2. Check the Luggage Policy

The first thing that I do when looking into specific flights that I’ve preselected is if the luggage is included, yes or no. When you’re using SkyScanner, which is my personal go-to, you can see if the flight has baggage included or not. 

Nowadays, many airlines don’t have luggage included in the price. With low-cost airlines, even a carry-on can be paid at times. Be sure to check what is included, so you can purchase anything that’s missing. 

Because airlines charge extra for luggage or carry-ons, be sure to pack as light as possible to avoid those fees and fly on a budget.

If you want to include extra luggage, you want to include that when you’re buying your ticket. This is often cheaper than booking your luggage at the airport, where you’ll often be charged double. 

For example, with Spirit, you pay $30 for your first checked back during booking. If you want to add this bag before or during online check-in, you spend $40. But if you wait until the airport desk, you need to pay $50. 

Travel light and arrange your baggage the moment you book your flight. 

3. Check the Weight of Your Bag

Double-check that you’re not over-packing and your bag is under the maximum allowed weight. Otherwise, additional charges apply. Especially when you fly with carry-on only, it’ll be a hard pill to swallow when your bag has too much weight, and you need to check it in. 

You can do this with an electronic luggage scale or be creative with your own scale. Put yourself on the scale with luggage and compare the weight to putting yourself on the scale with luggage. 

I did it this way for years, but have to admit that luggage scales come in handy. 

4. Be Aware of Additional Fees

Besides luggage, there are a lot of different additional fees. These fees are often low, to make it more tempting for you to pay for the additional services. Be aware of them and decide beforehand if you need them. 

If you’re flying with an entire family or flying more often, these additional fees can add up in the end. 

These additional fees are the most common:

  • Checked luggage fee
  • Carry-on luggage fee – this is not for all airlines
  • Selecting a seat when you book – a lot of airlines do this automatically, and you really need to cancel your seat reservation before you press next
  • Selecting extra legroom
  • Cancellation insurance
  • Fees when you want to change your flight

It’s good to think about what fees you might want to pay for and leave out the rest. 

If you were to accept all these fees and pay for them, you’d have a more expensive flight compared to a standard airline. This is their business model, and that’s how they make their money. That’s okay because you know what fees they’re charging, and you’re not falling for it!

5. Make Sure You Spell Your Name Correctly

It never happened to me, but I’ve heard horror stories of people needing to pay $200 to change their names on their flight tickets because they had made a typo. That’s steep!

In some cases, it’s cheaper to buy a new ticket.

Avoid fees like this by making sure you spelled your name correctly.

6. Bring Your Own Snacks and Drinks

I had a flight from Copenhagen to Los Angeles with a low-cost carrier, and it was only $250. When I checked in, I understood why–you had to pay $50 to select meals onboard the plane.

Airplane food is not always so appealing to me, so I decided to bring my own snacks and food for way less.

Be aware that low-cost airlines often don’t offer food or drinks included with their price.

If you have a short flight, bringing your own snacks will do. If you have a longer flight, you can bring entire salads and meals onboard. Just think about anyone with allergies and don’t bring peanuts, and PLEASE don’t bring things like fish or eggs–that smells. 

I’ve not had any problems bringing my own snacks and drinks. Just be aware that you need to bring an empty bottle through customs and fill it up once you’re through. 

7. Deselect the Automatic Costs – Like Seat Selection

Airlines are very smart. When you’re booking, you can choose your seat for an additional fee, but they’ve selected one automatically once you go through the process. Deselect this, as this means automatic costs added to your flight. 

When you check in, you will be assigned a seat automatically. 

If you’re flying with multiple people, some budget airlines (like Ryanair in Europe) will put anyone you booked your flight with on the other side of the airline. This is another trick, so you pay them for seat selection. 

I LOVE to see when everyone is in their seat. They try to change seats with multiple people so that in the end, they sit next to their friends or family anyways. The creativity people have when it gets to these kinds of things is amazing, and I love it! 

Some airlines also select things like insurance, which you may want to deselect as well. Go through the booking process slowly to see what costs you can (and want) to avoid. 

8. Bring Your Boarding Pass

Many airlines require you to print your boarding pass before you fly. The more advanced airlines require digital tickets on the phone, but when I visited Central America, every ticket needed to be printed. If you don’t have your boarding pass and need to print it for you, this can cost anywhere between $5 and $10. 

Personally, I always keep a printed copy with me since there may be some technical issues with your phone. 

9. Where Is Your Airport?

Last but not least, know where your airport is. With budget airlines, it’s possible that the airports are NOT within the city you’re flying to but in a cheaper area. For example, I once took a flight to Milan for $20 and found out that I needed to pay another $20 for the 1.5hr bus ride to the actual city. 

Be prepared and always check where the airport is before you book your flight. You don’t want to have these unexpected surprises. 

All in All – Flying on a Budget with Low-Cost Airlines

Flying on a budget doesn’t mean that your travel will be of low quality due to the very low price. Just do your own research. 

Know the pros and cons of each budget airline to decide which one will best suit your travel needs. Finding the best deals and cheapest flights will always be great for your wallet but you must manage your expectations whenever you do get these cheap flights and cheap airfare during your flight searches. 

Sometimes, low-cost airlines are worth it. Other times, it’s just as expensive as flying with a regular airline, and there’s absolutely no cost or time benefit. It really depends on your case. Bargain, discounted, and best deals can be great deals if you really are on a strict budget. You just need to follow the steps mentioned above so that you can get the best travel experience overall.

You’re mostly paying for the extra service if you want it. If you don’t mind not selecting your seat or traveling lightly, you’re okay. 

Mostly I would say that flying with a low-cost carrier enables you to have money on travel expenses and fly cheap. 

Flying with a budget airline, you should check:

  • Compare flights
  • Check the luggage policy
  • Check the weight of your bag
  • Be aware of additional fees
  • Spell your name correctly
  • Bring your own snacks and drinks
  • Deselect automatic costs
  • Bring your boarding pass
  • Check the location of the airport
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