Some people hate budget airlines and think they are more expensive than full service airlines because of their “hidden fees”. But we, as budget travelers, would beg to differ. You are literally only paying for the flight and the fees aren’t hidden at all.
People prefer to just click instead of read! For example, Spirit Airlines is one of the most open and transparent budget airlines when it comes to their fees. Shit, they even tell you how to avoid each and every one of them on their site. Yet Spirit Airlines makes the most amount of money with fees in terms of percentage. In 2015, 43% of their revenue came from non-ticket sales (charges for bags, online booking, seat allocations etc.), with 18% of that revenue coming from checked luggage.
However, if you play by the rules and bend them a little bit, you can avoid being part of the 43%. Learn how to easily get a great deal flying with budget airlines without paying an extra cent in fees! Here are 16 tips to help you fly for cheap, pay $0 in fees and keep money in your pocket for more beers or street food.
1. Not All Budget Airlines Are Created Equal
Don’t assume all budget airlines are the same. Policies, fees, and weight and size allowances for luggage vary depending on the airline. For example, Spirit Airlines charges a “Passenger Usage Fee” between $9-17 USD if you book online. You can avoid this fee by buying a ticket at the airport. While Ryanair, a European budget airline, charges $0 to book online and $20 USD to book tickets at the airport! Some airlines like AirAsia, a popular low-cost budget airline in Asia, actually have different fees based on destinations.
So, do your due diligence and read up on the airline to find out about their fees and luggage requirements. Also, do a quick Google search to find out what fees travelers commonly fall for and end up paying. And of course, read the fine print and confirmation email after booking.
2. Know Beforehand What Airport You Will Land In
Budget airlines usually fly into smaller, lesser known airports outside the city centre to save money. So before you book, know where they will land, and figure out how you will get to your final destination. If you can’t find a cheap way of getting to your final destination after landing, don’t waste the time booking the cheap flight unless you don’t mind dishing out a lot of money to get where you’re going. Which I know is not the case because if it was, you wouldn’t be reading this post :)
Side note: Because of budget airline locations and their constant delays, don’t book additional flights or transfer flights close together. Give yourself at least 2 hours.
3. If You Must, Pay For Add-ons or Extras Online
If you have to check-in a backpack, purchase food, bring a guitar with you or anything else, purchase these add-ons or extras while you are booking your flight. It’s usually cheaper to purchase online than at the airport.
4. Provide an Email Address You Check Regularly
Emails are how budget airlines try to give you reminders of additional fees they charge and information to help you avoid paying them! So give them an email address you check regularly.
5. Let the Airline Pick a Seat For You
Save money by not being picky about where you sit! I am freakishly tall, with long legs and desperately need aisle seats, but I am not willing to pay for them. To make this happen without paying for it, I usually board last so I can take any open aisle seat or take a whole empty row!
6. Be Aware of Automatic “Opt-In” Insurance
Some airlines, such as AirAsia, pre-select the insurance box (automatically adding on travel insurance). If you don’t deselect it, you will unknowingly pay for it. We recommend skipping the insurance budget airlines provide, as they are usually crappy. Instead, invest in a good quality travel insurance that covers more than just your flight ticket and luggage.
7. Search For and Use Promo Codes
I love the idea of paying $25 bucks for a flight, but what I love more is when the same flight cost $5 because I used a promo code upon checking out. The best way to get deals is by following your favorite budget airlines on social media or signing up for their newsletter. As I write this, AirAsia offers $0 flights within Asia.
8. Double and Triple Check Your Info
Make sure your name, other personal information, as well as your flight date are correct before hitting the “book” button. One wrong letter or number and you will not only pay a huge changing fee, but also have to pay an additional fee for using the call center. So again, triple check to make sure all the information is correct, especially if you are booking a flight with your phone. Autocorrect is a bitch!
Speaking of phones, don’t book flight tickets over the phone or call the airlines for anything unless you absolutely must. Instead, hop online to find what you are looking for and to book flights. Some budget airlines, like Spirit, charge $10-25 USD to book over the phone.
9. Think Twice About How You Pay
If you choose to use your credit card with budget airlines, you will most likely be charged a processing fee. For example, Ryanair charges a 2% transaction fee for credit cards. So if you can, pay with a debit card or cash.
10. Check-in Ahead of Time
If you didn’t know already, budget airlines charge for everything, including check-in at the airport! To avoid this fee, check-in online before your flight.
Also, pay attention to check-in deadlines. This is the allocated time you are given to check-in, depending on the type of booking you have. For example, Ryanair allows passengers without seat reservations to check-in between 4 days and up to 2 hours before their flight, while passengers with seat reservations can check-in between 30 days and up to 2 hours before their flight.
11. Print Your Boarding Pass
Save yourself money and time by printing your boarding pass ahead of time. It’s better to pay 10 cents per page at a copy shop than $10-50 USD at the airport! Even if your budget airline doesn’t require you to print your boarding pass, do it anyway. I’d rather lose a few cents than be out of 10+ bucks for a piece of paper.
12. Pack a Carry-On and Weigh It Ahead of Time
All budget airlines have different rules when it comes to the weight and size of your luggage. Check the airline’s website for up-to-date luggage requirements, pack light, bring only a carry-on and weigh your travel backpack with a digital luggage scale ahead of time.
We also recommend having a small day-pack that can be rolled up into your carry-on, just in case you get to the airport and find that your backpack is over the limit. That way, you can always put the heavy items, like your laptop and other electronics, in your day-pack and use it as your personal item. Note: Not all budget airlines allow you to bring along a personal item, so make sure to check beforehand.
If your bag is still over, you are carrying way too much shit! Check out our bullshit-free packing list or our anti-packing list to help you cut down on the stuff you take with you.
13. Follow TSA’s 3-1-1 Liquid and Prohibited Rules
If you aren’t checking in your luggage, make sure you don’t have anything like scissors, non-disposable razors, more than 3 oz bottles, or ridiculously crazy pocket knives like this one, or you might be forced to check your backpack. For more info on TSA rules that many international airports use, click here.
14. Bring Snacks With You
We all know how expensive airport food is. Now double that price for inflight food on a budget airline. Instead of purchasing inflight meals and eating crappy food, make your own meal or buy food outside the airport area.
The only thing you might have to purchase at the airport is water. Unless you are in a country like Austria where you can fill up your empty bottle with tap water.
15. Wear Your Baggage
Sounds weird, I know, let me explain. Actually, it’s kind of simple. The more you wear, the less your backpack weighs. So even if your end destination is in the hottest country in the world, wear all your heavy and thick items like your jeans, hiking boots, and your coat. Don’t forget to stuff your pockets!
Do whatever you have to do to avoid this fee and get past the check-in desk. I’ve even read that some travelers wear this hideous vest when they fly with budget airlines. The vest has over 20 pockets and some of them are even big enough to carry a laptop! Crazy!
After all, the airlines don’t say anything about how much you can carry on your person, just your luggage. Hopefully they don’t get smart!
16. Leave Early
As mentioned before, budget airlines are usually in smaller airports outside the city center, so give yourself enough time to get to the airport. It is recommended you arrive at the airport at least 2 hours before your scheduled departure. Sitting and waiting for your flight at the airport for 2 hours might suck, but it’s way better than missing your flight and having to pay for another.
Don’t underestimate the time it takes to get to the airport! We did once, but luckily we made it with literally 3 minutes to spare! Good thing we had already checked-in, printed our boarding passes, and packed just a carry-on!
What is your take on budget airlines? Let us know in the comments below.
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Thanks for the tips!
But – If you’re very tall, pay a few $ extra for emergency-exit seats with more legroom!
Otherwise, you risk blood-clots, which is a serious health issue…
I’m all about saving my holiday $$$, and I fly only budget airlines, but emergency-exit seats is a must for me too, so I only use them.
Awesome article! checking in ahead of time is crucial advice for anyone flying budget airlines. I am taking a trip to Europe soon and this advice will help a lot!
Samantha Sparrow says
Such good tips! I have been caught out before on printing the boarding pass, so I now have the apps for all the airlines I fly with to download the boarding pass on to there – belt and braces approach as they charge criminal amounts of money otherwise.
Sandy N Vyjay says
This post was the need of the hour. With so many budget airlines vying with each other for business it sometimes gets a bit confusing to make your choices. Your tips are practical and make a lot of sense. I loved the one about wearing your baggage!
Great list! I would also add to this list that you should check your luggage requirements because different airlines allow different luggage sizes. Also, research the airport you fly out of in advance, because some of these airports can be far out and sometimes it takes a while to get there and the bus services are not frequent.
Iza Abao says
These are awesome tips! I like budget airlines. When I traveled via AirAsia last year, I decided to just bring my backpack and a tote. I was able to check-in hassle free. I told myself that I’m going to pack light and I did. The downside was no entertainment option and free food but it was okay. I’m interested to get that coat wherein you can put so many things.
Veronika Tomanova says
I think your post will safe me some money, man! Thanks a lot. You are right, once I got low cost flight to Stockholm, but the airport was actually really far away. And transportation is so expensive in northern Europe! Since then I am always checking!
Mike Cotton says
I remember the days before budget airlines in Europe. Travelling is so much easier, accessible and dare I say, better. This is thanks to the budget airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair. Saying that, When I get stung with a charge at check-in, even when I messed up, it still rankles.
Vicki Louise says
Great tips! I really don’t mind budget airlines, you just have to have a ‘budget airlines’ perspective when you fly with them – and if you follow their (very simple) rules, you can take advantage of cheap fares without getting burned!
Megan Jerrard says
All excellent tips – I agree, I often hear of people complaining about their experience with budget airlines, when really, if they had read the fine print and were aware of the terms and conditions beforehand, they woulnd’t have run into issues. Always important to know exactly what’s included and what’s not, and as you said, to weigh your luggage, including carry on before you arrive at the airport. I’ve noticed a trend recently of budget airlines starting to weigh your carry on at the gate, and they’re also the strictest on enforcing the checked baggage limits too.
Budget airlines can be great if you know what you’re getting for your money and don’t need a lot of the extras which are included in the price of more expensive carriers. Thanks for the great tips!
Gokul Raj says
I have been booking with Airasia recently. I am aware of the Airasia travel insurance policy. I have been following the above tips while booking budget airlines.
Very good post. It was so funny in the ‘old’ days especially with Ryanair saying that they fly into Vienna (Austria) but actually flew into Bratislava (Slovakia) which is a city nearby and in a different country. If you never flown with them, always read the fine print before booking anything. :P