While there are many airlines out there that advertise low flight costs — some, like Ryanair, as little as $10 one-way within Europe — additional fees can soon make your “cheap” fare go up a lot in price. So, although it seems they’ll help save you money, they come at a cost — literally. But, luckily, there are ways to keep costs low when flying a budget airline. “I always tell people to stay away from budget airlines unless you know exactly what you’re getting,” John E. DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com, who’s personally traveled over three million miles, tells Bustle. “It’s important to always do your research — some airlines charge you just to put your bag in the overhead bin.” He says many people make the mistake of comparing flight prices and then booking the cheapest one — when the “cheapest” may not actually be once you factor in additional costs, such as choosing your seat. “However, if you are someone who takes low-cost flights to commute — you don’t pack a lot, so you probably don’t have to pay extraneous baggage fees — they could be a great way to go,” DiScala says.
Before booking a flight on a low-cost carrier, look at the pros and cons, making sure you’ll actually save money once you add up any hidden fees. Below, travel experts share tips on how to keep costs low when flying budget airlines.
1. Research Your Departure and Arrival Airport
Some airlines fly from airports that are not as centrally locally located as costlier ones. “European budget airlines, like Ryanair and easyJet, fly from smaller, alternate airports,” DiScala says. “Just because the ticket says a major city like Paris, in the case of the Paris-Beauvais Airport, this airport is actually 55 miles from the city center.” Before booking, he says you must research how long it’ll take you to get to these alternate airports, as well as the transportation costs involved. “Sometimes, it’s not worth the time, money, and hassle of getting to these far-off airports."
2. Buy Your Ticket Online
Another way to save money when using budget airlines is by booking online. “Most domestic and international airlines charge an extra fee if you book over the phone or at the airport,” DiScala says. “Book online instead — it’s also easier to see what other fees you might pay for.” He also says it’s best to use a travel credit card — versus a debit card — since they usually come with travel insurance and will often protect you in case the budget airline you choose suddenly goes under.
3. Pay For Carry-On And Checked Bags In Advance
When you purchase your flight, you may not know if you’ll be checking a bag — or how many — but it’s good to figure it out sooner rather than later. “It’s always best to purchase your checked bags and carry-ons when you book your flight, as that’s usually the cheapest rate,” DiScala says. “You will pay more if you decide to check a bag once you arrive at the airport.” Also, some airlines will still let you pay for luggage in advance as long as you have not checked in for your flight yet, so be sure to research this in advance.
“But, always double check the luggage allotment — and fees — before buying your cheap ticket,” DiScala adds. “If you pack a lot, it probably won’t be worth buying a ticket on a low-cost carrier because they will get you on baggage fees.” However, there could be a way around this, according to DiScala: “It’s good to remember that some of the best rewards credit cards come with free bags, priority boarding, and other benefits and perks. Plus, you’ll earn points/miles for the purchases you’re already making that can help you save even more money — it’s a win-win.”
Ben Mutzabaugh, senior aviation editor at The Points Guy, tells Bustle that you can also just aim to pack light. “And if you’re traveling with a companion, consider packing both of your belongings in a single bag — that’s one less bag to pay for,” he says.
In lieu of checking your bags, another option is shipping them to your destination. “Rates start at $15 and your bag shows up at your destination, so no baggage claim for you either,” Aaron Kirley, president of Lugless, tells Bustle.
Examples Of Some Budget Airlines’ Baggage Fees
easyJet: Checked baggage fees vary depending on the flight route you take and the time of booking. In advance for a bag up to 15kg, you could pay anywhere from $8-42 online and $48 at the airport, while a bag up to 23kg costs $11-45 online or $60 at the boarding gate.
Icelandair: At least one piece of checked baggage is included in your fare unless you bought an Economy Light ticket. If you need to pay for a checked bag, it depends where you’re flying to and prices vary from $59-95.
LEVEL: While their Premium Fare includes checked baggage, their Economy Fare does not. For example, for long-haul flights to Paris, it’s $44 per bag — and add $29 to this if you add the bag at the airport versus in advance online. For long-haul flights to Barcelona, the fee is $55 whether you add the bag online or at the airport.
Norwegian: With Norwegian, it depends on what kind of ticket you have; LowFare does not have a checked bag included in the price. For direct flights, prices range from $12-47 for the first bag and $24-93 for connecting flights. If you pay for bags at the airport, the prices are $53 and $106, for direct domestic and connecting domestic, respectively, and range from $93-185 for international flights.
Spirit: Bag prices vary depending on when you add the bags to your ticket. Spirit airlines charges for carry-on bags, too, ranging from $37 (during booking) and $45 (before/during online check-in) to $55 (at the airport) and $65 (at the gate).
4. Don’t Pay For A Seat (But If You Really Want A Certain One, Pay In Advance)
Even though you may have your heart set on an aisle or a window seat, you’ll save money if you don’t pay for a seat and accept a random one instead. “You won’t have to pay extra if you wait to be assigned a seat until check in at the airport,” Mutzabaugh says. “Yes, that means you could end up in a middle seat, but it never hurts to ask (nicely!) if the agent can move you to an open aisle or window seat.”
But, if you really want a particular seat, like one with extra leg room, pay for it when you book your ticket, DiScala says. “Otherwise, you will most likely pay more if you decide to reserve a certain seat when you check in online,” he says.
Examples Of Some Budget Airlines’ Seat Fees
easyJet: It costs $2-11 for a specific seat, $10-30 for an Extra Legroom one, and $16-36 for a first-row seat. For the latter two, you’ll also get to bring along a second, small cabin bag, get Dedicated Bag Drop, and Speedy Boarding.
Frontier: Seat prices vary and go from $5 (online) to $16 (at the airport). But for “stretch seating,” those prices go up even more, from $16-56.
Level: Seats are included with the Flex ticket (but not Light or Plus). Otherwise, seat prices vary. For example, for long-haul flights to/from Paris Orly, they range from $16-84 (from whether you want a middle seat to an extra leg room one next to a window or the aisle).
Norwegian: Seat prices are included except for their LowFare tickets; if you want to choose your seat, you’ll pay $8-54 for all flights except international long-haul ones and $30 a seat for the latter.
Ryanair: Seats will cost you $4.50-16 online in advance.
Spirit: You’ll pay $5-10 per seat in advance or $20-50 for “Big Front” seats.
Sun Country: No charge — unless you want a specific seat; then, Sun Country has three tiers of seats to choose from, and fees depend on where you’re going and can go up to $80.
5. Print Your Boarding Pass In Advance
If the budget airline you booked your flight with requires you to print out your boarding pass in advance, do it. Chances are, wherever you’re staying will be able to do it for you — and for free. “Ryanair is the airline to really watch out for — it charges €20 (around $22) to ‘reissue’ your boarding pass within two hours of your flight,” Mutzabaugh says. “And, remember, to avoid this fee, you must check in online more than two hours before your flight.” So, read the fine print when booking your ticket.
Examples Of Some Budget Airlines’ Boarding Pass Fees
Ryanair: If you forgot to print out your boarding card, you need to pay a €20 ($22) “boarding card reissue fee”; if you didn’t check in before arriving at the airport, you’ll be charged an “airport check-in fee” of €55 ($62).
Spirit: $10 at the airport if not done in advance
6. Bring Your Own Food And A Water Bottle
If you want to save money when flying, don’t forget to bring along snacks from home — and a water bottle to fill up at the airport. “Eating at the airport can cost a small fortune, and if you resort to buying a snack on your flight, you’ll have few healthy choices and may pay even more,” Kirley says. “So pack your own food — you’ll eat healthier and you can snack on your schedule instead of waiting for flight attendants to come by.”
Additionally, DiScala says to keep in mind that not all airlines provide a “free” meal — since it depends on the type of ticket you get — so make sure you know that in advance. Otherwise, you may have to pay (a lot) extra to buy food mid-air.
And if you forgot to bring along an empty water bottle and snacks, Mutzabaugh says you can always stock up at the airport. “Even paying airport prices, you’ll likely spend less than if you buy on board,” he says.
Flying on a budget airline can definitely save you money — as long as you’ve added up the extra fees before you book your ticket. Otherwise, flying a non-budget airline may cost less, and you can often find good deals on sites like Skyscanner and KAYAK — but don’t forget to add up extra costs you find on flights there either. In any case, you want to make sure your journey is just as great as your destination, and you don’t have to pay a lot to do so.