Travel Tips

Everything You Should Know Before Flying on a Budget Airline

Between fine print, hidden fees, and small seats, here's your crash course on how to fly with a budget airline.

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If you’re a sucker for cheap flights, chances are you’ll end up buying a ticket on a budget airline at least once in your life. You’ve probably heard horror stories about these flights – cramped seats, long delays, and hidden price hikes, to name a few. While I can’t say that these stories are false, traveling on a budget can actually be a fairly pleasant experience if you research carefully and plan meticulously. 

In my travels, I’ve flown on WOW, Ryanair, Easyjet, Norwegian, and Air Asia, to name a few. Also, with new added “basic economy” fares on United, American, etc., the budget airline rules apply more now than ever. While I’ve had a few mishaps on budget flights that resulted in missed flights and extra fees, I’ve compiled all of the things I’ve learned about budget airline travel into this handy guide. If you’re hoping to fly on a low-cost carrier this year, start here!

Before You Go

My WOW Air carry on…packed to the brim.

Read the Fine Print

The #1 most important thing you can do before purchasing a flight on a budget airline is read the fine print. How many bags can you bring aboard? What are the weight and size limits? How much do additional bags cost? Is it extra to choose your seat?

These (and others) are important things to consider before purchasing any budget flight, as the costs of extra baggage, ticket printing, etc. can often add up to be higher than the cost of a normal carrier. For example, I once purchased a $195 one-way ticket on Norwegian to London. I didn’t realize that there was a strict carry-on weight limit, and that the cost to check it in would be over $70! It ended up being a fairly expensive mistake and an important lesson to learn.

Pack Wisely

Once you know the baggage restrictions, pack very carefully to avoid going over the weight limits. Because budget airlines make the bulk of their money through these added costs, they’re likely to be very strict when it comes to weight and size limits. If you think you’re going to go over the limit, purchase your carry-on or checked bag in advance. Usually these prices go up 20% or more on the day of the flight.

You’ll also want to make sure that your bag has a lot of outer clasps and places to strap things in. Having these extra straps creates extra space for your to carry your items. This is useful because you can strap extra bags, jackets, or shoes onto the outside of your pack once you’ve been weight-checked.

Check In and Print Your Ticket Ahead of Time

Not all airlines charge for ticket printing, but many do. Either way, it’s always a good idea to have your ticket and itinerary printed before you leave the airport. This way, the airlines cannot attempt to charge you to check in at the airport. Again, be sure to read the check in guidelines very closely, as each budget airline has its own policies and procedures for checking in.

Ensure Lots of Layover Time

As with many airlines, budget and not, flights often get delayed. However, with budget airlines, customer service can often be a nightmare to deal with if you miss a connection due to a late inbound flight. Proceed with extra caution when deciding the length of any layovers, as there’s always a chance you’ll miss your connection if you cut it too short.

At the Airport

My trip to the Azores on Ryan Air was one I’ll never forget!

Arrive Early

Mishaps with budget airlines are bound to happen, so to avoid jeopardizing your trip, be sure to get to the airport a little earlier than you normally would. This way, you can ensure your bags are confirmed, your ticket is printed, and you are all set for your flight. If you arrive to the airport with little time and then have to pay extra fees or spend time checking in, there’s a chance you’ll miss your flight. Do yourself a favor and arrive at the airport earlier than you think you should. You’ll thank yourself later.

Wear More Clothes

If you’re cutting it close to the weight limit, you can use this loophole to save the extra fees. It might be uncomfortable, but one way to reduce the weight in your bag is to wear more of the clothes you are carrying with you. Airlines do not weight individual passengers, so anything you are wearing on your person will not be counted as part of your bag weight or size. If you have an extra jacket or t-shirt, you can throw them on top of your clothes or tie them around your waist.

Yes, it does the job. No, it’s not glamorous. Proceed as necessary.

Buy Snacks and Water Beforehand

Most budget airlines only offer paid drink and food service on flights, and some require advance booking for any food or beverage items. These inflight prices are often very expensive compared to the airport. Since you’ve arrived to the airport early, you should have plenty of time to purchase food, drinks, or entertainment items that you may need for your flight. If not, prepare to spend a lot more money on the plane.

On the Flight

My trip to Slovenia included not one, not two, but THREE budget flights…

Befriend Your Neighbor

Seats on budget airlines are often a bit more uncomfortable and cramped than on normal airlines. For this reason, you’ll likely feel the strain on your personal space. Be courteous to your neighbor because you’ll most likely have to get up in their business at some point during your flight. If you’re a jerk to them, the flight will be that much more miserable for both of you.

Prepare for Bare-Bones Amenities

Budget flights don’t usually come with any amenities. The planes typically have restrooms with running water and toilet paper, but don’t expect meals, pillows, blankets, headsets, etc. If any of those things are a necessity for you, be sure you bring them with you and have them handy in the bag under your seat.

Be Resourceful

Because you’ve packed so lightly, you probably don’t have a lot of the “comfort items” that you normally bring on a flight. Since the amenities on these budget airlines are sparse, you’ll have to come up with creative ways to make yourself comfortable. Use your jackets/clothing as a pillow. Charge your phone on a computer/tablet/portable battery. Instead of an eye mask, use a jacket hood. Block out bad smells with Chapstick.

You get the picture. If you look for ways to make yourself comfortable, you’ll feel a lot better, no matter how long your flight is.

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Kay is a full-time working professional located in Washington DC who takes every spare vacation day to get outside and explore the world. When she travels, she loves visiting the most iconic and naturally beautiful destinations in the USA and abroad. You can typically find her wandering the streets of a city, running through a park, taking ridiculous self portraits, or hiking a mountain somewhere. Connect with Kay: Facebook | Instagram | Twitter

2 Comments

  1. I’m so surprised you had to pay more for bags on Norwegian! They’re pretty much the only airline I fly trans-atlantic with and until last time I flew them 5 weeks ago, I’ve NEVER been asked to weigh my bag! Also to add: Ryanair seems to have relaxed their baggage policy a lot lately. Maybe I just have good luck, but I’ve never been asked to prove my bag fits the dimensions with them and sometimes I’ve even been able to gate check it for free.

    • Yeah…that was my bad because I needed to have read the fine print. But I also can’t do weight limits really considering my need to carry a computer, a camera, and a tripod everywhere!

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