By now, most of you have heard about all those budget airlines that offer flights for ridiculously low prices (like 50 cents cheap!).
Sounds too good to be true, right?
But, if you’re not careful, flying budget airlines can end up costing as much or more than ‘traditional’ airlines, and usually for less comfort.
If you know how to work the system and what to watch out for, you can save yourself the hassle of unexpected costs and still save a bundle on flying. Here are some tips for making the search easy:
- Look at airport websites
The number one complaint of budget airline fliers is the small, less-frequented airports many of these carriers use.
The most important thing you can do is know exactly where the airport is, in relation to where you want to be, before booking.
Some budget airlines use city airports that are easily and cheaply accessible through public transportation (such as Berlin Schönefeld).
But passengers arriving at London Gatwick, Paris Beauvais, Frankfurt Hahn, Barcelona Girona or Stockholm Skavsta airports (to name a few) could be in for a surprise if they haven’t done their research beforehand.
Many budget airlines fly to airports that can be up to 100 km away from the city center. This can mean another 2 hours by train or bus before reaching your final destination.
On top of that, getting from the airport to the city can be more expensive than the flight itself!
Often the airport’s website will have information on how to get to and from the airport. That way you can figure out if the additional time and money are even worth it, or if you might be better off paying a little extra to fly to a more central airport.
Since budget airlines often fly at extremely inconvenient times, being prepared to sleep in airports will give you a leg up on dealing with that. But be sure to check ahead of time because some of the tiny airports in the middle of nowhere close down for the night, while others discourage over-nighters.
Sleepinginairports is a traveler’s best friend when trying to figure out how doable a night in a particular airport will be.
Another helpful feature of airport websites is seeking out the available airlines.
There is a good chance that there are a number of other low cost options you’ve probably never even heard of, but if you’re trying to find the best deal, it’s good to check them all.
- Know the Fee Structure
Budget airlines can offer such incredibly low fares because the majority of people end up paying hefty amounts.
First of all, know whether your price includes taxes.
In Europe, airlines are required to state whether the quoted fare includes taxes, and if it doesn’t, you will usually get the full (taxes included) fare quoted once you click on a particular flight.
Baggage is next on the list.
Some budget airlines give you a one bag + one ‘personal item’ allowance before the extra fees start coming.
Others, Ryanair being the strictest, require that you fit everything into one bag. Which, in turn, must fit into a very small, oddly shaped box (roller bags are almost always checked, while backpacks, even if they are obviously much larger, are almost never checked).
Although it can be annoying, I have managed to fly all over Europe with the budgets without checking a bag: by using one large, school sized backpack and either layering or wearing my bulkiest clothes.
If you do have extra luggage, it’s important to check how that luggage will be priced.
Some do it by piece, others by size, others by weight (and it makes a big difference whether they charge per kilo or per every 10 kilos, etc). Paying for the luggage online will often be cheaper than paying for it at the airport.
Check-in fees are another thing to be wary about.
Often airlines offer free online check-in but levy a fee if you want to check in at the airport. Others, like Ryanair, somehow get away with charging both an online check-in (5-10 euros) and airport check-in (40 euros).
Beware of hidden fees with credit card payments because depending on the type of card, you will usually be charged an extra 5-10 euros, sometimes per transaction, but sometimes per leg of your itinerary, for this.
- Consider Unconventional Itineraries
It is important to remember that most budget airlines sell tickets point-to-point. This means that unlike traditional airlines, there is no advantage in booking a round-trip itinerary.
This gives you lots of flexibility in your planning, as flying into one airport and out from another can cut down on lots of unnecessary travel and you can mix and match cities with unneeded hassle.
On a trip to Turkey, I flew from Bodrum, Turkey, to Birmingham, UK, where I had a 2 hour layover before flying back to Biarritz, France. The route saved me over 200 euros compared to the direct flights available between France and Turkey at the time.
In a place like the US, where destinations are further apart, going way out of your way to save a few bucks is probably not worth it, but in Europe these types of stopovers will usually add a maximum of a few hours flying time and save you heaps in the process.
What are some of your favorite summer time travel-spots? What are your go-to travel websites for finding the deals?