Y’all know I love a good deal. And I especially love a good deal when it comes to traveling. I travel a fair amount, but in my years of adulthood (and studying abroad, where I traveled a lot a lot) I haven’t had to spend too much on getting there. A huge part of this is thanks to budget airlines.
You’ve seen them before. Budget airlines are carriers like Spirit or Frontier, or if you’re traveling abroad, WOW Air and Norwegian to get there, and EasyJet and RyanAir once you’re in Europe. The fares are low — so low, you have to wonder, is this good to be true? Kind of. But while there’s definitely things you need to be aware of before booking a flight on a budget airline, it’s an amazing option to have when you’re traveling. Here’s what I’ve learned — and a breakdown airline by airline.
There are hidden costs.
Yes, the fares are often, too good to be true. That’s because things you expect to be included in your fare, like a carry-on suitcase, or a bag of pretzels, aren’t a part of the ticket price. For example, on Spirit, the only carry-on you can take for free is a backpack or a tote. You have to pay extra to bring a carry-on suitcase, which costs $26 if you book online while you’re booking your ticket. It’s actually cheaper to check a bag — that’s $21. I highly, highly recommend booking your excess bags online. If you book at the gate, it can get up to $60. I flew Norwegian back from Barcelona, and they charge to check a bag, which normally doesn’t happen on international flights. I believe it cost about $50 — kind of lot, but my flight from Barcelona to NYC was less than $200 — practically unheard of. And I’m not about that carry-on life for a week away, so I was happy to pay the price.
The good news? Oftentimes, even with these baggage fees, the fares are so much lower that it’s still cheaper — or at the very least, evens out.
There are no extras.
Though carriers like United, American and Delta are pretty no frills (anyone else remember the brief period where you didn’t get a snack on United?! Torture.) I flew Norwegian back from Barcelona last December, with a layover in London. And on our six hour plus flight back from London, we got no food or beverage whatsoever. Not even a cup of water (perhaps we could have gotten that if we had asked, but we didn’t, as we brought water on the plane.) This sounds horrible, but you can make do: Buy a huge bottle of water and snacks at the airport. You can,
There could be delays.
This is more something I’ve heard from word of mouth than I have actually witnessed in life. But like with any airline, you could encounter delays. The big thing I’ve noticed with budget airlines is that if there is a delay, they don’t have as many gates at airports as other airlines do. So if there’s a delay and a clogging of the gate, you could end up sitting there for a while. This happened to me at 1 a.m. in Chicago — we were just sitting on the tarmac, while my mom was waiting at baggage claim, thinking I’d be off the plane right after landing. It was horrible.
But honestly, that experience has been an outlier for me. I never had any delays or cancellations during my flights on EasyJet or RyanAir while I was studying abroad. I’ve had a couple delays on Spirit, but nothing crazy (besides that above experience.) However, Spirit once got me out of Chicago to New York on time in the middle of a polar vortex, which I will forever be grateful for.
There could be bad customer service.
When you’re paying this little for a flight, you’re not paying for service. (Granted, we know that some “non-budget” airlines don’t offer much in the way of service, either!) Go in expecting this. I’m not saying that the service will be horrible — I’ve never encountered anything worse than any other airline. And in some cases, I’ve had some great customer service. But while that’s been my personal experience, I know that it has varied for other people, so it is something to keep in mind.
Also, on EasyJet and RyanAir, flight attendants will walk through the aisle throughout the flight. Just put on your headphones and ignore them. When you’re only paying $40 for a ticket, you’ve got to make the money somewhere.
There is a need to read the fine print.
The first time I flew Spirit, I had no idea about the carry-on rule. My flight out, it was 6 a.m. in the middle of a polar vortex, so I assume the gate attendant was just being kind and turned a blind eye. But because of this, I didn’t realize I had to buy my carry-on for the flight back. Luckily, the gate attendant was understanding and sold it to me for the online price, rather than the gate price.
There will be savings.
In the end, you are saving money. The fares are cheaper, and I don’t think the sacrifices you’re making (hardly any, in my opinion) outweigh the savings. Especially in Europe, when you’re taking a quick flight from, say, Paris to Munich, or London to Amsterdam, budget airlines are a godsend. And as a recent(-ish) college graduate, budget airlines for transatlantic flights make it possible for me to travel to Europe more than I would normally be able to.
What should you fly?
And here, a quick primer on the best-known budget airlines.
Southwest: I’ve never flown Southwest, as it flies out of Midway Airport in Chicago, but lots of people swear by it. The fares are pretty affordable from what I’ve seen, but there’s no assigned seating.
Frontier: A domestic airline with insane deals. I’ve never flown, but I know the prices can be nuts — under $50 nuts.
Spirit: Cheap fares, but you do have to pay for carry-ons and checked bags. You also have to print out your boarding pass beforehand, not put it on your Apple Wallet,
XL Airways France: A great option for direct flights from NYC to Paris. The prices are good, and you do get a free checked bag and meal on board.
Norwegian: Direct to Oslo, London and Paris from NYC. The flights are cheap, but no frills — there’s no food or drink, and you have to pay to check a bag.
WOW Air: I don’t know much, but it’s an Iceland-based carrier, so you will likely have to connect in Iceland. I have no friends who have flown the airline, but I always see things about the crazy deals, so it’s worth looking into!
RyanAir: Known for poor customer service and dirt cheap flights. There are no seat assignments and you have to print out your boarding pass ahead of time. And they often fly to airports that are a bit further outside of the city you’re visiting, which requires additional travel time (and more creative
EasyJet: Almost all the flights I took when I was abroad, I took on EasyJet. It has similar prices to RyanAir, but it’s just better on all points, mostly it takes you to the city’s more central airports and there’s assigned seating. If you can, I’d fly EasyJet before resorting to RyanAir.