Gone are the days (for me) of business class travel with all the trimmings, paid for on a fat corporate card. I chose to trade this “luxury” for quality time with my son when he was born, and I’ve never regretted it. What it does mean is that I prefer to book budget airline flights today, where I can, to save on travel expenses.
Frequent flying pals with bulging air miles accounts still sniff at the very idea of budget airlines, cheerfully re-hashing old stories such as those about airlines that have suggested removing seats to make passengers stand during flights or charging passengers to visit the bathroom while flying.
But, looking to the future, Europe’s low-cost airlines could have the edge in a post-Covid world, as they are more able to change at pace to meet new market demands than legacy carriers. So it makes sense to be prepared for this brave new world of (low-cost) travel.
Here are some tips to help you enjoy your budget airline flights and to arrive without feeling completely frazzled.
BOOKING YOUR FLIGHT
Before you rush to book your low-cost flights, there are a few essential things you need to look into.
Check the total cost
The cheapest budget airline flights sometimes leave very early in the morning and that could add significantly to your total travel cost.
If you need to be at the airport two hours before your flight departs and that’s before you can catch a train to the airport, you might need to travel to the airport by taxi or private transfer or to stay at an airport hotel overnight. Alternatively, you might need to drive to the airport and pay for airport parking.
That’s all going to add up, so it’s important to understand your total travel costs before you are lured in with a cheap headline flight price.
Check the arrival airport
Budget airline flights are cheap because they sometimes arrive at less well-known airports, and that can add to your costs when you arrive.
For example, Ryanair and Wizzair flights to Paris arrive and depart at Paris Beauvais airport, however, this airport is located 80 km (53 miles) from Paris. An airport bus to central Paris will take you 75 minutes, compared to 40 minutes by taxi or 50 minutes by train if you arrive at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport on another flight.
Get smart when you book your budget airline flights
Low-cost airlines don’t fly operate every route all year round. From the UK, it’s easy to fly to European airports near ski resorts in the winter, but not at other times. Likewise, there are multiple flights to European summer sun destinations during the spring/summer/autumn, but not in the winter.
I like to fly “home” to Jersey several times a year to see family, but I can only fly from my nearest airport during the May to September period. That means I need to get smart to see which other airports offer the best total trip cost, with travel to the airport factored into the cost!
Get the app
Download the airline’s mobile app when you book, so you have all of your booking information to hand. It’s easy to check in with a mobile app, and you won’t need to worry about printing (or losing) your boarding card(s). You can feel good about not using paper too!
Pay for your bags when you book
If you’re going to need to check a bag, or if you can reserve extra cabin bags, the cheapest time to pay for this is when you book. If you have to check a bag when you arrive at the airport, you’ll end up paying lots more, plus, most airlines will charge a fee if you want to make any changes to your booking, including adding extra bags.
Consider speedy boarding
Flying back to the UK last week, I paid for speedy boarding, as my seat was in row 1. I knew that the overhead storage above my seat would fill up very quickly because it always does for those front row seats – that’s where the aircrew stow their own stuff.
There’s also the fact that other passengers think it’s OK to stow their bag in the locker above the seat in front of them – so they can make a speedy exit!
I wanted get boarded early so I wouldn’t have to stow my cabin bag in an overhead locker way behind me – or worse, for it to be taken from me and carried in the hold.
If you do opt for speedy boarding, expect many other passengers to have chosen this option too. It’s only ever speedy boarding if you stand close to the gate, ready for the boarding call. If you don’t you’ll lose the advantage of the speedy boarding you’ve paid extra for!
Pick your seat carefully
You only have to mention budget airline flights and folk will probably regale you with dire tales of uncomfortable seats on low-cost flights. You’ve heard them too?
In my experience, while low-cost airlines aren’t as plush as other airlines, I’ve had no reason to complain about uncomfortable seats on budget airline flights – and that’s because of how I choose my seat!
Here’s what you need to do:
- Pick a seat in an empty row towards the back of the plane, because most people prefer to sit at the “sharp end”. On the last two budget airline flights I took, the front half of the plane was packed, yet the back was only sparsely populated. I had a whole glorious row to myself. Every time.
- If you’re travelling with a partner, book a window and an aisle seat, because most people will only pick a centre seat if the flight is completely full.
Check-in online – not at the airport
Checking in before you arrive at the airport will help you to whizz straight through the departures hall to security, without having to queue for your boarding pass.
BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME
Check the size of your bag(s)
- Visit your airline’s website to check your baggage allowance, including size size and weight limitations.
- Invest in a cheap set of luggage scales and weigh your bag before you leave. It’s much easier to take items out of your bag at home than at the airport!
- Consider buying a cabin bag that’s specifically approved by your budget airline.
Check how many cabin bags you’re allowed
This does vary across budget airlines – particularly on European flights. If you’ve bought a rock-bottom “no frills” ticket, you’ll probably only be allowed a single bag, and will need to make sure any handbag or camera bag will fit inside that bag. Alternatively, buy something at the airport and put your handbag in there.
- If you are strictly limited to one cabin bag, consider using a bag with external pockets on the front, so you can access items easily, and think about using a money belf for your wallet, passport, phone, and any important documents.
- Wear bulky items like coats and jumpers on to the plane to avoid excess baggage charges
Leverage your travel pillow
Most airlines allow you to take a travel pillow in addition to your cabin baggage allowance. Pick one with an inflatable insert, and make sure it’s deflated, then stuff the pillowcase with your pashmina or travel socks, to save space in your cabin bags. Zip up the pillowcase and Bingo! No one will be any the wiser!
Budget airlines make money by turning flights around much more quickly than legacy carriers. While planes are “cleaned” between flights, a quick swoosh around your tray table, armrests and seat-belt with an anti-bacterial wipe is a good idea.
Bathrooms on low-cost airlines are limited in number and are used by multiple passengers on every flight. Knowing that people have vastly differing hygiene standards, and that some have very poor aim (!), it’s also worth taking your wipes to the toilet with you, for a quick wipe before you touch or sit on anything!
Organise your in-flight entertainment
Don’t expect movies on no-frills budget airline flights. Pick out the movies you would like to watch during your trip and download them before you travel – and remember to pack your earphones. I love my noise cancelling headphones – just like these.
if you prefer to read, fill up your Kindle with books to immerse yourself in and save on the weight of books.
You may also like: Essential Travel Accessories To Pack On Every Trip
AT THE AIRPORT
Buy drinks and snacks before you board
Food on budget airline flights is tolerable at best and it’s always pretty pricey for what it actually is. You can usually pick up something to eat from one of the airport concessions – it will be cheaper and probably much healthier too.
Don’t forget to fill up your water bottle too before you board your flight – you definitely don’t want to drink water (or tea or coffee) from the airline.
Get smart with baggage restrictions
If you’re not travelling solo, consider sharing your baggage allowance. If you can manage with only one checked bag between two people, you’ll save lots of baggage charges.
In the same way, consider splitting your cabin baggage between the two of you – when I travel with my teen son, his bag would be over the weight allowance because of all the tech gear (!!) that he insists on travelling with, whereas I struggle to fit all of my liquids into one small plastic baggie for the security check. So, we split the load and sail through without any stress!
Last Word on Budget Airlines
The biggest problem when trying to choose the best budget airline flights is narrowing down your choices and making sure the low price advertised doesn’t tempt you to buy a flight that ends up with lots of extra costs..
Once you know how to check the total cost of low-cost flights and how to prepare for your trip, you’ll soon discover that budget airline flights can be a very cost-effective way to travel for your adventures.