Should I book My Flight with a Low-Cost Carrier?


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Unless you have lived under a rock for the past 10 years, you already know about the existence of low-cost carriers, those airlines which advertise very low fares and have made it possible for a lot of travelers to enjoy a cheap vacation. When they started operating in Europe, everyone seemed to only point out the bad things about them – the added fees or not being safe – but lately they are popular among more and more travelers.

Having flown, since 2011, exclusively low-cost within Europe, I am sure I can help you understand how these airline work and how you can keep your plane ticket low. And yes, you should book with a low-cost carrier, but first, make sure you know the details and how they work.

Budget carrier vs low cost carrier

Both designate the same way of running their business, but the airlines which market themselves as budget carriers – for example, Blue Air – tend to be on the more expensive side of the spectrum.

Research, research and more research

There are a lot of theories out there about when it’s best to book your cheap airline tickets. But you can throw those out the window when it comes to low-cost carriers. Yes, you need to book in advance. If you are flexible and keep your eyes on the airlines’ offers, you can book when they announce one of those super-low / I-think-this-is-a-typo deals. Otherwise, about 2-3 months before departure is when you want to book your plane tickets. And you should sign up for email alerts.

Understand the base price

The low price advertised by low-cost carriers only includes your “right” to board the plane and a free carry on (hand) bag. That’s it.

Understand the fees

Before you even go on the airline’s website to look for cheap flights, make a list of what you must include in your ticket and what’s not necessary. Because anything on top of the base price is paid for.

These possible add-on are:

  • hand luggage fee: yup. I am looking at you , WizzAir for having two types of hand luggage (the tiny one for free and the larger one paid for), but EasyJet is not far behind either (the bigger luggage, though not paid for, may end up as checked luggage). If you prefer the larger one , pay for it before you get to the airport.
  • personal item: the only way to get a “personal item” on board (which can be a handbag , camera bag, or a small backpack, for example) is to pay for priority boarding (but do check which airlines offer it, I know for sure about WizzAir and Ryanair)
  • checked luggage fee: of course, this is not included with these tickets. More so, full-service carriers don’t include this for internal Europe flights anymore either (only a handful of them still do). If you need to carry checked luggage, pay for it before you head to the airport. You can even add it at check in.
  • preferred seating: want to seat by the window after the wings? You’ll pay something for that.
  • credit / debit card fees: these seem to have vanished lately on WizzAir but EasyJet still charges them, for example. So make sure to use a card with no additional fee.

Check in online

This is a must for low-cost carriers. The fees are not worth it to check in at the airport. Only some airlines actually have an app so in most cases, you have to print out the boarding pass.

Tip: do the online check in as soon as it opens! And thankfully, this happens 30 days before the flight and sometimes earlier

Luggage size

Now that you know what you want to bring with you, make sure your luggage falls within the required size. And yes, consider the wheels and handle! The best options are backpacks.

My current choice is a 44L backpack from CabinZero.

If your luggage is bigger / weighs more than what the airlines accept, you will pay a lot for it. Sure, it depends on the gate agent but don’t relay on everyone being super nice.

And pay attention that the luggage policies change sometimes. Luckily, the airlines do write about it and advertise the changes ahead of time (for example, Ryanair just changed the cabin luggage policy in early 2018).

Only one piece of hand luggage

And yes, no camera bag! Or handbag. The gate agent will make you stash everything in one hand luggage so come prepared. Or buy priority boarding (in case the airline offers this option).

Tip: gift bags from the airport’s shops can be used to “store” additional items , in case your bag overflows on the way back. Ahem.

On board food and drinks

Everything is paid for and overpriced. You may as well buy a bottle of water after you pass security check and it’s going to cost less than to buy from the plane. But since most low cost carriers’ flights being short hauls, you don’t need to worry much about the water or eating.

No entertainment. Bring your own

It is allowed to use your smartphone or table in airplane mode, so you can read or listen to music. Aside from the airline’s magazine – which can be fun to read to avoid boredom – you won’t find any other entertainment on board.

Know where you land

One of the things many travelers don’t like about low-cost carriers is that they use the secondary airports, in most of the cases. These are usually located further out from the city center. And since the cheapest flights are available either in the early morning or late at night, you also have to check what public transportation options are available.

Tickets are non-refundable

When you book a flight with a low-cost carrier, consider that tickets are non-refundable. The airline may reimburse part of the taxes but, if you will not take the flight, consider it a loss. Tickets can be changed for a fee and fare difference.

Flying into / out of Central – Eastern Europe but not always within

Low cost carriers are awesome to get to Central – Eastern Europe…or get out of it. But when it comes to traveling within this area, they don’t offer many connections . For example, WizzAir flies Budapest to Bucharest and Targu Mures (both in Romania), while Ryanair doesn’t offer similar routes but has recently opened Timisoara to Bucharest (both in Romania). On the other hand, Rynair flies out of 3 cities in Romania, operating flights to cities in Italy, Greece, UK and plenty other countries.

Newest planes on the market

Because low cost carriers use a plane for a lot of flights daily, their fleet is the newest on the market. WizzAir operates planes with an average age of 4.3 years , while Ryanair’s is 6.7 years old and EasyJet’s is 6.8 years. On the other hand, Lufthansa’s fleet has an average age of 11 years and KLM’s fleet average age is 11.2 years.

How we travel on low-cost carriers

We always book the flights 2-3 months in advance. I did get a complimentary discount club membership last time I booked a flight with WizzAir but have yet to use the discounts. We choose a free hand luggage and one paid for (because it’s larger). We prefer seats in the middle section, on or after the wings, so we end up paying a bit for that and we always check in online. We have never had problems with the size of the luggage at the airport. But we are careful to measure it (yes, before we buy it!)

Low cost airlines operating in Europe (excludes Turkey)

Air Baltic
Blue Air
EasyJet
Eurowings (former German Wings) : subsidiary of Lufthansa
Flybe
French Blue
HOP!
Iberia Express
Jetairfly
Jet2
Meridiana
Norwegian
Ryanair
Smartwings
Transavia
Vueling
WizzAir
Volotea
WOW Air

Note: info updated in Jan 2018

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35 thoughts on “Should I book My Flight with a Low-Cost Carrier?

    • Thank you so much for the comment and I am glad you found the article useful. We loved EasyJet! (flew them in March 2012). Enjoy your flights and do come back and tell me how they were!

  1. Great post! We live in Seville and we use quite a few budget airlines. As long as you abide by their strict rules, it makes a lot of sense and saves money. The one thing that it’s taught me is to pack for long trips with just my carry-on.

    • Agree, Kemkem. We also travel carry on only. If it’s a long trip, we take a larger bag (and pay for it , but still carry on). Another tip is to get priority boarding. That gives you another bag for free as carry on (with WizzAir)

  2. I flew from Venice to Prague on Wizz Air, got to say the price was excellent, cheaper than train ticket with far less time, your blog post is very informative.

    • Hi, Arvin. Nice to meet another WizzAir fan:)
      Glad it helped and yes, that’s what I was hoping to achieve 🙂
      We just got another set of tickets with the airline btw 🙂

    • Indeed, using a low cost carrier means you don’t need snacks and whatnot included. If you want fancy stuff, go for the regular carriers – though lately they don’t include checked bags or meals within Europe anyway.

  3. Nice post! I am a very frequent flyer and I don’t fly a lot of low-cost carriers. I think as long as you are informed on the extra costs, you can get by just fine with low-cost carriers. I’ve had both great and terrible experiences.

    • Ugh sorry to hear about the terrible ones. We’ve been spared so far. Oh and the low cost carrier we fly does have a loyalty program (not a miles kind of thing but you get a free discount card membership after a certain number of bookings)

  4. For me it came as a bit of a shock to realize that budget airline means not even water! I don’t mind not getting airplane food, especially on a short trip but didn’t realize that means no water either 🙁 Mind you, if you are organized that actually doesn’t matter.
    For the first time though I purchased an additional seat the other day when flying Air Asia – Their seats are tiny and my flight was 4 hours. Well worth the 10 EUR but I was happy to have the option!

    • I do pay for seats but not for extra leg room. I prefer window so I always get window/middle for us and we switch when we return haha
      Actually there is a trick for the water: bring an empty bottle with you and ask the flight attendant to fill it up. If you want bottled water, then yes, it costs.
      I’m never ever going to drink water again on short flights. I hate the restrooms

  5. Your post is a thorough and well written post. While reading, I felt like as if I should book a trip right away. And the links to different airlines is priceless. I must say this is like a wiki post of your own kind.

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    • Thanks for the comment. I believe that any budget traveler should consider low-cost flights 🙂 Surely, they are not for luxury travelers.

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  10. These are great tips. I agree they tend to get a bad rep, but they can be done right! I have a line of being willing to fly a budget airline and a crappy airline. So, I can do budget, but as long as they are clean and have good safety ratings I will be happy to board! I think it’s so important that you listed some of the red tape, I think the biggest problem is people just book based on price and then don’t read the fine print and have a poor reaction.

    • I am like you: if it’s safe and clean, I book it. Sure, I have my own “hate-relationship” with one of the airlines in the list based on very poor pre-sale customer support. I don’t even want to know how post-sale looks like haha 🙂
      Yeah, it is important to know what you get for the money. But once you know that, it’s all fun 🙂

  11. Super useful post, Cristina! There’s definitely a time and a place for budget and low cost airlines, but it’s important to be aware of what you’re actually paying for. I’ve seen so many terrible reviews of airlines for delivering exactly what they promised because people don’t realize (or, more accurately, don’t bother to check). Hopefully some of them read this!

    • Ah! As a former travel agent, I cannot tell you how many people complained about airlines. And not only low-cost. Typical “offenders” include the damn checked luggage (no, in many cases you don’t get that included even with full-service airlines, unless you fly between the continents; just saying).
      I do hope people take the time to research a bit 🙂

  12. This is an amazingly useful list! I didn´t know quite a few of those companies. Last time I went to Berlin (for 30 euros;)) I had packed a ton of food and stuff for my sister and was super happy nobody bothered to weigh my luggage as it was certainly above the allowance!
    Btw., another cheap airline in Turkey is Pegasus. Sometimes cheaper then the buses and I heard pretty comfy too!

    • Pegasus is horrible. I know about them but my blog doesn’t consider Turkey Europe (cause it’s not).
      I had some weird issues with Pegasus (cancellations , refusals to rebook) when I worked as a travel agent.
      Out of that list, I fly WizzAir and EasyJet. I also flew Blue Air. This spring I’ll fly Rynair 🙂

  13. Great post with a lot of insights. It’s sometimes really difficult to get an overview of all the costs involved. Thanks or sharing!

    • Yeah, you need an eagle eye to spot everything on the carrier’s page and even then, if you don’t know what to look for…you cannot find it.

  14. I have definitely been screwed with wizairs baggage requirements when we tried to check luggage. I will never ever check bags with a budget airline again, and then had to hide a backpack under a jacket when boarding to sneak on a second piece of hand luggage.

    • Ouch. I never check a bag anyway and when I really, really need that second piece of luggage , I just pay priority boarding. So far, so good. But I’ve traveled for years with only just a backpack (and the day pack neatly tucked inside it and i would just unfold it at the destination)

  15. Great that you compiled this post. It’s true that these budget or low-cost airlines have lots of hidden prices or exclusions. One can easily miss them while booking.

    • They are getting a heck lot better – in Europe, at least – to show clearly what you buy . But they also push extras on you like crazy!

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