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Have to Fly a Budget Airline? Read This First

Have to Fly a Budget Airline? Read This First
Taylor Rains

Low-cost carriers have become a saving grace for budget travelers across the globe. From Ryanair and Spirit to AirAsia and IndiGo, they are becoming the norm in the industry. Although budget carriers get a lot of hate because of their ancillary costs, cramped seats, and lack of amenities, there are some out there that are worth the savings.

What Is a Low-Cost Carrier?

First things first, low-cost carriers are aimed at providing transport between point A and point B at the lowest possible cost to travelers. Ticket fares are typically very cheap (starting at $1 in some places) and come with only one personal item included, although some permit a free carryon as well. This is great for weekend trips or very light packers, allowing for an easy getaway. However, the one thing that upsets a lot of uninformed travelers is the ancillary costs for basically everything else besides a seat and personal item, including seat choice, baggage, food, and drinks. Personally, I love the a la carte model, but it is only one element to budget airlines. They are also unfortunately known for hard, no-recline seats, small tray tables, and minimal legroom, which can be understandably miserable on flights longer than two or so hours. However, long-haul, low-cost carriers usually offer a few more amenities than short/medium-haul airlines, such as a free carryon, reclining seats, and inflight entertainment.

Today, there are over 45 low-cost carriers across the globe, each operating in different regions of the world. Recently, the airline rating website SkyTrax revealed the best low-cost carriers of 2019, so although you may avoid budget carriers at all costs, these airlines might be worth the hassle to save some money.

Low-Cost Carriers Worth the Hassle According to SkyTrax

best budget airline

1. AirAsia

AirAsia is at the top of SkyTrax’s list as the #1 best low-cost carrier of 2019. The Malaysia-based airline has made travel affordable for millions of travelers and is known for its friendly staff and delicious food. Its food is so good that it has even opened a restaurant, Santan Restaurant and T&Co Cafe, at a mall in Kuala Lumpur to offer its inflight meals to everyone.


best budget airline

2. EasyJet

With a fleet size of about 330 aircraft and serving over 150 destinations across 30 countries, EasyJet is a major low-cost carrier in Europe. Its fares can be pricier than Ryanair; however, their seats are reportedly more comfortable (even though they only have a 28″-29″ pitch), and they do not charge an airport check-in fee, which is helpful for those who are not as tech-savvy. Checked and carryon bags cost a fee, just as on any other low-cost, but the food and beverages are much tastier than competitors. Personally, I did not experience much of a difference between Ryanair and EasyJet, but flyers seem to favor EasyJet.


best budget airline

3. Norwegian

Norwegian was named SkyTrax’s #1 long-haul, low-cost carrier. The Oslo-based airline is aimed at providing cheap routes between the United States and Europe on its fleet of Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Its product is what you would expect for a budget airline – bags and food cost extra, but they do offer free inflight entertainment on long-haul flights, and free, basic WiFi on flights within Europe.

Furthermore, their seats have a pretty nice 31″ pitch (for a low-cost carrier anyway), and their premium economy seats recline like an armchair. I have flown on Norwegian dozens of times, and my only complaint is that the food is overpriced for the portion you get. Other than that, they are a reliable option for getting to Europe without breaking the bank (my one-way flight from JFK to Norway only cost me $109!).


best budget airline

4. Southwest

Although I do not consider Southwest to be low-cost, the industry still does, so it made the list. Southwest offers an outstanding two free checked bags, a free carryon bag, and a personal item. But it doesn’t stop there. The airline also offers complimentary beverages and snacks to all passengers, free inflight entertainment and messaging, and reclining seats with 32″-33″ pitch. They are definitely one of the top low-cost carriers in the industry, so I am not surprised they came in 4th on SkyTrax’s list.


best budget airline

5. AirAsia X

AirAsia’s long-haul subsidiary, AirAsia X, is a low-cost carrier that serves the Asian Pacific. In my opinion, its product is better than Norwegian’s because of the spacey economy seats (32″ pitch) and good, cheap food. However, it does not offer seatback inflight entertainment like Norwegian. Instead, it offers iPads loaded with movies and TV shows for a fee (complimentary in premium). Where AirAsia X excels is in its premium class, known as “Premium Flatbed.” Although it is not necessarily ‘business class,’ it still offers lie-flat seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, which is hard to complain about given the low price for the ticket.


best budget airline

6. Jetstar

Jetstar is one of Australia’s low-cost carriers and is wholly-owned by Qantas. The airline offers a very basic experience that provides you with just a 29″ pitch seat and a carryon bag + personal item (which is still more than Spirit or Ryanair offers). Additional baggage, onboard food and beverage, and seat choice will cost extra. Reviewers commended the airline’s level of service from airport staff and flight attendants, which is not surprising as it is a subsidiary of Qantas.


best budget airline

7. WestJet

WestJet is Canada’s second-largest airline. Although they are low-cost, their short-medium haul flights compare better to JetBlue than they do to Spirit. With 31″-33″ inches of seat pitch, free snacks and drinks, and free inflight entertainment, they definitely offer more bang for your buck over other low-cost carriers in North America.


best budget airline

8. IndiGo

IndiGo is India’s largest airline and a favorite low-cost carrier of citizens and tourists alike. It has all the standard gimmicks of budget airlines – seats don’t recline, and bags and snacks cost, but it sets itself apart by being extremely punctual, focusing heavily on on-time departures. Travelers reported friendly staff, clean planes, easy check-in, and a great inflight magazine (6E – pronounced ‘sexy’). Furthermore, they offer a 30″ seat pitch, which is more than the typical 28″-29″ on other carriers.


best budget airline

9. Ryanair

Ryanair operates a fleet of over 400 Boeing 737 aircraft and is the largest low-cost carrier in Europe. They serve 130 destinations across 40 countries and are continually growing. They are my go-to carrier when I am traveling around Europe because their flights are stupid cheap, bags are not much extra to add, and their safety record is applaudable. However, they will charge a fee for bags, food/beverage, and check-in at the airport. Like IndiGo, they offer a 30″ seat pitch, which is greater than its main competitor, EasyJet. In my experience, the food is not that great, so I would bring your own snacks with you.

Although they have their flaws, Ryanair does consider itself “Europe’s greenest, cleanest airline” due to its ability to fill up its planes, stand by its strict weight policy for baggage, and focus on operational efficiency. They have even pledged go plastic-free by 2023.


best budget airline

10. Eurowings

Eurowings is one of Germany’s long-haul, low-cost carriers offering flights within Europe, to North America, and beyond. Similar to Norwegian, they offer free inflight entertainment, charge for food and drinks in basic economy, and allow for one free carryon and personal item in the cabin. Although the airline also made SkyTrax’s list of best long-haul, low-cost carriers, they are phasing out all of their long-haul flights to focus on short-haul operations. The drastic move is an effort to turn a profit after years of financial struggle.


Low-Cost Carrier Tips

I believe low-cost carriers have revolutionized the airline industry, giving more people the opportunity to travel than ever before. Although these flights are cheap, they come with fine print that can be frustrating and unexpected. Below are some suggestions for surviving a budget airline:

  • Read the website: most of these airlines outline every single fee on their website and throughout the booking process. Do not ignore any emails because they will offer important information on check-in and baggage to help you avoid extra costs. If you simply follow the rules, then you should be just fine.
  • Know what to expect: on low-cost carriers, expect a cramped seat with a small tray table, sometimes no recline, and no onboard food or beverages. This is the norm across the budget industry, so do not be surprised and then complain to the flight attendants who cannot do anything about it.
  • Bring your own food and drink: if your airline does not offer free inflight snack/beverage service, then make sure you pack your own.
  • Check-in online or the mobile app: airlines such as Wizz Air and Ryanair allow online check-in for free, but will charge a fee at the airport, so avoid this by checking in at that 24-hour mark (or greater if allowed).
  • Pay for your ticket at the airport: a little known hack for U.S. based low-cost carriers is that you can purchase tickets at the airport to waive the passenger handling fee (up to $20 each way). I never buy tickets from Spirit or Frontier online anymore.
View Comments (7)


  1. hyho61

    January 23, 2020 at 6:43 am

    Southwest is certainly NOT a low cost carrier by any means. The prices on Southwest more often exceed UA, DL or AA. Having said that, it is probably the ONLY carrier in the world to still offer 2 bags free on short domestic flights and have no change fees.

    Also Indigo offers 15kg of bag allowance and allows 1 carry on free of charge. They do have good snacks on board to purchase.

  2. Gynob001

    January 23, 2020 at 8:18 am

    I took eleven flights in India recently by Indigo and Air India. Absolutely perfect. On time departures, some meals or snacks on long distance, friendly staff, efficient checkin, and comfortable no nonsense flights.
    Airport facilities were great and all were cheap.i checked in bags (One free) and they arrived without any problems. Carryon was allowed.
    I no longer believe airline ratings.

  3. formeraa

    January 23, 2020 at 8:54 am

    @Hiho61 I agree. I literally bought a first class ticket on Delta over the Christmas holidays. It only cost $40 more than a COACH ticket on Southwest. Obviously, it was MUCH more enjoyable as well.

  4. kingbee

    January 24, 2020 at 4:28 am

    Have flown Air Dolomiti a number of times in recent years. Clean planes, courteous staff, little if anything to complain about aside from the usual bussing hassle with no direct plane to terminal access.

  5. BC Shelby

    January 24, 2020 at 9:29 am

    …one other knock for SWA not mentioned is no advance seat selection unless you pay more when making a reservation, So you have to get to the airport extra early not just to deal with TSA screening, but receive a low number at the gate to board so you don’t wind up in a middle seat in back. If you need to change planes enroute, try to schedule a connection that leaves you with at least an hour if not more to get a good boarding number for the next leg.

  6. snidely

    January 27, 2020 at 9:12 pm

    SWA within Calif is EXPENSIVE. More expensive to fly to San Diego from Okld or SFO than Jet Blue (or even UA) to FLL.
    Took Norwegien fm. OAK to Oslp then Oslo to FLL. Great service and ontime good planes.

    One thing to watch out for on budget airlines – they often have strict weight limits (10Kg) on carry on bags.

  7. fartoomanyusers

    January 28, 2020 at 5:15 am

    “Ryanair flights are stupid cheap, bags are not much extra to add”

    you obviously have never flown them during peak periods – when their flights are just as expensive as other airlines.
    and you obviously haven’t added a hold bag on a longer flight – when you can pay 40 euro each way

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