There are two kinds of people in this world: people who cringe at the thought of a budget airline flight and people who are up for the challenge to save to a few bucks. I’m kind of both. I cringe but then I get excited because I’m saving a few extra bucks to put towards food and coffee. Budget airlines have gotten a bad reputation, but they’re seriously not that bad. I’ve flown with budget carriers a lot during my travels and have survived every single one of those flights without losing my marbles. Kinda.
If you’ve never flown with carriers such as Ryanair, AirAsia, Frontier, or easyJet, don’t let people scare you off. Here’s a guide I created on how to survive a budget airline flight like a champ without wanting to pull your hair out by the end of it. Here are my best tips so you can have a pleasant experience without any unexpected surprises.
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Lower Your Expectations
First of all, you need to mentally prepare yourself for this experience and lower your expectations. You’re not flying business class with Emirates. You’re flying economy with Ryanair. Don’t expect the same level of service and memory foam seats for your tushy. It’s just not going to happen.
Pro Tip: Read some reviews about the airline you are flying. You’ll have a better idea of what to expect after reading about others’ experiences.
Take Carry-On Luggage Only & Weight It
If you want to avoid pesky fees, you need to be mindful of this. Checked baggage fees can be outrageous with budget carriers sometimes. I paid $15 USD for a flight with Ryanair once and they charged $30 USD per checked bag. Why the heck would you pay more for checked luggage than you do for your actual ticket? It makes zero sense. Therefore, taking a carry-on is key.
Most budget airlines have a carry-on weight limit of 10 kg, but I’ve flown with some with a restriction as low as 6 kg. Most of these airlines allow you to bring one carry-on or one carry-on plus a personal item with both of them not exceeding the weight limit. Check with your carrier to see what your weight limit is and pack accordingly. I thought it was the end of the world when I had the 6 kg weight restriction. Like how is that even humanly possible? My bag weighs half of that…
After I packed my bag, I weighed it and the scale read “8.6 kg.” I entered panic mode for a few minutes because I couldn’t get rid of anything that I owned. I decided to risk it for the biscuit. When I showed up at the counter to get my boarding pass, the lady behind the counter didn’t ask me to weigh my backpack because it appeared small and compact even though it was over the weight limit. I got the biscuit! Fun fact: I’m usually over the weight limit but I never get asked to weigh my backpack because everything fits so compressed in there. Packing cubes for the win!
Don’t forget to weigh your luggage after you have it packed. You defeat the purpose of getting a cheap ticket if you’re paying an arm and a leg for excess baggage fees.
Pro Tip: If your carry-on is overweight, there’s no shame in putting on the clothes you have packed. Some of you might this embarrassing, but I don’t. We had to do this on our flight from Bangkok to Melbourne because we were nine kg overweight. It was $100 USD per checked back. Jetstar is really strict with their weight limits, btw. Amos put all of our electronics in his pockets and wore three pairs of pants. He also had on three shirts and two jackets. Yeah, you’ll look like an idiot wearing seven pants and five jackets and make the agent mad, but it’s way better than paying for checked baggage. Also, budget airlines are strategic and can check the weight of your bag again at the gate. If you decide to wear all the clothes you own, you might want to keep them on until you board the plane.
Be Prepared to Not Have a Jet Bridge & for the Boarding Process to Be Chaos
You know that tunnel you have to walk through to get on your plane from the gate? Odds are, you won’t have one. You’ll probably have to walk to the plane or you’ll have to take a bus to your plane. Don’t count on having a gate at all. I’ve had to stand at a random door and walk across the runway to get on the plane plenty of times.
As far as the boarding process goes, there isn’t one. Premium/Plus flyers will obviously get to board first. I know it’s tempting, but don’t be jealous of them. They’re on a budget flight too. After they board, it’s a free-for-all. You just hope and pray that you get a decent place in the queue so there are overhead bins left for you to put your luggage. Be prepared for a little pushing and shoving. There are some countries where “queue etiquette” isn’t a thing. While it’s fun to put those queue cutters in place, it’s wise to keep your mouth shut because you’re probably sitting next to them on the flight. I’m not speaking from experience or anything…
Pay for Any Add-Ons & Extras When You Purchase Your Ticket Online
If you have to check your luggage or purchase a meal for the flight, do so when you buy your ticket online. It’s more expensive to add this on at the airport.
Don’t Pick Your Seat If You Don’t Have To
Unless you’re freakishly tall or have a condition where you need to use the restroom frequently, there’s no reason to pay the extra money to pick your seat. Call me cheap, but I’m not willing to dish out extra cash to sit next to Amos. Sorry, boo. When we were in Southeast Asia, we would both pay the small extra fee to get upgraded to the exit row. No one in Southeast Asia paid for exit row so we would both get an entire exit row to ourselves. The only time we pay the extra money to pick our seats is if we get exit row seats.
Pro Tip: If you are traveling with someone and you both didn’t pick seats but want to sit together, it can be possible in some instances. When you arrive at the airport, go to the desk for your airline. Explain to the agent that you would like to sit together if there are any seats available. Show them that dazzling smile and ask about their day. Treat them like a human being and with respect because odds are they’ve probably spent their day dealing with unhappy and rude customers. If possible, they will seat you together. This has worked for us 80% of the time. If this doesn’t work out well in your favor, wait until the flight takes off. If you see any seats available, ask the flight attendant if you can move. Usually, they don’t care and you’re good to go.
Check for Automatic Add-Ons
When you’re booking your tickets online, be on the lookout for things that the airline will automatically add-on. This includes insurance, meals, seat selections and five cents for every breath you take. Pay close attention and unselect everything you don’t want to pay for. Almost all of the flights I’ve booked with budget carriers will automatically select the “insurance” box. I would skip it as it’s pretty crappy. If you’re wanting to protect yourself, buy insurance from a quality company that has better protection.
Pack Your Own Food
Budget airlines usually don’t include food in the price of your ticket. If they do, it’s usually not very good. Pack a few snacks in your carry-on and don’t forget to bring a water bottle to fill up after you pass security. I learned the water bottle thing the hard way. Since water is something so basic, I figured I would get a glass of it if I asked for it. I was sooo wrong. The airline was trying to charge me a kidney for it. Um, no thanks. I looked and felt like a shriveled up prune by the end of the flight. Also, please don’t be that person who packs a tuna sandwich. No one wants to smell that. Some granola bars will do just fine.
Pro Tip: Most of the budget airlines we’ve flown with have allowed us to bring our own food and water on board. Some of them *cough Air Asia cough* didn’t allow us to do so when flying certain routes. They had a secondary security screening at the gate and made us throw our chips and water away. Please check your airline’s website for any of these restrictions. One time, I snuck a bag of chips inside my jacket and didn’t get caught. I busted them open on my flight and got major stank eye from the flight attendant. She was nice and didn’t make me throw them away. There are some risks in life that are worth taking. Gah, I feel like such a rebel. Brb…gonna go get another tattoo.
Provide Your Email Address When Booking Your Flight
No one likes spam emails, but you’re gonna want to provide your email address. You can unsubscribe after your flight. When we flew with a budget airline last year, they sent an email stating that our flight was three hours delayed. Guess who didn’t get it because they unchecked the little box that said that I agreed to receive correspondence from them? Me. The worst part was that the flight was delayed to 11 A.M. instead of 8 A.M. I could have been sleeping. Give them your email address so you can receive important information.
Print Your Boarding Pass
You’ll want to make sure you have your boarding pass printed off before getting to the airport. Budget airlines will charge you anywhere from $15 USD to $25 USD to print your boarding pass for you. I’d rather pay twenty cents per page at the local print shop than spend my wine budget on Kathy to print some papers out for me. Also, Kathy won’t care if you have your boarding pass pulled up on your phone. She’s old school and won’t accept it. She likes dat paper.
Read the Fine Print
Buy yourself a magnifying glass and start reading the fine print when buying your flights from budget carriers. All of their terms and conditions are listed on there. They also list their cancellation policy and other hidden costs. I feel like 70% of my life’s problems could have been avoidable if I read the fine print. Learn from me and don’t be a Disha in this department.
Sometimes, reading the fine print will benefit you. We were flying with Buddha Air and their fine print stated that if you paid to have a carry-on, you could have unlimited weight in your bag. When we got to the desk, Amos was asked to weigh his bag because it looked like the size of a king size bed. The agent told Amos that he couldn’t take his backpack as a carry-on and that he would have to pay extra to check it in. Amos told the agent about the terms and conditions and that he can have unlimited weight. The agent called the manager over because he didn’t believe Amos and Amos showed him the terms and conditions. The manager was shocked and a bit mad. Because Amos pointed this out in the terms and conditions, the manager allowed him to bring his backpack as a carry-on. See, it pays to read the fine print.
Budget airlines are usually in smaller airports out in the boonies in the middle of nowhere. If you’re not from the South in the States, that means that the airport for budget airlines is probably a million miles away from the city. Therefore, give yourself plenty of time to get there. One time, we defied the odds of time and barely made it on to our flight. Since you asked, I’ll spill the beans. We got stuck in horrendous traffic in Bangkok. It took us an hour to drive one kilometer. We made it to the airport with 35 minutes to spare before our flight left. At the check-in counter, we got hassled with our luggage being overweight. Then, I needed to use the restroom. For some insane reason, I thought that we had 30 more minutes before boarding actually started so I was taking my sweet time walking around and looking for books. It turns out that I lost my boarding pass in the bathroom too. I get an alarming text from Amos and it says, “Hurry the eff up, Dishes. They’re closing the gates.” I’m like twenty gates away and sprinting through the airport trying to make it on this flight. I get to the gate and my bags get searched. Then, they had to print another boarding pass out for me. Moral of the story: get to the airport in time and hold onto dear life for your boarding pass.
Quadruple Check Your Information before You Purchase Your Flight
Before you hit the “purchase” button on the website, be sure you check that all of your information is entered correctly. If you happen to spell your name wrong, the fee to get that changed is pretty steep. You may even have to pay the same amount as you did for your ticket to get your information changed. Believe it or not, I’m actually not speaking from experience here. I met a girl who paid an absurd amount to get the spelling of her name changed because of autocorrect and she didn’t catch it until she got an email confirmation after she purchased her flight.
Expect to Pay an Additional Fee If Using a Credit Card
Expect to pay a processing fee when using a credit card. Not all budget airlines do this, but Ryanair most certainly does. I remember paying around 2-2.5% when I used my credit card. If you don’t want to pay this additional processing fee, use your debit card.
Download the Airline’s App
Let’s say for example that you’re definitely going to buy a ticket with AirAsia. Before you buy it online, download their app. Search for your ticket in the app and see if there’s a price difference. When we were traveling through Southeast Asia, we always saved a few bucks by booking through the app rather than their website. This doesn’t work with every budget airline, but there’s no harm in checking the app before booking.
Play Around with the Currency
Before buying your ticket, check to see if it’s cheaper to pay in the local currency than it is to pay in your own currency. We’ve saved some dollars by doing this. For example, we were flying with Jetstar to Australia. It was cheaper for us to pay in AUD than USD. Doesn’t hurt to check before buying your ticket.
Search for Discount Codes
I love me some discount codes. It feels like I hit the jackpot when I find one that works. Before buying your ticket, see if the airline is offering a promo code. Just type in “AirAsia promo code” in the Google search bar and see what deals show up. I actually just checked Ryanair’s promo codes and they have a sweet one where you can check a bag in and get priority boarding for a small surcharge. Sometimes you’ll get lucky and find a $5 off coupon.
As I said before, the airport that budget airlines fly into can be far away from the city. Do some research and see how far the airport is from the city you’re flying into and how much it will cost for you to get to your accommodation.
If you need to check bags in or pick a seat, keep track of how much that adds to the price of your ticket. You may come to find out that it’s the same price or not much much more to fly with a non-budget airline who provides these things for you.
Budget airlines aren’t going to provide you with entertainment onboard. If you want to survive this flight without dying from boredom, plan out your entertainment in advance. Get yourself a cheap tablet to download movies and books on. Don’t forget the noise canceling headphones for the sake of your sanity.
How do you feel about budget airlines? Do you have any tips that I didn’t list? Let me know in the comments below.
I hope you found this article helpful for when you fly a budget airline. Don’t forget to pin it for later.
Disha is a travel and lifestyle blogger who has visited 85+ countries with South Africa and the Maldives being her favorites. She gets butterflies sharing her travel and life experiences through words. She loves freedom, sunflowers, and long walks on the beach with her husband. She’s obsessed with helping others live a life they don’t have to escape from. Lastly, she makes travel more accessible, inclusive and attainable one trip at a time.