Travel Hack: Flying Low Cost Airlines
“It can hardly be a coincidence that no language on earth has ever produced the expression, ‘as pretty as an airport’.” -Douglas Adams
It’s enlightening to think that one day, somewhere, someone woke up and thought “man it’s expensive to fly, I’m gonna change that” and went about their day doing just that. Ok, so maybe that’s not exactly how the idea of no-frills airlines came about, but I would love to thank that imaginary person for changing the world (still too overdramatic?) and making travel lovers everywhere (and our bank accounts) very happy. Those of us who have experienced this exciting world of low cost airlines know that it comes with some flaws (perhaps spending a considerable amount of time trying to shove your suitcase into a luggage measure cage at the airport is not so glamorous) but at the end of the day it is all worth it when you get to see another country for the low low price of 20 euros. Nope, that’s not a typo. Although not quite as popular in the United States, the low cost Airline industry in Europe has been booming, especially in recent years. However, that lower ticket price does not always come no-strings-attached if you aren’t careful. Here are some tips on how to successfully fly cheaply.
There are many sites to use for browsing flights, like Skyscanner, Wegolo, CheapOair, or Kayak. They compare all different airlines, times, and dates, but there are some tricks of the trade that make using these sites more worth your while.
- Set up price alerts if you are planning a trip far in advance. Some sites (Kayak in particular) give you the option to receive daily notifications of the price changes on a specific flight.
- Use the flexible dates option if applicable. Often times low cost airlines only fly on certain days and therefore the trip you are searching for may not be possible if you are too specific.
- As a rule of thumb – it is typically cheapest to fly on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. If you are flying on a Friday or Sunday (especially in the US), expect the prices to increase substantially.
- Use the “nearby airports” option when searching for your flight. There may be more than one airport in the city or area you are flying to/from. Ryanair is notorious for using smaller, lesser known airports in order to drive down ticket prices.
- Be sure to check out how far this airport is from where you need to go before booking.
- Make sure you check the “non stop” option if you plan to fly direct. If you don’t mind making a stop, make sure to adjust the “duration” because a flight may be cheaper if it has, for example, a 24 hour layover in Iceland (which would be totally cool, don’t get me wrong).
- Before booking, check out one of my all time favorite travel sites (Rome2rio) to make sure that your chosen flight path is the best possible solution. This google-maps-on-steroids gem allows you to enter in any two destinations in the world, and with the click of a button magically produces multiple options for how to get there via plane, train, automobile, etc. It clearly lines out the duration of the trip, price, and methods of transportation to help you choose the best fit. It is also another good resource to help find nearby (and hopefully cheaper) airports.
So you’ve finally navigated your way through Kayak.com or Ryanair.com’s impossible credit card processing system and you’re totally pumped about your super cheap flight to Barcelona for the weekend! Everything is super duper, right? Wrong! There are most likely some things that low cost airline website neglected to mention (or did so in tiny font).
- Try your absolute hardest not to check a bag on a low cost airline flight. Checking a normal sized suitcase will likely cost you twice the price of the flight itself.
- Print your boarding pass before leaving for the airport! Another fabulous benefit of no-frills: they WILL charge you to print your boarding pass. Even worse, there may not be anyone working the ticket counter when you arrive at the airport.
- Arrive at the airport earlier than usual. The gates for these flights often close 30-40 minutes before the flight actually departs and you will physically not be allowed on the plane.
- Make sure your carry-on suitcase is the correct size for the airline’s regulations. Also, expect to bring ONE carry-on for the overhead compartment only. Not one carry-on + a small personal item like on those fancy (normal) airlines. ONE bag total.
- Ladies, if you have a long enough jacket or can shorten the strap on your small purse, a good trick that hasn’t failed me (yet) is to hide it under your coat and walk inconspicuously past the airline agent- with the bulge on the opposite side, preferably. Parkas come in handy for this!
- If your suitcase is slightly larger than it’s supposed to be, arrive at the gate early. The boarding process is not divded into “zones” like you may be used to. Instead, the passengers form a queue at the gate right before boarding time. If you are the first one in this line, the airline agents will typically not check your bag for size. If you’re towards the end and the cabin is starting to fill up, they will start pulling bigger bags aside for measurements and charge you a hefty fee.
- Layers and pockets will be your best friend. If you can’t fit everything into your one allowed bag, layer your clothes and stuff as much as you can into your pockets.
- Drinks and snacks are not free on the plane. Bring a reusable water bottle to fill up after security (more eco-friendly, too!) and pack snacks if you need them, because we all know airport food will have your stomach AND your bank account hating you.
- Sit back, relax, and enjoy that 20 euro flight because guess what? That was a successful travel hack!