People have many woes and worries when it comes to budget airlines. They may be cheap, but if you aren’t careful, the hidden fees can add up. But have no fear! My friend Rebecca of Curiosity and a Carry On is sharing her tips for how to survive these airlines. Having visited 37 countries, including living in Italy for 2.5 years, she’s got the insider knowledge that will have you happily flying high without spending a penny more than you have to!
After graduating college in 2010, I packed eight months worth of clothes into a backpack and headed on a trip through Asia and the Middle East. I planned for months beforehand and felt so prepared, but still found myself shocked by hidden prices, especially on budget airlines like AirAsia and RyanAir. When you’re backpacking post-college and have carefully saved up bartending money for months, paying $15 to print a boarding pass is heart wrenching. That’s at least two meals in many of the places I was visiting. Once, a $60 checked bag fee literally brought me to tears.
It’s been half a decade, and while my finances are no longer those of a jobless backpacker, spending money when I don’t have to is still irritating. A lot of people refuse to fly budget airlines, which I don’t understand. I’ve always felt safe, and the fares can be almost half as much as larger airline prices. I lived in Italy for two years, and thanks to RyanAir, I could travel around Europe every weekend for the same price as a bus ticket from Chicago to Madison.
In the US, I fly Spirit all the time. Sure there are “hidden” fees, but they’re only hidden if you don’t know where to look. During that first backpacking trip I became an expert on avoiding unnecessary fees and packing lightly, skills that I use every time I travel, whether for a weekend or months at a time. Here’s how you can make budget airlines your new best friend, which hopefully allows you to travel more often!
How to Fly on Budget Airlines (and survive!)
1. Print your boarding pass ahead of time.
Don’t be like me circa 2010! RyanAir, EasyJet, and other budget airlines charge you to print your boarding pass at the airport. They charge in local currency, so this is especially important in places like London where the pound is stronger than the dollar. If you’re traveling long-term, you probably don’t have all of your flights booked before leaving home, and it could be hard to print while on the road. Don’t be afraid of asking for help. Hotels and hostels are usually happy to print them for you, or you can find a local print shop. I didn’t own a printer when I lived in Italy, but I would print my boarding passes at the local equivalent to FedEx for about €0.15–much better than €15!
2. Pack your own snacks and water.
Budget airlines can sell such cheap airfares because they overcharge for everything else. You think commercial airlines serve bad food? Try no food. You think a soda and tiny bag of pretzels is pathetic? Ok, it is, you’re right, but it’s better than nothing, which is what you get with budget airlines. Nothing. Not even water, unless you want to pay exorbitantly for it. I always have a granola bar on hand (Clif bars are my fave!), an apple or banana, and an empty water bottle to fill up after security. (Confession: Coffee is my one vice and I cannot survive a flight without it, so I do end up purchasing one every time, but since I know this about myself I budget it into the price of the flight).
3. Just say no.
Budget airlines try to trick you into spending more by asking you a gajillion questions while buying tickets online. They even have tricks like making you select an insurance (RyanAir, I’m looking at you!). Yes there’s an option in the dropdown list for ‘Choose Not to Travel With Insurance,’ but it’s the last option, so often people think they need to select and pay for one of the expensive insurance plans. Remember: Just say no! To everything. Say no when you’re asked if you would like to board early, say no when you’re asked to select your seat, say no when you’re asked to select a meal option, say no when asked about insurance or car rental, and just keep clicking no until you get to the payment screen, where the only charge should be your ticket price and taxes.
4. Carry on!
If you know me or you read my blog, you know this is an obsession of mine. Packing only a carry on bag (not stuffed with things, but light enough to carry comfortably), makes your entire trip more enjoyable. It’s easy to carry and walk long distances if needed, you’ll have room for souvenirs, limited options makes getting ready each day so much easier, you have nothing to dig through, and of course, it saves you money on checked baggage fees.
For years, RyanAir only allowed one carry on bag, meaning you had to stuff your purse inside your luggage, but recently they switched to allowing two and all of Europe rejoiced. Most budget airlines allow a carry on and a personal item, but their carry on allowance size is smaller than that of most larger airlines. This is where packing light and bringing a small bag comes in.
5. Pack light.
- Plan thoughtfully. Stick to one color palette throughout the trip, bring items that can multitask or transition from day to night, and wear your bulkiest clothes on the plane. Don’t know exactly what to pack? I have an entire section devoted to it on my blog!
- Rewear your clothes. If you’re traveling for an extended period like I often do, I promise you need less than you think. I wear the same things over and over and over, and it doesn’t matter. If I’m gone a really long time I’ll eventually throw away my t-shirts and buy new ones, which is cheap and also refreshing. If you bring a lot, you just have more to get sick of.
- Coordinate with friends. Traveling with friends helps because you can trade clothes and have more outfit options. If you are traveling with other people, coordinate beforehand. When I go on girls trips around the US, one of us brings a hairbrush, one brings a straightener, one brings products, and so on. Don’t carry duplicates if you don’t need to.
- Cut down on toiletries. Toiletries are often the heaviest part of luggage, so look for multi-tasking products. It’s great that at home you use an eye cream, face serum, night lotion, etc., but when traveling you can stick to face wipes and one lotion for day and night (with SPF!). Lip and cheek stain is your best friend when backpacking. It’s the ultimate low maintenance, multi-tasking makeup. And I talk about Smith’s Rosebud Salve so often they should hire me (seriously). It serves as lip gloss, cuticle cream, dry skin saver, and split end tamer in one.
So there you have it. How to travel the world on budget airlines without spending a penny more than the advertised flight price (unless you’re a coffee addict too). Now that you’ve saved so much money you could even book two flights!
For more travel and packing tips, check out my blog, Curiosity and a Carry On, or follow my adventures on Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and Twitter. Maybe I’ll see you on a budget flight soon! Though I can’t guarantee it, because you know I don’t select my seats. ;)
Have you flown on budget airlines? What tips can you add to this list?