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Is it really possible to fly roundtrip from Chicago to Europe for under $500? Budget airlines say it is, but they also make us wonder: Is the price we’re being quoted the total cost? What sacrifices do we have to make to fly from LA to NYC for under $200? And just who are these budget airlines many of us have never heard of before? We asked CheapTickets Senior Communications Manager Mel Dohmen to answer some of our most burning budget airlines questions.

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What are some of the most popular budget airlines?

Spirit Airlines is one of the biggest budget air carriers in the U.S. with bases in Chicago, Las Vegas, Dallas and Orlando. Frontier Airlines out of Denver is also gaining notoriety for its no-frills model.

Internationally, Norwegian Air is one of the major players right now with incredibly affordable fares to Europe, Scandinavia and parts of Asia.

Dublin-based Ryanair is a name U.S. travelers to Europe will also recognize. They specialize in low-cost airfares and are known for flying in and out of smaller or secondary airports like London Stansted.

Frequent travelers to Mexico and Central America will also be familiar with Volaris for its budget fares to hotspots throughout the region.

In light of the recent turmoil with WOW air (as of March 2019, the airline is officially no more), it’s worth noting that sites like CheapTickets do continue to make budget carriers, along with hundreds of others, available to customers but we do monitor the financial health of partner carriers closely.

Are there any that you would particularly recommend?

Travelers can find amazing deals to many bucket list destinations around the globe, whether it’s a budget airline or not. While these carriers may be synonymous with value, I wouldn’t discount keeping your options open and staying flexible. It all just depends on where you want to go and when it fits your schedule.

Interior of airplane with passengers on seats waiting to taik off. Horizontal composition. boring flight in economy class aircraft salon. economy class

What are some of the sacrifices travelers commonly make when flying budget airlines?

Budget travelers are often willing to make significant trade-offs to save money throughout their travel journey, and that is certainly no exception with budget airfare carriers. It’s important to know what you’re getting into when you purchase. Expect no frills and to be charged for everything. If you go in with those expectations, you should be fine.

Do you have any “hacks” for making budget flights more comfortable?

My biggest tip is to do your research so you aren’t surprised by what you will and won’t be expected to pay extra for, especially if you are flying international. Most budget carriers are very strict about luggage allowances, and baggage sizes and weights may be different than what U.S. travelers are accustomed to. So always check the guidelines and weigh your bag before getting to the airport. I had a coworker once check a piece of luggage that was a few pounds over the weight restriction and had to pay $160 for a two-hour flight!

Beyond that, there are some tried and true tricks travelers often recommend on these no-frills flights.

  • Bring your own entertainment. People are often surprised when budget airlines don’t offer in-flight entertainment. Pre-download TV shows on your phone through Netflix and wear your headphones onto the plane to save space in your carry on.
  • BYOB food and beverages, too. Bring a water bottle on board and pack light snacks in your pockets. I’ve even heard of travelers preparing a protein shake in their water bottle for an extra healthy snack.
  • Make your heaviest items your personal items. Wear your bulkiest items on the plane like a heavy winter coat, boots or warm layers. Most carriers also won’t weigh your personal item, so stash heavy things like shoes or toiletries in there if you can.
  • Bring empty tote bags. Save on suitcase space by stashing your bulky layers in an empty tote bag on the return trip home. Plus, they are handy for grocery shopping, storing road trip snacks, separating laundry and buying duty-free airport beer.

Are there certain types of trips where you would recommend flying a budget airline?

Budget carriers are great for solo travelers but often less so for couples or families. One way budget airlines make their money back is by charging you extra if you want to sit with others in your party. Thankfully, parents traveling in the U.S. with kids under 13 don’t have to worry about this since Congress passed legislation in 2016 that mandates airlines seat young kids with their parents or caregivers at no extra charge.

Hand-luggage compartment with suitcases in airplane. Carry-on luggage on top shelf of plane. Travel concept with copy space.

What considerations should travelers make when deciding whether or not to fly a budget airline?

Calculate costs for seating and baggage before you book to make sure you won’t actually be paying more. CheapTickets.com and other online travel sites like Orbitz or Expedia notify customers throughout the booking process about what is and isn’t included in a ticket. That’s important because while a roundtrip flight from Austin to Denver for less than $100 may sound like a good deal, if you end up paying for bags and seat assignments later you may not be saving all that much more money.

Some people may be concerned that budget airlines aren’t as safe. What is your response to this?

The price of a ticket has no correlation to customer safety. Budget airlines must follow the same FAA regulations and safety guidelines as any other carrier. For peace of mind, various organizations report on airline safety, so you can easily research a particular airline online.

In general, would you say it’s worth it to fly budget airlines?

Travelers should consider what trade-offs they are really willing to make on their next trip. Booking a no-frills airline is certainly one way to save, but vacationers can also stay on budget with low-cost lodging, activities, public transportation and much more.

Young woman at the airport, on the escalator

Anything else travelers should know about flying budget?

Layovers help international budget carriers like Norwegian and Ryanair keep costs low, but that can come with drawbacks. Make sure you’ve booked enough time between connecting flights and have their customer service number ready in your phone. It’s always safer to ask and call someone than assume you’ll automatically be re-booked.

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Tagged: Tips & advice

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