Low-cost airlines have made quite the splash in the past few years–especially with their ever-decreasing prices from the United States to Europe. Both domestic and international carriers–like WOW Air, Norwegian Air, RyanAir, easyJet, Southwest Airlines, Spirit Airlines and more–are capitalizing on the race to the bottom, while travelers wait to see how cheap they can fly to their next destination. Booking these airlines can save you money on base fares, but be mindful of these additional fees.
The most universal extra fee is the checked bag fee–many airlines charge additional baggage fees even if they’re not qualified as “low-cost.” While most low-cost carriers charge per bag and per flight, some will also charge different prices for a direct flight versus a connecting flight. When you’re calculating flight costs, remember to tack on anywhere from $50 to $100 to the base fare if you plan to check a bag.
Avoiding baggage fees isn’t impossible, but depending on the length of your trip–or the depth of your wardrobe–you may need to make some sacrifices. For starters, go minimalist and pack light (tips here)! If you’re traveling for a quick business trip or a weekend getaway, you might be able to travel with just a carry-on, which would eradicate the need to pay a checked bag fee. For longer trips, or airlines impacted by the electronics ban, you’re going to have to check a bag and fork over the extra money. Make sure you factor this in when determining which airline to book.
Choosing Your Seat
I’m pretty particular about where I like to sit in on a plane, especially when flying economy. That is, definitely a window seat and preferably near the wing. To make certain that I have my preferred seat I always spend the extra $15 to $45 to choose my seat at the time of booking. To me, that extra fee is worth my peace of mind. However, if you’re traveling alone, or you’re not generally concerned with where you sit, you can avoid paying this added fee. Some airlines will assign you a seat at the time of check-in. Others, like Southwest, will assign you a boarding zone, and seats are decided first come, first serve. Both options are a bit like playing Russian roulette; fortunately, it’s free to play–for now.
Tip: If you’re flying an airline like Southwest, TripIt Pro can help you get an edge on getting the best seat possible. Our check-in reminders can help you check in right on time and get a decent boarding number.
Whether you have a long-haul flight or a number of connecting ones, you’re likely going to build up an appetite. If you’re flying low-cost airlines, don’t count on an in-flight meal unless you’re willing to swipe your credit card for it. This also goes for snacks and beverages–both alcoholic and non-alcoholic. To avoid these extra fees, plan ahead by packing snacks in your carry-on or purchasing a meal in the terminal during your layover. To save on beverage costs, bring an empty water bottle with you through security, and fill it in a water fountain in the terminal before boarding.
Tip: for some airlines, it pays to purchase the “extras” together. For example, on Norwegian Air, you can bundle the above three services for $90 each way. Whereas if you bought them individually–for example, some at the time of booking and others at the check-in counter–you’d pay up to $45 more in fees.
In-flight Entertainment and Extras
Some low-cost airlines provide in-seat entertainment services free of charge, but not all do. Some will require you to pay to watch a movie on the seatback screen; others will loan you an iPad or comparable mobile device, for a fee, to enjoy a movie or music for the duration of your flight.
To avoid this unplanned cost, do some research. First, check to see if the airline offers free in-flight entertainment. Also, check to ensure the electronics travel ban doesn’t impact the airline you’re flying. If your airline doesn’t offer in-flight entertainment but allows for you to carry on a device, plan ahead to bring what you need to bide your time. Whether you carry on a laptop, iPad, book or crochet hook, you’ll be glad you have something to do other than stare out the window.
Some low-cost airlines will also charge for in-flight amenities like pillows, blankets or headsets. Your best bet to avoid incurring these fees is to bring your own travel pillow, stow a blanket or scarf in your carry-on and grab the headphones you have at home to bring with you on the flight.
Low-cost airlines can provide an excellent alternative to expensive flat rate fares. The key is to remember that the low numbers you see advertised on your Facebook newsfeed are really just the cost to get you (not your luggage) from point A to B, and any additional service or accommodation will be an extra cost. Planning ahead can save you hundreds in airline fees; money you’ll be happy you saved once you reach your final destination.