Budget Airlines: Are they for you?

I’ve heard so many stories about travelers’ disastrous experiences with budget airlines: being forced to pay exorbitant baggage fees at check-in, lack of meals on board, extra fees for headphones, blankets, and so on. The key to avoiding these woes is to know what you are getting into before you get to the airport, to plan ahead, and perhaps to recognize that budget air travel simply isn’t for you.

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Flying over Greenland on budget carrier Wow Air.

Budget air travel doesn’t just mean that the price will be easy on your wallet. It is an entirely different way of flying, and as such, you must have a different mindset going into it. Budget airlines are able to offer lower prices on their tickets because they have eliminated many of the “extras” that are normally included in the price of a non-budget ticket. Such extras often include baggage, meals, and on-board amenities. With budget airlines the price of your ticket gets you the bare minimum: a seat on the plane. It sacrifices all of the extras that many people do not want or need to allow such people to fly at a much lower cost. So if you book a budget flight expecting to have two free checked bags, an in-flight meal, and even something as simple as a seat assignment before check-in, you are likely to be sorely disappointed.

For younger generations, this is how travel has always been. Even most major airlines now charge for checked bags, and depending on the airline and the length of your flight they may even charge for meals and other extras. So to younger generations paying a fee for your bag is commonplace. For those who grew up before the 90s, you likely remember a time when your plane ticket included free checked bags, on-board meals and drinks, and so on. That was also a time when the average cost of a U.S. domestic flight was $500. You can now travel from the U.S. to Europe for less than $200 round trip. Things today are quite simply different. If you don’t like change and you want your free amenities, the answer is simple: don’t book a ticket on a budget airline.

If, however, you’re open to a new paradigm for air travel, doing a bit a research before you book can make all the difference. For example, many budget airlines do indeed charge for baggage, some even for carry-on baggage. These same airlines also typically offer discounted prices on the fees for such baggage when booked online in advance of the flight. The same goes for on-board meals and snacks. Another, likely tastier and more budget-friendly, option is to bring your own food for the journey. And in today’s high-tech world you are likely to bring your own tech gadgets and accessories with you so you will not need to purchase those on the flight.

Two of my favorite budget airlines are Wow Air and Norwegian (check out their websites for current deals). On Wow Air I have traveled from the east coast of the U.S. to Iceland twice during peak tourist season (July). In 2015, I paid around $280 for my round trip ticket, including baggage. In 2017, I paid about $320. I couldn’t even fly from my home in Boston to my family home in Columbus for that amount on any of the domestic airlines. I’ve gotten similar deals on flights to other European countries on Norwegian Airlines. In February 2015, I was able to book one way tickets from New York to Stockholm and from Copenhagen back to New York for $450 total. Later that year Norwegian started flying from the east coast down to the Caribbean to put its planes to use during the winter when no one was flying to Scandinavia. I was able to get round trip tickets from Boston to the island of Guadeloupe for just $195 round trip. Then in April 2016, I purchased round trip tickets from Boston to London for just $350. All of these prices are including baggage, by the way.

I’ve enjoyed every single one of my flights on these two airlines. I knew what I was getting into when I booked my tickets, and I made sure to purchase any extras that I wanted at the discounted prices in advance of might flight so there were no surprises at the airport. The flight attendants were courteous and skilled, and they all got me to my destinations in good time and without incident. Norwegian’s planes even provide special lighting to help with jet lag.

So if you think you’d like to give budget air travel a try, I definitely recommend these two airlines. But keep in mind, you don’t have to go this route. It is perfectly okay to pay a bit more to get the amenities and have the experience that you want. After all, this is your flight taking you to your travel adventure, so book something that you will enjoy.

Have you had any experiences, good or bad, with budget airlines? Will you try them out? Let me know in the comments below.

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