Flying in the 21st century is a whole different ball game than yesteryear’s glamorous, spacious flights, but it can now be more affordable than ever! More and more families, college students and single travelers with tight budgets are able to fly, thanks to low- cost carriers like Frontier, Spirit and Allegiant. However, most travelers are used to navigating legacy carriers like Delta, American or United, and are shocked by the a la carte style of purchasing your tickets and its add ons. It might seem like these new carriers are nickel and dime-ing you, but in reality, those “free bags,” and “complimentary beverages” on the big airlines are all built into your ticket price. Remember, almost nothing in life is free! With a little research and preparedness, flying a low-cost carrier can be a breeze, and save you big bucks! While they are not for everyone (thank goodness for the free market and choices), they can be a great resource for a traveler on a budget.
I myself work for a low-cost carrier, and I absolutely love my job as a flight attendant and the fact that we bring so many people to fun destinations they normally can’t afford. I meet many first time air travelers excited for vacations or family visits that were once unattainable because of high ticket prices. Though many of my passengers are happy and excited for the opportunity to fly us, I also hear complaints when passengers are blind-sided by this new way to travel and the previously mentioned “a la carte” style. I listen, empathize, and try to offer advice on how to best navigate this new way to travel, and make their next trip more enjoyable. Below are 9 tips I’ve learned that can make your next trip on a low-cost carrier a little less painless, more affordable, and a lot more enjoyable!
LCCs = Low-Cost Carriers
1. Make sure to purchase your bags with your ticket, it’s when it’s the cheapest.
All checked and carry-on bags are an additional fee on LCCs, and the price increases depending on where you purchase it. The lowest cost is when you purchase your ticket online, then it’s a little more if you purchase it at the ticket counter, and the most expensive if you were to have to purchase it at the gate. A fair few people try to sneak a carry-on past the gate agents (or are unaware of the fees) and get slammed with the higher price to bring it on. Your tickets are labeled with whether you purchased a carry-on and it usually determines your boarding zone, so they are on the lookout for people with bags in a zone that is supposed to be no bags.
2. If you want to save money on snacks and drinks (i.e. WATER) during flight, bring from home.
All the snacks and beverages on low cost carriers are for purchase (including water on a few of the airlines, but not all). There are a surprising amount of approved food items that you can bring through TSA, so stock up. Especially if you are bringing kids! Just check TSA’s website on food restrictions if you aren’t sure what you can bring. As for drinks, you aren’t able to bring anything above 3.5 oz, but you can bring an empty water bottle and fill it at the airport water fountain. Bring some powdered flavored water packets to jazz it up if need be.
Also, mini alcohols are approved to carry in your luggage, BUT, most people are not aware that is against FAA’s regulations to serve yourself your own alcohol during flight (and it could be a large fine if caught!). Save the minis for your vacation and splurge on a drink during flight if you really want something.
3. Don’t expect pillows, blankets, free wifi, etc.
You will rarely see a pillow or blanket on offer on these carriers, and if you do, it will be for purchase. Expect to bring your own if you want to nap on the plane. Passengers tend to get cold sitting for hours on end (and we like to keep the cabin cool in case of nauseous passengers), so bring a small blanket, use your coat, or bring a large scarf that you can both wear and use as a blanket. Though free wifi is becoming commonplace on legacy carriers like Delta or United, LCCs usually don’t have free wifi, or wifi at all. Be prepared and download some movies or books on your devices, bring a paperback, or something else to occupy your time. I usually have an adult coloring book, a regular book or sudoku, and my iPad downloaded with movies so I have plenty of options, especially for longer flights.
4. Flights for various cities are not always offered everyday, sometimes only a couple times a week. Plan accordingly.
To keep tickets cheap, LCCs strategically choose which days are popular to fly and schedule their flights then (and only then). You will have to work your vacation or schedule around those days (ex. Thursday departure and a Monday return).
5. As mentioned previously, everything is a la carte when it comes to your travels on low-cost carriers, but you can still get a steal of a deal if you choose your options carefully.
Usually check your bags but don’t NEED to? A paid for carry-on and a backpack or small duffel as your free personal item is a cheaper option.
Don’t care where you sit on the plane? Don’t purchase your seat assignment, and if you’re lucky (and you ASK the flight attendant nicely) there may be a better seat option on the plane if you get assigned a not so desirable seat. Make sure to ask though and not just switch seats. The flight could be full, you might be sitting in someone’s seat, and it’s a big pet peeve of flight attendants to just switch seats and you will be asked to return to your seat.
Tech savvy? Download the free app provided by the airline and use their mobile boarding pass option. It can sometimes cost you a small fee to print a boarding pass at the ticket counter. If you are not tech savvy, print your ticket at home for free.
6. Apply for the airline credit card.
Many airlines now have their own credit cards with lots of perks. Sky miles, free beverages, priority boarding, etc. There’s always the fine print to consider (yearly fees, black out dates, etc), but I’ve found many of my frequent passengers enjoy having the credit card for the in flight perks, and only use it for small purchases throughout the year.
7. Sign up for newsletters to score super sales on flights.
Unless you are constantly checking the internet or have an alert set up, finding the sales for airline tickets is hard to catch if you don’t sign up for their newsletters. Deals for the low flying season or special offers pop up randomly, so the email sign up keeps you in the know. Also, new routes are announced through email, so that flight you used to pay an arm and a leg for on the big carriers might now have a much more affordable option.
8. Splurge on the upgraded seat at the bulkhead or exit row if you need some extra leg room.
If you are a tall person, or just really feel like you need the extra space, pay a little extra for that exit row or bulkhead seat. It’ll be worth the pain of leg cramps or claustrophobia. Do make sure that you are physically capable of the duties for the exit row if you choose to purchase the upgrade though! Seatbelt extenders, injuries or not being capable to lift the window (among other things, which are listed on the website when choosing an exit row seat) would inhibit you from sitting in an emergency exit row.
9. Many low-cost carriers fly into smaller, secondary airports, so plan your itinerary accordingly.
It’s usually cheaper for LCCs to rent gates at smaller airports, so your arrival point could be farther from your destination (like downtown) than you originally anticipated. Factor in transportation costs and accommodation distance to the airport your airline is actually flying from, not the one you assumed it would be.