How to find cheap flights on budget airlines
Thanks to budget airlines, the quickest and easiest way to travel Europe (and now many other countries) is by plane. The low-cost carrier godfathers (easyJet and Ryanair) have made it possible to fly from country to country just about anywhere in Europe in under 3 hours. And yes, your plane ticket will probably be cheaper than the taxi to the airport. If you’re looking for comfort and quality service, you’re in the wrong place. If, however, you don’t want your flight to be the biggest part of your trip expenses, read on.
Hopefully reading this post means you’ve come to the realization that you’re better off saving your money for something other than a little extra leg room and a softer plane seat. As I indirectly said above, if you catch a good deal, you can fly from country to country for $20 – $100. Some people have even been known to stumble upon “promotional flights” for less than $2…that’s right t-w-o (before taxes of course, but the deal is still unbelievable). Here’s how you can do it too.
Why Are Budget Airlines So Cheap?
Most major cities have a smaller, secondary or satellite airport (some have more than one), and these are the airports that low-cost or budget airlines fly into. Compared to main or central airports, the landing fees are cheaper, which in turn helps keep prices down for you.
On low-cost airlines like easyJet and Ryanair, you usually can’t check any baggage, saving time, space, and fuel. You’re allowed one carry-on, which is sufficient for a decent sized hiking backpack, and if you do need to check in a bag, it’ll cost you anywhere from $20 to $60.
Nothing, other than the ticket, is a cheap on a budget airline flight. Complimentary food and drinks don’t exist, the cabin is plastered with ads, the food and drinks offered on board are crazy over-priced, and there are fees for almost everything (Ryanair is even phasing in coin-operated toilets). The good news is that a ticket is the only thing you’ll need to buy.
Finding A Flight – My Recommended Method
1. Do your research.
There are a ton of factors that can affect the price and availability of a flight: what day of the week you want to fly? Are you flying on or around a holiday? Will you be flying during peak travel months? If these factors influence the cost of your plane ticket in a negative way (as in a big negative way), then you may want to reconsider the timing of your trip altogether. Take advantage of websites like Farecast that use data from previous years to predict whether current airfares are a good deal, and whether fares for a destination are going up, down, or are staying the same.
2. Go to the Low Fare Comparison Sites First
If you didn’t already, you’ll quickly realize that sites like Expedia don’t include low-cost carriers in their search results. Instead, you’ll want to use a website that specializes in searching for cheap flights and compare prices among several budget airlines. Although I’ve recommended others in the past, Vayama is currently my favorite. However, even on low-fare comparison sites, not every airline will be listed so it’s a good idea to search other sites – CheapOair, FlightNetwork, OneTravel, etc. – as well to make sure you find the right flight or best deal.
Why aren’t low-cost carriers listed on big booking sites?
- Often times these sites are actually owned or affiliated by major airlines.
- Bigger sites make their money off of commission rather than advertising, and because low-cost airlines don’t want to pay a booking commission, they don’t get listed.
- Most of the bigger travel search engines cater to North American passengers so they (logically) tend not to include smaller foreign airlines that you see on low fare comparison sites like Vayama.
3. Ignore Point Number 2 Listed Above
After finding fares on low fare comparison sites, ignore my rant on bigger travel search engines for 10 minutes and head over to Expedia, Orbitz, or Travelocity to guarantee that there’s not a better rate on those sites. Although 9 times out of 10 they won’t even list low-cost carriers (never mind their prices), there’s a chance a major airline might offer a cheaper flight, which was the case when my friends and I flew Air France to Paris. Like I said in Paris Part 1, I was so used to Ryanair and EasyJet that I had forgotten other airlines don’t charge you for a cup of water and a sandwich. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of the comfort offered on larger airlines if the price is right.
4. One More Place To Check: Airline Websites
Finally, once you’ve narrowed down your flight and airline possibilities, head to the actual website of that airline(s) and do one last price check. Because, on these sites, you’re given the freedom to mix and match flight times on your own, occasionally you’ll be able to put together a cheaper round-trip ticket than any offered on comparison sites.
What To Expect With Low Cost Carriers
In order to get the most possible flying time out of each plane, transfer and boarding times on budget airlines are much shorter when compared to the big guys. Since budget tickets are usually nonrefundable, this means that if you’re late, you not only miss your plane, but you’ll be buying a whole new ticket.
Like I mentioned above, many low-cost airlines use satellite airports that are a good distance outside of the main part of the city (sometimes between 1 and 1 ½ hours). These airports are still safe and legal, and there will always be a bus or train service to take you into the city – Terravision Airport Transfers and EasyBus (owned by EasyJet) are some of the more popular. Even with this extra expense, the entire travel cost will still be less than if you took a major airline into the major city centers.
There’s a lack of both space and comfort o most planes. Their goal is to get as many people on board as possible, which means limited personal space, and due to this lack of space, you may find your knees knocking the plastic seat-back in front of you (personal experience on Ryanair). Again, if you’re only going to be in the air for an hour or two, it’s not the end of the world.
Tips And Hints For Finding The Cheapest Flight:
- Don’t pay for priority boarding or passenger insurance. Every seat is usually the same on low cost carriers, so priority boarding isn’t worth it, and most travelers insurance provided by the airlines won’t reimburse you if you miss your flight.
- Be creative and either mix and match different airlines, or try using different modes of transportation to get the cheapest rate possible between 2 particular places (e.g. fly one way and ride the train the other).
- Be flexible with your flight dates and locations. If you can, check the box for “Nearby Airports”, and either the box that reads “Flexible” or “Anytime” near your departure and return dates. This way you don’t miss out on the $50 you could’ve saved by flying out one day later.
- Take advantage of the many available student discounts. Sites like STA Travel specialize in flexible student tickets, and many other sites offer discounts with student codes. In addition to the traditional “Adult”, “Children”, and “Senior” options, Vayama even has a specific box just for students which will help you get a better deal.
The best tip is of course to book early, but even that won’t guarantee that cheaper fares won’t pop up as it gets closer to the date you leave. Prices are always changing, so my advice is to book the flight right when you think you see a good deal. If you happen to see a cheaper flight later on but can’t switch the ticket, just be happy with the money you’ve already saved and get excited for your trip.
Check out these posts for more helpful travel info:
And as always, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below and I’ll get back to you!