Fellow Nomad 101: Flying Cheap. Budget Airline Tips.

I’ve taken flights on cheap airlines all over the world, and I believe they are a great option to explore new destinations regionally at an affordable price. People often complain about low-cost airlines, and usually their anger and frustration during travel arises when there is a discrepancy between their expected experience, and reality. To help new fellow nomad travelers be better informed and choose the best flights possible, here are some key items to consider before you book that ticket on a budget airlines for your next vacation. 

1. In general, budget airlines are a basic, no frills flying experience. You are essentially buying a random place to sit on an airplane that will take you from point A to point B. That is all you really get, a seat. Sometimes you get to bring a very small carry-on bag for free, sometimes not.  

2. If you want frills, each one will cost you money. If you add up all of these fees, the budget flight may not actually be as inexpensive as you thought, compared to other carriers. Budget airlines save money by streamlining operations (i.e. Plane type, boarding process), eliminating waste and inefficiency, and charging for each add-on a passenger requests based on their needs. You want to pick your exact seat, it will cost you. Check a bag or sometimes carry a bag on, that will cost you too. Have a glass of water or a soft drink on the plane, that will cost you money also. Need to print your boarding pass or check in at the airport, or pay with a credit card, that may be an extra service too. Cha-ching… You get the point. Don’t get mad at the business model, just do the math before you buy.  

3. It is important to read the fine print. No one likes surprises that cost them money. Before you book, know what you’re getting. Does the ticket include taxes and fees, or is it just the base fare quoted online. In addition to the additional services cost add-ons in the previous points, a few other things to watch for relate to airports used. Budget carriers generally fly out of secondary airports for a city. That can be a good thing if you’re going to that part of the city or region. Or, it can make your journey less enjoyable because you’re spending more time, and potentially more money, getting to your actual destination. Also read the details of the cabin baggage allowed. Airlines vary greatly on the weight and dimensions of what is allowed, and don’t assume your bag will be free. In general, the size and weight of carry-on bags used in Europe is much smaller than what we think of as a carry-on in North America. 

4. Frequent flier points/miles are probably not available when you book on budget airlines (there are exceptions though). I’ve flown many places on miles I’ve accrued from flights and purchases, and I try to get them whenever possible. There’s a fine line with points, and I consider the time, flexibility, and cost involved before I decide to pick points accrual now over low-cost (I usually go low cost personally). If you are purchasing flights to rack up points, do the math to see if the points redemption value (and loyalty to one carrier/group) makes sense for you.  

So, how do you make a budget flight a great experience? Here are my quick tips of the day: 

1. Search for low-cost deals on the carrier website or sign up for promotion notifications. Note: Some low cost carrier prices do not show up on aggregator search sites. 

2. Book early. The best flight prices are generally booked in advance. There are still good deals last-minute if that is how you travel, so don’t be afraid to look. 

3. Be flexible. You never know where your next adventure may be. If possible, broaden your search from a specific airport to a region you want to travel to. You can easily save €100 per flight leg regionally just by doing some alternate searches. Also check bus, train, and auto options. 

4. Pack light. You really don’t need to bring much to have a great vacation. Don’t let baggage you don’t really need weigh you down. I prefer to travel with only a small cabin bag. This saves me time, money, and the potential risk for misplaced/lost baggage. The less you bring with you, the more mobile you are to explore a place on foot, and the less likely you are to look like a tourist. The money you save on baggage fees can be used on a cool experience or nice dinner in your destination (or even a night’s accommodation in some cheaper destinations). You can wash clothes anywhere, as the locals do, so bring half of what you need and see how it goes. If you are short on an item when traveling, you can most likely buy it along the way (and support the local merchants). Local residents buy all their needs in their neighborhoods, so check out where they shop to learn about the culture. I have learned to downsized my baggage over time, and it makes me much more stress free when I travel light.

5. Most importantly, choose to enjoy the journey just as much as the destination. Every moment is a chance for us to experience something new, and also connect with those around us. Happiness is largely determined by our perspective and willingness to roll with the punches. There are many things that can go wrong no matter what we do. Yes, some of them will go wrong, and that’s part of life. If it’s out of our control, we can be angry and treat others badly, or we can choose to let it pass and go through the day being the best version of ourselves. I’ve met so many amazing people on my journeys, even when things go wrong (cancelled flights, delayed transfers, airport gates, next to me on the plane). Just say “Hello”, “Hola”, “Bom Dia” and smile. The rest just unfolds as it should. 

In an upcoming post I will share some examples of low-cost carriers I’ve used, and how I look for the best deals. Make sure to follow Fellow Nomad on Facebook or at fellownomad.com to stay up to date. 🙂 – Elizabeth

What are your tips for purchasing tickets and flying budget airlines? Do you have a favorite budget airline, and what makes them special?

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