Budget Airline Guide: How to Avoid Hidden Fees [2023]

Apr, 20, 2021

Whether you’ve heard good stories or bad stories, one thing is for sure; you’ve definitely heard about budget airlines. While budget airlines have some drawbacks, they are definitely something you might want to consider taking advantage of.

In this post, I’ll outline some things you need to know about budget airlines and how to take advantage of their incredibly low rates without getting slapped with hidden costs and fees.

If you’re interested in more tips for finding cheap flights that aren’t limited to budget airlines, check out our post about cheap flight tips. You can save up to 55% on your next trip just by using some of those tips!

Are Budget Airlines Bad?

Budget airlines get an unfairly negative reputation, even to the degree that a lot of people are actually afraid of them. While I understand that the prices may seem too good to be true, there is actually not a single thing to worry about.

I need to let you in on a secret; I am a budget airline fiend.

It all started when I studied in Italy for a semester and discovered Ryanair and Wizz Air. These airlines operate flights all over Europe for bottom-of-the-barrel prices.

I’m not kidding – you can get round-trip international flights for $30. Strictly because of these airlines, I visited 17 countries in my single semester in Italy. I am obsessed with budget airfare, and you really should be too.

Budget airlines aren’t just great in Europe. They’re great all over the world!

For example, I once flew from Philadelphia to Las Vegas on Frontier Airlines for $40.

When utilized properly, budget airlines can truly be amazing.

Are Budget Airlines Safe?

Regarding safety, there are some things you should know. Firstly, the planes are the same planes that the major airlines use. On a budget airline, you’ll be either on a Boeing 737 or an Airbus 320 for short to medium-haul flights, and those are the same exact planes you’d be on if you flew Delta, American, or even Emirates which is one of the nicest airlines in the world.

Secondly, the pilots aren’t rejects that flunked out of flight school and couldn’t get a job with a major airline. In fact, I spoke to a flight attendant from Frontier Airlines one time who told me that most of the pilots for these airlines are actually pilots that chose to leave their jobs with major airlines to move to budget airlines because of better pay, benefits, and work-life balance.

When you fly on a budget airline, you’re not sacrificing safety in the slightest bit.

I have personally flown on the following budget airlines and never had a single problem: Ryanair, Wizz Air, Frontier, Spirit, Allegiant, Viva Aerobus, Volaris, Norwegian, Easyjet, Eurowings, Veuling, LEVEL, Flydubai, GOL, and LATAM.

The planes are the same planes that major airlines use, and the pilots are often recruited straight from those same airlines.

I’ve flown on over 100 budget flights and am alive to tell the tale with thousands of dollars of savings. As long as you acknowledge that there are a couple of sacrifices that help to bring that ticket price down, your expectations will always be met. Not everyone is willing to make these sacrifices, and for this reason, budget airlines aren’t for everyone and every flight route.

Things to Consider when Flying on Budget Airlines

I want to tell you up front what many of these sacrifices are so that you can decide for yourself whether or not you’re ready to save hundreds of dollars on flight tickets.

Firstly, the ticket price you pay includes nothing but a personal item under the seat in front of you, and it does not include the selection of that seat. So, if you want to sit in a specific seat or with a specific person, you’ll need to pay about $5 per person to pick your seats.

If you want a carry-on bag, that will cost another $10-40 each way. A checked bag might be as high as $50 each way. On top of that, the seats are less padded than the major airlines and you probably won’t have the little TV at your seat and the free food and drink service.

Also, almost all tickets are non-refundable and can’t be changed, so be sure you book the right flight.

To me, these tradeoffs are worth it for some flights and not for others. On flights that are 4 hours or less, you don’t really need a meal and a movie. Giving up the snacks and the free little liquor bottles and glasses of wine is a sacrifice, but if you really need something to get you through your flight, grab it at the airport.

Additionally, you won’t have some other VIP services that have really become standard. For example, a lot of the time you’ll need to walk to the plane and climb a set of stairs rather than walking out the nice ramp directly into the plane.

You also might be at a gate that is all the way at the end of the airport, and in some cases, you might not even fly from the main airport.

An example of this is in Paris. I mentioned in my Paris travel guide that most airlines fly through Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) but budget airlines use Orly Airport (ORY) which is a 45-minute trek out of the city. A bit inconvenient and time-consuming, but all in all those tradeoffs are small for the hundred dollars you can save on the flight.

Are Budget Airlines Worth It?

In my opinion, yes.

The one tradeoff that does really sting is the extra cost for baggage, but if you can squeeze your things into a carry-on sized bag (which is entirely possible, and I do it every time), you’ll only be out $20 round trip; this cost is nothing compared to the savings on the ticket!

Honestly, think about how much you pack for a trip and compare that to how much you actually use. When we started packing smarter, we realized just how little we actually use! Now we can go on a two-week trip and share a single carry-on-sized bag.

If you’re getting on a long-haul flight to Europe or further, you might want to consider an airline with more complete service. We flew from New York to Amsterdam on Norwegian airlines, and it definitely wasn’t the poshest flight we have ever been on, but it was only a $200 round trip.

As I said, it’s all up to the route and how many sacrifices you can tolerate, but for weekend getaways or week-long trips on a route that is under 4 hours, you really can’t beat these airlines.

Tips for Flying on Budget Airlines

So now you know the truth about safety and practicality of budget airlines. Here are our golden tips for having a smooth budget airline experience.

1. Don’t check in at the airport

This one varies, but for two reasons I suggest you check in online ahead of time and print your boarding pass at home or bring a mobile version.

Firstly, the lines can be really, really long. Most airports only have one or two desks per airline, and budget airlines run a lot of flights every day. You can skip the entire line by just bringing a carry-on bag and checking in ahead of time.

Secondly, some airlines actually charge you to print your boarding pass at the airport. I’ve actually seen this cost up to $10 for a little piece of paper. This isn’t every budget airline and it varies by airport, but checking in ahead of time gets rid of this problem.

2. Show up extra early if you have baggage

Remember how I mentioned that the lines are long if you need to check in? The airlines also save money in most airports by not having a designated “bag-dop” line. If you have checked baggage, you’ll be in the same line as all the people trying to check in, and this can really eat up your whole day.

I actually missed a flight on Frontier one time because I only showed up two hours in advance to fly from Philadelphia to Nashville, and the line was and hour and a half long. By the time we got to the counter, the doors to our flight were closed.

To be fair, it wasn’t our fault – the lady managing the line was letting people with upcoming flights cut the line, but when we (and others on our flight) asked for her to do the same for us, she declined, thinking our flight was later. And no, we didn’t get a refund.

3. Pack smarter, not harder

I touched on this earlier, but I want to reiterate just how important and easy it is to pack lightly. Checked bags are such a hassle. You need to wait in line to check them and then wait again for them at the baggage claim.

That, plus you need to pay what is usually the price of the entire ticket to check a bag in the first place. If you can fit all of your stuff into a carry-on-sized bag, you’ll skip the line, you won’t need to wait for anything at the baggage claim, and you won’t risk having your luggage lost.

That rarely happens to anyone, but it can happen. It happened to me on Swiss airlines, which is one of the nicest airlines in the world, and I even lost my baggage for a full month once when flying with British Airways.

4. Weigh your carry-on bag beforehand

Or your checked bag, if you have one of those. While major airlines do not normally assign a weight limit to your carry-on bag, many budget airlines do and are very strict about it. Some even go so far as to weigh it at the gate. Sometimes you’ll pay overage fees, other times they’ll let it slide but they’ll take your bag at the gate and put it with the other checked bags and you’ll need to wait at the baggage claim.

If they tell you 15 pounds, keep it under 15 pounds.

Also, obey the size limits too. An easy way to do this is to use a soft-sided bag, like a duffel bag, that way it can fit into their “size-tester,” as many airlines measure your bags before you can board. It’s silly, but it’s the way it is.

5. Bring a sweatshirt or jacket

This might not apply all of the time, but I’ve found that budget flights tend to be a bit colder than other flights. Plus, if you’re going to be walking to the plane on the tarmac and it’s cold outside, you’ll be happy you took this advice. All in all, it’s nice to have some sort of jacket regardless of where you go. You never know when you’ll need it!

That’s all I have for you about budget airlines. I hope you learned a little and feel comfortable about your next budget airline flight!

If you have any questions or thoughts, drop a comment below.


Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.

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Meet The Author - Greg

Hi, I'm Greg. I'm an avid traveler who has traveled to over 50 countries all around the world with my wife and kids. I've lived in Italy, Mexico, China, and the United States, and I dream of moving abroad again in the future. With this blog, I provide my audience with detailed destination guides to my favorite places and pro-tips to make travel as stress-free as possible.