Backpacking and Beyond · Hacks For Wanderlust · Travel Listicle

10 Crucial Things To Know Before Booking With Budget Airlines

Girl, Unspotted

With today’s booming tourism all over the world, it’s a little surprising that plane tickets are getting cheaper and cheaper. Different forms of travel that fits any kind of budget is no secret. And well, if you’re a sucker for travel like I am, you know you’ll take anything to get you to another place.

Low cost carrier airlines are the biggest love and hate relationship I have in my life. Low cost carrier airlines, or budget airlines, are basically a peasant’s form of flying. Examples are Spirit Airlines, Ryan Air, Air Asia, etc. They aren’t always bad, but they’re not always tolerable either. They’re cheap– sometimes dirt cheap if I catch them online on a good day, and they do the job of transporting me to another place in one piece. But for every cheap purchase comes with it an experience that will match the amount you paid.

This post is actually inspired by my very own horrific experience with Cebu Pacific a couple of days ago. I’ve been flying with different budget airlines all over Asia for years since I moved here, including them, but this previous experience was the worst of them all. So though I may sound a little resentful throughout this post, do know that I still have a little love for them nonetheless, because well, they help me see the world without spending a fortune. Anyway, here are a few things you must know before you let yourself get sucked into their very tempting cheap flights. You’ll find out why they’re cheap and I’m also including some tricks and tips to hack the system, or to avoid being hacked yourself.

1.) Don’t get your hopes up with their advertised sale price.

It’s not even just a matter of tax, but some airlines has so many fees added in the end that the advertised $30 flight ends up being twice as much. It’s also worth knowing that sales, no matter how tempting, can be quite cunning too. You may come across a cheap $10 one way domestic flight, and then they’ll hit you with a $100 return flight. When that’s the case, I usually just book the departure flight and either look around for a return ticket from another airline or wait until they come out with another sale that covers city #2. Not all airlines are like this, but plenty can be very misleading.

TIP: Another way airlines try to get more money from you is by automatically adding other optional fees such as meals, seats, insurance, check in baggages (yes, you’ll have to pay for them), and even donations. Some airlines are even very sneaky about this and they make sure that it’s a challenge to remove the certain fee. They purposely make it hard for you. So when booking your flight, make sure you manually remove unwanted additional fees. However, when it comes to the case of check in luggages, it’s definitely cheaper to book online.

2.) Delays are quite the norm.

Delays happen even to five star airlines too, but somehow, budget airlines are so notorious with this. I’ve actually learned to be patient but my previous flight from Manila to Boracay was the worst. My original flight was actually completely canceled right before we even checked in. They moved us to a later flight, which wasn’t that bad because it was only 30 minutes difference. Now here’s the horrendous part. The flight they moved me to wasn’t even to the city I was supposed to land, but in Kalibo, which is another 2 hour bus ride away. They tried to compensate with meals, free transportation, and a one way domestic ticket voucher. But of course that flight I was moved to would be delayed as well, and top that off with 3 different terminal transfers that also included 3 more annoying x-ray scans, and finally waiting in the runway for almost an hour before we were able to take off. That was practically over half of my day wasted.

TIP: Some airlines are more notorious than others when it comes to flight delays and cancellations, so a little word of mouth or research might go a long way if your time is too precious.

3.) You get what you paid for.

Nothing more annoys me than travelers who pay for cheap flights (on cheap airlines) and then have the audacity to act so entitled. Yes, chances are, low cost carrier airlines will not give you a blanket. You’ll have to pay for your water. There will be no free peanuts. There will absolutely be no movies on board. And if you got your ticket on sale, chances are, your flight will be either too early, or way too late. Come on guys, this is common knowledge. Don’t be a jerk and expect a special treatment when you’re not even willing to pay a cent more on your flight.

TIP: Either be prepared, or suck it up. I usually bring my own blanket and drinks. I’ve only taken budget airlines on short flights around Asia, with 5 hours being the longest. I personally cannot imagine taking them for over 8 hours.

4.) The interior is slightly less comfortable.

Budget planes are smaller in general. Smaller planes means smaller seats. Smaller seats means less leg room. Do not except the same comfort that you get in an economy seat of a non-budget airline. If those economy seats happen to be a struggle for you, then low cost carrier airlines will be miserable for you. Expect a smaller overhead bin as well so check with the airline regarding their protocols on carry on sizes.

TIP: You can opt to pay for a seat in advance when booking your ticket and go for the first row since they generally have more leg room. It might cost extra, but if you have long legs, it might be pretty important to do so. You can also opt to be seated in the emergency exit which will guarantee you extra room.

5.) Cancellation and rebooking fees are ridiculous.

Think you can get away with rerouting your flight with just one phone call? Or perhaps you’d like to extend your flight? Think hard and clear before you make a commitment and before you hit that final button because there isn’t much flexibility when it comes to budget airlines. You will be asked to pay a fee that are sometimes costlier than the actual ticket you purchased.

TIP: Before you book, make sure your schedule is final to avoid mishaps and paying fees. Especially if you get your ticket on a sale, chances are, there will be no refunds or rescheduling. Either you go on your flight or not. So read the guidelines before committing.

6.) The meals will suck, even if you paid extra.

Don’t expect a satisfying meal no matter how much you paid for it. Think of it as an overpriced TV dinner.

TIP: Bring your own meal or suck it up.

7.) The customer service isn’t always great.

I don’t mean during the actual flight, because if that’s the case, then like any other airline, there will be good days and there will be bad. What I mean is the customer service that deals with any disputes. They can be quite dodgy. Cebu Pacific Air’s hotline is almost impossible to reach, and as a matter of fact, I’ve been unsuccessful in doing so until now. I’ve also heard stories about Air Asia taking months to send back refunds from cancelled flights.

TIP: Highly consider everything I’ve listed here before booking with them. If this sounds like something you can handle if worse comes to worst, then absolutely go for it.

8.) They’re relatively safe.

Of course I do suggest doing your own research about the airline you’re going for. But in general, budget airlines does its job in flying you from one place or another. The rate of air crashes varies from airline to airline, but sometimes, those aren’t completely determinant of their service and safety. For instance, an Air Asia flight crashed in Indonesia in 2014, but regardless of that case, Air Asia is actually considered one of the safest low cost carrier airlines.

TIP: Do your research if you’re adamant about the safety.

9.) They are in fact cheaper.

If you know how to find cheap flights, then you know that budget airlines are actually pretty generous with sales. Just like non-budget airlines, they do email notifications of their promos. But like I’ve mentioned already, there are some fine lines that comes with these dirt cheap prices.

TIP: The key to find the best deals is by booking in advance. I’m sure you’ve also heard some of the booking hacks that’s circulating the internet as well such as clearing your history and cookies, booking in incognito tab, booking on a Tuesday, etc. They also post announcements on their websites, but when there’s a big sale, usually seats run out fast. Some hardcore budget travelers wait up until midnight to ensure that they get a seat right away. These are usually for extreme sales where you basically only pay for the tax.

10.) It’s worth it.

Is it worth it to go through the all the hassle and the risk of cancelled and delayed flights? Yes. If you’re a budget traveler, the extra bucks you’ll save will definitely go a long way. Budget airlines does its job of bringing you to your destination regardless of how long it takes and how inconvenient it gets. If you’re flexible, then yes, it’s absolutely worth it. But if you’re cramped or if you’re traveling for business or a family emergency, then perhaps it’s best to splurge a little extra on a more reputable airline.

TIP: If you can afford a reputable airline, go for that instead. If you’re just trying to get from one place or another and you’re easygoing enough, then low cost carrier airline it is. If you want to travel but you’re pretty high maintenance, do others a favor and keep all the whining to yourself. Like I said, it’s not always bad. I’ve had more good experience with them than terrible mishaps when it comes down to it. You just have to remember that the probability of the most dreadful scenarios happening is much higher than a non-budget airline.

Girl, Unspotted


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24 thoughts on “10 Crucial Things To Know Before Booking With Budget Airlines

  1. Definitely agree with you on number 3. That’s why we always prepare for the worst when we book with budget airlines. I think all their conditions are stated in their contract of carriage that most people fail to read.


  2. I completely agree wtih all of these points! I’m just back from Oslo where I got €40 return flights with Ryanair. On the way back there was a 5.5 hour delay, not great! I think if yo uknow what you’re getting then there’s no need to get disappointed! Nice post 🙂


  3. No 3 is absolutely true! Some people find it hard to differentiate between premium and low-cost airlines and they expect the latter to provide you the best service money can buy.

    I have to disagree with you on No 6. AirAsia has been serving up great local delicacies on-board and they even have seasonal specialties. It definitely is pricier than what you can get on the ground but it’s good to know you can still get comfort food up in the air.


  4. I will never fly with Spirit again, they canceled a flight on me when I was in the transit location and would not rebook a flight until the next day, needless to say I was not very happy and the customer service was non existent. So you really do get what you pay for.


  5. Have been pretty lucky we have flown maybe a dozen different budgets and never really had much problem. Longest delay was 2 hours in Rome on the way to Dusseldorf. We always end up paying extra luggage. We flew from basel to porto and the excess luggage cost the same as the ticket ah well what can one do!


  6. Not just cancellations and rebookings are expensive, but ANY errors (wrong dates, wrong spellings of names, etc.) can be just as costly as the original ticket price. However, when you can find that steal of a deal, it’s all worth it!


  7. The only problem I had with low budget airlines is delay of flight, other than that, I think budget airlines do a good job of taking people from one place to another. I’ve never taken a bigger plane also so I have no point of comparison. But I pretty much agree with what you said here, especially with people who travel cheap but act entitled, they are so annoying.


  8. Traveling on a budget airline is all about the mindset. You are right, you get what you pay for, and knowing that will make your experience much more pleasant. I arrive on budget airlines prepared with my own snacks, neck pillow, and my ipad filled with movies. I make it pleasant for myself!


  9. I’ve a total love/hate relationship with the Ryanairs/Air Asias of the world. They are just terrible – but when you pay say $5 to fly from KL to Langkawi (it did happen!) you just can’t complain at all!


  10. When we spent almost 6 months traveling S.E. Asia, we flew with a few low-cost airlines, so I know these tips are needed. Also, pay for your luggage fees before arriving in the airport or else the fees are at least double. One Asian low-cost airline I really liked though is MalindoAir.


  11. Good things to know. Frontier is the budget airline we use the most often and yeah, good luck getting a hold of an actual person at customer service when you have a problem. Our experience has been to send an email and you’ll hear back in a few days. I’ve had to call to straighten out a booking issue and was able to get through to that department. But all and all we agree with point 10 here and will keep using them when it’s convenient.


  12. great list of tips to look for. I am a firm believer in “you get what you pay for” and in cheap airline travel, they nickel and dime you for so many additional things (plus like you said, one leg might be $9 and the other $199) so they end up getting you in some fashion to be pretty close to the more mainstreamed airlines. I tend to stay away unless a short flight and get buy.


  13. I fly budget airlines all the time and get super annoyed when people complain about them. How can you expect any service if you pay just 25 euros for a flight, when a regular carries asks 5 to 10 times that price? I always suggest them to take regular flights instead so that in case they need to complain, they can count on customer service. I haven’t had extremely bad experiences in the 10 years I’ve been using them (apart from delays and poor food) but it also depends on what you call bad. Low service is the key to low budget …


  14. Great list! I rarely can fly during the discounted rate periods and so end up going with my regular airlines in frustration usually at a much higher cost. I


  15. We take the budget airlines only on shorter flights when there are no connections involved…. hate when the flights are delayed and missing a connection.


  16. Completely agree! These airlines are good and ultimately worth it, but you just have to know the risks you’re taking when you decide to go with them.


  17. Great post! While I agree that you get what you pay for, I still usually think that paying less is worth it if you have the time and patience to deal with budget airlines.


  18. i agree with EVERYTHING you have said here!!! they ARE worth it, but you sometimes need to adjust mind set!!! and now with Children we do sometimes reconsider the budget airlines because they flight times are not convenient or we know they do NOT cater to families and are often down right rude to people with small children (if you don’t pay all of those hidden “fees” to board first, or bring carry ons etc!


  19. Totally agree with all of these, and people have such different expectations too, I think! I know loads of people who hate Easyjet. I just don’t understand! I’ve only ever been delayed once, many times I’ve actually landed early with them. The staff are always pleasant. The flights are fairly comfortable. So what if it’s a budget airline and you don’t get an entertainment system and a blanket? Ironically I had one flight where British Airways passengers had the option to come onto our plane because theirs had technical difficulties. Goes to show anything can happen with any airline. 🙂


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