5 ways to make low-cost airlines work for you

Low-cost airlines offer up cheaper fares by cutting back on the perks — like free snacks, seat selection and carry-on baggage. While it’s understandable to be a bit discouraged by a la carte prices and no-frills service, there’s also a ton to appreciate.

Choosing what you pay for gives you options, so you only spend money on the perks that matter to you. And that may mean skimping on the in-flight meal so you have more leftover to splurge on something in your destination (or, hey, putting it towards another trip).

With a little prep-work and the help of our tools and features, you’ll be able to get the most from budget airlines, with no surprises along the way. Read on for our top tips and tricks and then search for yourself.

Make the most of a la carte pricing

Low-cost carriers are able to charge less than traditional airlines by stripping away all of the extras. Seats may not be as roomy, there may not be in-flight entertainment or free snacks provided, and your baggage allowance may be limited. But you get to travel for less, and that alone can make it all worth it. And you can always add-on the perks that matter to you — which means you only pay for what you actually want. So if you’re someone who packs light and can sleep on airplanes, but gets hangry without a snack mid-flight, you can make that option work for you.

Know what you’re paying for

One of the most important things to remember about budget airlines is that what you’re paying for is just the flight. That’s why these fares seem so much cheaper than they actually are. But for the most accurate comparison, be sure you’re factoring in fees — including those pesky baggage fees, which can often be high on low-cost carriers.

Use KAYAK’s handy Fee Assistant to add in fees while you search. That way your results will compare flight options by the total cost. Our Fee Assistant appears at the top of the results when you run a flight search on KAYAK. Simply add the number of carry-on and checked bags you’re planning to bring and watch as the prices reorder accordingly.

Consider the size of your luggage

Size requirements for carry-on baggage are typically stricter on low-cost carriers than other airlines. When considering size limitations and added fees, it may make more sense to check your bag than to carry it on. In fact, it may even be cheaper and the size limits are usually considerably larger.

Conversely, if you’re a light packer, a standard backpack is often considered a personal item — and everyone can bring one personal item on board for free

When considering your carry-on or personal item (which is also subject to a size limit), always be savvy of the size of your bags before heading to the airport. After all, it costs more to check your bag at the airport than it would cost to add checked baggage during booking online.

If you’re not sure if your bag is within the size limit, use KAYAK’s augmented reality baggage measurement tool to measure your luggage right in the KAYAK app. Just open a flight search, click “new bag measurement tool” and follow the prompts. This way, you’ll know right away whether you should purchase a carry-on or checked bag… or simply vow to travel light.

Book online & all at once

To maximize the savings provided by budget airlines, it can often pay to book everything online upfront. If you know you’re going to need a carry-on or checked bag, purchasing this at the same time as your flight can also save you money since prices go up when you add a bag at the airport or check it at the gate.

Similarly, checking in online or through the airline’s app and using a mobile boarding pass or print-at-home ticket is free, but there may be a charge associated with checking in and printing your boarding pass at the airport counter.

Make your own amenities

There’s typically no seat-back TV with movies on demand when you fly a budget airline, and we’ll admit that’s not ideal. However, with a tablet and some downloaded movies, you’ll hardly miss it — as long as you have the right tools. The Airhook and the Flight Flap are both affordably priced devices that let you attach your phone or tablet to the seatback in front of you — the Airhook even comes with a cup holder. Pack a refillable water bottle and fill it up after security (pack some lemon or lime slices or a powdered drink mix if you’d prefer something a little tastier). Grab some snacks from home and you’re set.

And since you’re unable to choose your seat ahead of time, maximize comfort (even in the middle seat) by bringing along some neck support. With so many options out there, your choices are no longer limited to the typical hard-to-pack U-shaped option. Swap that bulky airplane pillow for a soft fleece wrap that supports your neck and is easy to pack, like the Trtl Pillow.  

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