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Low-cost airlines like Ryanair, WizzAir and easyJet have changed the way budget travelers crisscross Europe since they took flight more than a decade ago. They’re ideal for quick jaunts that would normally take a full day on the train—and often at prices that can be cheap as chips.
However, there are a few key ways that flying low-cost carrier differ from your legacy airlines. To avoid “first time” shock, here are some things to keep in mind:
1. Navigating the extra fees when booking
Be ready to click through a number of “no thanks” extras before finally checking out. Websites will try to hook you on phone plans, car rentals, priority booking and just about anything else you can think of. Additional costs can add up fast. On some sites you must click on the “no” button to change it from a “yes” default. If your ticket is more than advertised at the end, go through the boxes again to make sure you didn’t buy something extra. And don’t forget to print out your PDF-ready ticket after you purchase it.
2. Keep small and carry on
All low-cost airlines have a one cabin luggage limit, and the staff are very strict on keeping within the size dimensions of around 20in x 15in x 8in (and 20 pounds). Passengers might even go through a “does your bag fit into this basket” test before boarding. Being sneaky rarely works, so if your luggage is too big, then get ready to pay about as much as the flight ticket to check it. Here’s a guide
3. Get ready to land in the boonies
Not all destinations land in the city advertised. Many budget airlines can only afford to land in smaller towns just on the outskirts, like El Prat instead of Barcelona, and Beauvais instead of Paris. So when you walk off the plane and find yourself in the boonies, don’t panic. Public buses and private coaches offer direct connections to the closest major city. It could cost as much as the flight in the end to get there, but chances are it’s still less than a train ticket.
4. BYOB everything
Forget complimentary anything (except toilets), on board it’s a “Sell! Sell! Sell!” attitude. From tax-free shopping to “two-for-one” cocktails, scratch cards, raffle tickets and cigarettes–it’s like a casino flying through the sky. The good news is you can bring on board any drinks and snacks purchased after airport security, although the in-flight deals can be a better buy sometimes.
5. Welcome to general admission seating
Love a window seat? So do I, and so does the guy waiting to board in front of you. It’s general admission on these flights. If you’re picky about seating, either show up early to be among the first to board, or be ready to fight for a good spot. Solo travelers can easily mosey in and sit alone, but couples and families might want to plan an early arrival at the gate (or pay extra for priority boarding).
6. Prepare for ungodly hours
The cheapest flights that go for practically nothing are known for departing as early as 6 AM and as late as 11 PM. It might not seem so bad at first, but an early flight can mean waking up as early as 3 AM, or even sleeping at the airport the night before due to a lack of public transport. When picking out-of-the-ordinary departure times, research your options first about getting there. And make sure you’re an early bird that catches its worm before it wiggles off the tarmac!
Share your tips with fellow flyers
Are you an experienced low-cost airline traveler and have your own tips or secrets to share with Cheapos that are new to flying the budget skies? Feel free to post away in our comments section. You can also check out our “Pros and cons of budget airlines” and our “Tips to finding cheap flights around Europe” for more information.