If you can save big on something, that would be the plane tickets with low-cost airlines, which often eat a large chunk of your budget. Low cost airlines, since Southwest Airlines in 1971, have made flying cheaper and more accessible all over the world. If you’re willing to compromise a couple of commodities in the process, they can save you good money.
With that in mind, regardless of your flight lasting for 45 minutes or 7 hours, here are a few things you should know about flying low-cost, and also how to keep it low-cost by the end of it.
On the airline’s end, low fares means cutting on expenses, and getting the revenue back with fees that vary from baggage allowance to booking seats or priority boarding. A low cost airline’s aircraft fleet is missing many unnecessary features (including window shades and reclinable seats sometimes, to save in maintenance costs and make the planes lighter and therefore save fuel), and the stewards often work at the check-in desk and departure gates.
One of their key strategies is to trick the passenger’s mind and create the illusion of a cheap ticket. The prices displayed are stripped of any commodities or baggage allowance, things your average traveler is likely to add. The idea is that the passenger will compute the ticket and the baggage allowance as two different things. To them it will have been a cheap ticket and recommendations will flow to their friends, even if in the end they might have spend as much as they would have in a mainline carrier.
So, let’s look from our side: we want to keep flights cheap, and know that it was indeed cheap, not just a well played illusion. With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep your low cost ticket low cost:
The first tip to keep your ticket cheap is to... well, buy the cheapest ticket!
• Buy tickets in advance. Don’t put it off thinking something cheaper might appear, regardless of how tempting it may be. The earlier, the better and you get to choose a better suitable date instead of taking those which are left. Also prices increase by up to 30% as the date nears.
• Legend has it that one should buy tickets on Tuesday. Also, if you are flexible with dates, search a week before and after, and you might save big time.
• Don’t buy priority boarding. Last time I flew low-cost, thankfully everyone seemed to have realized that it was a waste of money: there were barely any people in the priority queue. If you have a specific seat you want (or you want to make sure you fly on the window), try to be the first in the queue. Stand near the desk before they announce boarding. And even if you don’t do so, you will always get a seat anyway.
Checked-in bags are one of the pivots of low cost airlines. By buying check-in bags, they make money - and if you don’t, less bags are loaded onto the plane faster, saving them money on airport fees. Planning your packing well is a simple and easy way to avoid waving your budget goodbye at the check-in desk.
Never travel overweight. This is more of a golden rule than a tip. While other carriers will often allow you to fly with a little extra, low cost carriers won’t. Every kilogram will cost a fortune (the same as an extra bag with 15kg in Ryanair, for example), and in the end you’re likely to have a total cost that’s equivalent or higher than flying with a mainline carrier.
You can avoid this by:
• Reading the airline’s baggage policy. Always make sure you know exactly what you’re allowed. Terms and Conditions are not the most exhilarating summer read, but it’ll save you both stress and money.
• Packing and weighing your bags beforehand. If you have a scale, weigh yourself first, then weigh both yourself and the bag, and finally subtract your weight. You can also find cheap and useful travel scales in most department stores. Alternatively, if possible, make a visit to the airport before your flight and weigh it there. Remember that low cost airlines will not let you in with even 1kg over the limit. Companies understand that you won’t really throw out your belongings, and they’ll make you pay to take them with you.
• If you are overweight: unpack anything you’ll probably not need, or buy another checked-in bag. It’ll still be cheaper than overweight luggage.
• In the worst of cases: depending on the length of your stay, you can mail any non-essential belongings to the address where you’ll be staying. If it’s a hotel, make sure to contact them beforehand.
• Also, be careful with the hand luggage: most companies have size and weight limits, and some are very strict about them. If the bag doesn’t fit their requirements, you have to pay it as a regular checked-in bag (usually with an additional fee on top of it for luggage bought at the airport).
At the airport:
• BE ON TIME: Low cost airlines don’t wait for late passengers; that’s to avoid delays and save money on airport fees.
Airline credit cards, membership programs, points and others:
• In case your airline offers any of these services and you fly frequently, consider joining the airline’s membership club for special discounts or airline credit cards. For UK travelers, TESCO Clubcard and Nectar points can be exchanged for airline tickets.
When used wisely, low cost airlines are a traveller’s best friend. Keep these tips in mind, and both you and your wallet will enjoy a very happy trip!
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