18 Tips for Flying with Low-Cost Airlines

Flying onboard Scoot Boeing Dreamliner 787 at Singapore Changi

Flying budget airlines – or low-cost airlines – is something of a new idea to Australians. While in Asia, Europe and North America low-cost airlines (LLC) are booming, as interest in travelling to Australia continues to grow, more budget airlines are choosing to add routes to destinations Downunder with AirAsia, Cebu Pacific, Jetstar and Scoot leading the charge.

Low-cost airlines have made domestic and international flights more affordable for people to head off on their dream vacation. Typically these airlines are able to offer cheaper fares because they don’t come with all the bells and whistles, like food and entertainment; and sometimes fly from ‘obscure’ airports that have lower airport taxes than the cities main airport. This means less overhead for the company which allows for cheaper fares for passengers.

Get to the airport early. Grab a coffee and go plane-spotting, or download some TV shows to watch onboard. Just don’t show up after check-in closes and expect they’ll usher you through.

Check the weight of your check-in and onboard luggage

While you might be able to get away with a cheeky extra kilo when flying a full-service airline, LLC’s strictly adhere to the rules of fare. If Jetstar Australia says you can only take on 7kg of carry-on, it’s often they will weigh your bags (and tag it!) at either check-in or when boarding the flight.

People assume that LLC’s are inferior to their full-service counterparts. This isn’t always the case, and who can resist a bargain from time to time!
So, I’m here to help demystify budget airlines and give you some tips for flying with low-cost airlines.

Flying Scoot from Singapore to Melbourne - onboard cabin crew

When you book

Search and book in incognito mode

When you’re searching for flights, consider using the incognito mode in your web browser. You can find that in the ‘File’ menu of the browser you are using.

Airlines and flight aggregate sites (like Skyscanner and Expedia) are well-known for using cookies on their site to track what you’ve been searching. The next time you look up the same flight, you might find the price has gone up as well! Using incognito mode prevents this from happening.

Know where to book…

Did you know that most flight aggregators (like Momondo, Skyscanner, and Expedia) don’t include low-cost carriers in their search results? Sites like Vayama and CheapOair are two that do include LLC’s.

While flight aggregators are popular worldwide, be sure to compare the price these sites give you with the price of booking directly with the airline. While a flight aggregator says the cheapest flight from Mumbai to Bangkok is with Jet Airways ($267 one-way); booking directly with India’s low-cost airline Spicejet only costs $120. Bargain!

Of the last 10 flights I’ve booked, I’ve saved $5-50 simply by booking direct. It’s also important to pre-book any additional services you want; the price of purchasing check-on baggage is more expensive at the airport and meal deals can often be found online pre-flight.

… and when to book

It’s generally said that closer to the date of travel, the cost of airfares rise.

Research has shown that around two months out is the optimal time to purchase LLC tickets at the best price.

If you aren’t quite ready to buy your flight, many airlines and flight aggregators allow you to ‘watch’ flights and will send you an email notification if the price drops. This way you can monitor your options until you are ready to buy or find a great deal!

Top tip: airlines hold plenty of sales year round but especially near holidays. Keep an eye out or set up a price watch alert to keep you notified!

Check your extras

It seems to be becoming commonplace for all airlines – full service and LLC – to charge more for things that used to be free.

On low-cost carriers, baggage, meals and other ‘extras’ come with extra costs. These add up so I highly recommend you add these up and then check the cost of a similar full-service airline.

AirAsia Flight Packages

For example, AirAsia Low Fare has a promo deal flying one-way Melbourne (MEL) to Kuala Lumpur (KUL) on Feb 1, 2018: AUD$249.00. This means no-frills; a seat and carry-on bag.

If you choose to add a ‘Value Pack’ it will run you an extra AU$63.00 (on special, usually AU$70), and their ‘Premium Flex’ adds AU$130 and you’ll get extra benefits depending on which level you purchase.

On top of this, inflight entertainment costs AU$18, extra drinks above the singular drink (mineral water, carbonated drink, coffee) available with pre-purchased Value Bundle meal vary in prices.

Similarly, in the US, Spirit Airlines offers a ‘Bare Fare’. This includes your seat and a personal item to take onboard (a laptop bag or handbag). Anything extra comes with an extra cost.

If there’s a decent sale on a full-service carrier, do consider them before buying all the add-ons. If you are content with a seat, then that super low LLC flight might be the perfect fit for you!

Consider a night flight

Okay, the jury is out on whether early morning flights or night flights are cheaper, but let me share with you why I like to take night flights budget aside.

If you are able to sleep on an airplane, you can get onboard, enjoy your meal, watch a movie and fall asleep. After a few hours of sleep, you’ll be landing at your destination.

After a quick shower (at the airport or hotel!) you’ll feel fresh and ready to take on the day AND also quickly settle into the destinations timezone, meaning jet lag won’t hit you like a train. Best of all, you’ll have saved one nights accommodation. That means more money for experiences!

Consider pre-booking your seats…

Avoid the dreaded middle seat and pre-book your seats in advance.

While some airlines will charge extra to secure your seat, it’s a few dollars worth paying to ensure you get the seat you want and a little extra comfort.

Hot tip: many LLC’s board and disembark from the forward and rear doors of the plane to save time. If you want to disembark quickly, make sure to book a seat near the front or the back of the plane!

…and purchasing seats with extra leg-room or upgrading

If you are tall or require extra room for any reason, consider pre-purchasing a seat with extra legroom or even upgrading.

Often airlines give you a discount to purchase the little extras when booking as opposed to purchasing them at a later date. Some even come with extra benefits! For example, India’s Spicejet allows travellers to upgrade to their ‘Spaicemax’ experience for around USD$38.70 (one-way). This includes extra leg-room seats, complimentary meals, priority check-in, boarding and baggage.

If you are looking to score an upgrade for a lower cost and don’t mind taking a risk, here’s three ways:

  1. The auction system
    Some airlines will let you input a ‘bid’ in order to secure an upgrade ahead of your flight. They’ll suggest a price they recommend you should pay, but don’t feel obliged to stick to that rate. You can bid what you want.
    You should be notified of the outcome of your bid in the days before your flight.
  2. Check at the airport
    On my last flight with AirAsia, I arrived to KLIA 2 a few hours early and upgraded at the desk. It cost around AU$260 which I had to pay in cash (RMB).
    One note: GET A RECEIPT! AirAsia stuffed up my ticket and didn’t issue me a new one, instead choosing to write on my old ticket. Both myself and the girl sitting next to me, who had also upgraded at the airport, had issues explaining and we were almost sent back to Economy. Luckily, I had taken a photo of my full boarding pass (doing it for the ‘gram!) and while they were still reluctant, they let us stay in our upgraded seats.
  3. Upgrade onboard
    Did you know on some airlines you can upgrade your seat when you are onboard?! Singaporean LLC Scoot allows this.
    If you are in Economy you can move into preferred seats, the quiet zone or even into ScootBiz for a small cost payable with a credit card (follow this link for more details).

Check where your airport is located

The reason some low-cost carriers are able to be able to offer such low fares is that they fly into secondary airports that charge them a significantly lower airport tax.

Take London Heathrow (LHR) for example. Plenty of airlines fly in and out of their daily, but Ryanair and EasyJet instead choose to fly out of London Gatwick, London Stansted, London Luton, and London Southend as they get charged lower airport taxes, which can then be passed on to customers.

You can find examples of these secondary airports all around the world.

While New York’s John F. Kennedy (JFK) Airport operates the most flights, it also has the highest airport taxes. You’ll be able to save money by flying into New York’s LaGuardia (LGA) based in Queens or New Jersey’s Newark Liberty (EWR) Airport. In fact, I prefer flying into Newark because of the incredible skyline view you’ll see as you drive into the City!

For even bigger savings you easily get to Westchester County Airport, Long Island MacArthur Airport, Albany International Airport, and Stewart International Airport.
Stewart International Airport offers travellers the biggest bargain on International flights as European low-cost-airline Norwegian has started flying to destinations in Ireland, Scotland and Norway!

While some of these secondary airports aren’t as well served by public transport, there are often shuttle or public bus services available at a fraction of the cost.
Check the airport’s website for suggestions on how to get there before booking.

AirAsia Boarding Pass

Before you board

Print your boarding ticket and/or check-in online

One tip no matter what airline you are flying: bring a copy of your boarding pass and flight itinerary wherever you go. It’s practical and saves you time messing around with your email pre-flight.

While Ryanair and Spirit are the only airlines I can think of that makes you pay to print a boarding pass at the airport; some airlines will only print them up until a certain time period before the flight or have it saved on your mobile or tablet device.

For example, in Europe, EasyJet requires you to arrive 2-hours before your flight if you want to get your boarding pass printed.

Save time and money, print a copy at home or at the hotel!

Arrive early

When I was flying from Melbourne to Singapore on Scoot, my Qantas flight from Melbourne to Canberra was delayed and consequently by the time I disembarked and ran between terminals, I was about five minutes too late to check onto my Scoot flight.

Low-cost carriers are sticklers when it comes to timing, particularly for check-in baggage, because any delays in departure can mean penalties and they lose out on the bottom line.

If you don’t meet the rules, you’ll be forced to pay for the bag to be checked at the gate and some LLC’s can charge up to $100 for that to happen. Holy moly!

Flying Tigerair from Singapore to Yangon, Myanmar

Food on low-cost airlines

Pre-order your meals

If you think you might get peckish onboard, pre-order a meal! You can save 10-20% by pre-ordering. This way you don’t have to remember to bring your own snacks or bring cash onboard (though more airlines are preferring passengers to use credit cards when paying for their snacks). Best of all, your meal will often be served first!

Also, if you are purchasing baggage, check if your airline offers value packs/bundles that include a meal (hot or cold) and baggage and save you some money!

Top tip: bring the receipt to show that you have pre-ordered food! That way if the cabin crew dispute your claim, you can show them proof.

Bring your own snacks and water

Most LLC’s actively discourage this, particularly for the long Australia – Asia/Asia – Europe jaunts, but I’ve never had a problem bringing my own snacks and even water onboard.

Be conscientious to other passengers and don’t indulge in your love of stinky tuna and blue cheese while on board. I’m a fan of muesli bars and veggie chips.

What is Scoot's ScootBiz Business Class seats like

Entertainment on low-cost airlines

Pre-order an entertainment console

Many low-cost airlines don’t have in-seat consoles and instead ‘rent’ tablets filled with movies, tv shows, games, and music!

These devices often run out quickly so to make sure you get one, and to save money, pre-order your entertainment console when you book your ticket. Often during booking these add-on items are discounted so this is the perfect time to book.

Bring your own entertainment

I don’t know about you but I believe in the “better safe than sorry” mentality. Since I can’t sleep on planes, I always come with my own entertainment ‘just in case’.

Not all low-cost airlines have in-seat power, so often you will be sharing the plug with a neighbour. To avoid charger hogs, I make sure to bring a book and notepad + pen with me on every flight as an alternative.
One of my friends brings a big book of Sudoku and brain teaser puzzles to keep her occupied, which I think is a great idea

With Netflix and Stan now allowing customers to download content onto their own devices, make the most of your subscription and use the flight as a chance to get up-to-date with your favourite show.

Also, being the true millennial I am, I often travel with my old Nintendo GameBoy and a copy for one of the Pokemon games if I know I’m going to be on a lot of LLC flights. The tiny device can slip into almost any spot and the batteries on those things last hours. It’s amazing how fast time will pass trying to “catch ’em all”!

In-flight WiFi

More and more airlines are offering passengers the ability to connect to WiFi in-flight.

While most of these airlines do charge an extra cost to access the system, Europe-based Norwegian and Thai airline Nok Air offering free WiFi on select routes!

Other low-cost airlines offering WiFi onboard include;

  • AirAsia (Malaysia)
  • Cebu Pacific (Philippines)
  • Frontier Airlines (USA)
  • JetBlue (USA)
  • Malindo Air (Malaysia)
  • Mango Airlines (South Africa)
  • Nok Air (Thailand)
  • Norwegian (Norway)
  • Scoot (Singapore)
  • Vueling (Spain)

A post shared by Nicole Smith (@nicoletravelbug) on

Window Gaze

Is it just me or do you agree that there is something magical about watching the world from up high?

While I could spend hours gazing at the ever-changing landscape, I do love coming in to land and being able to catch a glimpse of the cityscape from a unique point of view, like when flying into Dubai (pictured above).

Speak to the crew!

Some airline crews provide in-flight entertainment with games (I’ve been told Cebu Pacific and Ryanair do!), but I prefer to talk to them one-on-one.

Cabin crew are some of the most well-traveled people going around and they’re genuinely some of the friendliest. It’s likely if they’ve flown on the route before and will have some great tips on what to see and do in the city you are visiting or any other travel hints and tips you need to look fresh round the clock.

Now it’s over to you:

What are your best tips for flying low-cost airlines?


More tips for flying low-cost airlines:

What to pack for flights: Carry-On Essentials

Flying Low-Cost to Asia: Onboard Scoot’s ScootBiz

Is it worth the upgrade? Flying Economy Comfort on Hawaiian Airlines

Thinking of coming Downunder? New flight routes to Australia

Flying Tigerair from Singapore to Yangon, Myanmar

Pin me for later!

People assume that flying with low-cost airlines are inferior to their full-service counterparts, but I want to demystify them for you so you can get value for money! People assume that flying with low-cost airlines are inferior to their full-service counterparts, but I want to demystify them for you so you can get value for money!

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  • Reply
    February 21, 2018 at 4:10 am

    Amazing tips! Thank you for sharing them. I didn’t know airlines would use your cookies to spike their prices. It’s good knowing that, will definitely book flights in incognito in the future.

  • Reply
    March 8, 2018 at 3:27 am

    If you aren’t quite ready to buy your flight, many airlines and flight aggregators allow you to ‘watch’ flights and will send you an email notification if the price drops. This way you can monitor your options until you are ready to buy or find a great deal!

    Top tip: airlines hold plenty of sales year round but especially near holidays. Keep an eye out or set up a price watch alert to keep you notified!

    • Reply
      March 8, 2018 at 6:08 pm

      Great tips, Tom!

      I like to take advantage of the two-for-one sales that some airlines (Qantas, Emirates) seem to be doing once or twice a year!

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