A Step by Step Guide to Using Budget Airlines and Saving Money

Posted By Trav


Budget airlines can be a traveler’s best friend – or worst nightmare.  But writing them off because you don’t understand them is a major, major mistake.

Here is our step by step guide to finding and booking budget airlines – and saving yourself a TON of money in the process.

1.  Find the Budget Airlines That Fly to Your Destinations.

One of the most difficult things about budget airlines is knowing they exist. There are two easy ways to figure this out:

1.  Go to the Low Cost Airlines on Wikipedia. This list has every low cost airline, for every country in the world, broken up by continent.  Find the airlines that fly to the area you want to travel to, then check their Wikipedia page for all their destinations. Alternatively, you can also visit their individual websites to check destinations and pricing.

2. If you know where you’re flying out of (i.e. Chiang Mai), type the name of that airport into Wikipedia and see a list of all the airlines that fly in and out of that location.

Some of the most common budget airlines:

  • USA – Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airways
  • Europe – EasyJet, Ryan Air
  • Asia – AirAsia, Malindo Air, Firefly
  • Australia – JetStar

2.  Check the Fees

Now that you have a list of budget airlines that will work for you, start comparing the prices. One of the reasons budget airlines are cheaper is because they charge fees for certain things.

Every budget airline will clearly state these fees and often dedicate a page on their website itemizing each fee.

Be sure to check the fees and add it into the total cost of your flight to weigh whether the flight is actually the cheapest option.

The most common additional fees include:

  • Meals
  • Checked Baggage
  • Chosing your seat
  • Credit card processiong fee (This is the only one they won’t usually mention until the end)

Expert tip:  Be aware that checking your bag at the gate will cost about twice as much as purchasing the checked bag beforehand online.  So if you know you’re going to check a bag, buy it in advance.  Or, you could travel in just a carryon.

3.  Visit ITA Matrix to Compare Prices

Now that you know the exact price of flying on the low cost carrier, check ITA Matrix to compare the prices for the regular airlines.

Now that you have a good idea of what it will cost for a budget airline vs. a normal airline, you can choose the option that is best for you.

If the low cost carrier is substantially cheaper, AWESOME!  You have just travel hacked yourself a better flight.

If the costs are similar than consider if the small savings are worth the extra inconveniences.

Now that you know how to find tickets with budget airlines, there are a few more things you should know when flying with these carriers.

Miscellaneous Tips

1. Budget airlines often fly into alternate airports

Make sure to double and triple check the name of the airport that your budget airline is flying into. Oftentimes, these airlines fly into a separate terminal or even a different, usually smaller, airport.

Make sure that you plan accordingly, especially if you have another flight to catch with a different airline.

2. A tip for getting your tickets even cheaper

You can drastically reduce the cost of your ticket by flying through a hub airport. First check the main hub (headquarters) for the budget airline. For example, Air Asia’s hub is Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. If you route your flights through KL then you can usually save quite a bit of cash.

Budget Airline Example Graphic

Note: If you do enact this strategy, be aware that you are purchasing two separate tickets. This means you will have to exit the airport via customs, pick up any bags you may have checked and check in again at that airport. Leave plenty of time to get through customs, and through security again.  However, usually these small inconveniences are well worth the savings!

3. The best time to book budget airline tickets

Budget airlines often run sales. If a sale is running when you are searching for tickets then jump on it while you can!

Other budget airlines work on a tiered structure (such as SkyMark in Japan). These airlines will open their flights 60 days (or more) before the flight and the cheapest tickets go first.

In most cases, we have noticed that the sooner you book tickets on low cost carriers the better. However, sometimes you can luck out even at the last minute so it is always worth checking.

Final Thoughts

You might be wondering if all this extra work is really worth it?

After 40+ flights on budget airlines, we would say, unequivocally, YES!

Budget airlines are not nearly as bad as people make them out to be, and you can save TON of money by following this guideline when booking your next flight.

Have you traveled on a budget airline before?  What was your experience?  Let us know in the comments below!


  1. Ken says:

    Oh yes they’re definitely worth it. While AirAsia will say your carryon must be very light, and you’re only allowed one, I saw all the Thai locals carrying 3+ carryons, and none of them were lightweight.

    Tip: If you’re flying through KL on two tickets to cheapen the trip, might as well spend a half day or night in KL. You can get everywhere by train (even the Batu Caves) and the food is to die for. If you stay the night you can’t miss Jalan Alor, it’s a food lover’s dream.

    1. Trav says:

      @Ken- Totally agree that we’ve done the “stay in KL for a day and a night thing” about 5 different times. I don’t love KL, but you’re right, it’s worth a little bit of time for the food alone. I love Jalan Alor, but this last time noticed they had jacked up their prices. A market right around the corner called SK Corner was better AND about 1/3 the price.

      One thing to note is that it will take you at least an hour to get from airport to KL Sentral station if you’re taking the bus, which is 1/3 the price of the train, and then another 15-20 minutes to get to Bukit Bingtang, where all the good food is and where most people stay if they are only there for a night. So a half day might be pushing it.

      1. Ken says:

        I’m not a huge fan of KL either, and we won’t be going back to just there. But definitely on a long layover I’d be fine exploring. The culture is so much different, and as a white guy I got treated like crap from the men, and the women wouldn’t even acknowledge me. But the women were nice to my wife and the men would only speak to me if at all. Just a different way of life than ours.

        I was there in August for my birthday and all but the one place we went to on Jalan Alor seemed a bit pricey. Since they’ll let you look at the menu first I just looked at all of them and ended up at the cheapest one which was still excellent. And the friends we met ran into one of their embassy buddies who got us a private tour of the Petronas Towers which was an awesome birthday surprise.

        I’ll keep SK corner in mind if we’re ever back there. It might be worth the extra bucks for the train if time is an issue. It’s fast, quiet, and there’s even free internet, but you’re right it is a bit pricey. It goes to the new LCCT too.

        We loved Bangkok though, the people were so nice and there’s just so much to see. We were only at each place for 2 nights so we’ll be back to BKK and have Chang Mai, some of the smaller Thai towns, and Bali up on our list. But first we want to fly CX first to HKG before the price gets jacked up which is inevitable. Ireland is another high on our list, but things are pricey there so I don’t know when that’ll happen.

        1. Trav says:

          @Ken- Yeah, I’ve been in CM long enough to know I love it. Haven’t given Bangkok that much of a go yet, but will spend a few days there early next year. And Bali, we are headed there in a few days for about a month. Awesome place!

          A private tour up the Petronas? Now that’s worth heading to KL for!

          1. Ken says:

            A month in paradise? Yes please! Where are you staying?

            Yup, we were with a US Embassy guy and a Petronas security guy. We only got to go to the bridge, but we were on the top level and from what I’ve read the regular paid tour only takes you to the lower level; the top is for employees working in the buildings. There’s a porthole looking up where you can see both towers or the peak of one of them. I got some great shots up there.

          2. Heather Sherry says:

            @Ken-We have no plans at this point. Who knows where we are staying, but anywhere will be awesome!

            I got to see those pics of the Petronas Towers. Or better yet, do you still have contacts there?

          3. Ken says:

            Where did you see the pics I posted?

            The only reason we got the tour was because we were with the guys that knew the KL embassy guy. Without them there’s not a chance that we’d get the tour let alone you guys. Sorry.

          4. Trav says:

            @Ken- I didn’t get to see those pics. I meant “I have to see those pics”… bad use of grammar! Looks like I’ll be trying to find a KL embassy guy.

  2. Dev says:

    Very informative and useful

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