11 Tips to Save Money When Flying Budget European Airlines
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Budget and low-cost airlines are just starting to make their way to the United States. However, they’re commonplace in Europe. We’ve enjoyed our fair share of $30-$50 international flights around Europe and have learned a few lessons on saving money, and making the most of the flight.
Read the Fine Print
When booking a budget airline, be sure to read ALL of the text and fine print on the booking pages. They typically charge for everything, like choosing a seat, checked luggage and carry-ons, and checking in at the airport, etc. Being meticulous when booking will pay off because budget airlines are notorious for making things seem mandatory when they're not. For example, they'll make it seem like part of the standard booking process is to accept a seat assignment, but in reality it's an additional fee to do so. Look closely and you'll see a button that will allow you to bypass this step so that you're not charged. We travel as a couple, booking our tickets on the same reservation. We've never paid to pick our seats, but have always been given a seat assignment next to each other when we check-in and print our boarding passes. We've also noticed, that with some airlines, the earlier we check-in to our flight, the closer to the front of the airplane we seem to be seated.
Some Fees are Unavoidable
Don’t be surprised if there’s an additional fee for paying with a credit card. It’s a convenience fee and generally assessed as a percentage of your total ticket cost; adding two to five percent to the total cost. On the positive side, hopefully you’re earning points, miles or cash back on the credit card you’re paying with.
Double Check Carry-On Size and Weight Restrictions
If you think you’ve scored a great ticket price, be sure you haven’t forgotten about your baggage. Thankfully, airlines don’t charge for emotional baggage, but they’ll nickel and dime you for every inch and ounce of carry-on and checked in baggage. In the US, we’ve become accustom to paying for checked baggage, as we’ve been required to do so for years now, so that’s nothing new. But, some low-cost airlines go as far as to limit you to one very small carry on and no personal item. For example, we’ve been charged $20 to carry our backpacks on board a Wizz Air flight. Their carry-on size requirement is more restrictive than most airlines, by more than 10 cm in height and width. On the other hand, there are some airlines that have generous carry-on size dimension allowances, but they limit the weight to only 7kg (15lb).
Don’t Be Sneaky
If you think you’ll get away with your carry-on bag being a few inches bigger or a couple of pounds heavier, think again. While you may be lucky and make the flight without a second glance, European airlines are known for stopping passengers and weighing their carry-on or making them squeeze them into the sized boxes. If you’re pulled aside at the gate and caught with a bag that's too heavy or too big, you’ll have two options. One, ditch some weight, which can mean losing something precious. Or two, be fined upwards of $50 to check your bag. It’s always more expensive to check a bag last minute. So do yourself a favor, save the hassle and the money by packing a smaller bag, paying for a larger carry-on, or checking your bag ahead of time.
Maximize Your Carry-Ons
Many airlines allow for a personal item or handbag in addition to the carry-on. The size and weight requirements are generally smaller than the carry-on, but allow for a small bag or laptop case. Use this to your advantage and pack things in this smaller bag that you’ll be using on the flight, like your electronics, reading material, jacket, and snacks. It takes weight and bulk out of your main carry-on and allows you to keep in-flight items under the seat in front of you.
Some airlines require people with foreign passports to go to the check-in desk for a document check. If you don’t do this before passing through security, you can be stopped when boarding the plane and refused boarding until you obtain the proper signature. You’ll have to go out of the secured area, obtain the document check (stamp or signature), and go back through security, likely missing your flight. Read your itinerary, flight confirmation, and boarding pass carefully to see if the airline you’re flying with requires this extra step.
Bring Your Own Food and an Empty Bottle
Airport food is notorious for being expensive, but in the past we could hold out for a free drink and snack on the plane. Those days are coming to an end and most airlines charge an embarrassingly high price for everything from a bottle of water to a small snack platter. Instead of increasing your airline ticket price by splurging on mediocre cabin food, do yourself a favor and pack a few snacks before entering the airport. We like packing oats, fruit, veggies and nuts. Don’t forget that you’ll be taking these snacks through airport security. You’ll need to adhere to TSA liquid regulations. So, yoghurts, nut-butters, soups, etc, will need to all be under three-ounces and packed in your liquids bag. This also means, you can’t bring a bottle of water with you. However, you can pack an empty water bottle (we use a collapsible, reusable bottle) and then fill it at a water fountain in the terminal before boarding.
Search for Flights in Incognito/Private Browsing Mode
Depending on who you ask and/or your personal experience, you’ll either swear by this next tip or claim it’s bogus. The premise is that airlines track your search history through cookies they leave in your browsing history. In turn, airlines will manipulate their prices so that the more you search and see prices increasing, you’re sense of urgency to purchase will increase and you’ll buy a ticket at a higher price, just in fear that it’ll increase more.
Don’t let this stop you from searching for the best deal though. Instead, use incognito or a private browsing window to cover your tracks and keep sites from following your searches. We’ve even gone as far as turning on our reliable VPN service and changing regions and have had success in finding lower prices.
Be Flexible – Dates
Having flexible travel dates can save you big bucks when flying. We often search two to three days before and after our targeted date for travel and often will find a flight that’s 25%, to even 50% cheaper on another day.
Be Flexible – Airports
Be flexible with which airport you’re willing to fly in and out of and you could save big bucks. It’s a good tip to finding cheaper flights, since budget airlines save money, therefore offering cheaper tickets, by operating in smaller airports. Just be sure you calculate any additional ground transportation time and costs into your overall ticket price.
For example, if you’re flying in or out of London, there are several airports to choose from. Figuring out which airport to use can be challenging. They’ll all have adequate or excellent public transportation to and from, so we generally don’t worry about that. However, we typically try to avoid London Heathrow (LHR) just because of the sheer size and business of the airport. We prefer to avoid the added variables and chaos and stick with a smaller, easier to navigate airport. Plus, LHR typically comes with higher fees and ticket prices. Luckily, when looking for a flight, you don’t have to search for flights through each airport. Most sites, like Kayak and Google Flights, will have a general London search for all London area airports. For example, in Kayak, we type “LON” which shows us a drop-down menu option for all London airports. This same tactic can be used for many other large cities that have multiple airports. If there isn’t an option to search all local airports in the drop-down menu, there’s sometimes a box you can tick to search all nearby airports.
When you press the purchase button, be sure you’ve double checked everything. Low-cost tickets are usually non-refundable and non-changeable, but, if they are, it’s with a big fee attached. We always double-check the dates, destination, departing airports, and the passenger information before pressing the purchase button.