Ryanair, Flair, EasyJet, Jetstar, Tigerair, Wizz… If you’re planning to fly with any of these budget airlines, it’s important to go into these deals with your eyes wide open to avoid any unwelcome surprises. Understanding a few things they all have in common before deciding if flying budget airlines is worth the price, can really make or break your family vacation.
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I was motivated to share these insights after a mixed bag of experiences with Ryanair in Edinburgh during our 250-day journey around the world. Despite our careful preparations – securing our seats, making sure our backpacks fit the requirements, and even bracing ourselves for potential delays, arriving earlier than usual to avoid any last-minute chaos – we still encountered some turbulence, a rather memorable event.
Flight delays are the most common hiccup when flying budget airlines. Our flight with Ryanair was delayed by 30 minutes, a hiccup we were ready for. But at check-in, we were blindsided by a policy that was never mentioned at any stage of our booking: a steep fee for not checking in online 2 hours before the departure time, a detail conveniently omitted from their notifications.
Caught off-guard and without printed boarding passes, we faced an exorbitant fee of £55 per person, including our 2-year-old. The total fine of £220 turned out to be as costly as the flights themselves. The customer service, or lack thereof, added insult to the experience, with a check-in process that felt more like a strict border crossing than a welcome to friendly skies.
Adjacent to us, a family of six was ensnared in the same situation, indicating this was a routine snag for travellers. The airport staff – a teenage boy, backed by two security guards, seemed to follow a script that valued their company policy over common sense.
In this post, we aim to arm you with 10 smart tips for flying budget airlines. While these airlines can be kind to your bank account, they also bring a unique set of challenges that, if not managed well, could spoil your much-anticipated holiday. Let’s make sure you’re equipped to keep the savings without compromising the joy of your trip.
Table of Contents:
The first trap of budget travel often lies in the luggage you carry. Budget airlines have turned baggage allowance into a clever upselling technique, where every additional inch or pound can cost you.
To avoid extra fees, pack light and measure your bags. Most budget airlines allow one piece of carry-on luggage within specific dimensions, so grab that measuring tape and make sure your backpack is within the limits (or can be squashed to fit within the limit).
2. Extra Fees Can Pile Up Flying Budget Airlines
The allure of travel deals on budget airlines can fade fast when faced with the pile-up of extra fees.
Seat selection, flexi-tickets, priority boarding, last-minute baggage add-ons, and even printing your boarding pass can inflate the cost quickly.
Some budget airlines make these perks optional, but others, like Ryanair, make it very difficult for you to skip the extras.
For instance, Ryanair offers very limited free seat selection; therefore, unless you’re booking months in advance, you’re likely to pay an additional fee for selecting a seat on top of the airfare. Moreover, they require children to sit next to an adult, so if the available seat selections are scattered, you may be forced to opt for the pricier seats to comply with this policy.
So, do the math. Compare the all-in cost with non-budget airlines to gauge the real deal. Sometimes, what seems like a steal can be barely a bargain once you factor in the additional expenses. Make sure your budget flight doesn’t become a luxury fare in disguise.
3. BYO Snacks and Entertainment
Flying budget airlines usually mean no complimentary snacks or entertainment. While some budget carriers might offer simple snacks such as nuts or biscuits, most will charge for any extras you might want or need during the flight, including blankets for overnight journeys.
With this in mind, it’s often preferable to choose shorter flights. To truly make your budget-friendly airfare worthwhile, consider packing your own snacks, sandwiches, and water, and don’t forget to bring along some entertainment.
This tip alone can keep the kids happy and the parents relaxed, all while your bank account thanks you for avoiding the high costs of onboard purchases.
4. Prepare for Basic Amenities
Travelling on a budget means setting expectations accordingly, especially when it comes to flying budget airlines. Cheap flights with budget carriers often equate to basic comfort.
Prepare for limited legroom, narrow aisle and packed overhead bins. Forget about charging ports or Wi-Fi, unless you’re willing to pay extra. And don’t be surprised if the overhead A/C is broken, the lights aren’t working, or your seat is unclean. It’s the trade-off for those cheap flight deals.
5. Expect Delays But Don’t Let Them Ruin Your Plans
Delays are a common narrative when flying budget airlines, so flexibility is your best travel companion.
To keep your family vacation on a positive note, avoid tight connecting flights, and always have a Plan B for accommodations and transport.
If you’re flying with domestic budget airlines, we suggest holding off on hotel and car rental reservations until you’re securely at the gate on the day of departure or make bookings with a favourable cancellation policy.
Remember to frequently check the live status of your flight and gate number to avoid any last-minute surprises. There were a couple of times when the gate number changed just 15 minutes before boarding during our trip around the world.
Given the savings from choosing budget airlines, minor delays might not be too troublesome. However, be aware that if a delay forces you to alter your plans, that’s when the situation can become frustratingly costly.
6. Cancellations: The Unfortunate Reality
Cancellations can occur with any airline, but they’re more frequent when flying budget airlines. In this case, it may be wise to pick your battles and ask yourself whether it’s worth the time and stress.
Travel insurance can offer some peace of mind, providing compensation for unexpected cancellations.
If you’re travelling during off-peak season, we recommend booking accommodations at the last minute or waiting until you’re certain your flight will proceed as scheduled. If you’re worried about availability, we have a post detailing some creative solutions for securing last-minute accommodations.
7. Customer Service: Set Your Expectations
Navigating customer service challenges is often part of the package with travel deals on budget airlines.
Brace yourself for potential long wait times and a by-the-book approach from staff. For example, in the event of last-minute flight cancellations, you may encounter wait times of up to 2 hours on the budget airline’s support line. When you finally get through, representatives are often trained to avoid assuming any responsibility.
Escalating the issue to a supervisor might be beneficial, but consider if the potential stress and time involved are worth it. Patience and persistence are key in such situations.
8. Refunds: A Test of Patience
If the budget airline approves your refund, be ready for a process that may test your patience.
Make sure to follow up consistently and document all correspondence as the refund process often spans weeks or even months, if not years.
Even though I followed my own advice, I’m still awaiting a refund for a flight cancelled by Jetstar due to Covid. They stretched out the process for a year before finally approving my refund. Yet, the money has never been returned, seemingly disappearing into the abyss.
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9. Children’s Fares: Not Always Discounted
It’s a common misconception that cheap flights translate to discounted children’s fares.
This isn’t always the case with budget-friendly airlines, so factor in the full cost for each family member when seeking those travel deals.
10. Airport Surprises: Stay Informed and Prepared
Last but not least, read the fine print and check your flight status before heading to the airport to avoid any Ryanair-esque airport surprises. As we learned the hard way, checking in at the airport can be a rare but costly oversight
Remember, the key to a positive experience flying budget airlines is preparation and reading the terms and conditions. Essentially, you are trading time and comfort for savings.
Know the rules, plan ahead, and you can still enjoy the perks of affordable travel with budget airlines like Ryanair and Jetstar without the sting of unexpected fees or disruptions.
Wrapping Up: Be Smart When Flying Budget Airlines
To sum it up, the allure of flying budget airlines is undeniable – they offer a way to stretch your travel dollars further and explore more of the world. Yet, as we’ve seen, low cost doesn’t always mean hassle-free.
By being proactive and informed, you can embrace the spirit of adventure that comes with budget travel without falling prey to its pitfalls.
Keep these guidelines close: pack smart, stay flexible, and manage your expectations.
The Ultimate Family Packing List
Crafted by a mother of 2 with a focus on minimalist travels, this family packing list is all you need for a stress-free packing experience.
Remember that with budget airlines like Ryanair and Jetstar, the price you pay isn’t just in pounds or dollars, but also in the readiness to adapt and the effort to stay one step ahead of their rules.
So, whether you’re off on a quick weekend getaway or embarking on a grand family vacation, let our smart travel tips guide you to smooth skies. Begin the journey with a realistic mindset, and you’ll find that flying budget airlines can still provide rich experiences.
Effortless Planning Starts Here
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