There was a once a time when flying was a privilege only enjoyed by the wealthy. For the other members of society, the cost of a flight ticket was simply too high. Fast forward to present day, where flying is a regular activity for most people. Traveling by air has certainly reached the masses, in part thanks to budget airlines that offer flights at very low prices.

Why are budget airlines so cheap?

It’s simple: A low cost carrier strips out all the non essential services or “frills” that another airline would offer you. For the airline, this would mean no creation of fancy waiting rooms, reduced ground staff, more seats packed into the plane, use of only one type of aeroplane, etc. For the passenger, it could mean no meals on board, no entertainment, no check in baggage and such. It may not be the most pleasant traveling experience, but with this no-frills formula the goal is to simply get from Point A to Point B at the lowest cost possible. This way, operating costs are brought down and flight tickets are then priced lower.

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With a budget airline you really do get what you pay for, and anything more than the flight will cost you extra. Question is – if you were to add on any or all of these services that the low cost carrier does not offer – would the total cost of flying still remain cheap?

What you should expect to pay for, with a budget airline

  • In flight meals and beverages: Since complimentary meals and beverages are not offered on low-cost airlines, it would be a good idea to check how expensive buying these in-flight would be. This is especially recommended for long flights and big families, where the cumulative cost can of meals can negate the savings made on the flight ticket. In UAE, the two budget airlines Air Arabia and Fly Dubai offer meals that you can pay for during the flight. You can check their menus and prices before you book your tickets.
  • Baggage allowances: Most of the budget airlines allow passengers to carry hand luggage of up to seven kg for free, but for checked in baggage –  you would be required to pre-pay. With FlyDubai these costs start at AED 50 and go up to AED 200 per passenger depending on the weight you need. With Air Arabia it ranges from AED 30 to AED 180. Forget to buy luggage online, and you could end up paying hefty sums per kilo at the airport.
  • Seat reservations: Another cost you can add to your total. Choose a window or an aisle seat by paying for it since seats aren’t allocated on low cost airlines. Don’t reserve a seat and you could find yourself sitting three rows behind your spouse or friend.
  • Check-in: One of the methods of reducing costs for budget airlines is by keeping only basic ground staff. This would mean that online check in becomes mandatory for you. Some low cost carriers charge a whopping fee for using the check-in desk. Be sure to check if this fee applies while you make your bookings.
  • Miscellaneous: “Hidden costs” could vary from budget airline to airline. Some fees you should keep an eye out for is – printing of boarding card, any applicable taxes, administration fees, credit card fees, and fees for traveling with an infant. Check with the airline to avoid any nasty surprises.

Although the add on costs of budget airlines can be extensive and off-putting, flights can still remain cheap, if booked tactically. Your best option is to research and compare extensively before committing.

Other things you should watch out for on budget airlines

  • Journey time: Lots of budget airlines only fly to limited destinations. This means that if you want to go low-cost you would have to explore the option of getting multiple budget airlines to reach your destination. While this would be cheaper – it would mean that your journey time would increase by double or triple. For example if you wanted to fly from Dubai to Sydney: A non -stop flight on Emirates would be 13 hours 15 minutes. But if you chose to lower your costs you would board Air Arabia from Sharjah to Kochi, and then Air Asia to Sydney via Kuala Lumpur. This would take 55 hours 20 minutes!
  • Changes, refunds and cancellation policies: As a budget airline, there could be strict policies regarding any changes or cancellations to your tickets. Remember to check what kind of ticket you are getting while you book, and what the costs are for any changes. Also, do check their policy regarding delayed and cancelled flights.

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  • Luggage transfer for connecting flights: A budget airline will rarely transfer your luggage from plane to plane, when you have connecting flights. As one of the compromises you are required to make for flying low cost, be sure to allocate enough time to collect your own luggage and check it in again.

Save more while flying budget

Other than looking out for hidden costs like a hawk and comparing your options – you can try some of the tips below to further reduce your costs.

  • Book your tickets in advance.
  • Keep an eye out for flash sales and offers.
  • Pick off season dates. This can help you save not only with your airline but also your hotel bookings.
  • Fly midweek rather than on a weekend.
  • Watch  for red-eye (early morning or late night flights) which are cheaper.