Budget airlines are one of my favorite things about Europe. I can travel from London to Barcelona to Rome to Paris to Amsterdam and beyond for less than $200. Total. That is amazing! So why are Americans so hesitant?
I've heard some people claim that they just can't go without their peanuts and legroom. Others have said that they don't understand the "a la carte menu" and find the restrictions a headache. And a few have even said that the word "budget" scares them, and they think the plane is going to fall from the sky. Although budget airlines may not be luxurious, I promise you there's nothing to fear.
Let's be honest, flying isn't great no matter what airline you're on. Even first class has to use those terrible toilets and listen to captains and flight attendants make horrible jokes. So why pay more?
Educate yourself and overcome your budget airlines fears.
Personal Item Only
Budget airlines keep things cheap by charging you for extra bags. I've mastered the art of traveling with just hand luggage, and you can too.
Free Solution: Pack everything in a backpack
Check out how to lower your load. You don't need all that extra crap anyway.
Low-Cost Solution: Check a bag
If you just "can't even" and need more to "survive," add bags to your trip. Usually checked bags are cheaper because they don't take up overhead cabin space, but every airline is different. Make sure you check out your options.
If you can fit everything in a small bag, be sure to check your airline's size restrictions on hand luggage. Most airlines are around 21x16x8in (55x40x20cm), but every airline is different. If you plan on flying with multiple airlines, make sure your bag falls within the smallest dimensions. If your baggage is too large for one or two flights, and you don't want to downgrade, then make sure you add a carry-on bag at the time of booking or before you check in for your flight. Trust me, the last thing you want to do is pay $100 at the gate counter for an oversized personal item.
Some airlines create discounted packages that included a checked bag and a carry-on. If you plan on hopping around Europe or Asia or wherever you're going, just remember that you'll most likely have to pay for that additional luggage on every flight. Just because you have the option to take 3 bags, doesn't mean you should do it.
Extra Tip: Sign up for memberships
A lot of airlines offer memberships. Some free, some paid. If you sign up, they'll usually offer discounts on your flights and baggage. Spirit, for example, has the $9 Fare Club that costs $69.95/year and gives you discounted airfare and baggage. If you plan on flying a few times a year, it's definitely worth it. The last trip I booked was 40% off and I saved over $100.
Space & The Middle Seat
I'm only 5'3" so I don't have issues with legroom. However, what I lack in height, I make up for in width. Yes, space on budget airlines can be a bit tight, but personally I only feel crowded when I sit next to entitled men who spread their legs from the window to the aisle. They're just the worst. They're also the ones that snore and fall asleep on you. Ugh.
The worst situation is obviously the middle seat. The longest I can stay in a middle seat without losing my mind is 2 hours 42 minutes. I timed this once. Which is why I consider paying the extra fee at booking to pick my own seat for long haul flights.
Free Solution: Gamble
The odds of getting randomly selected for a middle seat are lower than a window or an aisle (depending on the aircraft). About 90% of the time I land a window or an aisle seat. If you check in and get a middle seat, bite the bullet and take the seat, or pay the fee to change to the window or aisle. It's gonna cost a little bit more than it did at booking, but that's why it's a gamble.
Low-Cost Solution: Select your seat at booking
If you don't mind paying an extra $7-$40 (depending on the airline), pick a seat toward the back of the plane. They're the cheapest. If you want additional legroom, it's gonna cost you a bit more. And if there's an option for a wider seat, it's even higher.
Extra Tip: Change up your seat location for every flight
If one of my flights is overnight and I know I want to sleep, I'll grab a window seat. If I want to work and have easy access to my bag, I'll select an aisle seat. If I want to be first off of the plane because I'm trying to get to my destination as quickly as possible, I'll pick the cheapest seat to the front. Sometimes I'll only select my seat for one leg. It all depends on when, where, and how long the flight is.
Snacks & Meals
Budget airlines have some food and snacks for sale onboard, but no one really wants those... unless they're desperate.
Low-Cost Solution: BRING YOUR OWN FOOD!
I don't know why people don't think they can bring food into the airport. Liquids are the problem; not food. I always try to bring my own snacks and meals because most food at the airport is expensive or crap. Or both.
If you don't have time, or aren't able to grab food outside of the airport, stock up on food in the terminal before you get on your flight. Because if you thought the airport food was tasteless and expensive, just wait for your inflight options.
Big Bowl in Chicago O'hare
The reason you pay so much on other airlines is because they include things that you don't need. Keep things cheap and add your own necessities. Just remember, the a la carte menu is your friend.