FLYING ON THE CHEAP: Making the most of budget airlines

My friend suggested the topic for this post, and it got me thinking of when I first discovered budget airlines. This was when I first moved to Europe: I was shocked (shocked!) at how cheap flights could be. Back then I’d check out Ryanair for flights to no matter where, simply because they were so cheap.

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Those were the days when you could get free flights and simply pay the tax charges. Those days are mostly gone, but there are still plenty of good deals around. Here’s how I do my research for flights:

1. Search sites

I always start by looking at different search sites to get an idea on prices. Skyscanner, Kayak and Momondo are my favourites. Each site has a slightly different set of options, so it’s good to browse around.

2. Know your airports

The thing with budget airlines is that they don’t always arrive at the best airports. Ryanair can leave you over an hour away from your destination and airport transfers can be expensive, so do your research and make sure to land somewhere convenient. Otherwise all your savings on the cost of the flight may end up being spent before you even get to leave the airport!

In London I tend to prioritise Gatwick where possible, as it’s the closest to my place and it’s cheap to get there by train.

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3. When to book?

This is the trickiest. I’m actually never sure on when to book my flights, but sooner tends to be better.

In theory you can get good deals if you book 3-5 weeks in advance as sometimes airlines do sales to make sure flights are full. However, if you’re travelling to European capitals for the weekend (which is often what I do), flights will always be full, so just book it as early as possible, up to about 4 months in advance (more than that and sometimes not all options are available).

4. When to go?

Travelling mid-week, during the day or off-season will get you a better deal. If this is an option for you, you’re in luck! But because I have a full-time job with a limited holiday allowance, this is simply not an option. But again if you book in advance this shouldn’t be a problem.

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5. Watch out for extra charges

As a rule, I always travel light. But budget airlines often have strict luggage policies and once you add £30 per piece of luggage each way you might as well travel BA. They are also generally less flexible, meaning that if you want to change your booking you’re better off making a completely new reservation.

6. Choosing airlines

There are lots of cheap airlines around, but it’s not always just about price. Here are some thoughts on specific companies I’ve travelled with, but really there are many more around and most of them are good enough:

  • Ryanair: I haven’t travelled with Ryanair in years, and honestly I don’t miss it. They are really at the bottom end in terms of service, but their prices can be tempting.
  • Easyjet: I fly a lot with Easyjet, as they seem to have the most options, and they are normally the cheapest airline other than Ryanair. Service is good, but flights at the end of the day are frequently a bit late as each plane does so many flights every day.
  • Norwegian: Norwegian doesn’t go to as many places as Easyjet (at least not from London), but when available they are great. Very good service and very good deals: £90 return to Stockholm, and return flights to New York starting from £250 (although it’s quite hard to get these).
  • Wizz Air: This is a Hungarian airline, and it’s a great option if you’re travelling to Eastern Europe. They have some amazing deals and go to unusual destinations like Ljubljana.
  • Icelandair: Icelandair doesn’t fly to many places, but it’s a great airline. If you’re going to Iceland, their holiday packages are the best. And they also have free stopovers (I said free!) in Reykjavik if you’re flying to America or Canada.

Happy booking!

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