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TRAVEL: Low-Fare, High-Fee Airlines

Bargain Airlines: Low Rates, High Fees

Norwegian Airlines’ recent news about launching low-cost flights from Los Angeles/New York/Ft. Lauderdale to London for a mere $240 has made headlines. While Europe has a couple well-known budget airlines (RyanAir and EasyJet), most Europeans know what they’re signing up for, and the high price that comes with that cheap ticket. Before you book that $480 round-trip flight, there are a few things to consider.

Baggage Allocation

Spirit Airlines, a US based budget airline, made headlines when they started to charge for a carry-on. The airline, known for having $30 sales, needs to make their money one way or another. Suddenly, the cost of that cheap flight doubled. A 100% increase in cost doesn’t seem like a smart move, especially considering the lacking amenities on the flight, but we’ll get to those later.

Before you book, make sure you know exactly you can bring on board. RyanAir, while cheap, only allows one item to be brought onto the plane with you. When I was in Europe I was forced to check my bag and had to shove everything else I had into my purse, including my bag of chips. Their checked bag fees also vary based on the high season and low season.

Average Carry-On Fees are between $10 – $30 online, $75 day of travel

Average Checked Bag Fees are between $30 – $50

Lacking Amenities

While Norwegian Airlines’ notes that their planes will have in-seat entertainment system, most other budget airlines do not have this same luxury. If you’re taking a short flight, no big deal. If you’re trekking across the Atlantic, however, you may want to start thinking of ways to keep yourself entertained. A flight between Los Angeles and London would be 13 hours of staring at the back of a headrest, that’s likely reclined into your lap.

Most people travel with tablets or some sort of computer, which will provide sufficient entertainment, assuming you have all of your content downloaded. You didn’t really think every budget airline had Wi-Fi, did you?


Virgin Atlantic gave me a care package, equipped with socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, pen, paper, and eye mask. Don’t expect the same level of luxury on a budget airline.

BYOM – Bring Your Own Meals

Remember when word got out that American Airlines saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by removing one olive from each salad? Budget airlines took this to an extreme and most have cut out snacks and drinks completely.  RyanAir and Allegiant Airlines have snacks and drinks available for purchase. Norwegian Airlines has noted that they will offer a package that includes a checked bag and meal for about $50.

Allegiant recently launched a direct route between Los Angeles and Hawaii. Rates are as low as $289 round-trip.  So ask yourself, will you get hungry and/or thirsty during that 8 hour flight? If so, be sure to add in some extra spending money for a meal on the plane.

Lacking Customer Service

It’s no secret that flight attendants don’t have high salaries, but they get to travel for free- pretty fair tradeoff. Now if a major airline can’t afford to pay their in-flight staff top dollar, but can afford to give you a free soda and occasional bag of peanuts- how do you think you’ll do on a flight where the airline won’t even give their passengers a bottle of water? Don’t expect the same treatment or chipper attitudes you would get if you fly a major airline. It isn’t entirely their fault they aren’t the most pleasant- they’re left to deal with folks who would give up an arm and a leg to save $100. I wouldn’t be dancing down the aisle either.

There was a recent lawsuit against RyanAir for not returning passenger’s change after having made a purchase. That $2 soda just came out to $5 because they forgot your change and you need to remain in your seat for landing. Don’t expect the Emirates treatment, take a look around and remember where you are.

Check-In Fees

This one of the biggest factors that most people overlook. Before you book anything, make sure you read and understand the terms. RyanAir requires you to be checked in before arriving at the airport if you have an e-ticket. Forgot to check-in or didn’t have access to a computer in time? That’ll cost you about $90. Yes, you read that right, $90.  Don’t try and hassle them at the airport either. Remember my point about customer service? Yeah, that applies at the check-in counter.

If you make this fatal mistake, you may as well have saved your time and effort, and booked with a major airline.

Baby on Board

Not only will your flight be full of families because it’s cost effective, but if you do decide to travel with a child, be mindful of passenger fees. Even if the child is on your lap, it’s extra body on the plane, and thus worth an additional cost. (You can’t count your child as your one personal item, as it does not fit under the seat, sorry!)

Lost Luggage

If I had a dollar for every lost luggage story I have heard in regards to budget airlines, I would be able to book a round-trip flight on a budget airline. I was constantly hearing frustration stories about EasyJet losing luggage and their poor customer support, taking their time to assist the passenger in need.

Get travel insurance or book your flight on a credit card that will cover lost luggage. This will be a huge benefit if you find yourself stranded, while your bag vacations in Morocco.


This was another huge problem I faced constantly while traveling on budget airlines. It’s less about being on time, and more about “we’ll get there when we get there, hopefully within a few hours of when we say we will.” Don’t expect them to be punctual. You get what you pay for. If you want a 98% on-time rate, you may want to reevaluate your options.

Do the Math

The cost of my flight to London not too long ago was $590, round-trip. If you’re looking to save money and would rather sacrifice crowds and high rates all around, go during the off-season. You can snag deals on a major airline for the same price as a peak-season flight on a budget-friendly airline. You’ll not only cut down on spending overall, but benefit from less tourists, cheaper accommodations, and tours that aren’t bursting at the seams.

Overall, budget airlines are low-fare, high-fee options. Always know what your terms and conditions are before you book. A great deal is hard to pass up, trust me, I know. However, it’s important to remember that you’re basically on a bus with wings. If you don’t mind forking over extra money to eat and drink for the duration of your flight, don’t need to pack anything, or care about being bored out of your mind, go for it.  Just don’t forget to check in or pack anything that won’t fit under the seat in front of you.


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