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How You Can Survive (and Thrive) While Flying on Low-Cost Airlines

What’s included—or more importantly, what’s not included—on 12 popular budget airlines.

Low-cost air carriers tout themselves as “transportation without the frills,” flying travelers from point A to point B as cheaply as possible. But what is it really like to fly on a budget airline? What exactly are those “frills” that are cut out of the equation to bring down your cost? It varies from airline to airline. It could mean forgoing that free bag of peanuts, or it could mean undergoing hours of discomfort. Most times, it means a slew of hidden fees that make you stop and wonder if the final cost will even be considered “low” when all is said and done.

If you’re worried about what that $350 flight from New York to Paris will actually be like, don’t worry. We did the comparisons for you. We have a full breakdown of what’s included (and what’s not included) on the most popular low-cost air carriers.

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Norwegian Air

Norwegian Air is a (you guessed it) Norwegian airline operating between Norway, Europe, and North America. Their base level seals are called “LowFare.”

SEATS: Seats recline ever so slightly, and there’s a fee charge for selection.

BAGS: You’ll have to pay for checked luggage, but not carry-ons.

FOOD & DRINK: You’ll have to pay for food, snacks, beverages, and water.

ENTERTAINMENT: There are no seatback entertainment screens on board. There is free Wi-Fi, but it’s very weak.

PREMIUM? There’s no ‘premium’ class, but the top ticket type available is called Flex and includes basically everything that isn’t included in the LowFare ticket.

EXTRAS: There’s an extra fee if you want to board early.

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Southwest Airlines

Southwest Airlines is the largest low-cost airline in the world. It operates within the United States and certain countries in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. Their base level seats are called “Wanna Get Away.”

SEATS: They recline! But there is no selection option available, to anyone. Southwest has an “Open Seating Policy,” meaning that seat are never assigned, but chosen on a first come, first served basis. When you check in for your Southwest flight, you are assigned a boarding group (A, B, or C) and a boarding position (1-60). Passengers line up at the gate in order (A 1-60, B 1-60, and so on). Upon boarding the flight, you may choose any open seat.

BAGS: There’s no charge for carry-ons or the first two checked bags. After that, it’s $75 for 3+ bags.

FOOD & DRINK: Complimentary water, soft drinks, juices, and pretzels. You can pay for alcoholic beverages, but there’s no food for purchase.

ENTERTAINMENT: Complimentary entertainment and movies are available via the Southwest App. There’s also Wi-Fi for $8.

PREMIUM? There are Business Select ticket types, which include everything in the Wanna Get Away ticket, plus priority boarding, complimentary premium drink, and priority security lane.

EXTRAS: Tickets are nonrefundable but reusable are there are no change fees.

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Spirit Airlines

Spirit Airlines is a Florida-based low-cost air carrier operating in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Latin American, and South America. Their base level seats are called “Bare Fare.”

SEATS: You’ll incur a charge for selecting your (non-reclining) seat.

BAGS: There’s a fee charge for checked bags ($30) and carry-on bags ($35), but a personal item that fits under the seat is complimentary.

FOOD & DRINK: There’s a fee for both snacks and drinks (including water). No hot food or meals for sale, so consider packing your own.

ENTERTAINMENT: No entertainment is available, but there’s been a recent addition of Wi-Fi services.

PREMIUM? No, but they offer Big Front Seats which give you… big seats at the front of the plane.

EXTRAS: There’s a fee for printing your boarding pass at the airport (free if printed at home), plus a charge for priority boarding, and a charge for standing by for an earlier flight, and finally, a fee to check-in at the airport (but free if you checked in via the Spirit app).

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Frontier

Frontier is a Denver, Colorado-based low-cost airline operating in the United States. Their base level seats are called “Standard.”

SEATS: Frontier offers “pre-reclined seats” meaning they don’t recline. There’s a charge for seat selection, which is cheapest if purchased in advance ($6 online, then $11 if selecting at the airport kiosk or ticket counter). “Stretch seating” AKA extra legroom seats are available, starting at $20.

BAGS: There’s a fee charge for carry-on bags, cheapest if purchased in advance ($35 online, $40 via telephone or online check-in, $50 at check-in kiosk, and $60 at the gate). The same pricing tiers apply for your first checked bag and it’s upwards from there for additional checked bags. Only a personal item is complimentary.

FOOD & DRINK: No complimentary food or beverages, only goods for purchase.

ENTERTAINMENT: No Wi-Fi, television, movies or other in-flight entertainment.

PREMIUM? “Elite Status” with Frontier will get you complimentary seat selection, priority boarding, and free carry-on luggage.

EXTRAS: You will automatically get Zone 1 Boarding when you purchase a carry-on bag ahead of time. Frontier also offers a “Discount Den” that provides slightly cheaper prices on tickets (~$5.00 discount) if you sign up via email.

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Allegiant Air

Allegiant Air is a low-cost airline operating throughout the United States, typically flying to smaller airports and non-hubs.

SEATS: You’ll have to pay for selecting your (non-reclining) seat when booking.

BAGS: There’s a fee charge for carry-on bags and checked bags (ranging from $10-$75, based on where you’re flying), but a personal item is complimentary.

FOOD & DRINK: No complimentary food or beverages, only goods for purchase.

ENTERTAINMENT: No Wi-Fi or any types of entertainment available.

PREMIUM? No premium, but “Giant Seats” and “Legroom+” seating options are available on select flights for additional fees.

EXTRAS: You can expect to pay a $5 charge for printing your boarding pass at the airport.

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Sun Country

Sun Country Airlines is a Minnesota-based low-cost carrier operating within the United States, Mexico, and Central America.

SEATS: There’s a fee to select seat assignments in advance, depending on where the seat is located on the plane as well as additional amenities, such as extra legroom or extra recline.

BAGS: There’s a fee for carry-on bags, which is cheapest if purchased in advance ($30 online, then $40 at the airport). The same pricing tiers apply for the first checked bag and prices go up from there for additional checked bags. Only a personal item is complimentary.

FOOD & DRINK: There is complimentary beverage service, as well as a selection of food, drinks, and other items for sale onboard.

ENTERTAINMENT: No Wi-Fi available, but you can rent an entertainment device (iPad) for $15 on select flights over three hours long.

PREMIUM? No premium, but there are extra legroom seats available at the front of the plane.

EXTRAS: None.

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easyJet

easyJet is a British low-cost airline that operates domestically within Britain and internationally within Europe to about 30 countries.

SEATS: There’s a charge for selecting your seat assignment, and naturally a higher fee (£13-£30 [~$16-$40]) for selecting seats near the front of the plane.

BAGS: Free carry-on (though note, easyJet’s sizing requirements are quite small (~33 pounds) and a fee charge for checked luggage.

FOOD & DRINK: No complimentary food, meals, snacks, or beverages, but they offer a large selection of for-purchase options on board.

ENTERTAINMENT: easyJet offers WiFi, providing streaming access to movies, TV series, audio books, language courses, games, and news via Rakuten TV. There are no complimentary televisions or movies available beyond that.

PREMIUM? Sort of. easyJet Plus offers members extra legroom seats, speedy boarding, and a complimentary checked bag during booking for a fee of $299/year.

EXTRAS: There’s a charge for bringing your infant along with you (£25 [~$31]).

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Vueling

Vueling Airline is a low-cost carrier based out of Spain, and is the largest airline in the country by fleet size and destinations. Their base level tickets are called “Basic”.

SEATS: Seats do not recline and they’re notorious for offering very (very, very) little legroom. The seat pitch is only roughly 30 inches. There is a fee charge for seat selection, which is required at the time of booking, and the seats available are based on the type of ticket you’re purchasing (“Space One,” “Space Plus,” and Front/Back Rows).

BAGS: There is a fee for checked luggage and “hand luggage” is complimentaryif the bag is not heavier than 10kg (~22 pounds), so more like a personal item or super small suitcase.

FOOD & DRINK: There are no complimentary snacks or beverages, but you might get water. You can also pre-pay for meals when booking or purchase snacks from the in-flight menu.

ENTERTAINMENT: No in-flight entertainment available

PREMIUM? Vueling offers a ticket type called “Optima” which provides everything that Basic tickets do not.

EXTRAS: None.

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Ryanair

Ryanair is a low-cost air carrier operating out of Ireland. Their base ticket level is called “Standard Fare.”

SEATS: Ryanair has a reputation for very little legroom (the smallest seats offering just 27 inches!) and you’ll have to pay for seat selection or opt for random allocation if you want to avoid the fee (€4-€14 [`$4.50-$15.50]).

BAGS: With Standard Fare, you’re allowed one “cabin bag” (think: personal item) complimentary. There’s a fee for checked bags (€10 [~$11]) or an additional cabin bag (€8 [~$9]) if made online during booking.

FOOD & DRINK: Snacks, beverages (including water), and alcohol are available for purchase during the flight, and meals are available for pre-order during online check out.

ENTERTAINMENT: No in-flight entertainment available, but you can ask for a free copy of the Ryanair in-flight magazine.

PREMIUM? Sort of. Their “Flexi Plus” ticket type offers the upgrades of seat selection, carry-on bags, and Security Fast Track in the price.

EXTRAS: You’ll be charged to reprint your boarding pass at the airport (free if you print it at home) and there’s an added fee for Security Fast Track (€5.75 [~$6.50]) if you’d like to bypass the security lines.

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FlyBe

flybe is a British low-cost airline operated out of England and is the largest independent regional air carrier in Europe. Their base level seats are called “Just Fly.”

SEATS: Seat assignment can be purchased for an additional fee with the Just Fly ticket type. They don’t recline.

BAGS: There’s a fee charge for checked luggage, but you’ll get a complimentary personal item.

FOOD & DRINK: Sadly, no complimentary snacks or beverages are offered on board. You can purchase items from the in-flight menu, but it’s regulated to just a few items per passenger.

ENTERTAINMENT: No in-flight entertainment is available.

PREMIUM? If you purchase the “All In” ticket type, you’ll get everything you don’t get with Just Fly, plus exclusive lounge access, fast track through security, double points, and a fully flexible ticket.

EXTRAS: No charge for check-in or printing your boarding pass at the airport. You can also earn Avios points no matter what ticket type you buy.

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Wizz Air

Wizz Air is a Hungarian low-cost airline headquartered in Budapest, Hungary. They operate across Europe and to some destinations in Africa and the Middle East. Their base level ticket type is called “Basic Travel Light.”

SEATS: You’ll pay a fee (€​1-‎​€​50 [~$1-$55) to select your seat on the flight, otherwise it’s open seating.

BAGS: There is a fee for all checked baggage which changes based on where you’re flying to/from, the dates of your travel (peak season? You’ll pay more), the weight of your luggage, and your form of payment. A small carry-on is complimentary.

FOOD & DRINK: Sandwiches, snacks, beverages, and alcoholic drinks are all available for purchase on flights.

ENTERTAINMENT: No in-flight entertainment is available.

PREMIUM? The “Wizz Plus” ticket type offers free checked bags, seat selection, and priority boarding.

EXTRAS: There’s a fee for check-in at the airport, if you book something through the Call Center (versus online), for priority boarding, and if you’re bringing an infant.

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Aer Lingus

Aer Lingus is a low-cost carrier based out of Ireland and the second largest in the country. Their base level seating is called “Saver Fare.”

SEATS: They recline! There’s a fee charge of $24.99 to select your seats in advance.

BAGS: Saver Fare includes one piece of 10kg (~22 pounds) cabin baggage. Guests can then add on checked baggage from $49.99 per 20kg bag one way.

FOOD & DRINK: Complimentary water and soft drinks are available, along with snacks and drinks for purchase. And get thisstarting in November 2019, complimentary alcohol products will be included in all ticket types, including the Saver Fare!

ENTERTAINMENT: Travelers have access to complimentary in-flight entertainment and each seat is equipped with its own personal screen. Wi-Fi in the sky is available from $7.95 (complimentary for business class).

PREMIUM? Yes, Aer Lingus has a Business Class. Fares include Lounge access, ample seating, seats that recline into a fully lie-flat 6.5 ft long bed, luxury dining, complimentary Wi-Fi, and 3 free checked bags.

EXTRAS: Aer Lingus operates a loyalty program called AerClub in partnership with Avios.