It is clear that the most expensive part of traveling on a budget is the airfare to your desired region. This is also the cost that will vary the most and is the most unforeseeable expense. Airfare that costs $700 one day may become $550 or $900 the next. There is no doubt that finding a good deal on airfare is the hardest part of keeping the cost of any budget trip down. Not to worry though, there are several tips and suggestions that can help improve the chances of you finding the perfect flight. There are also several ways where you can save a bunch of money by flying budget airlines within the region you want to travel.
Getting to your destination:
You probably have heard of several different sites like Expedia.com and Travelocity. These sites allow you to search good deals from multiple airlines at once (you save even more if you are the type that likes to stay in a hotel at one location). When you find your desired flight, you book through them. They tack on a slight service charge and you get your cheap flight (or flight/hotel package). Generally, these sites work pretty well in getting you decent fares even if you choose airlines only. These sites are not the best. My favorite site is Kayak.com. This site searches hundreds of different airlines along with most of the sites like Travelocity and Expedia. In addition, it does not add any additional service fees for helping you find the cheapest flight.
When trying to book a trip to Europe I have found that (for the most part) it doesn’t matter where you book to in Europe because once you are in the region you can often use discount European carriers to get you anywhere you want to go in Europe. (I will explain how to find cheap discount European carriers later in this article). In many cases, the combined price of your direct ticket to Europe and the budget European carrier to your specific destination is less than the cost of buying a direct ticket to the end destination.
you REALLY waited till the last minute). However, you notice that there is a flight to Frankfurt, Germany for $1200. You then look and find that you can get to Barcelona through a discount airline for only 40 euros (each way). By taking the second option you saved roughly $680 off of your last minute flight.
When I fly to Europe I generally fly into Frankfurt (airport code: FRA), Cologne (airport code GCN), or London (airport code: LON). This is because I have found these particular European destinations to have the cheapest flights coming from the United States. They each also have large hubs for major discount airlines. Prices of flights to different areas change frequently as new routes are created. So make sure to do your research, it pays!
Things to remember when booking budget airlines:
It is true that budget airlines are significantly cheaper than regular airlines and traveling by train or bus, but there are some important things to remember when booking.
Book in Advance- While these airlines are very very cheap (and you can often get decent rates close to the time you want to fly), the farther in advance you book the better rates you will receive.
Customer Service-I has found customer service to be much worse on these types of airlines. Check-in closes strictly 30-40 minutes before scheduled takeoff and if you miss your flight (for any reason) there is often nothing they can do to help you find another one (you might have to pay a fortune to book your next flight). Sometimes if I am not 100% sure I will make it on time for my flight, I book an extra flight for the next morning just so I don’t have to worry too much if I miss it. This is a great way to guarantee your flight (think of it as buying insurance).
Extra fees- Certain budget airlines (like Ryan Air) charge extra fees for things like checking luggage (Ryan Air charges a separate 7 euro fee). These fees are not listed in the quoted price of airfare and often are not shown until the last checkout page.
Destinations- To cut costs some carriers do not take you to the main airports that you might think you are headed to. Ryan Air is well known for doing this. For instance, when traveling from Frankfurt to Barcelona with Ryan Air you actually are flying from Frankfurt Hahn (almost two hours away from Frankfurt) to Girona, Spain (about 45 minutes away from Barcelona).
They often provide decent transportation (either shuttle bus or a train) from the city to the airport, but it is important to allocate extra time for the transportation service. To make it less confusing airlines that do not leave or enter from the main destination now put the real airport location in parentheses so you know (so on the drop-down menu Barcelona would show as Barcelona (Girona).
Simply said, combining regular airlines, regional discount airlines, and other means of transportation are a great way to save a ton of money while traveling.