Budget airlines are like that worn and ratty college tee shirt in the drawer – I know I’m too old for it, that I should upgrade like an adult, but it’s a tempting and comfortable habit. (Or so I hear, I’m too much of a bougie nightmare to actually wear an old tee shirt. I may have been the only backpacker in Southeast Asia wearing a Vince. linen top instead of some beer brand’s tank top.)
Singapore to Australia to Athens for $600? Boston to Copenhagen for $275? Bangkok to Bali for $130? Sure! Often a result of my insomniac browsing, my frugal and sleepy mind loves a bargain.
And then I arrive at the airport, often at some brutal hour (big shout-out to my 1:30 – 4:30 am Bali-Bangkok flight), and the regret begins to sink in as I approach the packed and grimy boarding gate of a RyanAir flight.
But my unemployed ass can’t quit the budget airlines game. Here’s how my luxury-loving self survives the special but manageable hell that is a cheap flight.
Know the Rules
Budget airlines make most of their money on sneaky charges. I do a quick google search if it’s an airline I’ve never flown to see what their crazy rules are before I book.
For example, AirAsia only gives 7kg as a carryon allowance (only selectively enforced though, they have yet to weight my backpack on check-in). RyanAir will charge €40+ to print your boarding pass at the airport, and as a non-EU citizen I have to go get a special stamp on my boarding pass so I need a physical one. Scoot Airlines forbids outside food. It’s entirely ridiculous but them’s the rules.
Knowledge is power and it’s also not spending twice my ticket price on some inane bullshit.
Buy a Seat
This is the one place I spend money on a budget flight. After a four-hour flight to Bali spent crushed in the middle seat of the second to last row to save a measly $5, I’ve vowed to always select my seat from now on. I love a window seat too, as it helps me to forget I’m crammed in a metal tube in the air, so I will happily pay extra to get one. I’m not tall so I usually don’t bother paying for extra legroom unless it’s a 7+ hour flight, like my Singapore-Sydney one on Scoot. That one was worth every penny.
I sit as close to the front as I can too, so I can scamper off ASAP. A budget plane is a place I want to spend as little time as possible. And when I’m on RyanAir, the 18 year old British lads in the back are usually shouting drunkenly at this point and I need to make a quick escape.
This is the most essential stage of the budget airlines journey. I always go for the absolute lowest fare, which means they won’t even give me water unless I pay for it. So I go in ready for everything.
Food is, as always, my top priority. While Norwegian is happy to charge me $30 for an in-flight meal (for airplane food?!), the most I’ll buy on the plane is Oreos.
So I take my Priority Pass to an airport lounge and stuff myself there. I get access through my Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, and I make full use of it every time. Plus I stash a few snacks to go if I can. And I soak in the quiet plushness of the lounge before the budget bedlam awaiting me.
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Once my belly and water bottle and purse snacks are full, I double check my in-flight essentials.
- Headphones and ear plugs (these silicone ones are odd but work really well!) to drown out hen parties woohoo-ing and constant sales announcements.
- Eye mask for sleeping if I can (I love this silk one for maximum bougie points).
- Fully charged Kindle, iPad, and iPhone to divert myself from my squalid surroundings. Never count on having a charging port on a budget airplane.
- Slippers for a long flight to keep my feet comfy and covered. They’re covered in gold sequins so I never forget them (I’m pretty sure my seat mates never forget me either).
- Bonus points if I remember my lavender oil to dab on my wrists for a little quiet meditation. I hate flying so I need all the calm I can purchase at a Balinese spa.
- My bougie nightmare piéce de resistance – a four-foot-square Fendi silk scarf. It can be a warm blanket, a cozy pillow, and it makes me feel briefly like a classy human being instead of a Teva-wearing slob. I got mine on eBay for $50 two years ago and it’s been worth every penny!
Adjust the Attitude
Whenever I crunch my groaning mid-thirties joints into a middle seat so small my size 5.5 feet barely fit underneath, I remind myself that this was a choice. I booked this flight! I chose to not choose a seat! I booked the ticket where they don’t even give you water! This is a deeply privileged complaint and I can burrito myself into my silk scarf and my disco slippers and I’ll be just fine.
Also it helps to remember why I did this. I’m on this two-day Scoot Airlines journey (Sydney to Athens with a 23 hour layover in Singapore) because it was the same price as going right from Asia to Athens, and I wanted to see Australia while I was relatively close.
And I got to see the Great Barrier Reef and pet a koala and perfect my Tim Tam slam, which I wouldn’t have done without that cheap flight. Every time I do the math, those flights are worth it to me. So is a little discomfort.
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And now I’m ready to take to the skies with these budget airline tips. Excuse me while I go cruise some RyanAir fares…