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The ultimate guide for dealing with low-cost airlines

Photo by Krzysztof Kowalik

When booking a flight with a low-cost airline (such as Ryanair or Easyjet) you will probably recognize this: you book a relatively cheap flight, but suddenly the airline asks you if you want to upgrade several features like luggage and seats. Of course, you love to have a good seat and an early check-in for that little of an additional cost. However, at the checkout you are surprised. The price of the cheap flight you booked turns out to be doubled! WHUT?!

If you recognize this or part of it, it might be good to read on. Because I am going to explain how to avoid the temptation of saying yes to additional costs.

How do low-cost airlines work?

Inside plane low-cost airlines
Photo by JC Gellidon

First of all, you need to know how low-cost airlines work. They obviously promise the lowest prices on the market, but the question is how can they make money on a €20 flight?

Well, they do it by upselling you several extras. Those extras you are so attempted to buy! Seat of choice, priority check-in, extra baggage, drinks on board… Low-cost airlines only make money on those extras, not on their plane tickets themselves. So they actually rely on people spending way too much!

But we don’t want to spend more than the basic ticket we need! So here I am going to explain to you how to resist those extras.

How to resist spending more money on those extras

Photo by Fabian Blank

Choice of seats

One of the first things a low-cost airline is going to ask you after purchasing your ticket is whether you would like to book a seat of your choice (for an extra fee) or to let the airline pick a seat randomly when checking in (for free).

Does it make a difference to choose a seat? Well, yes. Actually it does. In the case of the low-cost airline Ryanair, seats at the aisle will be smaller than seats in the middle or on the side. Moreover, seats at an emergency exit always have more leg space as well as seats in front. Those will obviously be more expensive.

So, it is up to you to consider whether or not to book a seat you prefer or with extra leg space. However, considering you are booking with a low-cost airline you probably have a short flight. Thus, do you really need that window-seat or that extra space?

General fees for choosing a seat will probably be very low, starting at €3 with Ryanair. But remember, a lot of small amounts make a big sum at the end!

Extra luggage

These days, a standard ticket with a low-cost airline is very basic. You know, very, very basic. This involves that at some airlines hand luggage is restricted to a small bag each, which means you have to pay extra to bring even a small cabin suitcase.

This, of course, makes sure the airline has more income and that there will be more space for luggage in the cabin since fewer people are bringing a bag.

Fees for a small cabin suitcase start from €15, but sometimes you can also combine it with a priority check-in. (More about this in the next paragraph.) Ask yourself if you really need that suitcase or in the case you bring two suitcases, if you really need that many. I can tell you that everything I need for a weekend abroad fits in a backpack, which you can take on board for free!

Bigger suitcases will come at a larger fee, of course, but will be similar to other airlines.


Priority check-in

What does priority check-in actually mean? Well, it means that you can board the plane before everyone else with a regular ticket. Since business class does not exist on planes of low-cost airlines, you can go first.

But beware! Last time I flew with Ryanair about half of the passengers had a priority ticket! This means two things. First, the airline certainly managed to upsell to a lot of its customers. Second, the priority check-in was no priority anymore since half of the people had such a ticket. I can tell you the queue for priority check-in was very long…

Thus, next time you are seduced by a priority ticket with the promise of fast boarding, think about how many people will buy it too and whether it would be better to just wait those extra minutes on a comfortable airport chair instead of in a queue.

Drinks on board

The absolutely very low-cost airlines won’t even offer you a free drink on board. No, you have to pay for it. But is it worth it?

Of course, you can think, I might get thirsty on the plane, why shouldn’t I? But before you board the plane consider keeping an empty water bottle in your backpack through the customs inspection and refilling it at the airport. Most airports have potable water available. And water is still the best drink to quench your thirst!

Lottery/perfumery/liquor on board

When the drinks have passed you think they cannot sell you more, but this is wrong! They absolutely can! In the case of Ryanair they will come with a car where you can buy perfumery, liquor and… even lottery tickets! Of course with the promise that profits will go to charity. But is it really?

When on a plane, would you really want to spend your money on high-end products (that probably cost more than the plane ticket itself!) such as perfumery and liquor or on lottery tickets? I would rather not…

Ryanair low-cost airlines
Photo by Lucas Davies

Car and hotel bookings

Low-cost airlines won’t just offer you flight-related products but will engage in selling you other travel-related extras such as booking a car and a hotel. In case you haven’t already booked a hotel or car, this can be beneficial because they will often offer you a discount on the normal price.

The same line of thought goes for hotels and cars: consider whether you actually need it. Are you planning to book a hotel or Airbnb? Which one will be cheaper? Do you need a car to drive you around or can you just take public transfer everywhere?

The conclusion on low-cost airlines

Thus, the moral of this story, think before you buy! This is of course very useful in every situation. Low-cost airlines will try to upsell you way too much stuff you don’t need, so be aware of that!

If you are interested in more budget advice, read one of my other blog articles about comfortable budget travel.

Any extra tips or thoughts you want to share? Do not hesitate to leave a comment or share this article with friends who need it!

How to deal with low-cost airlines

46 thoughts on “The ultimate guide for dealing with low-cost airlines”

  1. Hi Emma! Great advice because many people don’t realize that there are many extras involved with these low cost tickets. If you are willing to forgo a few of these luxuries, you can enjoy these low cost flights. Good job!

  2. This is a great article, thank you! It’s so funny because I always refuse to “pay extra for a seat.” However, my husband ALWAYS buys his. When we travel together I don’t let him buy it.. but most of the time we end up in the same row anyways.

  3. So true! I have definitely seen this when looking at tickets. Luckily I’m pretty good about not jumping to do extra upsell. If I’m flying solo I don’t care about seat choice, just bring my own water bottle so no drink is needed on board, and I always just pack my clothes in a carry on whenever possible to avoid checked baggage fees. This has great tips! Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for sharing! My mom often flies budget air with my grandmother, and they have experienced exactly what you share here. It doesn’t take much before a low-cost airfare isn’t such a great value anymore! Great tips!

  5. Thanks for the tips! It does seem like some airlines “nickel and dime” you, but I guess they do need to make money somehow. I didn’t know Ryanair had narrow aisle seats. I’ll remember that!

    1. Yes, many airlines have their own ‘tricks’ to upsell and I think Ryanair might as well be the trickiest of them all!

  6. Interesting – I’ve never heard of an airline selling lottery tickets! We love Southwest which is a low-cost airline and just do our best to get a decent seat.

    1. Indeed! It surprised me as well when the crew passed by with lottery tickets. They say it’s for charity but I am sure they make money out of it as well!

  7. I’ve looked at some of these low-cost airlines when booking for large groups before. I always have people from the groups telling me that they saw an incredible deal on a flight that I need to check out. I always check it out, just so people will know I explored all the options, but it never turns out to be the best deal, once I add in all the luggage expenses and extra fees.

  8. This was insightful for me, because I have never flown on a low cost airline before, but have considered it. These are very good tips, thank you! 🙂

  9. Love these insights! If you’re not willing to sacrifice, low cost flights probably aren’t for you! The Priority boarding piece was a huge surprise for me when I first flew with a low cost airline!

  10. These are some great tips and great tips on how to save money or at least be very mindful of the hidden fees that many budget airlines have that can help travelers save money.

  11. We loved your tips and advice. We do not travel by air a lot but when we do it’s easy to forget the little things that add up.

  12. Great tips here! Thank you for helping me understand the low cost air fares. I can’t wait to look up some flights and stay strong when they try to upsell me!

  13. oh my gosh, so true! I love low cost airlines for short flights because i just don’t give a darn where they want to stick me. And i can travel with 1 small bag. But my bf is SUCH an anxious flier, when he travels with me, we always pay extra for the “perfect” seats. lol

  14. Hi Emma,

    I always do my due diligence when comparing/booking flights and I have never found that discount airlines do it for me. I actually prefer hopping on a train (even for the extra time) because when I factor in transportation and security checks at airports, it still seems worth it to me. Anyway, I really enjoyed your post because it reminds me to watch out for hidden costs.

    Take care,


    1. Thank you! Taking the train can sometimes be a better alternative, depending on the distance and price. I often find trains being more expensive for long distances, but I prefer to take them for shorter trips!

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