Discount airlines, also known low-cost carriers, no-frills carriers or budget airlines, are simply airlines that offer cheaper flights than traditional airlines on similar routings. The major US discount airline is Southwest Airlines, while the UK has easyJet and Ireland, Ryanair.

The reason these discount airlines can offer drastically reduced prices is because they generally operate from regional airports that come with lower overheads. They also usually run just the one type of aircraft, such as the Boeing 737, to save on maintenance costs. Discount airlines also forego freebies (frills), such as free food, beer, wine and soft drinks.

Restrictions with discount airlines over standard carriers:

  • Discount airlines usually have lower luggage weight allowances over traditional airlines and are more likely to penalize you if you go overweight.
  • Food and drinks aren’t offered for free. You will have to pay for these luxuries.
  • Generally zero in-flight entertainment.
  • Farther out regional airports are usually used.
  • Extended overland transport costs due to more remote airport.
  • There is generally no leniency on checking in, and if you are late you will not be able to board.
  • Many discount airlines change times of flights with little notice.
  • Most discount airlines are point-to-point, meaning you cannot take a connecting flight to an onward destination even if running both legs with the same airline.
  • Re-routings and refunds can be tough to arrange with discount airlines.

Book in advance

This is generally an absolute must to get the cheapest fares with discount airlines. If prices seem to be staying around the normal rate, however, it may be in your best interests to sit it out and wait for a possible seat sale.

Off-peak flying

As with standard airlines, discount airline tickets tend to rise and fall with demand, meaning seats will usually be more expensive during the school summer holidays and over public holidays such as Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas. Flying on a Friday or a Sunday is also generally more expensive.

Long haul travel

Due to the influx of low-cost carriers around the world, it is now possible to travel round the world with discount airlines. Air Asia X will offer long haul flights from London to Kuala Lumpur, for example. Air Asia and Tiger Airways also fly from Southeast Asian destinations to Australian cities.

Local US discount airlines

  • MarkAir: fly to more than a dozen cities in the US
  • Southwest: covering dozens of cities in 19 states
  • American Trans Air: main cities of Chicago and Indianapolis, as well as flights to Europe and Israel in the summer and to the Caribbean in the winter
  • Carnival Airlines: flights between Florida cities and Los Angeles, and to the Caribbean
  • Jet Train: mainly between Orlando and New York City

European discount airlines

  • easyJet
  • Ryanair
  • Germanwings
  • Air Berlin

Intercontinental discount airlines

  • Aer Lingus: UK and Ireland to the US
  • AirAsia X: Malaysia to Australia, China, and the UK
  • AirBerlin: Europe to Asia, Africa, and the Americas
  • Air Transat: Canada to Europe, Florida and the Caribbean
  • Condor: Europe to the Middle East, the Americas, Asia, and Africa
  • Eurofly: New York and Italy
  • Flyglobespan: Scotland to the US and South Africa
  • Jetstar: within East Asia and to Australasia and Hawaii
  • Atlas Blue: North Africa and Europe