11 Reasons To Reconsider Booking Your Next Flight on a Budget Airline

Discover the secrets budget airlines don't want you to know.

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Updated May 28, 2024
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It’s time to start thinking about stepping up your summer travel plans, and that means hotel reservations, rental cars, and plane tickets.

To save money on travel, you may be considering a flight on a budget airline like Frontier Airlines or Spirit Airlines.

But before you book that budget flight on that budget airline, here's why you might want to rethink that ticket.

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Everything costs extra

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Sure, your plane ticket costs money no matter which airline you use, but a ticket on a budget airline may come with extra monetary baggage — and these hidden fees can add up if you're already feeling some financial stress.

Reserving a seat, checking a bag, and even beverages or snacks on the flight could cost you extra money. And those additional costs could be the difference between sticking close to or busting your budget.

Few flights to major airports

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One of the reasons budget airlines can keep costs low is that they may not be paying fees required to fly into a major airport like O’Hare in Chicago or LAX in Los Angeles.

Instead, budget airlines fly into smaller, regional airports that may be less convenient. As a result, you may end up further from your destination and be responsible for extra costs to get to where you want to go, such as a longer cab ride or higher fees for rental cars.

Limited carry-ons

Daisy Daisy/Adobe woman measuring suitcase before holiday

You may think you’ll save some cash by skipping the checked baggage fee and carrying on everything you need for your trip.

But you’re not the only one with this idea, and the airlines know it — and charge fees in kind. 

Make sure you understand each airline's restrictions regarding how big your carry-on can be and how many carry-on bags you can bring with you.

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Weird departure times

PR Image Factory/Adobe woman relaxing with luggage suitcase in airport lounge room

Slots for the most popular times to leave an airport are limited, and bigger airlines with more money usually get the priority slots.

So if you’re using a budget airline, you’ll have to be flexible with when you want to leave and understand that the best time for you may not be the times they have available.

Fewer routes

DimaBerlin/Adobe man traveler with baggage booking taxi via mobile app

It can be helpful if you’re flying into a major city that might have more than one airport to accommodate the smaller airlines. But getting a seat on a budget flight to a smaller destination can be challenging.

Budget airlines may fly to fewer destinations than bigger airlines or require you to change flights somewhere. By comparison, major airlines offer more direct routes from your home to your destination.

Little flexibility to change tickets

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Airlines may give you flexibility once you buy your ticket to make changes. For example, you may have to move your reservation to a different time or date.

Budget airlines often don’t allow passengers much flexibility once their ticket is booked, which means any changes won’t be allowed or will cost you to make them work.

Cramped interiors

andyh12/Adobe lack of legroom on plane

You may have noticed your legroom shrinking on airlines, or you have to pay extra for a separate seat with a little more space. But at least on major airlines, you have some comfort as you fly.

Budget airlines go for the minimum when it comes to the plane's interior to get you from one place to another on a budget. So you may want to consider a different airline if you’re tall and need more room.

No seat perks

alexbrylovhk/Adobe tired traveler at airplane passenger chair

Bigger airlines have been bumping up the perks you may have in your seat.

For example, there may be screens on every seat back to watch live television, or you can use in-flight Wi-Fi to avoid roaming charges while flying.

However, don’t expect perks like those on a budget airline.

No seat reservations

aapsky/Adobe mother and children with backpacks stand at the airport window

Seat reservations are great if you want to sit with a group of people or if you prefer a window or aisle seat.

But don’t expect to lock in a seat reservation if you’re on a budget airline, which could be a major issue if you’re traveling with some children. 

If you still decide to go the budget airline route, get to the airport early so you can get on the plane as soon as possible.

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Poor customer service

Tyler Olson/Adobe tired passenger waiting at check-in while staff using computer

You expect a certain level of customer service that you might not be able to get if you take a budget airline instead of a major carrier.

Budget airlines might have a different number of staff members at your check-in gate or may employ fewer workers to track down your luggage if it gets lost somewhere in the system.

Costly cancellations

Nina Lawrenson/peopleimages.com/Adobe travel stressed and black woman at airport with headache

Sometimes flights get canceled and you have to rebook your tickets to get home due to weather or mechanical issues.

Getting rebooked on another flight is much easier if you’re on a major carrier with plenty of other routes to get you back home. Unfortunately, it’s difficult with a budget airline, and rebooking a canceled flight may cost you more.

Bottom line

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It’s a good idea to create a budget for your next vacation to decide what you need and what you can cut to save money.

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Jenny Cohen

Jenny Cohen is a freelance writer who has covered a bit of everything, from finance to sports to her favorite TV shows. Her work has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and FoxSports.com.