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10 Ways Budget Airlines Save You Money

Katie Jackson

Learn how low-cost carriers enable you to snap up enticing fares.

A few decades ago, low-cost airlines were a novelty. But nowadays, thanks to deregulation across the industry, travelers have dozens of cost-effective flight options. For example, Spirit Airlines has a $9 Fare Club (requiring a $59.95 enrollment fee), Tigerair can get you from Singapore to Thailand for $40 and earlier this year WOW Air offered direct flights from San Francisco to Iceland for $99. Of course, fees often apply -- and add up -- but if you travel lightly, you can trim costs. Here are a few clever ways budget airlines can help you save on airfare, plus expert-approved tips for snagging the lowest fares.

They consider the details.

There is no one-size-fits-all model for low-cost carriers. However, they all have one thing in common: painstaking attention to details. They hire analysts who review every expense with a fine-tooth comb, and then go over it again, to cut costs. For example, many low-cost carriers only offer one class of seating, streamlining the boarding process, requiring fewer crew and saving time so the airline can squeeze more flights into the day.

They're making strides to be fuel efficient.

"We operate brand-new airplanes which are more fuel efficient than older aircrafts," says Skúli Mogensen, founder and CEO WOW Air, whose Iceland-based airline operates the youngest fleet in the world. It also boasts the lowest emission levels. Low-cost carrier AirAsia was the first airline in the world to install an innovative wing tip design that helps lower wind drag and offers more efficient fuel consumption.

They utilize social media platforms.

Another way budget carriers save: Opting out of spending a hefty amount on traditional advertising. WOW Air almost exclusively markets through digital social media channels, including Snapchat. Southwest Airlines also heavily relies on a large social media presence. The company has 2 million followers on Twitter. Meanwhile, legacy carrier Delta has 1.3 million Twitter followers, and United has 913,000 followers.

They take more chances.

Low-cost carriers are the airline industry's poster children for taking risks. One way they do this is by fuel-hedging (locking in rates for fuel under the premise that they'll go up in the future). The one caveat with this approach: If the prices go down, the low-cost carrier is stuck paying higher prices. One thing they don't cut corners on is passenger safety. All commercial aircraft, regardless of cost, must meet the same safety regulations provided by the Federal Aviation Administration.

They hire committed crews.

Over time, a high employee turnover can be costly. WOW Air makes an initial large investment in its 900 employees who are all hired for their "wow factor." "After experiencing our service, passengers are most surprised to discover how pleasant, helpful and accommodating our flight crew is," Mogensen says. Budget airlines often pay lower wages to staff members, but unlike their larger counterparts, they also frequently offer profit-sharing programs, which makes employees feel more invested in the company.

They enable consumers to double up on discounts.

Budget airlines dominate the flash sale space. In March, Frontier Airlines had a one-day flash sale featuring $29 flights across the U.S. Around the same time, Spirit Airlines was even more generous and offered 99 percent off select domestic fares. What's more, most low-cost carriers like WOW Air further lower prices by regularly sending promotional codes to subscribers.

They've redefined what's necessary.

What's the number one thing consumers should know about budget airlines? "You basically get what you pay for," Mogensen says. "We keep the basic price of airfare to its minimum and allow our passengers to add on extras they might find necessary," he explains. Bringing your own snacks, packing light and paying for your bags online, as well as being content without getting a seat assignment in advance, are all ways to save. Just make sure to factor in what level of comfort and convenience you want before you book.

They add value in other ways.

Let's be honest, budget airlines are known for eliminating perks not adding benefits. Still, WOW Air offers trans-Atlantic passengers added value with its free multiday stopover in Iceland. And while the number of airlines offering these extended layovers is growing, for the most part, it is limited to European carriers selling tickets at full price, such as TAP Portugal, Brussel Airlines and Finnair. While most budget airlines do away with loyalty and rewards programs, some low-cost carriers, including Southwest Airlines, JetBlue and Spirit Airlines, still offer them. They come with perks like points that can be redeemed for future flights and, in some cases, hotel stays and car rentals.

They think outside the competition.

If you've ever flown with Ryanair, you probably know the carrier frequently uses less popular airports with lower runway fees. For example, if you're flying the Ireland-based budget airline to Paris, you won't land at Charles De Gaulle Airport. Instead, you'll land outside the city at Beauvais--Tillé Airport. Budget airlines are also pioneers in unchartered territory. "We've made no secret of our plans to expand our operation to other parts of the world, including the South American market, which is characterized by little competition and high prices," Mogensen says. South America currently only has around eight low-cost carriers, while Europe has 28 and Asia has 54 low-cost airlines.

They fly fewer types of planes.

Sure, it's enticing to be able to pick from a diverse fleet of aircrafts and routes with commercial carriers. But when it comes to maintaining aircrafts, the required mechanics are expensive. So, many low-cost carriers save money by offering only one or two kinds of planes, which can be serviced by the same crew and with the same components. For example, AirAsia, one of the largest low-cost carriers in the world, features just two types of planes in its 80-plus aircraft fleet.

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