Lowcosters (discounters, a low-cost carrier, a low-cost airline, no-frills carrier, a discount carrier, a budget carrier) — all these names refer to budget airlines that offer cheap tickets with a minimum set of additional services. When you buy a ticket from a low-cost carrier, you should pay close attention to the choice of services and the conditions of the price rate offered by a particular airline carrier. In this article we will consider how profitable it is to fly by low-cost airplanes, what directions exist, what the pitfalls of such flights are and how to avoid them.

Myths about lowcosters

Not long time ago when the word 'lowcoster' was pronounced, the most controversial images arose in our minds: while some people fully agreed with a well-known saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch, imagining a poorly maintained airplane, rude crew and staff and complete lack of services on the plane, other people treated it as good opportunities for travel, being completely unaware about the difficulties. Indeed, frightening messages about the introduction of standing seats by RyanAir or Spring Airlines caused some concerns of travelers from time to time. But today the situation has changed greatly, and lowcosters are very popular with travellers in many countries.

What is the secret of low-cost?

Lowcosters have quickly realized that their main service is to transport passengers from one point to another very quickly, and all the rest points are "bonuses" for which a passenger can pay some additional money.

How to choose a lowcoster?

Choosing your flight, you should take into account the airport where a lowcoster is based, which is the main hub for all flights, so it is the cheapest place to fly for at the weekends. Large budget airline carriers also have their own hubs — additional locations of the airline fleet, where many flights radiate out in different directions from. At hub it is easy to change for another flight of a low-cost airline and to continue the trip. It is no secret that airport fees can be up to 65% of the ticket price, so long-distance flights do not make profit for low-cost airlines because airline carriers have to pay for an aircraft standstill away from their airport. That's why such giants as Ryanair, AirAsia or JetBlue Airways come from Europe, Southeast Asia and the United States, respectively, from regions with a high population density and a large number of airports. However, long-haul destinations are gradually being developed by budget airlines. For example, Icelandic company WOWair offers tickets for flights from North America to Europe with a long (up to several days) stop in Iceland. Among the most popular long-haul lowcosters the following can be singled out:

Popular lowcosters

LowcosterMain airportPopular destinationsPopularity,
passengers/a year
RyanairDublinThe member states of the EU119 m.
easyJetLondon-LutonEurope, Mediterranean region73.1 m.
IndigoIndira GandhiIndia, Middle East 41.1 m.
JetBlueJohn Kennedythe USA, West-Indies38.3 m.
NorwegianGardermoenEurope, the USA29.3 m.
Air AsiaKuala LumpurSoutheast Asia26.4 m.
Spirit AirlinesFort Lauderdale–Hollywoodthe USA, West-Indies21.6 m.

How much does it cost?

RyanairBerlinLondonBerlin37 USD+
easyJetLondonMunichLondon66 USD+
IndigoGoaDelhiGoa114 USD+
JetBlueNew YorkMiamiNew York116 USD+
NorwegianOsloNew YorkOslo328 USD+
Air AsiaBangkokKuala LumpurBangkok70 USD+
Spirit AirlinesLos AngelesWashington, D.C.Los Angeles104 USD+
Lowcosters' ratings

Air Arabia6.59/107/74/54/10
Air Baltic7.76/107/74/55/10
Pegasus Airlines6.86/107/73/55/10
Wizz Air7.24/106/72.5/55/10
Spirit Airlines5/71.5/53/10

  • The rating skytrax is based on the proved and checked airline clients reviews.
  • The rating Airhelp is based on 3 criteria: the number of flight delays, the speed of dealing with passengers’ complaints and the number of services available at an airline.
  • Airlineratings.com makes up safety rating on the basis of ICAO requirements conformity ICAO, international certifications, access to flights to the European Union, the number of accidents on board and landing problems. The service rating is based on the following criteria: the availability of personal TV screens, of shared TV screens in the cabin, the access to Wi-Fi, available room for passengers’ legs, free drinks on board, the availability of paid meals on board, the opportunity to change the position of a seat.

What are the disadvantages of using lowcosters?

If we answer briefly this question, you should not use lowcosters if you want comfort and services as in usual airlines. With a high probability you will have to pay some additional sums of money for the following services:

  • Luggage is never included in the ticket price of lowcosters. In usual airlines, baggage is usually limited to 20-25 kg, while in discount carriers the maximum weight of one piece of luggage can be reduced to 15 kg.
  • Hand luggage: in most cases it is included in the ticket price (5-10 kg of hand luggage), but there are some companies that charge extra fee for its transportation (Ryanair, Spirit, etc.). Companies pay close attention not only to the weight, but also to the size of hand luggage, not allowing passengers who do not fulfil these requirements to get on a plane without additional payment, which can reach the full cost of the air ticket.
  • Food and drink: in addition to the fact that they are never included in the cost of a cheap fare, they simply cannot be available on board, there is not even water or tea.
  • Choosing a seat in the cabin: it is one more paid option of all lowcosters. It is not so relevant when you fly alone, but certainly it will be in demand when two or more people travel together.
  • Hidden services: they can be imposed on you as obligatory when you buy a ticket. The interface of many sites is organised in such a way that a user cannot notice that an additional set of services at the airport or insurance might be included in the cost of account.
  • Service: some extra charge is added to the purchase of each new service.
  • Registration: if online check-in is always free, Ryanair charges an additional fee of 54 USD (61 USD if departing from the UK!) for check-in at the airport, and American Spirit Airlines — 10 USD. And Ryanair closes its online registration 4 hours before departure.
  • Printing of boarding pass: if a passenger does not have a printed boarding card, he or she might pay quite big amount of money to print such a ticket.
  • Payment by debit card: often the payment of tickets by such a card can be charged with an additional fee of several percent.
  • Child before two years: traveling with a small child on the lap can also become a reason of additional charge for the flight. Moreover, an additional fee may be charged for stroller transportation.

Sharp competition makes usual airlines reduce prices, especially for those directions where lowcosters dominate, so in some cases ticket prices from usual airlines may be lower than those of budget carriers. Especially it is true about long-distance and medium-haul flights, as well as flights with changes. However, this is not a rule at all, so it's always necessary to compare airfare.

Lowcosters and additional online and airport services

LowcosterHand luggageThe first luggageChildSeat choice
RyanairUSD/5 USD27 USD/43 USD22 USD/22 USDUSD+/3 USD+
easyJetUSD/0 USD11 USD+/45 USD+27 USD/27 USDUSD+/2 USD+
JetBlue AirlinesUSD/0 USD20 USD/25 USDUSD/0 USDUSD/0 USD

Other pitfalls of lowcosters

What can be more common than flight cancellation or delay? This is rather frequent phenomenon, but the lowcosters’ price rates do not usually provide for the coverage of passenger’s incurred expenses or they are rather reluctant to do it. The fact is that not many budget companies care about their image because, first of all, their target audience is low-income customers with small requests. If the passenger's requests are higher, then he or she should study carefully the expenses coverage policy of a particular airline in case of unpredictable situations at the airport.

In case of plane changing at airports, some of the lowcosters do not transport luggage from one flight to another one even despite the fact that the flight is made by one airline carrier. A passenger will most likely have to get his or her baggage at baggage reclaim and check the luggage in once again. But if you travel abroad, you will have to get through passport control. It will take all your time of changing to complete all these steps and stages, and sometimes you might need a transit visa which you have to get in advance. All these points bring additional troubles and are time demanding. The baggage will not certainly be transported if a passenger bought separate tickets for different airlines, but this rule is true not only for lowcosters.

Paris airport Vatry is located about 140 kilometers from the French capital near the city of Reims, airport Oslo-Torp is near one of the picturesque Norwegian fjords and Frankfurt-Hahn is situated in the rural remote areas of Rhine Germany. The fact is that in the pursuit of low airport fees many lowcosters literally drive themselves into godforsaken places. In order not to find yourself a couple of hours away from your destination, you should check the location of the airport carefully — when you buy your tickets on the site, you will not be given any explanations about the distance of the airport to the city center. It is also true about changes: It always takes a lot of time to change planes or airports, for example, in Istanbul, to transfer from Ataturk Airport to the airport Sabiha Gökçen (where the main lowcosters are situated) you will need to cross the Bosporus.

Remote airports

CountryAirportDistance from centreReal cityLowcosters
FranceParis-Vatri200 kmChâlons-en-Champagne, Reims, TroyesRyanair
NorwayOslo-Torp140 kmSandefjord, TønsbergRyanair, Wizz Air, Norwegian Air Shuttle
GermanyMuchen-West/Munich Allgäu120 kmMemmingenRyanair, Wizz Air, Pobeda
GermanyFrankfurt-Hahn110 kmRyanair, Wizz Air
SwedenStockholm-Skavsta95 kmNyköpingRyanair, Wizz Air
SpainBarcelona-Girona90 kmGironaRyanair, Pobeda
SpainBarcelona-Reus90 kmReus, TarragonaRyanair
FranceParis-Beauvais85 kmBeauvaisRyanair, Wizz Air, Blue Air
GermanyDusseldorf-Weeze75 kmKoch, Geldern, NijmegenRyanair
Great BritainLondon-Stansted65 kmBishop's StortfordRyanair, EasyJet, Jet2.com, Eurowings, Pegasus Airlines, WOW air

What are the advantages of using lowcosters?

Despite the fact that the answer seems to be evident, the lowcosters have begun to get additional benefits in recent years. More and more airline carriers are introducing a flexible system of price rates for air transportation. The number of economy class price rates can reach today 4 levels, where the lowest level of services is becoming close or similar to a standard lowcoster, although the price remains to be higher.

Let’s look at an example

As an example, let’s take a flight from Berlin to London on a conditional date three months in advance. According to the most expensive fare of Ryanair, which includes luggage, the possibility of date changing and seats choosing, a one-way ticket will cost 101 USD. Simultaneously, British Airways offers the cheapest ticket for 102 USD — without luggage and the possibility of choosing a seat in the cabin.

At the same time, the lowcosters are developing their own price rate system, where the most comfortable price rate according to the available set of services is approaching the level (and prices) of a comfortable economy class. In pursuit of fashion and profit, today a number of major airlines are creating affiliated cheap companies which become the "junior members" in the flights made by the main company. Very often the directions of flights of such lowcosters do not coincide with the directions of the main company. For example, such companies include Eurowings , Vueling or Jetstar Airways .

What can help to find a cheap ticket?

Indeed, the price rates for lowcost flights can be extremely low, but they are not always available. To track the cheapest tickets, you need to take into consideration several points:

  • To monitor sales suggested by airlines on their pages at social networks or subscribe to the mailing of the lowcoster that flies in the needed direction;
  • To subscribe to price notifications on online search engines;
  • Do not expect that sales are organised at fixed dates;
  • To track new directions of airlines — at first these ticket prices will be much lower than tickets to any other city in the country;
  • On sales you can buy tickets for a year ahead.
Example of price comparison with other kinds of transport

Prices for a one-way ticket from Paris to Budapest in case of advance booking are given as an example.

TransportCarrierTimeMin. price
BusFlixbus21 hours65 USD
TrainDB + EN17 hours168 USD
LowcosterTransavia France2 hours 15 minutes50 USD
AirlineAir France2 hours 10 minutes89 USD

Wi-Fi at lowcosters

How to organize your flight on a lowcoster

  1. If possible, start searching for air tickets in advance: it's better to do it 2 months beforehand.
  2. Use the Internet ticket search engine and make a request. Check carefully what filters and options are selected: the number of changes, the time of departure and landing, the duration of the change, the class of service, etc.
  3. Simultaneously visit the site of the lowcoster which flies in the needed direction, and check the price at its website.
  4. If a passenger plans to take baggage with him or her and expects meals provided — to compare the cost of the standard airline economy class with the lowcosters’ price rates.
  5. Fill in all personal data carefully when you buy a ticket. Check several times if the data is correct to avoid the expenses of making corrections to the reservation.
  6. Pay the ticket by a credit card online to avoid additional fees.
  7. Check airline’s check-in starting dates.
  8. Pay all extra services online (luggage, choice of seat, etc.), print the boarding pass out as well as payment confirmation of all additional services.
  9. When you are packing your cases and bags, it is necessary to weigh your luggage and hand luggage — lowcosters check very carefully if their passengers meet all their requirements. Check if your hand luggage contains any prohibited items (especially pay attention to liquids and tools).
  10. Take the lunch with you — it will save a lot of money in case of an unforeseen flight delay.
  11. Think carefully about your own comfort — about taking noise-canceling headphones with you if a long flight is expected, as passengers of a number of lowcosters complain about extremely loud announcements in the cabin which do not allow them to fall asleep.
  12. Arrive at the airport 2,5-3 hours before. Ask the airline staff to check the passport and make a mark there — there were cases when passengers were not allowed on board because of its absence even after getting through passport control and customs.

Life hacks provided by travelers

A number of general principles for saving money on air tickets extend to lowcosters. Below you may find the selection of useful comments about what should always be done if the main goal is to save your budget:

  • Try to choose days from Tuesday to Thursday to make flights;
  • Make flights late in the evening or early in the morning;
  • According to the research , it'is better to book a flight 2 months (54 days) before the departure ;
  • Avoid festive dates and high seasons;
  • Monitor special offers;
  • Monitor prices through online search engines of air tickets: there the prices of different airlines and ticket agencies are analyzed;
  • Study geography — in some cases inexpensive tickets can be bought at the airports located within a couple of hours drive from the destination, although a direct flight there might be much more expensive;
  • Check the cost of one-way tickets — rarely, but some amount of money can be saved by departing from different airports;
  • Use light luggage bags for money saving;
  • Check all the data carefully when you buy an air ticket because the cost of making corrections to the passenger's name can be extremely high. For instance, the Ryanair company, if the error was noticed at the airport, ask you to pay 174 USD for its correction.
List of online search engines of air tickets

Online savings

Early booking of everything that is possible is one of the main points. This includes hand luggage, luggage, a seat in the cabin, meals or check-in. Any service at the lowcoster’s airport will be several times much more expensive, and this rule extends to absolutely any lowcoster in the world.

Fight for seats

To arrive at the airport in advance always seems to be a good idea, but when you travel together with someone else it is important to do this in order to get seats next to each other (if there is no desire to pay extra amount of money for a seat choice). In some cases, this may work, but lately more and more lowcosters deliberately make pairs and families sit separately in different parts of the cabin to encourage other customers to use the service of a seat choosing. In case when two people travelling together have been sat in different cabin’s parts, you should take care to be able to take seats because single passengers sometimes willingly agree to a change a seat.

Now it is possible to look at the location of the seats in the cabin not only after a long search at the airline's website, but also at special services seatguru, seatmaestro or skytrax. The fact is that the variety of passenger liners is not as great as it might seem, and the layout options of the cabin do not differ much from one company to another.

Fight for belongings

Some travelers advise to take advantage of the opportunities given by clothes to carry with you the most valuable things and to wear the clothes with a large number of pockets. Hand luggage may not only be strictly limited in size and weight, but also be withdrawn from passengers when they enter the cabin of the aircraft to store in a special compartment. In this case, a passenger will be allowed to take on board only a laptop bag or not a very large woman bag.

The second point is the use of bags of Duty Free stores, where you can store additional things before boarding. Most likely, representatives of airlines will have to close their eyes to it because they do not benefit from spoiling relations with airports, which make a considerable profit from trade.

The last ordeal for a passenger will be getting on a plane itself. It is at the exit where the staff of lowcosters will carefully look at what a passenger takes with him / her on board, it is there that a soft suitcase for hand luggage that could fit into the luggage size measuring unit could be useful.

Instead of a conclusion: who the lowcosters are suitable for?

Lowcosters are ideal options for single travelers who are not going to take a lot of luggage with them and are used to plan a trip in advance. They are also suitable for those people who are ready to spend extra time on advance registration and payment of all necessary services via the Internet. Finally, the lowcosters will suit those who are not afraid of the above mentioned difficulties, and want to see as much as possible.

Interesting facts about lowcosters

  • Budget airlines began to take leading positions at the world market in the early 2000s. One of the reasons was the deregulation of European air transportation in 1987-1997. Today, lowcosters make up a quarter of all passenger air travel in the world.
  • Ryanair, the world's largest lowcoster, has a fleet of more than 400 aircraft. It is more than a fleet of such well-known national carriers as Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways or Aeroflot.
  • Despite the phenomenal success of some lowcosters they sometimes have trouble. For example, Air Berlin went bankrupt in 2017. Annually it transported more than 20 million passengers, and that is why it has become the first serious warning for representatives of this market.
  • Lowcoster AirAsia ranked 26th in the rating of passenger reviews of Skytrax among all airlines. There are also such lowcosters as Norwegian, JetBlue Airways, easyJet, Jetstar Airways and AirAsiaX included in the top 50.

Useful resources about lowcosters

skytraxReviews about airlines, airports, services and level of comfort supplied with ratings
tripsavyEnglish list of lowcosters with links to airlines' websites
AirlineRatingsThe database of airlines with service and safety ratings
AirHelpThe rating of airline's response and their level of customer service
JacdecPartly paid flight safety rating