How to fly budget airlines like a pro

by Courtney Woodruff
USAA

My heart skipped a beat as my eyes focused on the search results for discount airfare from Frankfurt to Rome.

“Round-trip tickets for 20 euros per person?! No way. This can’t be right."

I clicked through the prompts and entered our information, expecting the price to quadruple once I’d made it to the checkout screen … but it never did. Even after taxes and fees, the total was far less than I had anticipated.

We could afford our dream trip to Italy!

Flying discount airlines, like RyanaireasyJet and Wizz, is a great way for military families to see more of the world on a tight budget, but the thrill of low prices comes at the cost of minor inconveniences. Use these tips to navigate the challenges with finesse so you can fly like a pro.

Follow your favorite budget airlines. Like top discount airline companies on Facebook, subscribe to newsletters and bookmark websites to stay up to date on the best deals. Check in often to be one of the first to know about flash sales and special offers.

Read the fine print. Surprises are rarely a good thing when traveling. Carefully peruse the rules and regulations ahead of time so you will know what to expect.

Check in online and print your boarding pass at home. Budget airlines conduct as much business as possible online to be able to offer lower airfares. Save money by checking in and printing your boarding pass before you arrive at the airport.

Pack lightly. Avoid paying extra fees for checked baggage by complying with carry-on baggage weight and size requirements and bringing only what you truly need. Look at it as a challenge instead of a hindrance. This is where military training comes in handy; use the tuck-and-roll technique to make efficient use of the room you have in each piece of luggage.

Bring your own snacks and entertainment. Even though it’s nice to have a complimentary beverage and bag of peanuts to look forward to, in-flight services and amenities are limited on budget airlines, and they all come with a price tag. Hold onto your cash by enjoying a meal before boarding, packing your own snacks and providing your own entertainment.

Arrive early for your flight. Another way budget airline companies often cut corners is by hiring fewer employees. A limited staff equates to long lines at the airport. Plan to get there several hours before boarding time, and bring plenty of activities – good books, movies, games -- that will help pass the time while you wait.

Purchase travel insurance. Military life is unpredictable. Relocations, training exercises and deployments can derail family vacations at the drop of a hat. When making travel plans, it’s always a smart idea to protect your purchases – just in case.

Utilize public transportation upon arrival. Budget airlines tend to fly into smaller airports on the outskirts of major cities, leaving you to figure out how to get to your final destination. Instead of splurging on a taxi or renting a car, research penny-pinching public transportation options to have extra money for delicious food, exciting excursions and fun souvenirs once you get where you’re going.

Flying budget airlines made our dream trip to Rome a reality, and it has since become our family’s preferred way to travel around Europe. Intimidated by the extra hassles? Don’t worry. See them as part of another challenging adventure for your military family to experience together. You’ll be a pro in no time.

Have you ever flown budget airlines? Based on your experience, do you have any pro tips to offer military families?

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