Cheap Flights 101: Your Guide to Budget Airlines

[Updated July 6, 2017]

“How do you AFFORD to travel so often?”


By flying low budget airlines and knowing what travel sites to use of course!

It’s a well-known fact that airfares are the opposite of cheap, but if you devote some time researching and know where to look, you can save thousands if not hundreds of dollars on your next trip.

Most people ask if I use travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, Skyscanner and other well-known search engines. Although, these sites are a great place to start your trip planning, they will not always get you the best rates. In fact, these search engines don’t even include a plethora of airlines known as low-cost carriers.  


Photo Credit: Mark Harkin


My Love Affair with Low-Cost Carriers


If you want to save money on flights, you need to fly with low-cost airlines. These airlines are carriers that offer cheap fares, however, come with a catch. You won’t be able to enjoy traditional passenger services such as in-flight entertainment systems, free beverages and meals and other small luxuries. Although you’ll have to give up a few indulgences, I can assure you the money saved will be worth it! (Plus, you can always bring your own books, entertainment, drinks and snacks onboard.)


Photo Credit: Bram_Souffreau


My Top 10 Low Budget Airlines (in no particular order)


1) Tiger Air – A Singaporean based airline that flies to Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Maldives, Myanmar, Philippines, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. I’ve flown Tiger Air a few times and you just can’t beat their cheap fares! A word of caution though, they are known for being late so always be prepared for delays. That being said, I still think it’s worth it to fly with them in the long run.

2) Allegiant Air – Allegiant Air is an American domestic low-cost carrier with hubs in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix and more. For my Canadian friends in Vancouver, the best thing to do is drive past the border and catch a flight from the Bellingham airport. I have found Vegas vacation deals, which include round-trip flights and hotel for a few hundred dollars.

3) Jet Star – Flies to Australia, Cambodia, China, Fiji, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, Taiwan, Thailand, Hawaii and Vietnam. I recommend flying Jet Star within Australia. Other airlines down under just can’t compete with the great rates Jet Star offers. They also fly to a ton of Australian cities including Adelaide, Byron Bay, Brisbane, Cairns, Darwin, Gold Coast, Hamilton Island, Melbourne, Sydney, Uluru, Whitsunday Coast, Perth and more.

4) Air Asia – The ultimate low cost airline with the most destinations in Asia and Oceania. Air Asia has routes to Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Laos, Macau, Malaysia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Nepal, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Taiwan, Thailand and Vietnam. It is not usual to get flights for $50 or less within Southeast Asia. In fact, I just booked a one-way flight from Kuala Lumpur to Adelaide, Australia for under $190. Although the fares make you want to jump for joy, keep in mind that you get what you pay for. Be prepared for a less than luxurious ride, potential delays and a website that may not work properly from time to time. 

5) HK Express – HK Express is Hong Kong’s first and only low-cost carrier and has routes between Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Malaysia, Taiwan and Thailand. I haven’t flown HK Express yet, however I recently booked a one-way flight from Taiwan to Hong Kong that cost me $88. I have high hopes for this airline as they pride themselves on punctuality.

6) Easy Jet – Europe is a destination that breaks the bank for many travellers. However, I was surprised to discover how affordable it was to fly to other cities and countries. I have nothing but positive experiences flying with Easy Jet and remember getting flights from Split to Rome, Rome to Athens and Crete to Madrid for a total of $450 two summers ago. Easy Jet flies to over 130 destinations which includes Scandinavia, Eastern Europe, Morocco, Russia, the Middle East and popular European destinations like the United Kingdom, Italy, Greece, Spain, France, Portugal and more.


Photo Credit: redlegsfan21


7) Peach - A Japanese low-cost carrier that I absolutely love. I flew with them a few months ago and have zero complaints. The planes were modern, the fares were unbelievable low and the service was top notch. Peach flies between Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong and South Korea. They also do seat sales quite often and I've seen one-way flights from Busan to Osaka for $30. They also offer convenient and affordable domestic routes within Japan. In fact, it's cheaper to fly from Tokyo to Osaka than it is to take the bullet train. 

8) Ryan Air – Ryan Air is another great European low-cost carrier that I enjoyed using. I got a one-way flight from London to Venice for under $100! Their routes take you to Austria, Bulgaria, Belgium, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

9) Cebu Pacific Air – The Philippines is a massive country comprised of thousands of islands. The easiest way to island hop is flying. At first, this may seem like an expensive endeavour but with Cebu Pacific Air, you don’t have to worry. If you book ahead of time, you can easily buy one-way tickets for $50 or under. For example, I just purchased tickets from Cebu to Boracay and then Boracay to Manila for a total of $108. Cebu Pacific Air also offer cheap international flights to Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Japan, Kuwait, Macau, Malaysia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, United Arab Emirates and Vietnam.

10) Air Transat – This is specifically for Canadian travellers who want to get to the United Kingdom without paying outrageous airfares. Most people identify Air Transat as an airline that only specializes in down south destinations. What they don’t know is that Air Transat also has routes from major Canadian cities (Vancouver, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Edmonton, Calgary and Halifax) to cities in the United Kingdom. These destinations include London, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin and more. Just a quick search on their website and I found round-trip flights from Montreal to Dublin for $750, Vancouver to London for $900 and Toronto to Glasgow for $800.  If you’re planning an epic Euro trip, I’d recommend flying Air Transat and start your journey in the United Kingdom. From there, you can work your way through Europe by using low-cost carriers such as Easy Jet and Ryan Air or take advantage of the efficient Eurail system.

Photo Credit: Hajime Nakano

More Low-Cost Carriers by Region


Here are some other airlines you can check out, however, I’ve never flown on most of them so I can’t give you my personal experiences. They are definitely worth checking out though! Just looking at their websites and seeing their seat sales give me a rush. 







Photo Credit: Christopher Chan

Tips for Booking and Flying with Low-Cost Carriers


  • Plan ahead and book flights at least a month and a half in advance for the best rates. Find out the best times to book cheaper flights here
  • Book on a weekday. I find Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays have the best fare prices.
  • If you’ve been doing multiple flight searches, clear your cache and cookies. Sometimes airlines jack up the prices when they see you’ve been searching things over and over again. Delete your history and you may find that prices go down.
  • If you have to transfer to another flight, make sure you give yourself at least two to three hours in between flights. This ensures that you won’t miss your connecting flight as delays are common.
  • Be aware that the initial fares do NOT include luggage. Luggage always costs extra and you’ll have to select it as an add-on when you get to your payment page. Be sure to buy it before hand when you book the tickets on the web because if you show up at the airport with baggage but no baggage purchased, the airline is going to charge you a lot more.
  • Before you fly, make sure to check the carry-on baggage policies. A lot of airlines have different policies when it comes to weight and number of bags allowed.  
  •  Pack lots of water and snacks so you don’t starve. Like I said before, most low budget airlines don’t provide free beverages or meals. If you don’t want to pay for overpriced and gross plane food, I suggest you bring your favourite snacks and drinks onboard with you. Personally, I always pack instant cup noodles. Onboard, you can ask the flight attendant to fill it up with hot water and viola, you have a hot meal for free.


Photo Credit: mroach

More Helpful Resources


Here are some of my favourite websites and search engines. With these resources, you’ll be booking with regular airlines but I find the following sites usually give you cheaper results than other companies.

Student Universe: This website is a student’s best friend. Student Universe is a travel company that gives amazing discounts and rewards for students and youth aged 18 to 25. The company negotiates with over 60 airlines and provides a student rate on all airfares. They also give discounted rates on hotels and tours around the globe. To get these discounts, you’ll need to make an account on the site and be verified as a student who attends a degree-granting university or college. You will need to provide a student e-mail address upon registration.

Google Flights: What I love about Google Flights is that they actually include some low-cost airlines in its database. Not all, but some so make sure to still do some of your own research. It’s also a great place to start your trip planning.

BootsnAll: If you’re planning an around the world trip, BootsnAll offers Indie, a multi-stop flight planner where you can create and customize itineraries that span across the globe. To begin your flight searches, register for a free BootsnAll account and then start entering destinations and dates to get an immediate bookable price. Once you register for an account, you’ll also receive ticket watch notifications that feature around the world routes for amazing prices. For example, the last ticket watch e-mail I received featured a route beginning in San Francisco to Tokyo to Bangkok to Amman to Cairo to Athens to Lisbon and then back to San Francisco for $2498 taxes and fees included. Of course these routes are subject to availability and the time of search and dates can alter the total price.

Yapta: Are you sick of buying a flight or booking a hotel only to find out a few days later that the price has dropped? Yea, I hear you, it’s the worst feeling ever. Yapta makes sure this never happens again. After you purchase your ticket, if the price drops below what you paid, most airlines and online travel agencies will give you back the difference usually in the form of travel vouchers or credits. Short for “your amazing personal travel assistant”, Yapta also tracks airfares and hotel rates for you and will send you an e-mail or tweet when the cost of the ticket or hotel decreases.

Melissa Li

I’m a Canadian girl on a quest to step foot in every continent before I’m 30. You’ll most likely find me chowing down on Japanese ramen, partying at a music festival, hiking to the top of a scenic lookout, cuddling with cats, or chilling out at the beach. I’ve visited over 60 countries so far and hope to inspire you to do the same.

8 comments:

  1. The very first comment on Your awesome blog!
    This post really does a good job.
    I will definitely recommend to all of my people who are planning on traveling.

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  2. Mel this post is amaaaazing! So informative :D. It's been bookmarked and I will definitely be using it when booking flights. Can't wait for the next posts :D Great job

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  3. So awesome Mel! I'm flying JetStar and Scoot (Singaporean) this fall :D

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  4. Wow this is really great. I will archive this for when I'm ready to pick up my bags and disappear. Thanks mel!

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  5. Yay! I'm so glad you guys have found this helpful :) happy traveling!

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  6. A very comprehensive list Melissa, great resource guide. I know my son used Ryan air several times when visiting Europe. No frills, no seat selection, but very affordable. We have flown overseas many times using AirTransat from Vancouver, always seem to be the most affordable!

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  7. Thanks! Glad you found it helpful :)

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  8. Xiamenair, the regional wing of Malaysia Airlines Fuzhou , flies to Fuzhou and is the preferred Malaysian airlines choice especially if you’re traveling with your folks, who may not be too fond of low cost carriers. With meal service, reclining seats and blankets, the full service flight experience is made far more comfortable.

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