Budget Airline Tips and Cheap Flights for Backpackers

Budget Airline Tips and Cheap Flights for Backpackers

My favorite websites to use for flights are:

It’s important to know about the budget airline that you are flying on.  I have learned this the hard way.  When I backpacked for the first time in Europe, I was new to taking budget flights such as RyanAir, EasyJet, and Air Berlin so I made many mistakes.  

I purchased a cheap flight from the south of France to England with RyanAir for about $60 but little did I know, I needed to print out my boarding pass online before I got to the airport.  This error cost me another $40.  Yes, I was mad.  

Most budget airlines have a strict luggage weight limit, which I already knew, so I decided to wear almost all of my clothing that I had in my backpack (thankfully it was winter time anyways and it was cold out).  Also, not only is there a strict weight limit, you can only have ONE bag.  Not a suitcase and a personal item or a purse.  

Just one item.  If they don’t fit within one another, then you must figure something out.  Since my backpack was under the weight limit just a bit because I was wearing all of my clothes, I had room to put my purse in there.  But, I also had a giant box of cookies with me that I bought in Spain and was taking to the family that I was staying with in England as a gift.  

Unfortunately, the cookie box was too heavy and wouldn’t fit in my backpack, I had no choice other to….eat the cookies.... No worries, I didn’t eat them all, I shared with others around me.  I needed some cookies anyways since I was having such a rough day (my experience of just getting to that small airport in the middle of nowhere is a whole story on its own!). 

When I got to England, I had another flight with RyanAir a few days later back to Ireland (where my trip began and was ending).  I thought to myself, “I will not let RyanAir fool me this time!”. I thought that if I self-checked in online and printed out my boarding pass beforehand and read their other guidelines online, I’d be good.  

Boy, was I wrong! When I got to the airport in England to board my flight to Ireland, I went to the check-in line.  They said that if already checked-in online and had my boarding pass, I could just go through security and go to the gate.  I was relieved.  I used my last few pounds to buy a coffee and I lollygagged through the airport because I had some time to spare before my flight.  

With about half an hour before take-off, I got to the gate and saw a line of people.  There was a person walking down the line of passengers and looking at our boarding pass.  When the person got to me, he said “where’s your stamp?”.  I asked “what stamp?”  He replied “the stamp that you needed to get before you went through security”.  

I started to panic.  He said that the gates close 20 minutes before the flight which gave me only about 10 minutes to get my stamp and get back to the gate otherwise I’d miss my flight and have to buy a whole new ticket.  Are you kidding me!?  

I threw my freshly hot coffee into the nearby trash and bolted down the hall.  They had someone assist me back through security so that I didn’t have to go through the line again.  I finally made it back to that first desk that initially told me just to go to the gate, got my stamp, and bolted back towards the gate.  

I was in so much pain because I have chronic and random pain in my feet (a constant and awful problem that I deal with) and I was wearing winter boots that didn’t make it any better.  I honestly did not think that I was going to make it back in time.  

I started to cry.  I wanted to just go home.  I was so stressed and frustrated.  I wanted to just give up trying to make my flight but I kept going.  Looking like a hot mess, running and crying through the airport, I finally made it just in time for my flight.  Thank you RyanAir, never again.

Some tips on airlines and airports:

*Try to fly in and out of the closest main airport.  This is usually help to save you some money on flights.  I always fly out of Chicago, despite being in Milwaukee many times, because it tends to be cheaper than flying out of Milwaukee, WI. 

*Try to avoid wearing jewelry, belts, etc; things that take longer while going
through security check.  Make it easy on yourself and make it quick.
*Be sure to get there extra early just in case of flight/gate changes and to
make it less stressful on yourself.

*Check on your airline’s website days before departure to double check their
guidelines and make sure that you aren’t required to check-in online or won’t
get penalized for not printing off anything.  Every airline is different and
some can be sneaky.

* Ask for your entire return itinerary at the airport before departure.  This
will come in handy because some European countries will ask to see a return
ticket or a departure ticket.

* Write down your accommodations address, name, and phone number on a piece of
paper that you’ll easily find once you get to immigration- they will ask you
questions on your intent/purpose for being there, where you’re going, for how
long, and why. Each airport will do this.

*Use a credit card that earns you miles!  I have gotten a few free international flights this way!  I have a Citibank Advantage credit card that earns miles with American and its partner airlines.  This credit card also saves me from having to pay for checked luggage fee for up to four people that are paid for on the card.

*One of my biggest pet-peeves is when the person sitting in front of me decides to lay practically all the way down.  I slightly recline my seat, if any at all, unless there isn’t anybody sitting behind me.  I’m 6 feet tall so it’s very uncomfortable to be crammed into a small place for sometimes over 10 hours.  I ask that you just keep others in mind and be considerate.  Treat others how you would like to be treated.

Some Airlines that I have flown:

  • United
  • JetStar (online check in)
  • Cathay Airways
  • American Airlines
  • China Air
  • Asia Air (baggage fee, 7kg limit)
  • Philippine Air
  • Tiger Air (no food, no space)
  • Jet Airways
  • Garuda Air (great service and food)
  • Indigo Air
  • Qatar Air
  • Iberia
  • Vueling.com Airline (no food, no space)
  • RyanAir (check in online and print boarding pass)

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