I love a good bargain, and I love it even more when it turns into a domino effect of money-saving goodness. Flying low-cost carriers, for instance, is one of my favorite budget-friendly strategies. Though budget airlines aren’t for everyone, Brian and I are big fans of the no-frills, à la carte service they provide. Why pay for a ton of other features when all we really care about is a safe flight from Point A to Point B? And this is where our most effective packing tips come into play; they help us pack minimally, saving on unnecessary baggage fees and other expenses.
What to Expect as a Budget Air Traveler
If you’ve never flown on a budget airline before, prepare yourself for a bare bones experience. In fact, the basic economy ticket will only grant you a seat on the plane. Low-cost carriers are known to charge additional fees for the following:
- The convenience of online booking
- Seat selection
- Printed boarding passes at the airport
- Carry-on and checked baggage (a personal item with specified dimensions and/or weight is free)
- Snacks and beverages (including water)
If you’re not careful, the cost of flying budget can quickly add up and become just as (if not more) expensive than flying full-service.
Some people refer to their experience as being nickel and dimed, while others enjoy its minimal, customizable nature. Brian and I fall into the latter category. While budget air travel is not the same as a full-service experience, it can definitely a suitable option for people who favor affordability.
How We Save
No big surprise here: Brian and I don’t pay for any additional extras! We even bypass the online booking fee by purchasing our tickets in-person at the ticket counter. Sure, sometimes it’s not super fun to jump in the car and drive to the airport, but the savings are worth it to us. We routinely save over $80 each time we purchase round-trip tickets in-person.
The simplest way to save on extra fees is by flying with only the included personal item. So often people overlook baggage allowance and associated fees, which unfortunately can result in unexpected costs at the airport. Because Brian and I fly budget almost exclusively, we’ve become pretty adept at packing minimally. Our trusty backpacks have served us well all throughout the country and overseas on quick weekend trips and multi-week adventures.
Naturally, we’ve picked up a few packing tips along the way.
Money-Saving Packing Tips
Downsize, downsize, downsize. As a budget air traveler, you likely want to maximize as much of your savings as you can. One easy way to avoid extra charges is to pack minimally into a single personal item.
Avoid checking baggage
Be smart with your package. If you’re trying to steer clear of unnecessary charges, one way to do that is to avoid checking any baggage. There’s no need to bring extra if you really don’t need to!
Check the baggage policies
Baggage policies vary from airline to airline, even the budget ones. Some allow a small carry-on and a personal item at no additional charge, while others permit only a personal item. Some airlines impose both a weight and size limit, while others only restrict size. Be sure to note the checked baggage fees and other policies to understand the consequences if your baggage exceeds allowed limits at the gate.
Pack interchangeable layers and pieces
Refrain from packing complete outfits and instead bring along matching pieces and versatile layers. This will help you mix and match options that still look great without having to create more space or bring additional luggage for your clothing.
Wear your bulkiest clothing and shoes
This is one of the most well-known packing tips for budget air travel. Don’t use up all of your space to pack up heavy items! Be smart; wear your bulkiest items on the plane to free up valuable real estate for your other items.
Carry extra layers on board
If you find yourself running low on space in your personal item, then carry extra layers on board. I’ll sometimes bring along a jacket or sweater and slide a couple of layers inside them.
Invest in a travel jacket
If you don’t really care for hand-carrying extra layers on board, consider investing in a multi-pocketed travel jacket. There are many variations on the market, but the key features you want to pay attention to are the number and size of the zippered pockets, which could provide ample space for your belongings. A travel jacket offers a convenient way to pack additional items within a practical layer itself.
Bring your own reusable water bottle and snacks
Stay hydrated and keep your hunger at bay without shelling out money for overpriced in-flight refreshments. Brian and I are typically fine with just our water during 2 to 3 hour flights, but we make sure to bring snack bars and other treats for longer ones.
One advantage for bringing your own snacks or food on board is that you can carry them in their own bag. It doesn’t count as extra baggage. So, technically, if you need a little extra room for some of your things, you can pack them in a bag below your food!
Test out your bag before boarding
Most budget airlines will have a sizer or sizing rack that you can place your bag in before boarding. They are typically located at the ticket counter, as well as the gate. Place your bag in one to ensure that it fits within the required dimensions. If not, you have the opportunity to adjust, repack, and layer whatever you need to in order for your bag to fit properly in the sizer. Testing your bag size before boarding is a better way to prepare for potential size enforcement at the gate. No one wants to sweat bullets as they try to figure out how to reorganize an oversized bag to avoid a penalty while everyone is ready to board.
Avoid bringing home souvenirs
…or any extra stuff that takes up too much space. Budget air travel might not be the most cost-efficient option for you if you plan on packing even more things for your return flight. Consider checked baggage costs and compare them to the cost of shipping items home. Of course, to save the most money on budget flight, you will want to stick with an appropriately-sized personal bag.
Pack Up and Head Out!
Don’t stress too much about how to pack for your budget flight. The important thing is to read the fine print! Understanding airline policies and following these packing tips will help you make the most out of your limited space and save you money. Money saved is money earned to be spent on whatever you wish…like a trip.
Have you flown on a budget airline before? How did you pack for it?