Your definitive guide to scoring cheap flights.
No one wants to overpay for flights. But with some airlines, you don’t have to hoard miles or wait for a flash sale to score cheap tickets. Low-cost carriers can save wallet-conscious travelers hundreds of dollars on airfare — if only you know where to find them.
Cheap airlines are more prevalent than ever, even offering steeply discounted rates on international flights. And there are new carriers cropping up every day, offering competitive prices on popular routes and stripped-down tickets for no-frills travelers who don’t need much to stay comfortable on a flight.
Budget airlines utilize a number of strategies to cut costs and keep ticket prices low (sometimes, flights may be 50 percent cheaper than full-service competitors). Some, like Norwegian Air and WOW, operate newer, more fuel efficient aircraft. Others, including JetBlue and RyanAir, get discounts for placing bulk orders for aircraft. When airlines save on jet fuel or airplanes, they’re able to pass on those savings to travelers.
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Strategies for selling inexpensive tickets are sometimes more obvious. Spirit Airlines, for example, has slashed already meager baggage allowances, and charges for seat selection and in-flight refreshments, including water.
Bargain airfare can be found in virtually every country — and these are the airlines every traveler needs to know about for cheap airline tickets.
In addition to being one of the country’s most affordable airlines, Long Island-based JetBlue is also the fifth largest airline in the United States. From hubs in New York City, Orlando, Fort Lauderdale, Boston, and San Juan, travelers can reach more than 90 destinations across the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Latin America.
Travelers may not be able to take JetBlue flights across the pond (yet), but the airline is beloved for serving complimentary snacks — like those iconic blue chips — while still offering wallet-friendly prices. The airline is also well known for regular flash sales, with fares as low as $39 one-way.
2. Southwest Airlines
Best known for its valuable loyalty program (you can even get a year-long Companion Pass for your favorite travel buddy), Southwest Airlines is based in Dallas, Texas. More than 90 destinations are reachable with this budget-friendly airline, including Mexico (Puerto Vallarta, Cancun, Los Cabos) and the Caribbean (Grand Cayman, Jamaica, Cuba, and the Bahamas, among others).
In addition to regular flash sales, Southwest has been known to apologize for flight delays with $49 trips and offer complimentary light snacks. For better or for worse, the airline doesn’t assign seats — so families may want to opt for Business Select fares to ensure they’re one of the first to board.
3. Frontier Airlines
With the motto “low fares done right,” it’s no surprise this Rocky Mountain carrier has a reputation for cheap flights. They’ve even gone so far as to offer $1 flights to select cities. Frontier flies to more than 55 cities in the United States, Mexico, the Dominican Republic — and they’ve even established a new route to Cuba.
Travelers should know that the price for a cheap Frontier flight might come in the form of tiny bathrooms and thin seats. They are, however, making the middle seat less terrible, offering travelers an extra inch of width as a consolation for being wedged in the middle.
Canada’s budget carrier has been around since 1996, though they still haven’t aced customer service. But the airline’s service has been expanding, and travelers can even take cheap transatlantic flights. And unlike most low-cost carriers, your ticket actually includes a checked bag. While useful for regional service around Canada, the airline also has plenty of flights to nearly 90 cities in the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe.
5. Spirit Airlines
Spirit’s introductory Bare Fares are everything you’d expect: stripped down, no-nonsense tickets that literally get you from point A to point B. Be willing to pay more on seat assignments, water, and luggage (baggage allowances just got even smaller on Spirit).
Travelers should be aware that the airline isn’t going to impress you with comfort or service. After all, the airline notoriously deflects customer queries and concerns to a Twitter account, Spirit Autopilot, which can’t offer more than bot-generated responses. In 2016, Spirit earned the dubious No. 1 spot on the World’s Worst list for customer service.
One of the first low-cost airlines to enter the Mexican market, VivaAerobus just upgraded its entire fleet with brand new Airbus A320s. While this airline is largely useful for travelers navigating around Mexico, there are a handful of flights to the United States available (think: El Paso, Texas).
Flying Volaris won’t be something to write home about, but the Mexico-based low-cost airline does offer very cheap airline flights to more than 60 destinations in Mexico, the United States, Central America, and Puerto Rico.
Europe’s second-largest discount airline brand is present in 32 countries, making it a smart option for cheap international flights. In addition to cheap tickets, the airline has also become somewhat well known for being an innovator in the industry. To further cut costs (and, theoretically, pass on those savings to travelers) EasyJet is exploring the use of drones to inspect aircraft. The airline is also exploring an investment in 100 new A320s.
9. Norwegian Air
This budget airline disrupted transatlantic travel when it launched $69 one-way fares from the United States to Europe in 2017. Norwegian may be based in Norway, but it has one of the most extensive networks of any budget carrier, operating flights to the Middle East, Africa, Thailand, Europe, and the United States. How are they making this magic happen? Norwegian CEO Bjørn Kjos has raved about his new, fuel-efficient fleet of Boeing 737MAX airplanes.
Ireland-based Ryanair has a reputation for offering ridiculously cheap flash sales and free flight giveways. If you’re looking to do some regional travel around Europe (England, Ireland, France, Scotland, Norway, and other Western European countries) keep a close eye on Ryanair’s Twitter feed. The airline loves to announce last-minute £2.99 trips, and has even indicated an interest in making flights free within the next decade.