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  • Writer's pictureAshleen Chappuis

Travel 102: Making a Cheap Flight Feel Luxurious

Updated: Jun 9, 2020

We'd all love to fly first class, sipping on champagne in a cozy blanket with plenty of leg room, but in reality, flying is expensive! There are often discount airlines you could take, but between the hidden fees and cut-corners, is it really worth it? Yes, but only if you're prepared.

Before You Even Buy the Tickets

There are tons of websites to chose from when looking for tickets (think Google Flights, Student Universe, Expedia, or Kayak), but they all work the same: using cookies. Ever notice the flight your found last week just jumped in price? Or the trip that seemed reasonable on one site is way more expensive on the next? That's all thanks to cookies. Sites use cookies to see what flights you've been looking for and how often you look at them. Then, they jack up the price on the flight they know you're interested in.

There's a couple ways around this. The easiest is to use an "incognito mode" on your web browser. This prevents websites from using cookies and lets you research to your heart's content without altering your prices. The next option is to delete cookies each time you start looking at flights online. Remember, if you're looking at a flight online and have the window open, that site has access to your cookies, even if you just deleted them. The third (and riskiest way) is to just minimize your research and book tickets the first day you look into flights. A bold move, but it works for some people.

Once You Have Your Tickets

Congrats, you did it, you booked your trip! Now, it's time to start planning. Discount airlines make their money off fees and up-selling at the counter, so be sure to read the fine print on your ticket.

Is there a fee to have your ticket printed at the airport? It depends on the airline. Print your tickets at home or get a mobile ticket for your phone. Mobile tickets let you check-in online, saving you time when you get to the airport and making it easier for you to get away with that slightly oversized carry-on you're brining. If you're checking a bag, you can still check-in on line and print your own ticket, but, you'll have to stop at the counter to give them you're luggage.

How many bags can you bring? Cheap airlines have strict baggage rules and charge you heavy fees for breaking them. Check to see if a checked-bag is included with your flight before your get to the gate. It's generally cheaper to pay for a checked-bag online before you fly.

All airlines have weight limits and size restrictions on checked luggage. Make sure you're bag isn't too big or a non-standard size, both of which will earn you a fee at the gate. If you have a bathroom scale, step on it without your bag then with your bag to see how much your luggage weighs before you get to the airport. You often pay a smaller fee for overweight bags if you pay online before you fly.

Size and weight restrictions also apply to your carry-on too, so make sure you're bag fits the part. Airlines get tricky with their wording on these bags. Often times discount airlines, give you one free personal item, but charge for carry-on. This personal item is essentially a carry-on bag, it just has to be the only bag you bring. That means no backpack plus a small purse or overnight bag with a camera carrier. Everything you bring has to fit in the one bag or you'll get hit with a fee. However, airlines are generally more lenient with carry-ons than they are with checked bags.

The Night Before Your Trip

Cheap flights generally don't have entertainment onboard, so you need to bring your own. Download any books, movies, or music you'll want for your flight the night before. If you have a portable charger, aka a life-saver for long trips, be sure to charge it and your phone as well. A flight with nothing to do is a painfully long flight, no matter how great the destination is!

Another thing discount airlines get you on is snacks. Airlines like Spirt, Wow, and RyanAir offer food and beverages, but at exorbitant prices. Don't get tricked into buy a $10 water bottle. Instead bring an empty re-usable one to the airport and fill it up once you get through security. Almost every airport has a water fountain you can use, just make sure the water you're drinking meets roughly the same standards as your home country's so you don't get sick.

To make the morning easier, pack the night before and think before you start throwing things in a bag. What items will you need first? Keep them to the side so they can go on top. What will you need for the airport itself? Have an area of your bag just for airport essentials like your your tickets, passport or ID, wallet, and headphones. That way you don't have to dig through your bag in a panic at the gate. Also, keep electronics separate since they'll have to come out when you go through security.

At the Airport

Now that you've packed, checked-in online, and brought your ticket (printed or mobile), you're ready for the home stretch! It's time to fill up you water bottle, maybe buy some snacks, and find a seat at the gate.

Overhead compartments are designed to fit the bags of only 70% of passengers on each flight. This means that most flights will ask for volunteers to check their carry-ons. If you've already checked a bag, this is no big deal, but if you're traveling with only a carry on, this adds a lot of time at the baggage claim. To avoid having to check your bag on a full flight, get to the gate and get in line early. It takes some time to the overhead bins to fill up, so the first groups of passengers rarely have to check their bags.

Most flights board by ticket group, so if you're in a later group, you may not be able to get out of being asked to check your bag. However, if you tell the flight attendant you're going to keep you bag under your feet, they'll generally let you take it on the plane. Of course, this only works for bag that can actually fit under the seat.

Thinking of Ditching the Checked Bag?

Traveling with only carry-on bags saves time (no checking in, no baggage claim) and money (especially on cheaper flights), but adds a layer of difficulty. Carry-on bags are subject to stricter security, so brush up on the TSA rules before packing. In general, you'll need travel-sized toiletries, no liquids over 3 ounces, and nothing that could be used as a weapon.

Your carry-on will need to follow the airline's size and weight restrictions, but these usually have a bit more wiggle room than the weight restrictions on checked bags. Backpacks are great for carry-on only trips because they leave your hands free and keep your PJs separate from your book for the plane. Plus, they have outside pockets to hold onto your water bottle and anything you find yourself holding onto in line.

If you're worried you won't be able to fit everything into a carry-on bag, check out our packing tips in "Travel 101: Intro to Packing."

On the Plane

You've got plenty of things to read or watch, snacks, and a full (free) water, so sit back and relax. Your vacation has begun!

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