Whether you have a limited budget or simply want to get the best deal on a flight, traveling on cheap airlines can save you a bundle on airfares that you can apply to the rest of your vacation.
Over the past few years, cheap airlines selling cheap tickets for cheap flights have proliferated -- and that's to your benefit.
More often than not, there's negligible difference between a coach seat on a cheap airline and one on the big legacy airlines like American and Delta.
In some cases, flying a cheap airline -- at least one with leather seats, free personal satellite TV, and other perks -- is superior to what huge airline corporations offer.
When searching for dirt cheap airfares, check the Web sites of low-priced airlines. Some, like Southwest, only sell tickets on their own site. Others offer the best deals to their own customers. And if you buy directly from a cheap airline site, you'll avoid paying the small extra transaction fee sites such as Orbitz charge.
TOP CHEAP AIRLINES
JetBlue -- When JetBlue took to the skies in 2000, no one expected the airline, with its cheap fares between New York and Florida, to make much of an impact. After flyers experienced JetBlue's easy online ticket-buying technology, Airbus A320s, egalitarian single-class system (which changed in 2014), leather seats, free satellite TV in every seat back, pleasant flight attendants, and cheap ticket prices, they started switching allegiance over to the airline.
In the past few years, JetBlue has piled up awards, including Best US Airline, Best Domestic Airline, Best Budget Airline, and Best Value for Cost from a slew of trustworthy sources. With more and more converts, this cheap but hip airline continues to grow. As of November 2015, JetBlue flies to 85 cities, including Las Vegas, West Palm Beach, and many Caribbean countries including Nassau in the Bahamas, and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
- Frequent travelers agree...
JetBlue is a cool airline to fly. Do avoid sitting in the last row of the plane. Seats there are cramped and do not recline.
Southwest -- You'll find some of the cheapest airfares online at Southwest Airlines. Deep discounts on advance purchases are typical, which is helpful to those planning a long-distance wedding that requires many guests to come from other parts of the country. When the airline has one of its frequent fare sales, the normally cheap prices drop even more.
At this writing, Southwest flies to 75 cities in 32 states. To keep up with JetBlue, new Southwest planes offer leather seats. However, seat numbers are not assigned by the airline. At check-in you get an un-numbered boarding pass and are welcome to take any free seat. Be warned, however, if you or your traveling companion is larger than average, you could face humiliation at the Southwest counter, where you may be asked to purchase an extra ticket to accommodate your girth.
- Frequent travelers agree...
Southwest flight attendants are the stand-up comics of the air. After they get through with safety announcements, they tend to say whatever's on their mind. It gets most passengers laughing and loosened up, and makes for a more relaxed flight.
What's different about Spirit Air is that it has two in-cabin classes — and it's very cheap to upgrade to Spirit Plus, which offers leather seats that are somewhat roomier than coach, with more leg room, free drinks, and an odd, salty snack (who voted on feeding passengers beef jerky and cheese sauce?). Still, even cheap skates and couples on a tight budget like to enjoy the luxury of traveling in first class once in a while. Spirit's inexpensive upgrades ($30-50) are sold online and at the gate when available.
- I know from personal experience...
Spirit Air flights can be mind-blowingly noisy. Many planes are old warhorses that will get you to your destination safely but you may deplane with a pounding headache. In Spirit Air's defense, new planes are on order.
OTHER CHEAP AIRLINES
- Traveling to Europe? EasyJet's incredibly cheap flights take off and land from 72 European airports.
- Ryanair is another amazingly cheap, no-frills European airline.
MORE CHEAP THRILLS
- You Can Afford a Cruise -- strategies for cruising on the cheap
- CheapFlights.com -- search multiple cheap airlines as well as consolidators and airlines other sites leave out
- Fare Deals -- how to get cheap...cheaper...the cheapest deals on airfares