The Top 10 Low-Cost Airlines for Affordable Flights

Red airplane taking off for PLAY airlines
Courtesy of PLAY

Choosing low-cost airlines for finding an affordable flight might not be as simple as it would seem. Low-cost airlines follow a much different business model than most other carriers. The emphasis is on rock-bottom airfares, so other services that might be included in a more traditional airfare such as meals, entertainment, blankets, headphones, or even a printed boarding pass often come at an additional fee on a budget carrier.

The idea is a sort of a-la-carte approach in which you pay for only the services you need and keep airfares affordable. While some travelers approach these airlines as if they are making unfair or extravagant charges for basic services, low-cost airlines offer the exact level of amenities you pay for.

Make sure not to assume that all low-cost airlines operate in precisely the same manner: some are better than others, and it's important to consider the way each low-cost carrier operates before you shop for airfares. If you're planning a trip and don't want to break the bank on flights, these are the budget airlines you can trust.

01 of 10


Southwest Air
Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty

Many low-cost airlines tend to be fairly small and concentrated on a particular service area. Southwest has become the largest low-cost airline in the United States, and the nation's largest overall domestic airline. Southwest initially found success because it offered an alternative to sky-high last-minute bookings. Flights operate with only economy-class seats, and a central part of the marketing strategy has focused on emphasizing free baggage checks, and lower overall fees than other airlines charge.

02 of 10

Breeze Airways

Breeze Airways

Courtesy of Breeze Airways

After launching in 2021, Breeze Airways has found a loyal following by offering low fares and convenient connections between smaller cities that usually require passengers to connect through a major airport hub. The airline provides service to areas that have been severely neglected by other carriers—95 percent of Breeze’s inaugural 39 routes, like Louisville, Kentucky and Norfolk, Virginia, did not previously have year-round, nonstop service. The carrier offers free water and snacks, but no WiFi or in-flight entertainment. On flights operated on an A220, travelers can upgrade to Breeze's "Nicest" class of seats, which include more leg room, USB power outlets, and a free checked bag.

03 of 10


PLAY Airlines

Courtesy of PLAY

PLAY, which debuted in 2021, is a low-cost Icelandic airline founded by former executives of the now-defunct WOW air. The airline flies to over 26 destinations, including transatlantic routes between Europe and New York, Boston, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C. Most PLAY flights operate on an A321neo, which does not offer seatback screens, WiFi capability or in-flight entertainment. Food and beverages are also not included, but are available for purchase. The majority of seats on PLAY offer 29 to 30 inches of pitch, with extra legroom seats, equipped with a comfy 32 to 35 inches of pitch, available for a higher fare.

04 of 10

Norse Atlantic

Norse Atlantic

Courtesy of Norse Atlantic

Founded by the CEO of Norwegian, whose popular long-haul Norwegian Air Shuttle ceased operations in 2021, Norse Atlantic launched in summer of 2022 as a phoenix rising from the ashes. This low-cost carrier offers transatlantic routes between Europe and New York, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando, and Los Angeles. While their main base is in Oslo, they do offer nonstop flights between the U.S. and London Gatwick Airport, as well as a nonstop route from New York and Los Angeles to Berlin, an underserved market from U.S. destinations. Norse's economy class is no-frills and does not include meals or beverages. In Norse's premium class, travelers are offered blankets, headphones, two meals, and recliner seats featuring 43 inches of pitch.

Continue to 5 of 10 below.
05 of 10


EasyJet plane in mid-flight
Sean Gallup / Getty Images News

This budget carrier is headquartered at London's Luton airport and serves more than 120 destinations. Locked in a fierce rivalry with Ryanair, easyJet tends to offer flights into larger airports as it caters to the business sector. The airline flies from Morocco to Turkey and serves most European countries. It offers single-class seats and sells snacks/beverages through its easyJet Bistro service.

06 of 10


Allegiant Air plane backlit by the sunset
Allegiant Travel Company  

Allegiant serves about 75 destinations, with a focus on leisure destinations in warm climates in North America. Technical services before arrival at the airport are minimal. You must pay an additional fee for a choice of seat, and only then will you skip the lines in the terminal for boarding passes. Allegiant often operates from mid-sized airports in large cities or small markets. Before booking on Allegiant, always check to see if that airport is connected to others in the region.

07 of 10

Frontier Airlines

A Frontier Airlines A320 airplane in flight

Courtesy of Frontier Airlines

Frontier has a major hub in Denver and serves many cities that are close to national parks in the western U.S. The airline frequently offers excellent fares between Denver and places like Orlando and Nashville. Frontier merged with Midwest Airlines in 2011, cutting service and employees at the former Midwest hub in Milwaukee. Primarily a domestic U.S. budget airline, Frontier does send a few flights to Costa Rica, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic.

08 of 10


The logo of a Ryanair plane
Damian Corrigan

One of Europe's largest carriers, Ryanair operates from its Dublin hub and offers low-cost fares to more than 160 destinations. The airline frequently receives criticism for allegedly poor customer service and its string of fees for basic services such as printing of boarding passes. There are also pay-toilet trial balloons and canceled third-party reservations that steal travel headlines on occasion. But the airline continues to expand, the product of airline deregulation in Europe and the quest to travel as cheaply as possible within Europe.

Continue to 9 of 10 below.
09 of 10


Volaris plane soars over clouds

Volaris is the largest low-cost carrier based in Mexico. It serves a limited number of destinations in the U.S. and has code-share agreements with Southwest. In addition to Mexico City, Volaris also maintains a focused presence at Los Angeles International (LAX). One customer service perk offered by Volaris rewards a portion of your airfare for future travel in the event a flight is delayed for more than 30 minutes. 

10 of 10


A WestJet plane flies over a cloudy sky

WestJet is second only to Air Canada for volume of service within Canada. Headquartered in Calgary, WestJet serves cities throughout North America—71 destinations in all. The airline's list of code-share partners is impressive: American Airlines, Cathay Pacific, Japan Airlines, Delta, KLM, and Korean Air. Unlike some budget airlines, WestJet does offer a frequent-flier program (called Frequent Guest Program) and on occasion includes some free snacks or soft drinks, but most meals must be purchased separately.