The discount airline revolution is hardly limited to the United States. The arrival of Ireland-based Ryanair and British easyJet changed the face of European air travel in much the same way that Southwest and JetBlue have done stateside. With new airlines now proliferating in the South Pacific and Asia, the rise of low-cost carriers is a global phenomenon. We’ve put together a list of the best-known and most reliable international discount airlines — as well as a few tips to help you get around the world for minimal cost and hassle.
Tips for Using Discount Airlines
1. Particularly for newer airlines, route maps can change with some frequency. Keep tabs on new routes and changes on each airline’s website.
2. For discounters that do not issue seat assignments, expect a slightly less orderly “line” at the gate than you might find in the U.S. (picture the boarding process on Southwest, for example). Many other countries place less of a premium on personal space, which can create something more akin to a soccer mob crush than a proper “queue.”
3. Many international discounters fly to and from small alternate airports instead of major hubs. If you are not familiar with overseas airport codes and names, do your homework so your connections, accommodations and transport to and from the airport go smoothly.
4. Especially at larger airports, discounters sometimes have gates located in nooks and crannies of the airport. If you are flying into a large airport on a major airline to connect to a discounter flight, check out the airport map to get a sense of how far it might be to your gate and how to get there using airport transport systems (monorail, buses, etc).
5. Not all discount airlines are shoestring operations; carriers such as easyJet and Ryanair make healthy profits. However, you should be aware of the financial condition of your chosen airline when purchasing tickets, especially in the fast-growing Asian market, where a shakeout is predicted by many analysts.
6. Very few discounters have baggage agreements with major carriers, so if you are making a connection to or from another airline, you may have to collect your bags at the luggage carousel and then recheck them for your next flight.
7. Additionally, luggage restrictions may vary on discount airlines; short-haul carriers tend not to accommodate larger items — and many discounters now charge fees to check any luggage at all.
8. No-frills often means exactly that — expect to pay extra for food and even water in flight.
9. Most international discounters sell on a first-come, first-served basis, with the lowest fares selling first.
10. While the European rail system is favored by many European visitors, don’t assume that the train is always going to be cheaper; many international discount airlines offer astoundingly low fares, such as Ryanair’s frequent sales for less than 10 GBP.
11. Not all airlines are equally safe. Particularly when considering a low-cost carrier you’ve never flown before, it’s worth checking a site liketo see the airline’s safety record.
12. U.S. discounters sometimes fail to appear on the major booking sites, and this is even more true of international discounters, particularly in Asia. The only way to find and purchase many of these fares is by monitoring the airline’s website.
Several sites allow you to search multiple discount airlines simultaneously; here are a few of the best and most popular:
International Discount Airlines by Region
Below is a sampling of the most prominent low-cost carriers around the world.
Africa Discount Airlines
Fastjet: Flies to various countries in eastern Africa, including Tanzania, Kenya and Zambia
Fly540: Kenya-based airline serving various countries in eastern Africa
FlySafair: Flies around South Africa
Jambojet: Subsidiary of Kenya Airways serving a handful of cities within Kenya
Kulula: Flies within South Africa and to other nearby countries
Mango: Flies within South Africa and to Zanzibar
Asia Discount Airlines
AirAsia: Based in Malaysia, the first and longest-standing Asian discounter
IndiGo: India’s leading discounter
Lion Air: Indonesia’s largest airline
Nok Air: Flies from its Bangkok hub to destinations around Thailand
Peach: Japan’s first low-cost carrier
Scoot: Singapore-based airline serving Australia and Asia
SpiceJet: Flies to various cities in India as well as select international destinations
Spring Airlines: China’s first low-cost carrier, with service both within China and to select international cities
Tigerair: A subsidiary of Singapore Airlines; flies to dozens of Asian cities
Australia/Pacific Discount Airlines
Jetstar Airways: Subsidiary of Qantas; serves the Asia/Pacific region
Rex (Regional Express): Connects large and small cities across Australia
Canada Discount Airlines
Porter: Toronto hub airport is conveniently located near downtown, with free ferry access
Sunwing: Flies from Canada to the U.S., the Caribbean and Latin America
WestJet: Serves major cities in Canada as well as select destinations in the U.S., Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe
Europe Discount Airlines
Aer Lingus: Offers inexpensive transatlantic flights between select U.S. cities and Ireland, as well as flights around Europe
Air Berlin: Second-largest German airline (behind Lufthansa)
easyJet: Serves Europe and North Africa
Eurowings: Subsidiary of Lufthansa; based in Germany but flies to destinations in and beyond Europe
Flybe: British airline that has codeshare agreements with Virgin Atlantic, Emirates and Cathay Pacific, among others
Meridiana Fly: Based in Italy, flies around Europe as well as to select cities in Africa and the Americas
Norwegian Air: Offers flights around Europe and to select other destinations, including the U.S.
Ryanair: One of Europe’s largest discounters; watch for “free” fare sales, with fares of only a pound or two
SmartWings: Czech airline serving Europe and select Middle Eastern cities
Thomson Flights: Based in the U.K.; flies to Europe and Egypt
Transavia: Flies from hubs in Amsterdam and Rotterdam to various European and North African cities
Wizz Air: Based in Poland; serves mostly Central and Eastern Europe
WOW Air: Flies from its hub in Reykjavik, Iceland to destinations in Europe and North America
Mexico Discount Airlines
Interjet: Mexican airline with service to various parts of the Americas
VivaAerobus: Low-cost flights around Mexico
Volaris: Flights within Mexico and to the U.S. and Central America
South America Discount Airlines
Azul: Low-cost carrier serving Brazil
GOL: Serves large and small cities in Brazil as well as a few select international destinations
Sky Airline: Flies within Chile and to other parts of South America
StarPeru: Low-cost carrier serving Peru
–written by Ed Hewitt; updated by Sarah Schlichter