By Dan Moore

Looking for plane tickets is a balancing act of figuring out what you need, what you want, and how you can compromise to get the best of all worlds. There are many pieces to the puzzle and considering all of them is important. Does the airline cater to your destination? Do they have adequate cover for luggage allowance? Is there in-flight entertainment? Are drinks and food served or available? Are the seats comfortable? And perhaps most importantly, are the tickets affordable?

After all, you want to land in your destination with a budget to spend instead of with the bank already broken. Consider these parts of budget air travel and take a closer look to make sure your “cheap” flight won’t put you in a hole.

Baggage Fees

Regardless of your location, know your airline’s stance on luggage. More often than not, there will be an additional fee for checked luggage, another charge if the luggage is over their weight limit and you will only be permitted one carry-on bag. Plus if you plan to travel to the beach with your surfboard or to the golf course with your clubs, take into account the fees they will charge you for these extras.

Check-in Fees & Process

The biggest tip here is to make sure you check in on time. All low-cost airlines have strict time limits before departure. If you aren’t at the gate at least 30 minutes before flight time, you are subject to lose your seat without a refund, credit or free transfer. Never before has it been so important to have a watch on hand and to be on time.

Also note that some low-cost airlines, like Jet2.com and Ryanair, have an online check-in fee for all passengers. On top of this, you have to remember to print your boarding pass once you’ve checked in or, you guessed it, you’re facing yet another fee.

Early Boarding/ Seat Selection

There are two situations you will face with boarding and seats. The first, a model that Easyjet and Ryanair follow, doesn’t allocate seats to the customers. If you’re travelling in a group, there’s no guarantee they you’ll be able to sit together. The strategy here is to check in online as early as possible for the best boarding group available—if you check in at the airport your group will board after those who checked in online.

Photo from inside a plane

The second situation you face, which covers almost all other airlines, is to pay for the seat you want—especially the emergency exit seats with the coveted extra legroom. Either take the chance and leave it up to the airline to allocate your seat, or open your wallet up yet again to pick and pay for the seat you prefer.

Booking Fees / Credit & Debit Card Fees

If you pay for a flight with a card, be prepared to pay a transaction fee. The costs vary but as a general rule, debit cards are cheaper than credit cards. If you are travelling with a group or with your family, these charges can add up very quickly. At $11 AUD per transaction, a group of four quickly racks up a $45 fee—just for choosing your payment process!

Non-Primary Airports

Many low-cost companies will use minor, or secondary, airports for their departures and destinations which can be many miles out of the city you are expecting to arrive in. For example, Ryanair’s Paris base airport, called Beauvais, is a full 35 miles from city centre. It is essential to be sure of your destination and departure airports so you can judge the scale of their public transportation options and their distance from your true destination to see if that lower fare is really worth it.

In today’s airline game, ticket prices that go on sale or drop drastically are big attention-getters. You’ll find yourself thinking “Can I really fly from London to Madrid for just $40 AUD?” Well, yes, that price is correct, but those are just the visible costs for the physical flight from one place to the next.  Be aware of any extra fees and costs before you press “confirm.”

One smart decision that you can buy on the cheap is a budget travel insurance plan from Cover-More Australia; our no-fuss, value priced plan includes medical cover and worldwide emergency medical assistance.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Ben Salter