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Low-Cost Airlines Save You On Fares, But Watch For Fees And Other Pitfalls

Elaine Thompson
AP File Photo
Crowds work their way through Sea-Tac Airport in this file photo.

Searching for a deal when you travel can be challenging. Many people look to low-cost airlines. They offer lower ticket prices and fewer frills than the big carriers.

But KNKX travel expert Matthew Brumley says he recently had two experiences that left him thinking twice about flying on the cheap.

Extra Fees To Vegas

In one instance, Brumley tried to book a flight to Las Vegas for a family of four. He found a great rate via a low-cost carrier. But then there was an extra charge for the seat. It was more money to carry on a bag, and an even steeper fee to check your luggage. By the time he was done, it didn't seem worth it.

U.S. regulations allow travelers to cancel a flight within 24 hours of booking, so long as they've booked seven days in advance. So Brumley canceled and booked on a larger airline.

Getting To The Church On Time

The other story happened to some of Brumley's friends in Minnesota. They booked travel to Europe for a family wedding on a low-cost carrier. 

But mechanical difficulties forced the cancelation of their flight. 

Usually that's not a huge problem -- airlines can get you out pretty quickly on the next flight. But this airline doesn't fly the route with the same frequency as larger carriers. The next available flight wasn't leaving for a few days, which meant missing the wedding.

They opted to pay about $5,000 each for on-the-spot tickets on a larger airline.

What To Do

"It's never as cheap as you think," Brumley said. "That's the takeaway here."

But if you know that, is it still worth it? Brumley says low-cost carriers have worked out for him a few times, especially in Europe for short flights. There are a few tips:

1. Do you have to get there at a certain time? If your schedule is flexible, a budget airline can be a great choice. But Brumley says if you have to get to a business appointment or a family event, or you're traveling in a narrow window of time -- such as a school vacation -- maybe think twice.

2. Buy travel insurance, and know what it covers. "What happens if that flight is canceled?" Brumley said. "Will they reimburse you? Will they get you onto another flight?"

3. Check with your credit card company. Many have built-in travel insurance for trips purchased using that card.


"Going Places" is KNKX's weekly exploration of travel. Our travel expert, Matthew Brumley, is co-founder of Earthbound Expeditions on Bainbridge Island, which provides small group travel to clients including KNKX. Never miss an episode again. Subscribe to Going Places with iTunes Google Play or Stitcher.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.

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