A low-cost carrier (also known as a no-frills, discount or budget airline) is an airline that offers generally low fares in exchange for eliminating many traditional passenger services. Not surprisingly, many travelers are skeptical about some of these budget airlines, associating rock bottom prices to poor service or safety issues. However, most of these airline offer a decent product and adhere to the strictest standards. In most cases, they are able to offer lower prices by operating a single aircraft type which minimizes staff training and maintenance costs. To make up for revenue lost in decreased ticket prices, these airlines may charge extra fees for “extras” like baggage, assigned seats, and meals. In the last decades, budget airlines have grown vastly across the world, often becoming larger than the legacy carriers that once dwarfed them in size. Budget carriers are often part of my travel plans, particularly on short-haul flights. Here’s my breakdown of the ten best budget international airlines.
Have you ever flown with a low-cost carrier? If so, what was your experience? Leave a comment.
IndiGo is India’s largest passenger airline with a market share of 53% as of December, 2020. The carrier primarily operates in India’s domestic air travel market as a low-cost carrier but is also expanding its international destinations (e.g. Bangkok, Dubai, Istanbul, etc …). The airline has a focus on three pillars: offering low fares, delivering a courteous and hassle-free experience, and being on-time. Since its launch in August 2006, Indigo has grown from a carrier with one plane to a major airline with a fleet of 284 aircraft. Indigo is so popular that it placed an mammoth order for 300 Airbus A320neo family jets (one of the biggest ever orders from a single carrier). This will take IndiGo’s total A320neo family aircraft orders to 730, making it the world’s biggest customer for these planes.
- Website: Indigo
Eurowings is the low-cost airline of Lufthansa and, as such, part of one of the world’s largest aviation groups. Eurowings (previously known as Germanwings) has a current fleet of 139 aircraft and specializes in low-cost direct flights within Europe. The German airline currently offers more than 210 destinations in over 60 countries, making it the third-largest European point-to-point carrier. Prior to the pandemic, the airline flew more than 40 million passengers per year and its workforce grew to around 9,000 employees. The low-cost airline has 13 locations in Germany as well as in other European countries and is the market leader at six airports. Eurowings offers basic, smart, best and business class booking fares, catering to both business and leisure travelers.
- Website: Eurowings
Founded more than 50 years ago, Dallas-based Southwest Airlines is the USA’s largest domestic airline and the world’s largest low-cost carrier. With nearly 60,000 employees, Southwest Airlines offers a robust point-to-point, non-stop route network, with a strong presence in top leisure and business markets. In the peak travel seasons of 2019, the carrier operated more than 4,000 weekday departures among a network of 101 destinations in the USA and 10 additional countries. Southwest operates an exclusive fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft, making it the largest operator of the Boeing 737 worldwide, with over 700 in service, each averaging six flights per day. Its highly successful business plan was what inspired Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary to grow his airline to what it is today.
- Official website: Southwest Airlines
Azul Linhas Aéreas Brasileiras is a Brazilian carrier based in Sao Paulo, providing affordable air service to markets in South America, Portugal and the USA. The company was named Azul (“Blue” in Portuguese) after a naming contest in 2008, where “Samba” was the other popular name. Founded in 2008 by Brazilian-born David Neeleman (founder of American low-cost airline JetBlue), the airline is now the largest low-cost operator in Latin America with a fleet of 123 aircraft and more than 11,000 crew members. Onboard service includes individual entertainment screens incorporating free live TV at every seat on virtually all Embraer 195 jets, extensive legroom with a pitch of 30 inches (76 cm) or more, complimentary beverage and snacks, and free bus service to key airports.
- Website: Azul Brazilian Airlines
Founded in 1995, easyJet is a successful example of a European no frills airline. Headquartered at London Luton Airport, the carrier flies over 1,000 routes in more than 30 countries. EasyJet focuses on developing strong positions in Europe’s leading airports – flying between airports people want to travel to with optimized frequency. Its principal competitors at these leading airports are the legacy airlines and charter carriers. EasyJet’s structural cost advantage relative to these airlines allows it to offer passengers more affordable fares. This cost advantage is created through a combination of factors including aircraft configuration enabling a higher number of seats per aircraft; higher load factor and aircraft utilization driven by its point-to-point model; and a younger fleet with lower maintenance costs.
- Website: easyJet
In 1996, Clive Beddoe and a team of like-minded partners started the Canadian airline WestJet with three aircraft, five destinations and 220 employees. 22 years later, WestJet has three different aircraft types and fly to more than 100 destinations in North America, Central America, The Caribbean and Europe. Over 14,000 WestJet employees are dedicated to flying more than 22 million guests a year, on over 700 flights per day, with a fleet of over 150 aircraft. Over the past decades, the carrier has established a reputation for flair, humor and community engagement. WestJet is currently going through a transition phase to becoming a full premium carrier as it has introduced an excellent Business Class hard product on its Boeing 787 routes to London, Dublin and Paris.
- Website: WestJet
Jetstar Airways is a low cost carrier and a wholly owned subsidiary of Qantas. Jetstar Airways launched Australian operations in 2004, New Zealand trans-Tasman operations in 2005, and New Zealand domestic operations in 2009. The carrier also serves short and long-haul overseas destinations. The brand also operates in a Singapore JV (as Jetstar Asia) and a Japanese JV (Jetstar Japan). Whilst retaining its user-pays model where passengers may purchase food and beverages on board from the Jetstar Café, Jetstar Airways has also introduced products and services that are normally only associated with full-service carriers such as code-sharing, frequent flyer programs and a Business Class offering.
- Website: Jetstar Airways
The Norwegian story began in 1993 although the airline only started operating as a low-cost carrier with bigger Boeing 737 aircraft in 2002. Norwegian is now the fourth largest low-cost carrier in Europe behind Wizz Air, easyJet and Ryanair. The airline is known for its distinctive livery of white with a red nose, with portraits of high achievers on the tail fins of its aircraft. Norwegian has also become part of the fabric of Nordic culture and takes great pride in exporting our Nordic values across the world. It was also the first airline in the world to join the UN Climate Secretariat’s climate action-initiative in 2019, pledging to work systematically to become carbon neutral by 2050. In the last decade, Norwegian entered the long-haul sector with a fleet of B787 planes serving the USA, Asia and South America; unfortunately, the carrier had to end these flights due to the pandemic.
- Website: Norwegian
AirAsia started as a low-cost carrier with operations in Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and India, and has carried more than 600 million guests to over 160 destinations in its network across Asia, Australia, the Middle East and the US. The carrier offers simple, cheap air travel at its absolute finest. If you prefer to travel in a bit more comfort, there is an option for premium economy as well. Recognized for its excellent service, the airline has been named Skytrax World’s Best Low-Cost Airline 11 years in a row from 2009 to 2019 and World Travel Awards World’s Leading Low-Cost Airline for eight consecutive years from 2013 to 2020. Since 2018, AirAsia has embarked on a transformation journey to become more than just an airline, with the inclusion of hotels, holidays, activities, online shopping and more.
- Website: Air Asia
JetBlue is the 6th largest airline in the USA, with its main base at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The company was founded in 1999 by Brazilian-American entrepreneur David Neeleman and based on the success formula of Southwest Airlines, although Jetblue tried to distinguish itself by offering a superior inflight entertainment system and more leg room in couch. Jetblue is now a leading carrier in Boston, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood, Los Angeles (Long Beach), Orlando, and San Juan, and carries more than 38 million customers a year to over 100 cities in the U.S., Caribbean, and Latin America with a fleet of Airbus A320 and A321 and Embaer E190 planes. Much more than a low-cost carrier, JetBlue offers seatback screens at every seat, free brand-name snacks and drinks, free onboard WiFi, live TV and an excellent Business Class product (called ‘Mint’).
- Website: JetBlue
- Review: read here my review of JetBlue Mint onboard an A321 (New York to St Maarten).