Air travel is amazingly affordable, despite the various taxes and surcharges that annoy the consumer (that wallop for using a credit card, anyone?). Greedy Girl is always amazed when she books her long-haul flights to find the cost is still very comparable to that dizzy period back in, ahem, 1981 when she first travelled to London from Australia. Given she was earning around $200 a week back then, a ticket on the ‘Kangaroo route’ was something that she needed to scrimp and save for.

There are a lot of reasons – obviously the travel market has boomed. Rising prosperity around the world means people in more economies now have international air travel within their reach and that’s led to new players and an enormous amount of capacity, given the number of airlines both full service and budget vying for our dollar.

The rise of budget carriers has made it even more affordable but travellers need to be aware of what they’re paying for. Too many complaints about budget carriers are founded upon expectations that they operate to the same standards and services as full-service carriers. But, if price is the biggest determining factor in your choice of carrier, a budget airline can work really well; there are things you need to know however, before you book and during your journey.

1. Have travel insurance
Some insurance policies require you to hold the policy first and then buy your airline tickets, otherwise your airfare may not be covered. Many airlines offer you the opportunity of buying insurance at the time of booking. If you are concerned something may happen to stop you going on your journey, it may be worth considering.

Remember – some things are out of everyone’s control. Some budget airlines may not have a fallback position for you if there’s a delay or a mechanical problem and there may be limits to the amount of help they can give you. If you’re travelling in the European Union, however, there is a charter of rights for airline passengers which covers issues such as delays, cancellations, if you are denied boarding, as well as the compensation you may be entitled to. Check it out here.

2. Print out your boarding passes or do web check-in
We all know there are airlines that charge outrageous amounts of money if you don’t print out your own boarding pass – Ryanair is a prime example. Most airlines now have an app where you can download and retain your boarding pass on a smartphone. If you don’t have a phone capable of that or the ability to access the internet, head for a public library – usually there is some facility for you to get on the web and do what needs to be done. Even if you’re staying at a hotel where there’s a fee for the service, it’s bound to be cheaper than what the airline will charge you.

Not all budget airlines require you to have your boarding pass in advance. Make sure you read the airline’s requirements when you book.

If you do use web check-in, some budget airlines have priority lanes at the airport. It’s worth you looking for that benefit.

3. Luggage – think about it
Even some full service carriers now require you to pay an extra charge for checked-in luggage. Some budget airline fares include checked bags but most don’t. Again, it’s cheaper to purchase a checked-bag allowance online rather than at the airport.

Have evidence that you’ve paid for baggage. Don’t depend on the computer system having it as part of your booking. I pre-paid for luggage on Norwegian for a flight from Stockholm to Budapest. It was not attached to my booking. I had to show the check-in attendant my email confirmation on the iPad before she agreed not to make me pay again.

When we travel to Singapore on Jetstar, we pre-pay for one bag between the two of us. We can ensure we have enough clothes for a 10 day trip with some room for any purchases on the way back. Make sure you adhere to the weight limits. You’re unlikely to get away with heavier bags. On our last trip coming home from Singapore, the check-in attendant did a double take when we put our suitcase on the belt. It was 12kg over the limit. We both whirled around to notice a young boy in the queue behind us was helpfully standing on the machine with our suitcase. After he stepped back everyone sighed a collective ‘Whew’.

If you’re going for a short period, you may not need to purchase luggage. Be warned though that airlines are cracking down on the size and weight of hand luggage. Make sure your liquids fall within the guidelines to bring on to an international flight. Having a larger can of deodorant that you try to justify by saying: ‘it’s only half full’ (and yes, I’ve seen someone try to argue that very point), will cut no ice with security personnel.

4. Self cater
When we’re flying from our home city, this is reasonably easy to do. The morning of our flight, we make up filled bread rolls (ensuring there are not items that contain too much moisture, else it will go soggy) and wrap securely in cling film and foil. We take pieces of fruit – a crunchy, juicy apple is a wonderful thing at 40,000 feet. It gives your jaw and ears a working over and the moisture is a welcome thing. We also pack a few of our home-made Anzac biscuits (or any cookies/biscuits will do). That’s more than enough for the seven or so hours it takes to fly from Melbourne to Singapore.

We also take an empty water bottle and fill it once past security. On Jetstar, requests to refill the bottle with cold water are always honoured with a smile and not the slightest bit of fuss. Some readers baulk at drinking water that has been contained on an aircraft but we’ve done it loads of times and are still here to tell the tale. On recent trips we’ve even started taking tea bags on board. We ask the attendants for a cup of hot water and have a very welcome cup of hot tea. This is particularly nice on the return flight from Singapore, which is overnight. The lights come on, we ask for the hot water and we sip away.

When you’re flying home, it can be a bit more tricky to cater. Some airports have reasonable food courts where you can buy filled baguettes or other pastries. They’re often not sealed as well as you’d hope so, after more than a few hours in your carry-on bag, they can be a bit dry. Fruit and biscuits are always a good bet, though and you can purchase them well before you get to the airport.

Or, of course, you can flash your plastic and buy what’s available on board. Some airline food is OK. Some.

5. BYO creature comforts
So, you’re on a budget airline and you’re making do with what is usually a reduced amount of personal space. There are also, in the cheap seats, no on-board creature comforts. You either need to BYO or pay extra. I never fly long-haul (which I define as three or more hours) without my noise-cancelling headphones. I ensure before I travel that there is an extra battery for them in the case and that gets me through the longest sectors I fly (from Asia to London and across the Pacific from Australia to the west coast of the US). I also bought a travel kit from a supermarket in Singapore. It has two inflatable pillows (one standard, one for the neck) and even though they’re plastic, they’re a brushed material that doesn’t sweat or feel awful close to the skin. Again, highly recommended. It also contains an eye-mask. Even if you’re flying overnight, an eye-mask is an essential.

Want to freshen up? A pack of moisturising wipes in your carry-on luggage work wonders for me. I also take the complimentary toothbrush and toothpaste from the hotel room to use on the plane. One of those little tubes is more than enough to clean your teeth twice on board (if you’re on a long flight).

Even if I’m travelling to and from a hot climate, aircraft interiors aren’t always terribly warm, especially on overnight flights. I take my trusty Uniqlo down jacket with hood everytime I travel. It folds down to nothing and it is big enough to wrap around my legs and other bits if I start to feel cool. If you’re a stylish traveller, you might invest in a nice pashmina which can double as a blanket. I also carry my own ‘plane socks’. Shoes come off for comfort and get stowed overhead. Fresh socks (which go over any socks I might start with) keep my feet warm.

A word for the girls (and guys) who wear earrings. I’ve noticed that if I keep my earrings in while I’m using over the ear headphones, the area around the earring can feel a bit inflamed. Now, I take out my earrings and put them in my travel purse (which sits securely around my waist, kind of a bag on a belt) and put my headphones on.

I ensure I’ve got plenty of reading material and my fave games on my iPad and some great playlists to listen to on my phone. I have a couple of movies on there but haven’t yet been moved to watch them, not enjoying a small screen.

So that’s my five-point guide for maximising your comfort and minimising your outlay when travelling on a budget airline. It’s important that you play by the airline’s rules – trying to bend them will probably only result in heartache for you and damage to your hip pocket. If you want to pay extra for all the amenities offered by the airline on board, then feel free. If you’re like me, though, and prefer to spend your money at ground level, I hope this gives you some helpful information.

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