Best Airlines for Budget Travelers

airplane seatsOnce by sheer luck and a New York blizzard, I ended up in first class. As I rushed onto the plane in a traveler’s flurry, my arms burdened with coats, books, and boarding passes in an RFID blocking passport case, a poised flight attendant asked if I would care for a glass of champagne. For free. What kind of stupid question is that? There is only one right answer to that question and it’s “Damn straight, I want a free glass of champagne.” Since that day, the closest I’ve come to first class is walking through it on my way to the back of the plane. Given that I’m always trying to find the cheapest way to get from Point A to Point B, I have to consider myself lucky if I’m even on the plane. Trust me, if there was a way to hitchhike across the Atlantic, I would have tried it already. Since the odds of me scoring another free first class ticket are not looking good, I’ve had to content myself with finding the airlines that best accommodate the fiscally challenged traveler.

Here are my top picks:

I love Lufthansa. Love. One because they’re part of the Star Alliance so I get my United miles when I fly with them and two because every time I fly with them, I get free alcohol and not just with meals. Look, if I have to wedge myself in-between two other people for 10+ hours while watching the worst romantic comedies known to mankind, I’m going to need alcohol. A lot of it. Plus, the food is generally pretty good. Incidentally, the last transatlantic flight I was on was British Airways. Service was great, movie selection was good, but food was terrible. I mean, really bad. Come on, BA. Next time, just pour us a bowl of cereal and call it good.

Typically, this is not on my list of budget airlines. There is nothing budget about Virgin. That said, they often have some pretty amazing deals and if you’re flexible with your travel dates and/or location, you can sit in the lap of luxury at a significantly reduced rate. Virgin always has the nicest perks. The technology is usually spot on (inflight Wi-Fi, anyone?), the food is good, and the seats are comfortable. Plus Virgin has that kind of hip and trendy feel to it.

Turkish Airlines
Say what? That’s what you’re thinking right now, isn’t it? I have found some super sweet deals on Turkish airlines both within Europe and across the Atlantic. LA to Istanbul direct? Yes, please. The food is good, the service is great, and their baggage restrictions aren’t so ridiculous that you consider flying with nothing more than the clothes on your back.

economy seatEasyJet
Between RyanAir and EasyJet, EasyJet will win out for me every time. Word to the wise, these airlines are great if you bring your own food and have absolutely no baggage. A Switzerland to Egypt flight will cost you 25 Euros, a bit more if you include your bag. For flights over one hour, I’d really recommend bringing your own food. They have an in-flight menu with snacks and sandwiches, but again, it’s not cheap. Think movie theatre and amusement park pricing.

Aer Lingus
Whenever I’m headed to Europe, I always check Aer Lingus to see if they have deals starting in major U.S. hubs like San Francisco, New York, or Los Angeles to Dublin. If you get the timing right, and you don’t mind flying into Dublin, they have some amazing transatlantic deals. Regardless, they always offer relatively inexpensive flights to various European locations.

By Nikki Hodgson