The "12 best budget airlines"

Last week, Fox News compiled a list of the 12 best budget airlines, which is worth checking out if you have some free time to spare. Some of them you may have never heard (such as FastJet). Others you've probably never tried (such as LAN Airlines or IcelandAir) and a few may seem obvious (Southwest - but are they really considered 'budget' these days?) 

Here is the 'Desirable Dozen' ranked in no particular order. The ones in bold represent airlines that I have flown on in the past:

  1. JetBlue
  2. Southwest
  3. WestJet
  4. LAN
  5. IcelandAir
  6. Aer Lingus
  7. EasyJet
  8. RyanAir
  9. FastJet
  10. Hawaiian Airlines
  11. Jetstar
  12. Tiger Airways 
So I am seven for twelve. Not too shabby, considering most of these airlines are regional operators and fly on short-haul routes. I'll describe a few reasons why Fox feels that these airlines give you the best bang for your buck, and, where applicable, I'll provide a few tidbits of my own on my in-flight experiences on some of these carriers :) 
My third jetBlue flight on February 5, 2010 from Chicago O'Hare to New York JFK.  That day, I flew B6 #908 on N183JB, a jetBlue E-190 that commemorates former CEO David Neeleman. He is part Brasilian and started Azul Linhas Aereas in Brasil that follows a similar LCC-hybrid model. Note all the battleship gray UA planes at ORD! 
JetBlue: best social welfare for passengers
"Comfy leather seats and televisions for all!" 
Complimentary snacks like linden's chocolate chip cookies, Terra blues potato chips and Dunkin Donuts are among tasty snack options, and to top it all off, your first checked bag flies free of charge. Taking the red-eye? JetBlue offers a complimentary snooze kit and pre-landing treats like towels, hot coffee and orange juice to help you gree the new day.

I flew JetBlue back in 2009 and 2010 between Chicago and New York a few times. I will agree, the perks are unbeatable: aside from free luggage and snacks, passengers get their own in-seat personal screen with 36 channels.  While great, I honestly don't really watch TV, so I don't find much purpose in this in-flight feature unless there's an exciting sports game or movie on. 

Why I don't fly with them regularly: I think JetBlue offers a great brand, but it really is only attractive to people who are based in a big JetBlue city (New York, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Oakland etc).  However, me being located in Chicago, I don't really find much use for them :( They are starting a new flight from ORD to San Juan, Puerto Rico, which could be a big hit! 


Beautiful sunset taken aboard a Southwest flight from St. Louis to Chicago Midway on July 17, 2009, back during my NRSA days as a Swatern! 


Southwest: most laid-back

"Fun-loving employees and open seating options" 

Your first bag flies free, and your biggest decision all day will be choosing between the window and aisle seat. 

Southwest is phenomenal, and always will be.  Every time I curse a mishap when flying out of O'Hare, I think about how much simpler and gentler the process is flying SWA out of Midway. Southwest has the nicest cabin attendants with the most straightforward boarding process. Refreshments and snacks are provided on longer flights (who DOESN'T love complimentary, unlimited honey roasted peanuts and toasted Ritz crackers!?) plus two free checked bags and no change or cancel fees? 

The planes are also always clean, COMFY and roomy, and I don't think SWA gets enough credit for this.  Beats the hell out of United (sCO's) domestic 737s. I rue being subjected to UA/CO's 737s, the seats are simply horrendous, even in EconomyPlus. 


Why I don't fly with them regularly: Well, for starters, I don't truly believe Southwest is as "low-cost" as they claim.  I'm often unable to find prices/fares that are more competitive than the legacy competition. Since I get free checked bags and have same-day change fees waived with United, its a moot point. 

Also, Southwest flights can get boring, especially when they're over 3+ hours.  But, I haven't flown SWA since January 2011, and a lot has changed since then in the form of in-flight WiFi, which probably makes the journey easier. 


WestJet: no compromises on caring

"Connecting Canada with the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean

The idea behind WestJet is that you shouldn't get less service just because you're paying less for a ticket. 


WestJet cabin crew conducting the on-board beverage service in style, taken on flight 1523 from ORD to YYC, June 14, 2012. 

I flew on WestJet last year from Chicago to Calgary and back from Vancouver.  Another really neat airline that was relatively drama-free to deal with.  They would prefer NOT to be known as Canada's answer to Southwest, even though they are the younger, more "hip" airline in the Great White North that has provided a more convenient, lower-fare alternative to the larger, yet more lethargic, network carrier Air Canada. 

It is more favorable towards adopting ancillary revenue practices compared to Southwest, offering a wide array of on-board product sales and charging for a second checked-bag fee and a small change and cancellation fee.  It is adding a new regional subsidiary, WestJet Encore, as well as a premium/extra-legroom Economy cabin this year. It has a lot more in common with JetBlue than Southwest, and is also very profitable. 


WestJet contracts their ground services at O'Hare, but they still fulfill the warm duty of thanking its "guests," as WS refers to their passengers, by holding up a Thank-You sign during pushback.  Taken by me here at Chicago O'Hare flying WS 1523 to Calgary on June 14, 2012. 


WestJet relies more on ancillary products, such as on-board food sales, relative to most North American low-cost carriers and hybrids.  Offered here was a delicious tandoori chicken sandwich, quinoa salad and Vitamin Zero water I bought on my flight from Chicago to Calgary last summer. Truthfully, the sale was probably no more than $12 USD/CAD which is a very reasonable deal given that airport concessions are becoming increasingly expensive (an unhealthy!) 

Why I don't fly with them regularly: WestJet only operates seasonally into Chicago, and their network from ORD is limited to Calgary and Vancouver. 


LAN: Hidden gem?

"Gateway to South America"

LAN is known for their reasonable long haul prices between the U.S. and a variety of destinations

This item was probably the one that didn't belong.  I flew LAN extensively when I studied abroad in Santiago, Chile in fall 2008 (you can click here to access my trip report flying LAN from Santiago to Rio de Janeiro).  Granted, LAN is definitely not a bad airline, but they are by no means a budget carrier.  I know for a fact that their pricing and disribution tactics are subject to scrutiny: for example, a travel shopper seeking to book a domestic flight within Chile, but searching from a point-of-sale outside of the country, will be charged five times more than if they were physically located inside the country at the time of sale. 

Why I don't fly with them regularly: As an airline, they provide decent service, but it's a tad cookie-cutter for me.  The flight attendants were a bit too robotic for my liking. Truthfully, I think LAN over-prides itself for being one of the premier successful airlines from Latin America (which is so 2000s, considering airlines like Azul, COPA, TACA and Avianca have all caught up) and LAN's network and product isn't cutting-edge. They have more potential than they realize, yet really do not go the extra mile.

They kind of remind of what United should have turned out to be had UA's merger with Continental not been as disastrous as it ended up becoming.


Economy class cabin taken on LAN Airlines #750 from Santiago de Chile to Rio de Janeiro (via Sao Paulo) on December 11, 2008.  The boeing 767 on LAN offers a PTV in YCL and features a 2x3x2 configuration.


Main cabin meal offered on LAN Airlines, flight 750 from Santiago de Chile to Sao Paulo, Brasil. The dish was some sort of ham, egg and cheese "bake," and while not the best meal ever had, at least it was warm.  Service on the return flight (an A320) was a tray of cold cuts, significantly inferior to this one. 


IcelandAIr: InCEntives, anyone?

"Spice up your next transatlantic flight with a free stoppover in Iceland"

Thanks to IcelandAir, you have the option of adding a stay of up to seven nights when traveling from the U.S. and Canada to EUrope for no additional cost to your original plane ticket.  If you have time to spare, don't imss the opportunity to tack on a few days and explore this intriguing nation, home to the Blue Lagoon, gorgeous national landscapes, and a rare chance to catch a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights.

Definitely sounce entICE-ing. I honestly have never flown on IcelandAir, although I am aware that they are known as the "backpackers airline" offering tremendous flight deals between the U.S. and Europe over its hub in Rekjavik Keflavic Int'l airport.

Fortunately for North American travelers, IcelandAir operates a robus transatlantic network to New York, Boston, Washington, Orlando, Minneapolis Denver, Seattle, Halifax, Toronto and Anchorage connecting to a series of destinations in mainland Europe.


IcelandAir's route network (June 2013) courtesy of 


Aer Lingus: Erin go bragh!

"Service with a brogue and a smile"

Customers can look forward to an impressive amount of in-flight entertainment: long haul flights from the U.S. feature a large selection of movies, TV shows, music on demand, and several radio stations and gaming options and complimentary in-flight WifI on all flights beginning June 2013. 

I've never flown Aer Lingus long-haul, but I did fly them short haul between London Heathrow and Dublin in July 2007, and I must say, I loved their short-haul service. I remember enjoying a delicious cheese sandwich and buy-on-board coffee.  Their flight attendants were spry and their seats roomy on a lovely Airbus A321.

Why I don't fly with them regularly: I'd argue that similar to IcelandAir, Aer Lingus is kind of just a "niche" carrier that connects several U.S. cities with large origin and destination demand (Chicago, Boston, New York and Orlando) with its ports in Dublin and Shannon (seasonal).  They probably provide fairly attractive deals on transatlantic flights to mainland Europe, and offer some "hybrid product" attributes on-board their planes. 

My friend Maggie Bo recently flew on them to Europe from Chicago, so I have to get some feedback from her on their service.  She was really looking forward to the trip, and trying out their VGML service, (which I pre-ordered for her). 


My A321 maiden voyage on Aer Lingus, pictured here is EI-CPH "St Dervilla" taken at Dublin Airport on July 27, 2007 by me. 


EasyJet: Easy, Sassy and Innovative

"Affordable flights around Europe and the Middle East"

If you're hoping to visit more cities while in Europe or the Middle East, this airline makes it easier to hop on a plane to a new place for less. Their nifty Inspire Me tool can help figure out where you want to go next - just enter the European city you plan to leave from, set your budget range, and watch the options appear. 

I flew EasyJet from Malaga, Spain to London Gatwick in August 2011, and loved them. It was a quirky little airline that provided the perfect carriage within short-haul Europe.  Of course, it is no-frills and charges for additional items without requiring customers to pay hand-over-fist for small hidden fees.  The fares were attractive and the service on-board was efficient and humorous, making the entire journey less stressful and fairly painless.  


Captain Rohan operating the jetway! Just kidding :) waiting to board EasyJet flight U2 8616 to London Gatwick at Malaga airport in Spain, August 10, 2011. Yes, I am very tan in that photo. 

Why I don't fly with them regularly: I think the article provides a good assessment crediting EasyJet for being suitable for quick, one-way short hops around Europe. In my situation, my friends and I were flying on an open-jaw itinerary in Europe, flying into Stockholm and out of London on our international segments, and visiting Spain in between. Ideally, having EasyJet as an option to get between countries on a one-way basis was the perfect setup (although, my arm *could* have been twisted into flying a Star alliance carrier for extra points, but I went with the flow).

Also, the "inspire me" travel search tool is a BRILLIANT innovation in travel shopping.  I highly suggest checking it out! 


RyanAir: You get what you pay for

"Cheap flights - but watch for extra fees"

Without any checked baggage, this airline can be a great way to see more cities for a fractio nof hte price you would be spending on another airline.

I think that the article had to call this one out simply as a token/plug for RyanAir's deeply discounted base fares, that are probably offered at the most unheard-of levels in the airline industry. While I haven't flown RyanAir (and I do want to just for the story) it's not high on my bucket list, and I think most people know what they're getting themselves into on that one. 

FastJet: Fast way to a Safari

"Africa's first budget airline"

Domestic flights start at $20 one-way, and you are allowed to bring one carry-on item as long as you can stow it into the overhead compartment, making this no-frills airline an affordable option to hop between popular destinatios like Kilmanjaro, Zanzibar and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania

Good for Africa! Hope this one gains some traction. Visiting Africa isn't really high on my radar list this year of places to travel, but ya never know! 


Hawaiian Airlines: A gem in the Pacific

"Your ticket to paradise"

If you're on the east coast and think a trip to paradise is financially out of the question, think again. Hawaiian Airlines began non-stop flights from New York JFK's International Airport last June, creating quite a stir in the tri-state area with prices in the $400s for a round-trip ticket

Hawaiian was actually my first airline to fly in the new milennium, from Lihue, Kauai to Honolulu, Oahu on an old DC-9.  So, I guess it is unfair to say that I have had extensive experiences flying them on their mainland/transoceanic flights. However, I will say that I've heard they offer the best mainland and premium product on flights from the US to Hawaii relative to the competition: American, Delta, United, US Airways and Alaska. They serve free meals in the main cabin (which every US airline has done away with) and also offer a very extensive network to the South Pacific, Oceania and various regions in Asia. 

Why I don't fly with them regularly: they do not fly to Chicago, and I don't really travel to Hawaii often enough to justify flying them I guess :( 


"Lower your tray tables and raise your expectations" reads a Hawaiian Airlines ad displayed on a bus in San Francisco. Taken by me in early April 2013. Hawaiian offers the most "freebies" on flights between the mainland US and the islands of all US carriers. 


Jetstar: good value in the APAC region

"Domestic flights between cities in 15 Asian and South Pacific countries"

Australia's award-winning low cost airline is Jetstar Airways, helping people fly between hotspots around Asia, the South Pacific, and Hawaii for less since 2004. You have the flexibility to choose how many included amenities you wand while booking thanks to their cheap base fares and abilities to add extras as you go.

While I've never flown any of the Jetstar brands, I know that they pioneered the concept of a long-haul, low-cost business model that has enabled travelers in the Asia-Pacific basin to partake on longer-stage journeys without coughing up an arm and a leg. Jetstar is also a subsidiary of Qantas, which is nice in that as a "baby" to its parent company, passengers can book into certain fare classes that provide traditional network carrier perks, such as frequent flier program accumulation and lounge access.


Tiger Airways: for travelers that act like Tigers

"Great for hopping between major cities in Asia"

Tiger Airways offers low fares great for last-minute split decisions to explore a new city.  Check out their Flight Combos for even more savings and a chance to tack on a free two-hour guided sightseeing tour of Singapore if you have at least five hours to spare between connecting flights.

Nice value-add there, Tiger! I can see this being a nice little perk for the little Asia-hoppers.

Share your thoughts on these airlines in the comments below!


Hard for me to consider LAN and Hawaiian a LLC....and What are you Doing listening to fox news!

Rohan May 10, 2013 at 12:22 am

@Rocky: agreed, hence, why I said LAN was the one that did not really fit.

HA needs to spin a profit before anything!

G and C May 10, 2013 at 07:07 am

Thanks Hawaiian Air! We flew three trips to HNL this year on UAL thanks to Hawaiian for less than $500 each. United had to match the competition from NY (EWR). Hawaiian is top notch, but, we wanted my Star Alliance points and upgrades.

LOL @ Tiger Airways. Don't we all want to be on a plane full of other people acting like tigers?!? What do they do, bite someone who reclines into them?

I wouldn't touch the Aussie branch of Tiger Airways with a 10 foot pole. Easy Jet is a nice, well run LCC in Europe.

LAN doesn't belong in a list of LCCs.

PK May 10, 2013 at 03:23 pm

I don't understand why JetBlue is considered a "budget" airline when they are in many ways more full-service than the regulars: Snacks and beverages, in-flight entertainment, and a free checked bag. It was a breeze to travel with them compared to the "full service" delta where the cattle filled the overhead bins with their carryons in order to save on the checked bag fee.

I have flown Tiger airways twice. One from SIN-BKK and another time BKI-MNL (Clark). Very much no thrill service and VERY cramped! My sister Bf is 6'3" and he had to sit with his legs in the aisle! The good thing is the Upsales are REALLY cheap! For example Buy on Board Snacks are only $2-$5 and luggage is close to $5-$10. So truly budget! However I vowed to NEVER fly Tiger again, after they stole items from my partner's & friends luggage! (

I've also flown Jetstar between Bali and Singapore (operated by scary name Valu Air) and within Oz from Sydney to Fraser Island. Again no thrill airline. Much more strict on carry on baggage size and more expensive for B.O.B. products. But still a cheaper Qantas on many routes. Neither airlines would I rush to fly again, but when traveling intl' its nice to have cheap options for the short haul flights!

Rohan May 10, 2013 at 03:44 pm

@G and C: Wow! Were you upgraded on all three flights?? If so, how was the service on the UA F flights to Hawaii? I know that United flies a pmCO 767-400 on this route (as do they on the seasonal? IAD-HNL flight) but I've heard they do not do CPUs on this route.

Sadly, this is the scenario I don't like: a new carrier enters offering a superior brand and product, like HA on NYC-HNL, and the entrenched legacy hub airline, like UA, will match fares to fill seats and do damage by power and scale even though they're the inferior carrier!!

@Tara: First of all, nice blog! Thanks for visiting and for the post :)

Second, I like your witty comment. What is your opinion on the Tiger Australia vs. Tiger Singapore vs. Tiger Indonesia situation?

Agreed on LAN. I think that this news article just felt compelled to select a carrier from each continent and, being pressed for time, randomly selected LAN as the winner. Had they done more proper research, they could have probably come up with a much better list (i.e. Volaris, Interjet, VivaAerobus, Azul Linhas Aereas, Aires Colombia, Sky Airlines, etc) that would have been a bit more innovative.

@PK: JetBlue is actually a hybrid. It deserves credit for allowing its business model to add on additional features and complexities while maintaining a relatively low-cost operation base. And, I would agree - it has definitely differentiated itself from network carriers by providing perks and products that the others have done away with.

Thank you Rohan for your kind comments about my blog! I haven't actually flown on Tiger Airlines in any country. Their reputation in Australia precedes them and I stay clear. I just got back from Indonesia but Tiger wasn't an option for West Papua so I didn't even know they have a branch there.

Zeb May 13, 2013 at 11:02 am

I've flown Iceland Air a number of times from MSP to ARN, mostly in the early to mid-2000s. Overall, the seats aren't bad, and back then the prices were amazing (although they seem to have gone up quite a bit over the past few years). The FAs leave a bit to be desired, with few smiles and a not-always-so-great attitude, but they do what they need to at least. The opportunity to stopover in Iceland for a few days is cool, but I have yet to take advantage of that option.

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