It’s not just you – flights are getting more expensive, and steeply so. Research by Kayak released in February 2023 found that summer flights between the UK and Europe are around 32 per cent more expensive than they were in 2022, while long-haul flights are currently 27 per cent more expensive than they were last year.
So what can we do if we’re determined to travel but don’t want to break the bank before we’ve even arrived? Enter: the budget airline. Most low-cost carriers have increased their fares too, but booking with these cheaper alternatives will – more often than not – leave you with more money to spend on accommodation, food and drink and activities on the ground.
Our editors have travelled worldwide on all sorts of flights, from swish business class suites to economy airlines. We asked them to share the budget airlines they’d happily travel on again – this is how they answered.
“I have to be honest and admit that I’m slightly biased here – my partner is an EasyJet pilot. But that admission aside, any insider knowledge I’ve gleaned over the years has left me with a soft spot for this budget airline. While as a passenger, the experience doesn’t compare with higher-end carriers such as British Airways, it’s what they do behind the scenes in the aviation industry that makes me like them. Staff are treated fairly, they have regular mental health and wellness check-ins, and they have launched a Women in Flight scholarship programme dedicated to balancing the gender bias in the industry (at the moment, only five per cent of professional pilots worldwide are women). It doesn’t make up for the cramped seating and the frequent delays, but it does soften the blow…” Olivia Morelli, senior digital writer
“JetBlue is a relatively young airline – it only launched in 1999. This carrier does most of its business in North America. I flew with the company to Mexico City, and it was a super pleasant experience. There are lots of different tiers of ticket types, which means you can spend as much or little as you please on your flight, depending on your needs. The cheapest ticket of the lot doesn’t include food, but if you’re travelling a short distance, you probably won’t miss meals, or you can always bring your own lunch or dinner on board and skip the often hit-or-miss airline food altogether.” Amber Port, audience growth manager
“I’m biased, because I was the launch editor of their inflight magazine (and they were lovely, progressive clients), but I’ve always loved Norwegian Air Shuttle. Especially flying from Gatwick to Scandinavia, the automatic check-in is always smooth, and the staff tend to be good, with none of the cattle-herding or militant bag-checking at gates that you get with some budget airlines. The prices are still low, but it doesn’t feel like a budget airline – especially when you arrive at the glassy airports in the big Scandinavian cities.” Toby Skinner, features director
“A mini shout-out, too, to Bangkok Airlines – another airline that at least used to have a great magazine and was always flying me to a little tropical shack of an airport; a pure holiday airline.” TS
“I might be the only person in England who doesn’t passionately hate Ryanair. Look, I’m not about to try and claim that the experience of flying with them is luxe. But it is genuinely cheap – I just did a random flight search to prove my point and found return flights – across a weekend during the Easter school holidays, no less – to Stockholm, Oslo and Milan for £60 or less. I can get by with just a small carry-on if I’m only travelling for a few days, and I’m all for nabbing a Boots meal deal at the airport rather than paying airline prices for food. Any time I’ve had flights cancelled or delayed (which, let’s face it, was often during the pandemic years), I’ve found it easy to get my flights reimbursed or credit added to my account.” Sarah James, deputy digital editor