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Take a Budget Airline Flight From Basic to Bearable

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Bring your own entertainment for a flight on a budget airline.

If you fancy yourself a cost-conscious traveler, you may already be familiar with the trials and tribulations of budget airlines.

But if you’re a novice enticed by the low prices, you should know that nearly everything is charged a la carte. From carry-on bags to bottled water, you’ll almost certainly need to pay an additional fee for whatever isn’t covered by your ticket. In fact, by the time you’re done racking up incidental costs, you may end up spending just as much as you would have with a standard airline.

These cheap flights usually come with no frills and few creature comforts. Here’s how you can make the experience more tolerable.

» MORE: Let NerdWallet help you find easy ways to save for your dream vacation

When purchasing your ticket

  • Read the fine print when booking. It will tell you what is and isn’t covered by your ticket, allowing you to decide whether a budget flight matches your needs. If you’re traveling to a wedding for which you need a lot of puffy clothes, for example, you may be better off selecting an airline that offers a free checked bag.
  • Give yourself a time cushion if you have a connecting flight. Some budget airlines notoriously run on a constant delay. If you’re going somewhere that requires a layover, try to give yourself at least a couple of hours between flights so that you can get to your next leg on time if your first flight takes off later than expected.
  • Consider getting travel insurance, or use a credit card that provides travel coverage. If you’re anxious about lost baggage or a canceled flight, consider investing in travel insurance. Some credit cards also cover these common travel issues, so investigate the benefits of your current cards or consider applying for a travel-friendly card before booking your trip.

» MORE: NerdWallet’s best travel credit cards of 2017

Before your flight

  • Check in as soon as possible. Some budget airlines forgo assigned seating and allow their customers to choose their seats based on the order they checked in. Ideally you’ll be able to check in for your flight online, putting you higher up in the pecking order. Some airlines also offer early-bird check-ins (for a fee, of course).
  • Pack light. Your budget airline may charge you for every bag you bring, even carry-ons, so make sure to pack only the essentials. Keep in mind that such airlines often have strict size restrictions for carry-on bags, so double-check the allowed dimensions.
  • Bring snacks and drinks. Depending on what airline you select, you might not even get free water. Bring some snacks or buy them from the airport before you board. To save even more, bring an empty water bottle and fill up at a drinking fountain before your flight.
  • Prioritize your comfort. Eye masks, neck pillows, motion-sickness medication and sleeping aids can help, even in the middle seat of a cramped flight. Don’t forget to bring your own entertainment, too, as many budget airlines don’t offer TVs.
  • Get to the airport early. To minimize the stress of the journey, arrive early so that you have time to get your bearings and deal with any unforeseen problems.

» MORE: Compare travel credit card deals

A flight on a budget airline isn’t always the easiest way to get around, but if you’re willing to put up with some mildly austere conditions, the savings can help defray your trip’s other costs.

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