Chances are you have heard of, or even flown with, one of the many domestic discount airlines. If so, you probably already know they can get you to your destination for a fraction of the cost a legacy carrier would charge you. “No frills” airlines such as Allegiant, Frontier and Spirit have made a name for themselves in the travel industry by charging travelers a bargain fare, generally for a plane made up of only one cabin class, and offering nothing as complimentary. That means you’ll end up paying for everything, from printing a boarding pass to putting a carry-on bag in the overhead to, in some cases, the blanket you cover yourself with during the flight. But, if you’re smart and only get the absolute necessities, you can save a lot on airfare.
In recent months, the same concept of “no-frills” airline companies has begun to invade the American international sector as well. Long-haul discount carriers such as AirAsia X, Level, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Wow are all offering unbeatable fares to destinations in Europe and Asia, all while disrupting the cadence legacy carriers have been putting in place for decades.
For more than 20 years, AirAsia has been providing low-cost airfares throughout the region to more than 100 destinations—making it Asia’s largest low-cost carrier. At the beginning of this year, the Federal Aviation Administration approved AirAsia’s request to begin operating flights from Asia to the U.S., so at the end of this month, AirAsia X will begin its four-times-a-week service between Honolulu and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a connection in Osaka, Japan. Introductory rates were listed at $99 each way, which served as a huge boost for the airline because Pacific routes are typically the most expensive. But the airline has since announced that everyday fares will not be quite as low. AirAsia X plans to use an Airbus A330-300 plane, which seats 365 coach passengers. Like most discount carriers, every amenity comes with a fee: preferred seating, meals and checked baggage. Wi-Fi is not available on the flight, and although passengers on their other flights have the option of paying for in-flight entertainment provided by a mobile tablet, they have not announced whether the route to and from Hawaii will.
Level is a brand-new discount airline based in Barcelona, Spain and was created as a direct response to the Norwegian Air Shuttle. Level is a part of the International Airlines Group, which also owns British Airways, Iberia and Aer Lingus. They’re the latest airline entering the long-haul trans-Atlantic market with their expansion to the U.S. last year. Level flies from their base in Barcelona to Los Angeles and Oakland, Calif., with base fares starting as low as $149. They shuttle an Airbus A300-200 with 293 seats in coach and 21 seats in premium economy twice a week to LA and three times a week to Oakland. Travelers can expect a comfortable journey, with individual nine-inch seatback displays for in-flight entertainment and a two-four-two seat configuration. Wi-Fi is available during the flight, but at an additional cost like most everything else. Level costumers are able to earn and redeem points through IAG’s loyalty program.
The Norwegian Air Shuttle is one of the largest low-cost carriers in the world. In 2016 alone they transported more than 30 million people to destinations all over the world. They were one of the first companies to disrupt the international travel market with highly competitive rates—scaring the legacy carriers that had traditionally dominated the sector. Unlike most leisure-focused discount carriers, Norwegian services major U.S. cities such as Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, New York City, San Francisco and Seattle and European capitals such as London, Paris and Stockholm. Recently, the airline received approval to begin service in Newark, N.J., Newburgh, N.Y., and Providence, R.I. Base fares typically start at $139 but can increase rapidly, depending on time of travel and flight add-ons. Be sure to compare full rate (including baggage, etc.) to legacy carriers to ensure that you don’t, in fact, end up paying more. For long-haul routes, Norwegian flies Boeing 787-8 and 787-9 aircrafts, seating 259 and 309 passengers in economy, respectively. Each seat features an individual display with in-flight entertainment and both USB and AC power. There is a small premium cabin available, which includes all lounge and priority access. Unfortunately, however, Wi-Fi is not available in-flight.
Wow Air is the latest discount carrier disrupting the market. The Iceland-based carrier shuttles passengers from major U.S. cities such as Baltimore, Boston, Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco to Europe with connections in Reykjavik (giving Americans the perfect excuse to explore the Nordic island). Soon, Wow will start flying to Chicago, Miami and Pittsburg as well. They operate a single class cabin (coach). However, they have the option to upgrade to larger seats for additional room. Every seat has AC power, but Wi-Fi and in-flight entertainment are not available.
The next time you find yourself planning a trip out of the country, be sure to explore the options of low-cost carriers. You might just end up saving yourself a ton of money!
Megan Pinckney (@shadesofpinck) is a retired beauty queen turned lifestyle blogger who loves exploring the world and writing about it.