How to Find the No-Frillers
Resources for how to find low-cost carriers around the world—including a new site that lets you search and book inexpensive tickets on no-frills airlines
Air travel has become so cheap the Brits now consider it an impulse buy, touted on Tube station billboards alongside ads for chewing gum and action movies.
There are now no-frills airlines flying on six continents, a grand total somewhere on the far side of 150—though exactly how many low-cost carriers there are at any given time is hard to say.
New ones pop up weekly while other fizzle and fail. Some of the biggest and most famous—like Southwest and jetBlue here in the States or Ryanair and easyJet in Europe—are monstrously successful and seem here to stay. Then again, a decade ago you could have said the same about TWA—or two decades ago about PanAm or Eastern—and look what happened to them (or the fact that US Airways, United, Air Canada, Delta, and American have all been in, or flirted with, bankruptcy in the past several years).
Keeping track of them can make you dizzy, which is where these resources come in handy.
Booking a ticket on a low-cost carrierWeGoLo.com (www.wegolo.com ) - Hurray! Finally, a combination fare aggregator and booking engine that allows you to sift through the offerings of 50 low cost airlines and then actually book the seats.
It has lots of smart features, such as letting you quickly check the cost one day earlier or later than your chosen dates (often you can save by flying on a different day), and listing both the "fare" (the airline's quoted amount for the ticket itself) as well as the actual "price" (the full amount you'll end up paying, once all the taxes and fees are added in). It also allows you split your outgoing and return ticket to fly one-way on two different carriers, if that would be cheaper (essentially, you pick the lowest fare, regardless of airline). This is why I've chosen to partner with the site and make it NoFrillsAir.com's official booking engine.
The downsides: the search engine isn't always able to pick up sale fares, so you may be able to save by going direct to the airline. It also tacks on a small booking fee—though for all-in-one convenience of searching and booking, that fee might be more than worth it. I mean, are you really going to take the time to test out your itinerary at 50 different individual airline Web sites?
Search Engines for No-Frills Airlines
Momondo.com (www.momondo.com) - This new entry (as of 2007) from, of all places, Denmark has quietly blown most of the other aggregators out of the water. It searches more than 600 airline sites, booking engines, search engines, travel agencies, etc.—which is two to three times as many sources as the competition. It even includes Southwest in its search results (which no one else does), as well as—in Europe—rail options so you can easily compare the time/cost of taking the train versus the plane.
I ran it through some tests, and the extra work they do really seems to pay off, as it almost always found the lowest available fares on domestic, Transatlantic, and inter-European flights. It found fares from carriers none of the others did, and when it did find the same flights as some of the competition, it invariably managed to find a lower price for it. For now, at least, I'm calling it: Momondo is the single best resource out there, bar none. (Still, I always shop around and run my proposed itineraries through Kayak, Orbitz, and the others, just in case.)
Another nice Momondo.com feature is the “Flexible Dates” option. Instead of returning a standard list of results for your specific travel dates, it gives you two graphs, one for the departure month the other for the return, showing you the peaks and troughs of the lowest fare available on each day of that month. Mouse over one of these graph columns for any given day and it will display the actual price, source of that fare, and flight times. Click on the dates you desire and you can then switch back to the regular search feature. Nice.
SkyScanner (www.skyscanner.net) - One of the best airfare aggregators, combining a search of more than 75 no-frills airlines around the world with all the major scheduled carriers. You can even search from a given city to find out where you can fly, from how much, and on which airlines, then further focus the search to a specific city, or view a bar graph showing all available flight dates (the height of the bar indicates the price of the flight on that date). No booking, though.
Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com) - In addition to canvasing the major European airlines, this metasearch engine (a.k.a. airfare aggregator) searches dozens of no-frills airlines—largely ones based in Europe, but a goodly selection of those elsewhere as well.
Lists of No-Frillers
Low Cost Airlines.org (www.lowcostairlines.org) - This is the site to which I usually turn first to check on the current state of low-cost and no-frills airlines. It's about as up-to-date as they come in keeping in track of the new arrivals on the low cost scene, as well as the failures (something very few other lists do well). It also points out which low-cost airlines are really fakes underwritten by major carriers (like how United and Delta started "Ted" and "Song," respectively, in a desperate attempt to fend off the competition by bona-fide upstarts jetBlue and Frontier).
AttitudeTravel (www.attitudetravel.com) - These lists of no-frillers around the world presented in a bunch of different ways, including on spiffy continental maps showing which carriers serve which countries. The site's poorly laid out and a bit busy with flashing ads and the like, and not as up-to-date as it could be (I notice a few long-defunct airlines still listed in there), but it remains a handy resource.