Travel hacks to get the most out of a long haul, low-cost carrier trip

Long ­haul, low-­cost carriers are the new generation of cheap airlines with even cheaper tickets that can take you to faraway places for a fraction of the price of traditional carriers. Norwegian, AirAsia X, Jetstar, Scoot, LEVEL... the names are becoming increasingly familiar. But infrequent travellers experience pitfalls of booking cheap tickets, so here are my hard-­won tips on being prepared for a no­-frills airline trip.

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Are you ready for your long haul no-frills trip? Image by izusek/Getty Images

Be really careful to understand what you’re going to get

Pretty much every one of these airlines has different rules about cabin baggage and hold luggage: size, weight, number of pieces, whether you get a “personal item”, when you need to check in, and so on. Make sure that you understand what’s included and what’s extra, both when comparing prices — sometimes a good old regular airline price that includes two cabin bags may end up a better deal — and when it comes time to pack. And double-­check: it’s unfair but not unknown for the rules on bags to change underneath you between the time when you book and the time when you travel.

Garden your reservation

On that note, it’s a smart idea to log into your booking every so often —perhaps each month before you travel —to make sure there aren’t any changes to the flights. And print it out to take with you, including what you’re entitled to in terms of luggage. Be especially vigilant about changes to the type of aircraft: Norwegian, for example, frequently hires in other airlines’ planes from a variety of sources, which have different layouts: so your three seats across may not be available, there might not be in-flight entertainment, and Wi-Fi might not be installed on that plane. If you have questions, talk to the airline —or get in touch with me on Twitter and I can try to help out: I’m @thatjohn.

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Be prepared for delays. Image by Tooga/Getty Images

Don’t make immediate plans on arrival

On­-time arrivals aren’t exactly a strength of a lot of these long­ haul low­-cost carriers. So maybe this isn’t the time to chance it on an immediate transfer to your bargain cruise, or on those non-refundable theme park tickets that you managed to squeeze into the budget. It might even be smart to have a flexible booking for your first night’s accommodation that you can cancel in the event that your flight is delayed.

Make sure you have good travel insurance

On the other hand, this is definitely the time to make sure you take out travel insurance and that it’s a good one, which will cover accommodation, meals and re-booking in the event that your long haul, low-­cost carrier shrugs and says “eh, the next seat out is in five days”.

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If you can bring snacks to have onboard. Image by PhotoTalk/Getty Images

Know how to get hold of the airline — and when to stop bothering

Speaking of disruption, be prepared in the event that something goes wrong. These airlines often have minimal staff at airports, and those staff are frequently contracted from a local company that handles a bunch of different airlines. Make sure you have the airline’s app downloaded to your phone, that you follow them on Twitter, Facebook and other social media where they provide customer service, and that you have both your home country and destination country’s local phone number if you need to get hold of them. Consider popping a bit of phone­-calling credit on Skype or a similar service for emergencies, or at least knowing how to do so quickly in case you need it. If you’re 399th in a queue of 400 people needing to get rebooked at the airport, you’ll at least want to be on the phone with them to talk about options.

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It is smart to have a flexible booking for your first night's accommodation.   Image by: YakobchukOlena/Getty Images

Breathe, be flexible, and BYO

Some of these airlines have ‘no outside food or drink on board’ rules, but some don’t —bring snacks, drinks, comfort items and entertainment that you know you like, and try to take a relaxed view to an on-­time arrival, the amount of space you (might not) have, and the customer service levels you (might not) enjoy. Remember how little you paid, and set your expectations accordingly.

John Walton is an international aviation journalist, follow him @thatjohn