How to find no-frills airlines
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 flicks.
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 decade).
Keeping track of them can make you dizzy, which is where these resources come in handy.
Search Engines for No-Frills Airlines
Momondo.com (www.momondo.com) - Before I get into details, just know this: 95% of the time, I find the lowest fares on Momondo. Yes, Momondo quietly blows most of the other aggregators out of the water. It searches more than 600 airline sites, plus booking engines, search engines, travel agencies, online discounters, etc. This is two to three times as many sources as the competition—including the low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines most of the other search engines ignore—and it pays off.
You can also quickly see which flight is cheapest and which uiest (and which best overall), as well as use all the usual filters on the results (length of flight, departure/arrival times, number of stops, airlines, etc.).
I ran Momondo through many tests, and 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 almost 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.
Skyscanner (Skyscanner.net) - Anotehr excellent aggregator that, like Momondo, also includes the little low-cost carriers and no-frills airlines ignored by most other search engines. I like that you can be as vague on your departure/arrivial points as simply an entire country, rather than a specific city of airport—you never know when, say, a flght into Bologna will actually be cheaper than one to Rome or Milan.
Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com) - In addition to canvassing 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.