You are currently viewing How an ULCC (Ultra Low-Cost Carrier) Works

Ultra Low-Cost Carriers seem to have a really bad reputation among some air travelers. This is mainly because most people are not used to this relatively new concept and don’t understand these companies’ very different business model.

Having personally been on more than 70 ULCC flights myself, I strongly recommend them and that is why we display many of these flights on our flight deals page. ULCC stands for Ultra Low-Cost Carrier and they are incredibly different than low-cost airlines, it is actually a completely different business model than any airline you’ve ever flown on before.

ULCCs make flying for ridiculously low prices possible thanks to completely unbundled base fares. Everything that is “free” on other airline isn’t actually free: it’s built into the ticket price, whether or not you want or need that particular service. With ULCCs, you only get a seat from Point A to Point B, and honestly that’s really all you need if you want to travel more!

By using our tips, thanks to our experience (I have flown on 70+ ULCC flights in the past 5 years), you will be able to buy these dirt-cheap flights and never pay a single dollar more. Every time I have used ULCCs, I never had to spend more that what the base fare was, so it’s definitely possible to avoid the extra fees. My 3 roundtrip flights to Florida cost me $100 last December, and I also had a $10 Warsaw-Stockholm flight (and dozens of others) without paying a single dollar more. ULCCs are amazing: they allow you to travel much more frequently at a very low price.

For those of you in Montreal, WOW air is an ULCC flying from Montreal-Trudeau to Europe and Spirit Airlines and Allegiant Airlines both fly to Florida out of Plattsburgh airport, 45 minutes away. For Toronto, WOW air also flies to Europe from Toronto-Pearson and Spirit and Allegiant are both in Niagara Airport across the border. For Ottawa, you can obviously drive to Montreal or also Ogdensburg, where Allegiant flies to Florida. Finally, from Vancouver, you have a lot of options from Bellingham across the border, as well as Flair Airlines from Abbotsford.

Most importantly, two Canadian ULCCs will launch in the Summer of 2018.

Other airlines around the world considered to be ULCCs include Frontier Airlines, Ryanair, Norwegian, Wizz Air, Scoot and Air Asia, just to name a few. These ULCCs are upending the airline industry with their extremely low prices and their concept of “pay-per-use”… and contrary to what you might think (or what you may have heard), it is the best thing that has happened to the industry in a long time… as long as you know how it works. No, these carriers aren’t ripping anyone off, no they don’t have old planes and no you won’t give you bad service! Quite the contrary.

Just think about it. Going to Florida for $100 roundtrip. To Europe for $200… yes, that is what ULCCs make possible.

Here are the most important things to know to understand how Ultra Low-Cost Carriers work:


1. You need to pack light

Okay, so yes, these companies charge for any checked baggage and even carry-ons in most cades, so you have to stick with a standard backpack. Learning to travel light is super easy by the way and I did it more than 50 times personally, without ever paying a penny more than the ticket price. No extra baggage fees, ever. Not once. With a little bit of effort, you can fit all the essentials in the included (and free) backpack allowance, even for 14-day trips, so it’s totally achievable. The basic rule is that if you really need a “real” bag, be sure to check if flying ULCCs is still cheaper than regular airlines when counting the added fee (scoop: it’s often less expensive even then).

Why it’s worth it:

Like we just said, most of the time, even including the price for a checked baggage, Ultra Low-Cost Carriers are still a lot cheaper than the other airlines. Even better: if you leave for a short trip, you are allowed a free backpack and shouldn’t even think about paying a dime more. It’s more than enough space to pack everything you need and avoid extra fees, especially if you leave for less than 10 days and even more so if you visit places like Florida, where the weather is warm so you don’t need clothes that take up much space.

If you prepare in advance and pack everything you need in a standard backpack, you can board the flight without any additional fees (believe me, I did it over 40 times, and never have I needed more than a small backpack). If it seems impossible, it’s just that you’re not used to it. Once you’ve done it, you’ll see it’s not that bad… and easier than it sounds!

A few tips: wear multiple layers of your clothes that take up the most space on you for the flight (well, actually at least for when you board and then you can stuff your bag fuller if you want once boarding is done). I will also post a blog shortly with packing tips so again, come and visit the blog often or subscribe to your local Flytrippers newsletter!


2. You need to stick to the basics

You want to choose you seat? There are fees for that. You want to eat? There are fees for that. You want to go to the bathroom? Okay don’t worry, it’s still free… for now ? !

Why it’s worth it:

First of all, the flights are just so inexpensive, who cares? Many “regular” airlines now also have extra fees for selecting seats. Don’t pay for that, worst case scenario you’ll just sit anywhere! Check-in online precisely 24 hours before your flight and you will have the best seats for free. For food, just eat before boarding! You pay for your three meals on your own like an adult about 365 days a year already when you’re not traveling, right? Do it the day you fly out too. You can even bring your own food on the plane, which ensures you’ll eat something you enjoy! Paying $200 more to get a cheap $10 meal onboard isn’t that smart… When you go to the movies, it doesn’t include any food, just a seat. Well, it’s the same with these flights. Stick to the basics.


3. You might be a tiny bit less comfortable

Most Ultra Low-Cost Carriers don’t have reclining seats (except on transatlantic flights), which leaves a little less space than other companies, and most have a bit less legroom.

Why it’s worth it:

Honestly, it’s not that bad. I am almost 6 feet tall and I sit relatively comfortably. I have enough space for my legs and even if it doesn’t come close to a cozy couch, it’s really worth it. Saving literally hundreds of dollars in exchange for a little less space. Doable. And honestly, the difference between flying coach on “regular” airlines who keep squeezing more seats on planes and ULCCs is almost nonexistent.

About the reclining seats, I personally see it as a positive. The person in front of you can’t move his seat up and down, so your personal space won’t be invaded. Personally, there’s nothing I hate more than having a fully-reclined seat in front of me. I can live with less legroom, but someone’s seat in my face makes me mad. However, having fixed seats implies that you will maybe have a little more difficulty falling asleep, so bring some music… which brings us to…


4. You need to entertain yourself

Absolutely no entertainment systems on most flights.

Why it’s worth it:

Not so long ago, almost no planes had televisions attached to the seats. It’s really not the end of the world! It’s kind of worrisome if you can’t manage to live without a TV for a few hours, to be honest. Bring your earphones, listen to your own music or watch your own movies, or even better, bring a book. You will survive, I guarantee it!


5. You have to be flexible

The time of the flight could be a little inconvenient, you could have to use a secondary airport for the departure or the landing, you’ll probably lose a bit more time during a layover on your way to Europe and you will probably have to be more flexible on your dates than usual to get the best prices.

Why it’s worth it:

If you really want to save money on your plane ticket, you will have to make a few sacrifices that will allow you to fly far more often (and go to Florida 3 times in 3 weeks like I did last December), or even splurge on better hotels or more activities with the saved money! It is obviously not for everyone, but if you’re not too demanding, it’s really worth it, given how low the prices can be!!!


And since we at Flytrippers love to give you more for your money, here is an extra thing to know about Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers:


The most important thing to know about ULCCs

Plan on using ULCCs? You must be ready for this, the most inconvenient aspect of it all: flights with Ultra Low-Cost Carriers are so inexpensive that you won’t ever be able to pay the full price again! Personally, I paid under $100 for a round-trip flight so many times in the past few years that any short flight over $200 seems ridiculously too expensive now and I feel so bad when I pay more.


On a more serious note…

Ultra Low-Cost Carriers are also extremely safe. In fact, Spirit Airlines (our recommended carrier for Florida) even has the youngest aircraft fleet in all of North America. So, yes, even on $100 flights, you board an almost brand-new plane, which is far from always being the case with regular airlines, who often have aging fleets (notably because they’ve been in business for so long).

The ULCC model means less perks, but one thing where they don’t cut corners is safety and maintenance, that’s for sure: everything related to safety in commercial aviation is extremely severely regulated and monitored by authorities, so don’t worry, the rules are the same for all airlines, no matter the ticket price. Finally, it is equally worth mentioning that the service from the employees of these airlines is excellent and that you won’t feel on a discounted flight at all. Try it, you’ll see. You’ll definitely love it.


Bottom Line

We received many many messages from our readers that had never been on ULCCs and decided to trust us and try it… and they always tell us how great their experience was! What have you got to lose? The flights are really cheap…


Any questions? Ask us in the comments below.

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Andrew D'Amours

Andrew is the co-founder of Flytrippers. He is passionate about traveling the world but also, as a former management consultant, about the travel industry itself. He shares his experiences to help you save money on travel. As a very cost-conscious traveler, he loves finding deals and getting free travel thanks to travel rewards points... to help him visit every country in the world (current count: 71/193 Countries, 47/50 US States & 9/10 Canadian Provinces).

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. slim

    Travel from Toronto to London, Uk and not having to pay for seat selection? Is it possible ? where

    1. Andrew D'Amours

      Hi, I am not sure I understand your question. There are no ULCCs currently flying from Toronto to Europe. But in all cases, you can always choose to not pay for seat selection. With any airline in the world. Just skip seat selection and they will assign you any seat when you check-in online 24 hours before your flight (or at the airport).

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