There are increasingly fewer of us who can afford the luxury of comfortable air travel. Instead, we are forced to endure cramped seating, smelly people, strangers sleeping on our shoulders and unappetizing food, lest we drive and experience the same thing for three-times as long. I'd rather fly, and it doesn't have to cost as much as you think. Smart booking with the right airline can mean hundreds of dollars off your ticket price.
Which ones should you choose? No worries, we've done the hard part for you! We've found the best budget airlines to take you (almost) anywhere in the world you want to go.
Spirit Airlines (FLICKR/ Phillip Capper)
With around 200 flights per day to 43 destinations around the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean, Spirit airlines is for those who travel light and don't care whether or not they get free orange juice. Spirit became the first U.S. airline to describe itself as an ultra low-cost carrier. Their menu pricing allows buyers to pick and choose the services they want without paying for those they don't. Options include Big Front Seat (which offers two-by-two seating with an extra 6 inches of elbow and leg room), checked baggage, in-flight food and drink, and travel insurance. Though, a word of warning. Spirit only allows one carry-on item - not a bag and a personal item. One. Ladies, that means no purses unless you want to pay $35 for it.
Hub Airports: Detroit, Michigan and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with headquarters nearby Miramar, Florida.
AirTran Airways (FLICKR/ Cliff1066)
One of the busiest airlines on our list, Airtran flies around 1.7 million passengers a month to 72 destinations around the U.S., Latin America and the Caribbean. Airtran also flies more than 270 flights daily out of Atlanta, Georgia. You can expect your flight to include XM satellite radio and extra-large overhead storage bins. The catch: securing a window or isle seat will cost an extra $6, and an emergency exit seat will be another $20 (and you have to save everyone is the plane crashes). Last year, it was announced that Southwest Airlines would acquire Airtran, so the airline will operate under one name early in 2012.
Hub Airports: Atlanta, Georgia and Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The airline has secondary hubs in Baltimore-Washington and Orlando, Florida.
Jet Blue Airlines (FLICKR/ Dieseldemon)
Chances are, if you've heard of any of these airlines, its JetBlue. Servicing 63 destinations in 21 U.S. states, Puerto Rico, and 11 countries, Jet Blue is one of the most talked about airlines of the low-budget age. Though it's not one of the bigger airlines, it has service to main cities like Boston, Orlando, Washington and New York, which make it a popular choice for those flying into and out of U.S. hubs. JetBlue also operates a frequent-flier program on a system that rewards travelers for dollars spent on tickets (excluding taxes and fees) as an incentive to stay flying with them.
Hub Airports: JFK International in New York.
Wizz Air (FLICKR/ Flox Papa)
Oh Europe, home of the ridiculously cheap airfare. And yet, there are still some, like Wizz Air, that manage to make it even cheaper. The Hungary-based airline was established in 1993 as a budget airline servicing Eastern Europe and the U.K. Daily flights travel to Bulgaria, Budapest, Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic, Ukraine, Britain, and Ireland. Don't fly if you want to land in the city center. Wizz often keeps costs and fees down by flying in and out of secondary airports, which could cause problems if you need to be somewhere in the city quick.
Hub Airports: Airport Business Park C2 in Vecsés, Hungary.
Air Asia (FLICKR/ Auswandern Malaysia)
If you are looking to travel to and around Asia for less, think about booking with Air Asia. The airline services cities all over the East, including Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, and India as well as Australia, New Zealand, Iran, and several European cities. Their motto is Now Everyone Can Fly, and they have been living up to that, connecting people and countries that were once inaccessible on direct flights. With so many pros, we can only find one con: there is no frequent flyer program.
Hub Airports: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Easy Jet (FLICKR/ Peter Visser)
The winner of the 2011 Best Low-Cost Airline in Europe award at the Paris Air Show, Easy Jet was top ranked by over 18.8 million airline passengers from 100 different nations, garnering top marks for customer service, in-flight comfort and overall experience. The company operates 196 flights on 552 routes, across 30 countries in Europe, North Africa and even into the Middle East. Easy Jet is the second largest budget airline in Europe (behind RyanAir) and was one of the pioneer airlines that led Europe away from its train-centered travel system.
Hub Airports: The headquarters is Luton Airport in London.
RyanAir 9FLICKR/ David Precious)
Europe's biggest budget airline, RyanAir has 161 destinations around Britain, Ireland and Europe. It is the world's largest airline in terms of international passenger numbers, with around 1,100 routes. The company continues to expand, growing 10% in 2010; this may be in part to their no-frills approach, which means no in-flight entertainment and no meals on short flights. But, when you can fly from Prague to Dublin for €32 ($44 USD), it's hard to complain.
Hub Airports: Dublin, Ireland and London, England.