Cross the globe while cutting costs with these affordable long-haul airlines

travel international low cost carriers level airline 2

Level is the newest long-haul low-cost carrier to offer flights between the U.S. and Europe.


You’re probably familiar with Allegiant, Frontier, JetBlue, Southwest, and Spirit airlines, but what about WOW Air, Level, AirAsia X, Eurowings, or Norwegian? If you’re looking to save money on international travel to Europe or Asia, then you should get to know these long haul, low-cost carriers (LCC).

For domestic U.S. travel, budget airlines are common and popular. These “no frills” carriers typically offer varied price tiers, advertise bargain basement fares, serve secondary airports, operate point-to-point (versus connecting through a hub), have one class of service with little legroom, and charge fees for almost everything, like seat assignment, early boarding, food and beverage, checked baggage, blanket, etc.

Take that concept, but add many more hours to the journey, and what you get is a long-haul LCC. Unlike legacy carriers, these international operators attract customers with low fares, and then upsell on extras.

Large carriers have traditionally dominated trans-oceanic flights, and tickets are generally more expensive, but there has been growth in long-haul LCCs thanks to less-stringent government regulations and more-efficient long-range aircraft, such as Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner.

While the discount model is fine for short flights, it may be a different story for those that could be as long as nine hours (more or less, depending on the route). The schedules and destinations may not appeal to non-leisure travelers, who desire flexibility, convenience, and amenities. And, LCCs aren’t always the cheapest, so it’s a good idea to use Google Flights, Kayak, or Hopper to do some price comparison.

However, due to the popularity of LCCs stateside, as well as the many fees implemented by legacy carriers, budget travelers have grown accustomed to having fewer amenities. Paying to check a bag? What was considered heresy a decade ago is now accepted (with reluctance) by many travelers.

Thinking back to our most recent long-haul jaunt, it’s hard to imagine flying for half a day without a complimentary meal, inflight entertainment, and Wi-Fi. Which is why we think the legacy carriers still have a place when it comes to international travel, especially the destinations they serve. However, as consumer sentiment evolves and legacy carriers continue to mimic their LCC counterparts – as we’ve seen with the new restrictive “basic economy” fares introduced by American, Delta, and United – we wouldn’t be surprise if the LCC model becomes the new norm.

From a tech viewpoint, these budget carriers aren’t entirely no-frills. Some airlines offer inflight entertainment, power outlets, or even Wi-Fi. For the tech savvy, that may be enough to endure a long flight while sitting in a cramped seat.

Here are five international discount carriers that have been making news, and a look at onboard tech offered.

AirAsia X

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Onboard tech: Inflight entertainment (via mobile tablet, for a fee in coach; not available on all flights), in-seat power (business class only).

The long-haul division of AirAsia, AirAsia X announced in January that it has received clearance from the Federal Aviation Authority to operate flights from Asia to the U.S. – the first Asian LCC to do so, according to the company. AirAsia X plans to launch the four-times-a-week service on June 28, 2017, between Honolulu, Hawaii and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, with a connection in Osaka, Japan. Introductory one-way fares were as low as $99. Although regular fares will be higher, a quick search found fares are still less expensive than competitors that fly the Honolulu-Osaka route.

The route will likely appeal to Japanese holidaymakers, as Hawaii is a popular leisure destination. However, AirAsia X has had its eyes on the U.S. mainland for some time. The carrier says it is considering other states as part of its expansion plans. The trans-Pacific routes are some of the most expensive to fly, and therefore are lucrative for airlines that operate them. If AirAsia X could bring the low fares stateside, it may force traditional long-haul carriers to match. (Whether AirAsia X could turn a profit is a different story.) For now, trans-Pacific flights will remain the stronghold of legacy carriers.

AirAsia X packs them in: its Airbus A330-300 planes seat 365 coach passengers. Every amenity comes with a fee: preferred seating (we recommend the twin seats toward the rear of the aircraft), meals, and checked baggage, Inflight entertainment is provided via a mobile tablet, however, AirAsia X hasn’t announced if it would be offered on the new route. Wi-Fi isn’t an option.

Splurge for one of 12 premium flatbed seats and everything is pretty much included, plus a few extras.

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