How Do Low-Cost Airlines Work?

Date: 21 JUN 24

Low-cost airlines have revolutionised the way we travel, offering affordable flights that make air travel accessible to a broader audience. Major players like Ryanair, WizzAir, EasyJet, and Jet2 have become household names, renowned for their budget-friendly fares. But how exactly do these airlines manage to keep prices so low? Let's explore the key strategies and practices that enable low-cost carriers to offer such competitive rates.

The Business Model of Low-Cost Airlines

1. Charging Extra for Baggage

One of the most noticeable ways low-cost airlines keep their base fares low is by charging extra for baggage. Passengers often have to pay additional fees for checked luggage and sometimes even for larger carry-on bags. This approach allows airlines to offer a bare-bones ticket price while generating additional revenue from baggage fees.

2. Secondary Airports

Low-cost carriers often operate out of secondary airports, which are usually smaller and located further from city centres. These airports charge lower landing and takeoff fees compared to major airports, translating to cost savings for the airline. For instance, Ryanair frequently uses London Stansted instead of Heathrow or Gatwick, significantly reducing operational costs.

3. Fleet Uniformity

Using the same type of aircraft across their entire fleet is another cost-saving measure. Ryanair, for example, primarily operates Boeing 737-800s. This uniformity simplifies maintenance and training processes, as crews only need to be familiar with one type of plane, leading to reduced costs in parts, training, and operations.

4. Quick Turnaround Times

Low-cost airlines are known for their quick turnaround times. By minimising the time an aircraft spends on the ground between flights, they maximise the utilisation of each plane. Faster turnarounds reduce idle time and increase the number of flights each aircraft can operate daily, boosting revenue.

5. No-Frills Service

Unlike traditional airlines, low-cost carriers do not offer complimentary meals, drinks, or in-flight entertainment. Passengers pay for these extras if they want them, which keeps base ticket prices low. The absence of such luxuries reduces operational costs and the weight of the aircraft, leading to fuel savings.

6. Self-Service and Penalties

Low-cost airlines encourage passengers to handle many aspects of their travel independently, such as printing boarding passes at home or using mobile boarding passes. Failure to comply often results in penalties. Ryanair, for instance, charges a fee if passengers need to check in at the airport instead of online, incentivising the use of cost-saving digital services.

7. Seat Selection Fees

Passengers who wish to choose their seats in advance usually have to pay an additional fee. This practice not only generates extra income but also encourages passengers who do not mind where they sit to book tickets at the lowest possible price.

8. Dynamic Pricing

Low-cost carriers employ dynamic pricing models, where ticket prices fluctuate based on demand. As more seats are sold, the price for the remaining seats increases. This surge pricing helps maximise revenue and encourages early bookings.

Statistics and Comparisons

  • Passenger Numbers: Ryanair carried over 163 million passengers in 2023, making it the largest European airline by passenger numbers. EasyJet followed with approximately 93 million passengers.
  • Average Costs: The average fare for a Ryanair flight was around £40, compared to over £100 for traditional airlines like British Airways.
  • Market Share: In 2023, low-cost airlines accounted for approximately 30% of all European air travel.


Low-cost airlines like Ryanair, EasyJet, and Jet2 have mastered the art of cost-cutting and efficiency to offer affordable travel options. By charging for extras, using secondary airports, maintaining a uniform fleet, and focusing on quick turnarounds and no-frills service, these airlines can keep their base fares exceptionally low. Their innovative approach has not only made air travel more accessible but has also forced traditional airlines to rethink their pricing strategies, ultimately benefiting consumers with more choices and competitive prices.

how do low cost airlines work

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