Low cost carriers (LCC) or Low Cost Airlines - popularly known as 'no frills airlines' due to the low cost flights they offer - first developed in 1949 in the USA but only gathered momentum in the 90s with aviation deregulation. Today, low cost carriers make up about 20 per cent of the global airline market, and are growing rapidly. Typically a low cost carrier has the following business model:

  • Economy class only
  • Offer one-way levels
  • Have smaller aircraft that fly shorter distances (NB: new concepts are being developed to offer longer flight options)
  • Offer unreserved seating or no pre-allocated seating
  • Fly to secondary airports to take advantage of lower landing fees
  • Unbundle ancillary charges
  • Book only or primarily through the internet

Low cost airlines also have limited services to a destination and have low operating costs. Their popularity has taken full-service carriers by surprise and, while their initial response was to compete with these carriers, most of them have started their own no frills service under a different brand name.

What to expect when taking a low cost flight

Low cost carriers will offer tickets for next to nothing but they will make money by charging for meals onboard, booking over the phone, changing your booking and exceeding baggage limits. Conditions of carriage on low cost flights can differ vastly from a full-service carrier, making the fine print essential reading. Low cost flights can represent good value for money; however check with your Flight Centre consultant to ensure you are booking the right airport connections most suited to your itinerary. We highly recommend buying a comprehensive travel insurance policy.

Below are some of the popular low cost flight carriers by region, and what to expect when flying on them.


This is the fastest growing market for low cost carriers. Some of the popular options are:

  • Air Asia - Malaysia
  • Nok Air - Thailand
  • Tiger Airways - Singapore
  • Spring Air - China
  • Jet lite - India
  • Lion Air - Indonesia


There are over 50 low cost carriers in Europe and they constitute about 30 per cent of the available airline seats, making it the biggest low cost carrier market in the world. Below are some of the main carriers and their country of origin:

  • Ryan Air - Ireland
  • Easyjet - UK
  • bmiBaby - UK
  • Maersk air - Denmark
  • AirOne - Italy
  • click air - Spain
  • Wizz Air - Poland

North America

The second biggest market for no frills airlines, with Southwest airlines leading the way in this space. Some of the other carriers are:

  • Jet Blue
  • Westjet
  • Frontier airline
  • Jazz
  • VivaAeroBus
  • Spirit Airline


Operating within Australia, New Zealand or the South Pacific Islands.

  • Jetstar
  • Virgin Blue
  • Pacific Blue
  • Tiger Airways

Middle East

Mainly out of Saudi Arabia. These carriers include:

  • Jazeera
  • Air Arabia
  • Nas Air


Mainly based out of South Africa. The main carriers are:

  • Kulula
  • Mango
  • 1time