What you should know about flying budget

IT makes sense to fly budget when you can save big. Yet for as many travellers there are lauding the advent of budget carriers which not only make air travel affordable but also permit them to fly frequently, there are as many who turn their noses up on them.

So before you jump at that attractive offer to fly at what appears to be a ridiculously low fare, make sure you know what you are buying. Consider these cases.


Case #1

Courtesy en.wikipedia.com

My friend Al who makes frequent short business trips between Tangier in Morocco and European destinations has a stack of Ryanair tickets that he books way in advance to take advantage of the lowest fare. Each trip costs him under US$20, which he would not bat an eyelid to forego if he could not travel on the booked date. In the big scheme of things, he believes, he has saved a sizeable amount in airfares. But Al travels light (and never carries checked luggage), and the journey is too short to make a fuss about service.


Case #2

Another friend, Steven, flew from Sydney to Singapore in business class on Scoot. At check-in he was charged AU$120 for 6 kg excess baggage. That works out to more than 10 per cent of the fare he paid, although you could get a business class fare for as low as AU$500 as advertised by Scoot. Had he travelled economy class, the excess baggage fee could be as high as 60 per cent of the fare!

What upset Steven more than having to pay for excess baggage was the way the situation was handled. First, his request to remove some items so that he could hand-carry (since he was allowed 10 kg which he had not fully utilized) was rejected. It was as if this was too good an opportunity for the airline to pass up. Second, he never received a response from Scoot to his feedback/complaint.

Budget carriers are not as generous as legacy airlines with baggage allowances. Many are the stories of travelers – holiday-makers in particular – caught in a similar situation.


Case #3

A colleague, Lee, was excited about the promotional fare for a cheap holiday in Bangkok for his family of four, paying a price that was less than 20 per cent what he would have paid on a full-service airline. Unfortunately, when his plan fell through, he could neither change the date of travel nor get a refund.


What else should you know?

Do not just go by the advertised fare (as with the fares of full-service airlines). You will be surprised how the applicable taxes and surcharges may be more than the fare.

Food and beverages, if available, are expensive on board. You’ll be lucky if water is free. Some airlines may not allow you to bring food onboard, so as to boost the sale of in-flight meals.

Expect delays and cancellations. Most budget airlines do not the fleet and flexibility to meet exigencies. In the event that these happen, it can mean a long wait for the next flight. Do not expect transfers to other airlines. And you can forget compensation.

If you flying budget to connect with another airline, there is no guarantee you can make it in the event that the budget flight arrives late. There is a greater problem when the budget flight arrives at a different terminal and if you have checked baggage. Budget carriers do not have arrangements with full-service airlines for baggage transfers or guaranteed connections on whether the booked or an alternative flight.

Courtesy Airbus

Special services such as wheelchair assistance may not be available or are provided at hefty fees. Some budget carriers prefer not to carry passengers that require such special services. In June, passenger Colin Poole was shocked to learn that Tiger Airways would surcharge him SG$500 (US$406) for wheelchair assistance when his ticket cost only SG$156. Apparently he was not informed of the charge when he booked the ticket. Another passenger, Jack Lai, who booked with Jetstar was told at check-in that he would have to pay a surcharge amounting to more than the SG$200 he paid for the ticket.

Courtesy abc.net.au

You should know how the budget carrier that you book with operates. For example, Ryanair requires you to check-in online and print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport. There is a fee if you check-in at the airport. Many budget airlines do not assign seats, so it may mean split seating for a group of people travelling together. Southwest Airlines practice block boarding according to the time you check-in.

People who complain about budget carriers’ lack of service may be reminded about the definition of “no frills”. The cut-and-dry handling is often considered rude. Indeed, some budget carriers’ staff are well known in the industry to be infamously rude, as if justifiably so as they cannot afford the time to waste on frivolous requests and complaints.

Budget carriers may not admit it publicly, but they do not thrive on customer loyalty. They know only too well that their class of customers cares more about the cost. My friend Al is one, who will continue to fly budget. But my friend Steven has sworn he will stick with the full-service airlines.


About David Leo
David Leo has more than 30 years of aviation experience, having served in senior management in one of the world's best airlines and airports. He continues to maintain a keen interest in the business, writes freelance and provides consultancy services in the field.

One Response to What you should know about flying budget

  1. deephopes says:

    nice post .. true indeed .. even i prefer budge carriers only when the distance is short and I don’t have much stuff to carry ..

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