On the surface, budget airlines always appear to be the cheapest option. However, fares aren’t always as they seem when it comes to budget airlines. There’s a myriad of hidden charges when flying on budget airlines – whether that’s baggage fees, seat selection fees, credit card fees or flying out of a far flung airport that costs as much as the flight itself to reach by public transport.
Are budget airlines really cheaper than the full-service alternative?
I’ve chosen five key routes from around the globe in order to compare the cost of using a budget airline with using a traditional, full service airline. All fares will be calculated for flights on the same date (Tuesday 1 October 2013) for a passenger with one bag (weighing 20kgs) who wants to select a normal economy seat (not one with extra legroom) and pay by credit card. If flights depart or arrive at alternate airports, I’ll add the cost of public transport into the equation.
London to Berlin
Flying on Easyjet from London Luton to Berlin Schoenefeld - Total journey cost $109.70
(Fare $55.50, credit card charge $2, baggage $21.50, seat selection $4.70, train to Luton $22. train from Schoenefeld $4)
Flying Lufthansa from London Heathrow to Berlin Tegel – Total journey cost $ 92.55
(Fare $75, no charge for baggage, credit card charge $6.85, no charge for seat selection, Tube to Heathrow $7.60, train from Tegel $3.10)
Bangkok to Singapore
Flying Jetstar from Bangkok Suavarnabhumi to Singapore Changi – Total journey cost $92.85
(Fare $69.25, baggage $14.25, seat selection $5.20 and credit card charge $4.15)
Flying Malaysia Airline from Bangkok Suavarnabhumi to Singapore Changi via Kuala Lumpur - Total journey cost $198
(Fare $194.50, seat selection $3.50, no credit card charge, no charge for baggage)
The budget option is far superior when it comes to these short hops around South East Asia. Airlines like Jetstar Asia and Air Asia make travelling in the region really quick and affordable. The service on Air Asia is very pleasant and the flights are short enough that you don’t miss the meals and in-flight entertainment. You can by snack on board or pre-order hot meals (which aren’t bad) for a reasonable price.
New York to Chicago
Flying Spirit from La Guardia to O’Hare – Total journey cost $149
(Fare $74, baggage $30 for checked and $35 for cabin, seat selection $10, no credit card charge)
Flying Delta from JFK to O’Hare - Total journey cost $132
(Fare $107, baggage $25, no seat selection offered at booking, no credit card charge)
Unless you’re flying in a premium cabin, there aren’t any true full service airlines flying domestically within the US. Almost every US airlines will charge for baggage for domestic flights, some offer free snacks but not meals and some don’t have any in-flight entertainment. If those things are important to you check very carefully before you book. Although not a huge difference in price between these two airlines, accounts from other travellers would suggest avoiding Spirit at all costs. Have a look at their reviews on Yelp or AirlineQuality.com and you’ll see why – shabby planes, very tight seating arrangements and poor customer service.
Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur
Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on Air Asia - Total journey cost $338.75
(Fare $287, baggage $28, seat selection $15.50, credit card charge $8.25)
Melbourne to Kuala Lumpur on Emirates - Total journey cost $513
(Fare $513, no charge for baggage, seat selection or credit card)
Dubai to Istanbul
Dubai to Istanbul on Pegasus Airlines - Total journey cost $159
(Fare $140, mandatory check-in fee $6, No charge for baggage or credit card, seat selection $13)
Dubai to Istanbul via Doha on Qatar Airways - Total journey cost $242
(Fare $242, no charge for baggage, seat selection or credit card)
The budget airline wins this route on all fronts. The flight itself is cheaper and it’s direct. Why spend seven hours in Doha airport if you didn’t need to, right?
So…. are budget airlines really cheaper?
On some routes… no!
If you’re flying in Europe or the USA, check the budget airline fares but add in all the additional costs and compare with the alternative airlines. While the budget airline’s fare may appear cheaper at first, that won’t be the case once you add in all the additional charges.
For flights around South East Asia, budget airlines by far represent the best value for travellers. They’re significantly cheaper than full-service airlines even with the added fees.
I was surprised to find budget alternatives to the big Middle Eastern carriers. They’re affordable, the routes are interesting and the networks extensive.
For long haul flights, for example between Asia and Australia or New Zealand, budget airlines are cheaper unless you strike a great sale fare on a full-service airline. Factor in your personal circumstances and decide for yourself whether spending a few extra dollars is worth the comfort.
Have you found flights where a budget airline wasn’t the cheapest option? Or have you ever decided to book a more expensive flight to avoid dealing with a notorious budget airline? I’d love to hear about your travel stories and tips so drop me a comment and let me know.