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Published November 9th 2012
Cheap Flights: Bargains Bliss or Hair Raising Events
Budget airlines, low-cost carriers and cheap no frills airlines. Don't we all love a bargain, but at what cost? Are you really getting a bargain or as some of the recent TV shows have shown us, could it all go horribly wrong at the airport?
Image - Wikimedia Commons
Why are they so appealing? Only one reason - they are either inexpensive or are perceived to be cheap. Great flights that are easy on the wallet, extensive and diverse destinations, what could be bad about that? Do you really get what you pay for or are there still great bargains to be had?
The bad bits - things to be aware of:
Don't we love to hate the low cost carriers - we search for all the grumbles, perhaps not because we want to gripe, but because we are really trying to see if they could possibly be as good as they sound.
People seem to love to grumble, some of their gripes are certainly justified, others come about due to buyers having either set expectations rivalling that of regular airlines, or because they've failed to read the details of why their ticket was so cheap.
I was caught out with this once - arriving at our usual airport only to discover the flight was booked to leave from a smaller airport around 2 hours away. With no possible way of getting there in time for check in, the ticket was thrown away (money along with it) and another flight was booked on the spot (at my expense) on another carrier departing later in the day.
As soon as I could, I thoroughly read the details to see where I went wrong. In tiny print at the bottom of the terms it stated "most of our flights leave from Tullamarine airport, some may depart from other locations".
It did not state where or how to find out, but I will never book with this company again, now that I know this is a possibility, even as a last minute change, we now only book flights that depart from one airport only.
Solution: call the carrier on the morning of departure to double check your departure point and allow enough time to en travel to either.
Delays These seem to be one of the most common complaints and with some of the truly budget airlines, flights can be cancelled for any reason with no alternative available. They will refund the full amount you paid in this instance, but that's not much compensation when the other airline leaving that day (if possible) may be 10 times the cost of what you are being refunded.
Some of these don't greatly matter, particularly on short haul flights.
Food is generally not included and although available you will need to pay extra and it will be expensive once in the air.
Solution: budget for this, eat prior or bring snacks with you. Keep in mind any liquid like foods such as yoghurt will be taken from you prior to departure as will drinks purchased prior to security.
Some carriers will charge for entertainment and possibly even if you are cold and want a blanket.
Solution: go prepared, take a warm shawl which will double as a blanket, no matter how hot on the ground as airline carriers can be freezing and a good book, or meditate.
Choosing your seat may not seem so important until you realise you are travelling with a friend or children and you are separated all over the plane. Want to sit together? Sure, that's possible, but you may have to pay extra…per sector!
Solution: travel alone, don't mind being separated or check with the airline firstly to see if this is a possibility.
Luggage: generally you are allowed around 5-10kgs of hand luggage. It must be a certain size and fit easily under your seat or in the overhead locker.
Want to check in more than this or not carry it all with you? You can, but it will cost more!
Credit card payment for your flight: sure that is fine, but you may be charged a surcharge for using it. Decide to pay another way: your flights are not held nor confirmed until your payment is received by the carrier. Solution: none, you have to pay it and cost it in to your charges. It may still be cheaper though.
Far far away: your landing point can be as interesting as your departure point, with many cities having multiple airports. If you land an hour further out than the usual destination and you need to take a taxi in, the savings on the ticket could be chewed up in the taxi ride, not to mention additional time delays on your journey.
Additional fees at the airport: some of the tickets have certain conditions, for example, you may need to do Internet check in. Arrive at the airport without having firstly checked yourself in and there will be another fee (around $25pp) to check you in.
Solution: read all the fine print and check in where and how you are meant to.
Image - Wikimedia Commons
The good bits: ah yes, there are some and it may actually still be worth it.
Tickets can be cheap. Sometimes amazingly so, we recently bought flights return to Tasmania for $19. Once we added all the taxes, fees and extras in, they still came to around $60 return per person which is great and for a very short flight (provided it actually departs) it's a great deal.
Routes and paths are getting more comprehensive and competitive every day. You can currently fly from Melbourne return to Malaysia for around $570, including all taxes and fares if you travel on specific dates (usually away from school holidays).
Smaller airports often aren't so bad. You can get through officials more quickly and have a more personalised service.
So you have weighed up all the pros and cons, calculator in hand you have decided, "yes, this is acceptable and considerably cheaper" and you are ready to proceed:
Take note of a few suggestions here:
Use a flight checker to compare the flights. Sometimes simply booking through a different website can mean considerable savings. If you do decide to book with an agency such as Flight Centre, they will match any flight you can find that they fly with and by providing them with the quote or the web page you found it on, this will save money.
On a recent trip we took to China, we saved $200 per ticket x 4 of us, making a total saving of $800 just by spending an hour checking websites and sending the pages through for them to price check and match.
This actually made the price of Singapore Airlines the same price as the budget carriers, allowing us to fly in comfort with all the extras included at the budget carrier price.
Use services such as Skyscanner, Kayak, Travelzoo or Lastminute.com, iwantthatflight.com.au, to find the lowest fares, check for any additional fees that will be added on. Book them online or use the quotes to get a better price with your agent.
Be flexible, if you are free at varying times you may get better deals, they often come quickly and are sold out just as quickly, grab it when you can.
Book early: The cheapest fares are usually well in advance or very last minute.
Anticipate some problems: websites often crash on sale days, phone lines are blocked and when you arrive at the airport there may have been several complainers before you. Of course everything may go perfectly, in which case you are set, but expecting a few concerns can alleviate them if they happen.
Travel insurance: If you can't afford it, you really cant afford to travel. Check your individual policy to ensure it covers delays and cancellations.
Work out final costs: Take into consideration all the points above in working out your 'real' savings.
Read the fine print: We know many peeved travellers who didn't notice that they had to print out their own boarding pass to avoid paying $25 for it at the airport.
Be time savvy: On TV shows there are always passengers refused their flights as the gates close 45 minutes prior to departure. I have seen many passengers who are there 44 minutes prior to no avail. Even if you are there early, low cost carriers are often understaffed which creates delays or the passenger in front of you that is doing his number on the staff member for not being allowed on the flight may rant and rave for 30 minutes, thus delaying everyone behind them too.
All the above taken into consideration, there has never been a cheaper time to use air travel - the world is open to travellers more than ever. Enjoy.
Send me a postcard or add a comment here to let us know your loves and hates of low cost carriers.
Great article. I'm a fine print checker, but I never thought about fine print saying you could leave a different airport at any time. Perhaps an app for Android such as Airport Scanner, FlightAware or FlightRadar24 could help in this circumstance.
All great suggestions Lesley. Also, out of curiosity, can I please ask where did you book the $19 flights to Tassie? I am currently looking at flights to Tassie as well but can't find anything that cheap.
Check and double check the fine print and read it carefully 2 or 3 times so you fully understand the conditions etc: print copies of absolutely everything regarding your flight, even if it depletes the ink in your printer! Get to the airport early - allow for traffic delays etc on the way. It is always fun to have a coffee and a wander at the airport once you are all booked in and know that everything is OK! Always print the boarding pass at home and reserve your seat when booking your flight (for both depart and return). I have always done this and I have had 'super, no fuss service' when I arrive at the airport - plus the staff are always appreciative when there are lots of passengers to process who have not been prepared. Then relax and wait for boarding time!!
such a good article...we recently flew with Scoot which was so easy going in and out of Coolangatta. The fares were cheap but with seat upgrades, taxes, luggage, food and comforts on board it all added up. Even still travelling is much cheaper these days than ever before.
I frequently and almost exclusively use low cost carriers. I have to say that apart from the experience of the budget terminal in Singapore, (now changed I think), I have had none of the horror experiences often publicised. I have always had great respect,patience & friendliness from check in staff & have seamlessly & without any hassle changed my seat location on check in if my preferred seating is not available when booking on line.Be patient,respectful and always allow plenty of time at check in ... then relax with a coffee! Thumbs up from me!