To travel on a full service or low cost airline?

by Nicole Edgar

One of the biggest changes in recent years within the travel industry has been the rise of low-cost/budget/no-frills airlines. Whether you are planning to fly within Australia or internationally, flying has never been cheaper. These carriers characteristically offer lower airfares and fewer inclusions than their ‘full service’ competitors: no frequent flyer points, no complimentary meals, no airport lounge access, no pre-assigned seating requests, no inflight entertainment, no checked-in luggage allowances, etc. You’re also charged extra if you want to pay by credit card or if you need extra leg room or an exit row (if offered). Businesses are also continually tightening their travel budgets, and using low cost airlines may be a way to make savings.

Personal travel manager Nicole Edgar, is a mum with a family of four, so she understands the need to make savings wherever possible. Like many of her clients, she would rather pay less for her airfares and use the savings to pay for a higher standard of accommodation or more sightseeing activities. But do cut-price airlines really offer better value for money? She’s done some research to see if you’re really saving much money overall – her findings may surprise you.

As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”. I found that the typical characteristics of booking with cheaper airlines include:

  • You’re booking cheaper, fixed price airfares most of the time, so often no further discounts or sale fares are made available.
  • Airfares are usually instant purchase – i.e. book and pay on the spot, with no ability to hold seats while you ponder your options.
  • Airfares are usually non-refundable and non-changeable, or are highly inflexible so that if you need to change your travel dates or times, you will be charged a fee or will need to cancel and rebook a new fare.
  • If you want any added extras (such as checked luggage, pre-selected seats, inflight meals, snacks and drinks, inflight entertainment, extra leg room or an exit row seat), you have to pay a surcharge for the pleasure.
  • The seats themselves may be narrower and less comfortable, with less leg room and reduced recline pitch.
  • The terminals and check-in desks are often furthest away from the main areas of the airport, and in many cases the aircraft stop on the tarmac rather than at a gate. As a result, you may have to catch a bus back from the tarmac to the terminal, or walk long distances within the terminal, making your overall journey time significantly longer.
  • No airport lounge access, and you are unlikely to earn frequent flyer points towards any loyalty programs.
  • Very few low-cost carriers offer business class seats – most cabins are solely economy class.
  • Only a few work with travel agents, so that if you want to book a flight, you have to deal with them directly via an online booking system or phone. Call times and response rates can be slow and the telephone system can be complicated.
  • There are limited interline agreements between other airlines, making your travel arrangements less streamlined and less convenient. For example, you will have to collect your luggage at each airport, and re-check your bags in to the next destination – rarely are they checked all the way through to your final destination.
  • No complimentary transfers are offered between domestic to international terminals or vice versa.
  • Flight schedules may be less convenient, often with longer connections and operating at less desirable times of the day and night.
  • Can be unreliable – flights are delayed, rescheduled or cancelled more often than full-service airlines. When this happens, you are stuck at the mercy of their call centre for a solution, instead of being able to call on the help of your personal travel manager.

Compare this to the perks of booking with a ‘full service’ airline:

  • Generally-speaking, fares are higher, but if you book far enough in advance or during a sale period, you can often grab yourself a bargain.
  • Group discounts, corporate rates and special promotional rates are all an option, whereas standard fares are more flexible, allowing time and date changes in many cases.
  • No need to book and pay instantly if you book through a personal travel manager.
  • More inclusions are provided, such as inflight meals and drinks; inflight entertainment and amenities; checked luggage allowance; and pre-assigned seating.
  • There is often a range of cabin classes offered: i.e. economy, premium economy, business class and first class.
  • More comfortable, spacious and better quality seating than cheaper airlines, usually also offering more leg room and recline pitch.
  • More extensive flight routes and schedules due to better agreements with other full-service airline partners, meaning more passenger-friendly timetables and shorter wait times between connecting flights.
  • Luggage can usually be checked all the way to your final destination when booking with partnered airlines or the same airline, making your travel experience more streamlined, convenient and efficient
  • You’ll earn frequent flyer points on most airfares purchased, plus access to airport lounges when purchasing higher priced airfares.
  • More central and convenient locations at airport terminals and gate lounges.
  • Generally better reliability, with fewer delays, cancellations, schedule changes, meaning less interruptions to your travel plans
  • More personalised touches: shorter wait times and more reservations staff, plus the support of your personal travel manager, who is allowed to make bookings on your behalf, so that you have a little lee-way in paying for flights (subject to the airlines’ airfares rules and conditions).

Nicole concludes that clients should choose wisely and engage the assistance of their personal travel manager to help make that choice a wise one. For more airfare advice you can view Nicole’s profile and contact her here.