Have you ever flown on a low cost airline?
Travel can be expensive. Of course, we firmly believe that it’s worth every penny and more! But we also believe that travel shouldn’t just be enjoyed by the wealthy – everyone should have the opportunity to see the world. Most of us don’t have unlimited travel budgets. That’s where low cost airlines come in. Their appeal is simple: inexpensive plane tickets, which leave you more money to spend on the rest of your trip!
The Growth of Low Cost Airlines
With budget carriers like Norwegian Air in the news, you might think that low cost airlines are a new phenomenon. They’re not! In fact, the very first discount airline launched in 1949. Pacific Southwest Airlines was the world’s first budget airline. It flew a limited number of routes within the state of California. It was followed by other low cost domestic airlines serving destinations in the United States.
The first no-frills long haul airline was Laker Airways, which started a discount transatlantic service called “Skytrain” in the 1970’s. The Skytrain service operated between New York and London from 1977 to 1982. Unfortunately, the airline couldn’t survive the global recession of the 1980s and competition from legacy carriers like Pan Am and British Airways.
Since then, low cost airlines have really taken off in the US. You’re probably very familiar with many US-based no-frills airlines, like Southwest, JetBlue, and Spirit. These airlines offer service both on domestic and international routes.
Discount airlines with long haul international routes are a growing trend. With airplanes becoming more efficient, and the internet providing easy access to customers, more airlines are focusing on budget intercontinental flights. Norwegian Air, for example, started offering service between the US and Europe in 2013. The airline has flown more than 4 million passengers since then. It’s not hard to understand why they are popular – they offer fares to Europe for as little as $69 each way!
How Do Low Cost Airlines Keep Prices Low?
Just because an airline offers discount fares doesn’t mean they aren’t making money! In order to keep ticket prices competitively low – while keeping profits up – low cost airlines have to focus both on lowering their operating costs and finding extra sources of revenue.
Some ways that budget airlines keep their costs low are:
- Efficient Aircraft. Airplanes are chosen for their fuel efficiency. Although some no-frills airlines used to buy aircraft second-hand to save money, most now purchase aircraft new to keep down their maintenance costs. They’ll also often have fleets of just one or two types of aircraft, to simplify their maintenance routines.
- Seats. Lots of seats. Unlike full-service airlines, which will offer First Class or Business Class seats in addition to having a Coach cabin, low cost airlines have only economy class seats on their planes. Budget airlines will try to fit as many seats onto the aircraft as they reasonably can… don’t expect generous legroom on a $69 flight!
- Fewer Amenities. Not only are there lots of seats on budget carrier aircraft, but those seats may not offer the same luxuries you’d find on other airlines. Airlines may keep costs low by scrapping amenities like reclining seats or back-of-seat entertainment screens.
- Labor Costs. Budget airlines keep their personnel costs low by having employees fill more than one role, such as having flight attendants also clean the cabin between flights or work as gate agents. They also use technology like online check-in to limit the number of employees they need to check passengers onto their flights.
- Airport Choice. Like legacy carriers, budget airlines also focus their flights through “hub” cities, which allow them to serve a larger network of cities with a limited number of flights. Low cost airlines may also opt to use smaller secondary airports in major cities – for instance, a discount flight to Houston may land at Hobby Airport rather than the larger George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
Nickeled and Dimed
The allure of discount airlines is that the base ticket price is low, but you may wind up paying more than you expect in extra fees. Low cost airlines try to increase their profits with “ancillary revenue.” On some budget carriers, you may feel like you’re being hit by a new fee every time you turn around! The undisputed king of ancillary revenue is Ryanair, a no-frills airline based in Ireland. It’s most famous for proposing to charge passengers to use the toilets on their aircraft.
While you may still be able to use the lavatory for free on low cost airlines, you can expect to pay extra for services like:
- Baggage. Almost every airline charges for checked baggage these days, but some airlines like Spirit now even charge for carry-on bags.
- Assigned Seating. Want to choose your own seat when you buy your ticket, and make sure you can sit next to your honey? Expect to pay some money.
- Desk Check-in. If you didn’t print your boarding pass at home, you may get hit with another fee.
- Food and Drink. Not only is there no free lunch, but you’re going to have to pull out your credit card if you want that Diet Coke.
- Frequent Flyer Programs. You may need to buy a membership in order to earn frequent flyer miles or access the special “club” airfares.
Are Low Cost Flights Worth It?
We all like saving money, but only you can decide if flying with a low cost airline is the right choice for your travel plans. When you are comparing the prices of flights, make sure you consider hidden costs, like the fees you will pay for baggage, or the transportation costs to get to a smaller, out-of-the-way airport. You should also consider how important it is to you to be comfortable on your flight. Is it better to save money on a long flight, only to arrive at your destination cramped and sore, or to spend the extra for a more luxurious flight? It’s your choice!
Stay tuned for more articles on budget travel!