As a budget conscious traveler, when looking for the best fares, most often turn straight towards budget airlines such as Southwest, Ryanair or AirAsia. But they might not always be your best bet, as I take a look at below…

There’s no doubt that low-cost airlines have a distinct place in our skies; I am the first to admit that I think budget airlines are one of the best things that have ever happened to the world of air-travel. They allowed air travel to be accessible to the masses, not just a select few. As a result, they hold a big chunk of the short-haul flights market worldwide.

Budget or Legacy?

However, increasingly over the years, passenger experience has been on the decline. Profits have been prioritised over customer service, leading many travelers to wonder if it’s really worth it to travel on these budget airlines. The other choice for travelers is to fly with ‘national/legacy airlines’. They offer improved service, but a generally increased price-tag. Here are a few considerations to take before booking with budget carriers:

  • Baggage fees. Low-cost airlines tend to be a lot stingier with their baggage dimensions, weights and allowances, and some are notorious for being pedantic when you’re even 10 grams over the limit. If you’re known as a ‘liberal packer’, perhaps consider an airline with a more lenient hand luggage policy. You could end up with a cheaper fare.
  • Destinations. Especially when flying to big cities, low-cost airlines tend to fly to the less popular ‘alternative airports’, for example London Stansted, Paris Orly, or New York La Guardia, which are often further from the city centre, and with less frequent/fewer transport links. This also makes transiting to other airlines more difficult. Bear in mind the increased taxi/train fares as a result of flying to less central airports.
  • Air-miles. Generally, budget airlines don’t have a frequent flyer scheme, so you can’t accumulate air-miles. On the whole, the air-miles collected are negligible on short flights. However, if you do a lot of short hops, this extra value could prove useful for scoring a free flight/upgrade in the future.
  • Service. Any budget passenger will be able to recount anecdotes of hidden charges, queuing, and knee-crunching legroom. This often turns a dream holiday into hours of stress.
  • Refreshments. Although a minor point, the refreshments offered onboard budget airlines are generally very expensive. Some ‘national flag carriers’ will offer free drinks/snacks to their passengers, offering a saving if you’re often peckish onboard. Read more on airline food here.

Budget vs Legacy: British Airways

Sample some afternoon tea on BA, free of charge!

  • Refunds. It is a well-known fact that refund policies are virtually non-existent on low-cost airlines. If your travel plans could be subject to change, I’d recommend booking a flexible ticket with an established carrier. And don’t forget to read up on the fare rules first.

Final Thoughts

Low-cost airlines do have their place with budget-conscious travelers, but I would definitely recommend shopping around before setting all your holiday’s hopes and dreams on the cheapest advertised fare.