Difference between revisions of "Discount airlines"
Revision as of 14:51, 23 April 2009
This article is a travel topic
Discount airlines, also known as no-frills carriers or low cost carriers (LCC), are airlines that offer cheap flights.
Probably the first such airline was Sir Freddy Laker's "Skytrain" of the 70s. In the US, Southwest Airlines  revolutionized American air transport by running fleets with one type of aircraft, the Boeing 737, to save on maintenance costs, and eliminating the 'frills' of air travel. In Europe, Ryan Air pioneered the concept.
Discount airlines around the world
See the article on Australia for information on discount airlines flying long haul to Australia.
Some airlines offer budget flights from one continent to another.
Round the world
It's now possible to travel around the world entirely on low-cost carriers, although the untimely demise of long-haul pioneer Oasis Hong Kong has made this rather harder than it used to be. Keep an eye on AirAsia's AirAsia X  long-haul offshoot, which promises to connect London to Malaysia starting March 2009. A sample itinerary:
The main danger with booking an LCC RTW is that low-cost carriers change routes very rapidly and, if a ticket along your route is cancelled, or the airline go bust, the airline may not be responsible for anything more than refunding your money and even that isn't always guaranteed — even if there are no other cheap options for getting from point A to point B anymore. Even changing dates is usually expensive or impossible. That's fine if you're going to set points for a short period on an RTW eg 3 weeks - but most travellers go for 2 to 12 months on a round the world flight and change their tickets often - you will need that flexibility. You can try to work around this by booking only segment or two at a time, but many countries require showing a departing ticket on arrival.
How to get low fares
Book during sales
Most low cost airlines offer seat sales at regular intervals. This happens particularly during off-peak times of year, such as winter. There can be incredibly good deals on offer during such sales. Ryanair  tend to have both the widest choice of seats, most frequent sales, and cheapest fares during such sales. They sell 'free' flights, where you just pay the taxes and charges. The total cost of the flight will depend on what airports you use. The total cost of a one-way flight from London (Stansted) to Milan during a seat sale is €20 (£14, US$25). Flying from less busy airports during a seat sale will provide even cheaper seats, as fees at London Stansted airport are (comparatively) high. A flight from Glasgow (Prestwick) to Rome during a seat sale costs €16.50 (£11, US$20). Fly between even less busy airports (Stockholm (Skavsta) and Hamburg (Lübeck), for example) during a free fare sale and you will pay around €10 (£7, US$12.50).
Other airlines can have reduced prices during sales as well. Find out who flies there and make regular visits to their websites, and register for their newsletter. You can also register at an airfare deals checker  that informs you about air ticket sales on selected routes.
Book well in advance
This should go without saying. The cheapest fares are the first few seats on an aircraft, so book well ahead. If there is nothing particularly cheap when you first look, and there is a long time before your trip, you might be better off waiting for a seat sale.
Fly off-peak if possible
Airlines take advantage of increased demand on tickets during school holidays to increase ticket prices. Flights to Salzburg Airport from London Stansted with Ryanair go up two - three fold during the February school holidays, whereas BA flights from London Heathrow to Munich are half of what Ryanair demands.
Friday and Sunday evening flights tend to be more expensive. Early Sunday morning and and late night flights can be cheaper.
Price wars are your friend
If two airlines are having a price war, then this will work to your advantage. This typically happens when two airlines announce a new route at the same time, and attempt to price each other out of the market. Use a good news source to look for news articles about this or a price comparison tool to find the latest ones. Search for both the airlines and the destination you are hoping to go to. For example, easyJet and Ryanair have a price war on the London Gatwick - Cork and London Stansted - Valencia sectors at the moment, amongst many others. This is good news for you.
Be creative with your routes
The cheapest route is not necessarily the most direct. jet2  flies between Belfast and Prague direct, but you will often be better off flying from Belfast to Gatwick, and then on to Prague from there. It will take longer, but you could save substantial amounts of money. This is just one example, there are many others. Bear in mind, however, that each additional leg does mean paying all the airport fees and charges, plus any credit card booking fee again. Thus two €25 legs could together cost more than a €60 leg once you factor in the extra €20 or so of charges. On the other hand, some airports are particularly cheap - in Ireland the fees are under €15. If you miss a connection travelling this way the airlines won't help you out so could end up paying top whack for a new ticket so make sure you allow plenty of time between connections and also be aware you will have the hassle of going through check-in and security for each flight segment.
If you are flying return trip with a long route — say London to Sydney or Toronto to Singapore — it can still be possible to fly discount carriers. If you were considering a stopover anyway, the connection between carriers may not pose an additional inconvenience or risk.
Know the airlines
Make sure that you know all the airlines that serve the destination to which you want to travel. As competition expands, it can be hard to know what airline flies where. Keep yourself informed by using the resources below to keep tabs on the situation. Typically, travel agents and web search engines (Travelocity ,Cheapairlines , Orbitz ,Travelmia , eLong, etc.) will not search these airlines, as they are not connected to the global booking systems, and do not pay the standard agent commissions. You can use sites that have updated lists of low cost flights from one city to another, like Adioso , LowCostRoutes , Best Flights  or Zingarate  or you'll have to do the work yourself to get the best deals.
Go for it
If you see a brilliant deal, just go ahead and book it, even if you're not sure if you will be able to use the flight. Go places you've never heard of, just because you can. Enjoy the low-cost airline boom while it lasts, and have fun.
Use the exchange rate to your advantage
Most flights booked from the airlines website are sold in the currency of the departure port. Booking two one way flights will usually be sold in two currencies, whereas booking a return flight will be sold only in the currency of the origin. The airlines price into a market, and the airfare will rarely be the same after taking currency conversion into account. The saving (or premium charged) can often be as much as 20%. Book whichever way is cheaper. Similarly if you have a stopover, check the fare if you book the same flight originating from your stopover point to the fare if you book all the way through, especially if there have been significant movements in the exchange rate in your home currency's favor.
Hidden Costs and Complications
Discount airlines also try to save money on the services they deliver. You need to factor in these costs and complications to do a comparison between the discount airlines, and the full-service ones.
Some carriers such as Ryanair fly to airports that are sometimes well away from the advertised destination. Hahn Airport, the airport for Frankfurt, is 100km away from the city, and so is the Paris Beauvais Airport.
Make sure you factor the cost of transportation to your actual destination, and the additional time it may take. The trip from Frankfurt Hahn to Frankfurt Airport/City is 1.5 hours extra on your journey and the savings compared to BA or Lufthansa are not very high. In some cases the obscure airport might even be closer to where you want to get to, for example where Ryanair fly to, Lübeck, Germany and Bergamo, Italy are nicer than Hamburg and Milan respectively.
In-flight food and drink
You will almost always have to pay extra for food and drink on a discount airline. Count on paying upwards of €5 (£3.50, US$6) for a sandwich, or €3 (£2, US$3.50) for tea/coffee. However, free refreshments are provided by Air Berlin and BMI (British Midland). The best idea is of course to bring your own food and drink but some airlines make an announcement pre take off to say that you are not permitted to consume your own food and drink. Whether this is enforced or not just depends on the cabin crew on the day but be aware that the crew earn commission on in-flight sales so may ask you not to eat your own food.
Most fluids are banned from passing through security in airports, so you will have to buy any drinks to take on flights after the x-ray machines. An alternative is to take an empty water bottle (with filter built in) on the plane and fill it with tap water.
Outside North America, most low cost airlines operate a "point to point" service. (Notable exceptions include Air Berlin and Wizz) If you are making a journey that involves a change of plane, even on the same carrier, you will have to check your luggage in for each leg of the journey. In addition, with some airlines (including Ryanair), if your first leg is late you will not be transferred onto another plane if you miss the second. easyJet will sometimes transfer you free onto another flight when the first one is late if you have left a gap of two hours between flights and they are both easyJet flights. However, their carrier regulations  do not guarantee this. It is wise to check with each airline their policy on missed connections. You can insure against missing low cost connections with travel insurance.
Making low cost connections can often work out significantly cheaper and in many cases is the only way of getting between two European cities. For example, there are relatively few direct low cost flights between Northern Africa and Eastern Europe. You will most likely need to fly with Ryanair to an airport like Marseille or Frankfurt (Hahn) or with AirBerlin to Germany, and then another flight on from there. Flying indirectly between two cities can often work out cheaper even if there are direct routes.
Factors such as the distance between terminals, the reliability of the airline into the airport, the length of time needed to clear security and customs, and the required advance check-in time should be considered when calculating how much connection time you need. Being risk averse may mean allowing up to 3 hours for a connection.
There will usually be restrictions or costs on making changes to your booking. A fee is usually charged in addition to any fare difference between the flight you have chose. There are often restrictions on how close to the departure date and time you can make changes. See the airline websites for information.
Check in baggage
Many discount airlines charge additional fees for any check-in baggage at all. Others have lower size and weight limits, after which high fees are charged to excess baggage.
As a side-effect of charging for check-in baggage, they can also be more strict on the weight and size of carry-on baggage.
If you intend to use a budget airline as just one of your flights for the day, they may not offer check-through to your final destination. This means claiming your luggage at your transit point, clearing formalities (and if necessary, obtaining visas in advances), and lining-up at the regular check-in counter of your next flight.
Frequent Traveler Programs
Many discount airlines have loyalty programs which reward their frequent travelers. Southwest Airlines has a "Rapid Rewards" program where each flight is a credit. 8 credits will earn you a free flight. Credits may also be earned through an affinity credit card. Credits expire after a certain period of time. Credits may be redeemed for free flights with comparatively few blackout dates (16 total blackout dates in 2005) and with no capacity controls (unique in the industry--in other words, any open seat may be ticketed with award credits), or for a companion pass. AirTran, JetBlue, Frontier, Air Berlin and Germanwings are other airlines offering a loyalty scheme.
Airlines often tie up with local transport and hotel groups who offer discounts if you book having been referred by the airline. As always it pays to use the Internet to do some comparison shopping, but frequently you will be able to get a discounted car-rental, train ticket or hotel room by clicking on the links after you have purchased your flight. The catch is that many of these discounted prices are extremely inflexible, non-refundable and require payment in advance so try not to change your mind after you have made the booking.