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Discount airlines

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Discount airlines

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Departures board at Cologne/Bonn airport

Discount airlines, also known as no-frills carriers or low cost carriers (LCC), are airlines that offer cheap flights. This is one of the Travel topics

This new generation of low-cost airlines run along similar lines to the American airline Southwest. Southwest 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.

Discount airlines around the world

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 (Luebeck), for example) during a free fare sale and you will pay around €10 (£7, US$12.50).

Other airlines can have brilliant deals during sales as well. If you intend to go somewhere, find out who flies there and make regular visits to their websites, and register for their newsletter.

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.

Don't book during school holidays with discount airlines

Most airlines take advantage of the slightly increased demand on tickets during school holidays and 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.

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 such as Google News to look for news articles about this. 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.

Know the airlines

Make sure that you know all the airlines that serve the destination you want to go to. 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.

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.

Practical matters

Obscure airports

It is well known that some carriers such as Ryanair fly to airports that are sometimes well away from the advertised destination. Hahn Airport, the airport for Frankfurt, is some 100 km away from the city, and so is the Paris Beauvais airport. However, there are always public transport links to the advertised city, often timed to meet incoming flights. You shouldn't normally pay more than €20 (£13.50, US$24.50) for onward travel to the advertised city, and mostly a lot less. However make sure in your calculation that the additional cost of transport and the time are worth flying to an obscure airport. 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. Although in some cases you might even prefer where Ryanair fly to, Luebeck, Germany and Bergamo, Italy being nicer than Hamburg and Milan respectively.

In-flight food and drink

You will almost always have to pay for this yourself. 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).

Connecting flights

Unlike Southwest in the US, all low cost airlines in Europe and Asia (apart from Air Berlin) operate a "point to point" service. If you are making a journey that involves a change of plane, 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 for 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 Netcoverdirect.

However 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 very few direct low cost flights between Dublin and mainland Europe. You will most likely need to fly with Ryanair to an airport in England, and then another flight on from there. Flying indirectly between two cities can often work out cheaper even if there are direct routes.

Almost all low cost airline connections go without a problem. However, make sure you leave enough time between legs, and consider getting insured against missed flights.

Changing flights

Many airlines now let you change your booking, for a fee (generally around €25 (£17, US$30.50)), plus any difference in fare. See the airline websites for information.

Loyalty schemes

Simply put, most airlines don't have any. This is one of the frills cut out by the airlines to lower fares.

There are a few exceptions. Southwest Airlines has a "Rapid Rewards" scheme where each flight is a credit. 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.

Referral discounts

In contrast to the price additions noted above discount airlines quite often tie up with local transport and hotel groups who offer significant discounts if you book having been referred by the discount 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.

See also