Cheap flights make the world accesible to all, but are budget airlines worth the price of entry?
If you’ve flown anywhere in the past few years I’m willing to bet you’ve flown with a budget airline, at least once. Those headline grabbing fares can be hard to resist and sometimes they are cheaper than the train…
But, with all their restrictions, are budget airlines really worth it?
Yes, they do advertise super low fares but the advertised fare can sometimes be hard to track down. Or one leg of your journey bangs the price up to that of a major carrier… If you’re flying at a popular time of year (holidays or summer) then you can find that the low fare is very elusive.
However, if you can nail one of those super low fares then it definitely makes it worthwhile. I’ve recently returned from a trip to Bordeaux which only cost £20 return (by contrast a train from London to Plymouth cost over £70 return).
So those fares are great if you can get them. Normally booking around 8-10 weeks in advance means you can grab that headline rate. Or keep an eye on the mailing lists from companies like Ryanair or Easyjet so you can see when they’re running promotional deals.
Also, watch fare comparison sites like Skyscanner and Momondo for the lowest fares.
Verdict: 50/50 – if you get that cheap fare it is definitely worth it.
Choice Of Destinations
One thing that budget airlines often have in their favour is their access to more obscure airports. In fact, many airports are only served by one (or sometimes two) budget airlines meaning that they do have a monopoly on the route and offer less of those super low prices.
As an example, I’ve just returned from Beziers (southern France) who’s airport is only served by Ryanair. The flight was packed and the fares were relatively high by Ryanair standards. However, a flight to Bordeaux earlier this year only cost me £20 round trip and that is a major airport with international links and a choice of connections into London. You can still get a very cheap flight to Bordeaux…
In Asia, airlines like IndiGo and AirAsia have really made the skies accesible for all and have boosted the economy in less popular destinations like Lankawi or obscure parts of Indonesia.
In Europe, cities like Gdansk, Pula or Timisoara have undoubtedly seen a boost in tourist numbers thanks to the range of cheap flights servicing their smaller airports.
Verdict: Budget airlines have made more obscure places more accesible. Definite win.
If you’re looking to take cabin luggage only, then you’re good to go. That bargain fare is yours for the taking. if you need to take a bigger bag (or bags) then sometimes you’re looking at doubling that fare. Suddenly, you’ve gone from a £50 round trip to a £100 round trip…
To major destinations like Paris, Rome, New York or Singapore, you might find that the major airline offers a fare not that different to the budget one, once you’ve factored in the hold luggage option. Norwegian Air for example announced recently that they are now operating routes to Puerto Rico, Singapore and Buenos Aries from London, however these low fares don’t include hold luggage. Once this is added you’re almost better off flying with BA, Iberia or Singapore Airlines.
Weigh up the options (pun intended) if you’re looking to travel with hold luggage as it can sometimes be a false economy or a simple case of a few pounds (or dollars or whatever) to go with a flag carrier.
Verdict: If you need more baggage, look at the flag carriers.
Service Quality & Route Monopoly
As the airlines have more of a stake in certain routes, they can (and do) start to take advantage. Less of those low fares become available and suddenly using a better airline becomes more appealing.
AirAsia have been accused of ramping up their prices while lowering the quality of their service. Ryanair have recently been accused of forcing their passengers to pay to sit together – but have denied that there is any change to the way tickets are allocated. Ryanair (again) were also accused of mishandling their staff and customers in summer 2017 by cancelling lots of flights on popular routes which caused havoc to many peoples long held plans.
So, in some respects, paying a little extra for decent service, proper schedule and allocated seats can be the wise option. Especially if you’re short on patience in general.
Verdict: If you want good service, you’ll need to pay for it.
If you’re travelling hand luggage only, you’re prepared to suffer some slight delays and the ‘cattle class’ experience, then budget airlines are totally worth the price of entry.
However, if you’re one of those people who moans about queues or needs to take the kitchen sink on holiday then consider paying slightly more for a better airline.
Whats your experience with budget airlines? We’d love to hear your views so please comment below. Don’t forget to share…