Should you take those cheap as chips plane tickets? Ryanair in Europe, Jetstar across Australia and New Zealand? As someone who has tried to find the cheapest ways to get around the world in the last few years (I’ve flown Air Asia through South East Asia, Jetstar and Tiger Airways in Australia and Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe), I feel I’ve got something useful to say on the matter.
Essentially, if you’re going to fly with a budget airline the facts are:
Doesn’t mean they’re not a good deal or safe (well… when it comes to Tiger Airways that’s debatable) but they are arseholes, and the sooner you accept this fact the better your life will be. It means accepting that ridiculous 60 euro fee to print out your boarding pass at the airport if you forget to do it at home yourself. It means knowing that no matter how much you smile, bat your eyelashes or get angry they are still going to charge you more than 50 dollars for an extra kilo of luggage.
These outrageous restrictions and fees are the reason why your tickets so cheap in the first place – deal with it.
So the question remains, should you go with a budget airline while travelling?
I’ve had a think and after my experience with budget airlines and I think they’re ideal for certain flights and certain flyers. That means your personality and your circumstances.
Feel free to go with a budget flight if…
1. It’s not a long haul flight
As on any budget airline you will need to pay for everything from a blanket to meals, it’s best to only go with budget airlines on short haul flights. I’ve personally never done a long haul flight with a budget airline, but that also means I didn’t have to add costs to my tickets such as blankets, pillows, headphones or lunch and dinner (which your ticket won’t include).
2. You’ve got an eye for detail
If you want to go for a ridiculously cheap flight you want to be prepared to read the fine print. You want to be a person who will read every term and condition carefully, so you can figure out exactly how much a flight is going to cost you and avoid any nasty surprises (like that there is no way you can take a handbag plus a laptop bag on to the plane, even if it weighs nothing). You’ll also be the kind of person who researches which airport the flight is leaving from and landing into, as most budget airlines will fly into inconvenient airports in major cities or not even into major cities to make ticket prices cheaper.
3. You’re naturally organised
You’ll remember that you need to print off that boarding pass and check-in online before you get to the terminal – or you risk a huge fee or not getting on the flight at all. You will weigh your bag before you get to the airport, measure it to make sure it’s within restrictions and plan ahead.
4. You’re on a tight budget
There’s no doubt if money is tight, a budget airline can be a great way to get around a continent or country. It’s quick and often convenient (if you cover the above points) and you will save a lot more money going with Ryanair over Air France. If you prefer spending money on the experiences of a trip rather than comfort (i.e. dorm rooms over hotels) than you’re unlikely to have a problem with cheaper airlines.
5. It is not absolutely essential that you arrive on time
As with any budget choice… you get what you pay for. This means you can’t always rely on a budget airline to get you somewhere on time – a lot of them have bad reputations for cancelling as well (although this has personally never happened to me). Even though a mainstream airline can have delays (I was particularly pissed when my Qatar Airways flight from Paris-Melbourne was an hour late, I mean – I’m was already gonna be on the place for 18 hours…) budget airlines are known for it more. So make sure you don’t book a cheap airline flight the same day as a connecting flight or a tour departure. Have the number of your hotel/hostel so you can let them know if you’ll be delayed.
As with all budget choices – it pays to be prepared.
Despite all the inconveniences of budget airlines, I think they are a great way to save money and time when travelling. There are also some current promotional campaigns which make budget airline travel a more pleasant experience. For example Ryanair is currently running a campaign saying they are the most punctual airline in Europe, meaning they have bet mainstream airlines in terms of leaving on time and landing on time. This is true – and they want to keep it that way. This means they are particularly motivated to get you to your destination on time, so they can attract more customers – it’s a win, win!
I feel that Ryanair is preferable to EasyJet (but that’s just from my personal experiences) and I prefer Jetstar to Tiger Airways for travelling in Australia (if you want to know why just google ‘Tiger Airways Fleet Grounded).
So if you’re prepared for the worst when it come to budget airlines, the good news is the worst probably won’t happen and you’ll have a lot of extra change in your pocket.