Things to consider when choosing a full service airline verses a low cost/budget airline

Things to consider when choosing a full service airline verses a low cost/budget airline

One of the biggest changes seeing a lot of growth, within the travel industry, and in particular the airline/aviation industry, is the rise and popularity of low-cost/budget/low-frill airlines or carriers.  Whether you are planning to fly domestically or internationally, flying has never been cheaper – you are literally spoilt for choice!

Low cost, low frill and budget airlines are characterised by offering lower airfares and less inclusions than their ‘full service’ competitors, such as no frequent flyer points, no complimentary meals, no airport lounge access, no pre-assigned seating requests, no inflight entertainment, no checked-in luggage allowances, etc.  You will also be charged extra for payment using a credit card, and for booking extra leg room or exit rows (if they are offered at all).

As a mum, with a family of four, I totally get it – finances and budgets are tight, and I’d rather save my money by buying cheaper airfares for the four of us, and putting those savings towards a nicer standard of accommodation or more sightseeing tours being included.   And business corporations and companies are tightening their budgets and travel expenses too.  Whether you are travelling for business or pleasure, it’s hard to justify paying pricey airfares, for shorter flights.  Extra dollars spent on airfares quickly adds up, especially when it involves more than one passenger travelling.

But are flying with lower cost, cheaper airlines, really good value for money?  And are you really saving a lot of money overall?

Both have their pros and cons, for picking one over the other.  As the saying goes, “you get what you pay for”.  Typical characteristics of booking with cheaper, low frills and low budget airlines include:

  • Booking cheaper, fixed price airfares, most of the time, than those offered by full service airlines, therefore no further discounts are available
  • These airfares are usually instant purchase – ie. book & pay on the spot
  • These airfares are usually non-refundable and non-changeable, or are highly inflexible when it comes to amending dates and times, and those that do allow changes, you will be penalised to do so financially
  • Added extras – you have to pay to have any of these included: checked-in luggage; pre-selected seats; inflight meals, snacks and drinks; inflight entertainment, extra leg room (if any), exit rows, etc.
  • Less comfortable and less quality seating, usually with very little leg room, reduced recline pitch, and small width of seats
  • Distant airport terminals – budget airlines usually have their airport terminals and check-in desks furthest away from the main areas, and a lot of aircraft stop on the tarmac, and often not at a gate. You may have to catch a bus back from the tarmac to the terminal, or walk.
  • Not earning any frequent flyer points towards any loyalty programs
  • No airport lounge access
  • Mostly single economy class cabins – very few offer business class seats
  • Online bookings, via their own websites or apps, to save on costs of hiring their own reservations staff
  • Few support and allow travel agents to book them, so that they can save on costs by not having to pay travel agents any commission – you have to deal with them directly
  • Very long phone wait times – good luck if you ever need to speak to a staff member of a low cost, budget airline – most responses are robotic and you rarely can speak to a human being, and you repeatedly go around in a loop whilst on hold
  • Limited interline agreements between other airlines, making your travel arrangements less streamlined and less convenient. For example, you will have to collect your luggage at each airport, and re-check your bags in to the next destination – rarely are they checked all the way through to your final destination
  • No transfers are offered between domestic to international terminals or vv.
  • Poorer flight schedules and timetables, often with longer flight connections and flights at less desirable times of day and night.
  • And in my experience, low cost airlines are the most unreliable to book with – they regularly cancel flights, delay flights, reschedule flights, have mechanical issues, and don’t have the fleet available to replace a faulty aircraft at short notice – you could be stranded for days somewhere!

Compare this to booking through ‘full service’ airlines, which include:

  • Generally higher fares, but if you get in early enough, or during a sale period, you can usually grab yourself a bargain
  • These airfares can be discounted if you travel as a group, or have some special promotional code or corporate rates
  • These airfares can often be more flexible with changing dates & times
  • These airfares often don’t have to be booked and paid for instantly, if you book them through a travel agent, as opposed to booking online, which are instant purchase
  • More inclusions are provided, such as inflight meals, snacks & drinks; inflight entertainment; inflight amenities, such as a blanket, pillow, headphones and sometimes, toiletries; checked-in luggage allowance; pre-assigned seating
  • A range of cabin classes inflight, such as economy, premium economy, business class and first class
  • More comfortable, wider and better quality seating, usually offering more leg room and recline pitch than cheaper airlines
  • More extensive flight routes and schedules, due to better interline and codeshare agreements with other full-service airline partners, with more suitable timetables and fewer wait times between connecting flights
  • Checked-in luggage can usually be checked all the way to your final destination, when booking with partnered airlines or the same airline – more streamlined, convenient and efficient
  • Access to airport lounges when purchasing higher priced airfares, and also with higher frequent flyer loyalty program status
  • Earning frequent flyer points on most airfares purchased
  • More central and convenient locations at airport terminals and gate lounges
  • More reliability with fewer delays, fewer cancellations, fewer schedule changes and more aircraft fleet to replace a faulty aircraft at short notice – less interruptions to your travel plans
  • More personalised touches & less robotic – more reservations staff to speak to on the phone, if you need to, and shorter wait times on hold
  • They support travel agents, by allowing us to book them for you, and giving you a bit of lee-way in regards to paying for you flights – subject to the airlines’ airfares rules and conditions.

So choose wisely.  Both options have their own benefits and pitfalls.  My advice?  For shorter duration trips, by all means, choose the lower cost options.  But for longer trips, if you can afford it, upgrade to a full service carrier.  You will feel more special, more spoilt, the time will go faster and you won’t be as bored, onboard!

Nicole Edgar
Based in Narre Warren South, VIC
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My work hours vary! Emailing, texting, or DM me is best, as I'm out and about all the time. Meetings are by appointment only.

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