Flights can be a huge expense when it comes to family travel. Thankfully these days there are a lot of budget airlines out there that can save you a huge amount of money on flights. Our last 18 months of travel has relied heavily on the use of budget airlines throughout Australia and South East Asia. If Air Asia looked at our intineray from the past few years I think they’d hire us as their official mascots!
When all things go to plan and the universe aligns, budget airlines are fantastic. However not all budget airlines are created equal and there are a lot of traps that you can unwittingly fall into that suddenly send your joy at finding a $10 flight into a spiral of despair. And a budget flight might not be the best solution in every case.
Here’s my top tips for budget airlines travel.
No, the other London Airport!
One way budget airlines keep their costs down is flying out of smaller airports. Which usually translates to a heck of a long way out of town with no public transport connections.
Without cheap pubic transport options to get to the airport, you might find you end up paying not much less than a full fare price if you factor inthe cost of actually getting to your flight. You may end up with a $100 taxi fare (yes in Melbourne Australia this is definitely possible!), an expensive airport bus run by a private company charging prices that will make you wish you took a cab or driving yourself and paying ridiculous amounts for airport parking.
We’re have flights to the UK for Christmas. Planning our travels around Europe are bad enough but it seems that most of the budget airlines are in the process of changing airports. We’re not even sure what London airport we’re currently flying into, let alone figuring out our travel itinerary whilst there. But I am at least thankful that as travellers we’ll be using public transport and I don’t even have to contemplate looking into the cost of Heathrow Airport Parking ? there are just some things in this world I don’t want to know the cost of!
TIP: Research how much it’s going to cost you to get to the airport before booking that cheap flight. If the flight leaves from a smaller airport that’s difficult to get to it is worth comparing the cost of a full fare flight from the main airport.
Can I have leg room with my seat?
Budget airlines also keep their fees low by fitting in more passengers. Translation: smaller seats and less legroom. If you’re over 6ft you can end up feeling like a sardine in a no-brand tin.
Is it an overnight flight? How much comfort do you need to be able to sleep? Or perhaps you have a bad back or some other physical limitation. Is sitting in a cramped, poorly padded seat that doesn’t really recline for 20 hours a good option for you?
Last year we flew with Jetstar Airlines in Vietnam. We’d flown with the same airline in Australia many times and found them to be cozy but excellent. Enter Vietnamese Jetstar with its cabin space that’s obviously been designed with the smaller Asian stature in mind. At 170cm my legs were even crammed against the seat in front. It was a fully booked flight and the result felt somewhat like a Mexican chicken bus in space.
TIP: If you’re tall or have health problems like a bad back, think about how long a flight you can realistically handle. And how important a good nights sleep is to you.
“Wow there’s a $5 flight from Singapore to Bangkok. Lets book it!!! Oh wait, it gets in a 1am ?”
Unfortunately, often the cheapest fares leave or arrive at un-family friendly times. If your not careful, you can book a real bargain only to realize you’re going to be stuck looking for family accommodation at one of the various overpriced Airport Hotels. Or you’ll pay a premium price for a late night taxi into town or out to the airport since there are no buses or trains running.
Suddenly that cheap flight isn’t so cheap.
Not to mention the prospect of starting or finishing your holiday with ridiculously overtired kids.
TIP: If a flight leaves or arrives in the middle of the night, add up the extra costs of flying at odd hours before you book that bargain!
I’m sorry you were supposed to check-in online. That will be $25 extra per person.
Most budget airlines these days charge fees for everything from checking in a bag to checking in.
Yep that’s right, the newest craze in the budget biz is to charge for anyone that checks in at the counter rather than over the Internet. Which can be somewhat of a problem if you a) don’t realize or b) are travelling without technology during those couple of days pre-flight when you can check-in.
Some airlines are quite reasonable with their fees. Air Asia for instance only charges an extra dollar or two for each add on. Other airlines like Ryan Air and Tiger Airways often charge more for baggage and check-in than the cost of the flight itself.
Some airlines make their fees transparent; others hide it in ambiguous wording in the booking system. Check your booking carefully before hitting the PAY NOW button. Sometimes airlines automatically add extra fees for things like insurance into your booking and you need to manually remove them.
TIP: Read the fine print and add up the fees before you get too excited. Check the invoice carefully before hitting pay!
Don’t forget the taxes
Some of the budget airlines advertise ridiculously low fares but then add in huge taxes that make the price similar to full fare airlines.
This practise drives me insane. I personally choose to only book with budget airlines whose taxes are less than the advertised fare out of principle.
Tip: Check the final figures before you start mentally packing your bags. It also pays to shop around – you may just find that fares through another airline that intially don’t look as cheap are in fact cheaper once you factor in taxes.
Don’t be late … even by a minute.
Budget airlines really do mean business if they say they will close their check-in counter a set number of minutes prior to departure. Even being just one minute late can result in being denied your flight.
Get there as early as possible to avoid missing your flight. Not only might you be faced with no refund and booking a second flight, you might find it hard to find last minute seats for an entire family and be forced to spend a night in one of the nearby airport hotels.
Find out if the airline really means business with baggage weights
These days even full fare airlines are pretty strict on baggage weights. But there are varying degrees of strictness.
AirAsia for instance allows a little wiggle room – a kilo or two over and 99% of the time you can get away with it. They also usually look at total weight rather than individual bags. So if you are a family of 4 with each person having a 15kg allowance, Air Asia just requires the total weight of all your checked in baggage to be less than 60kg. Other airlines look at individual baggage weights.
Having overweight bags is a surfire way to attract additional fees. And some airlines take their fees very seriously. Tiger Airways in Australia charge $15 per kilo you go over.
Don’t forget your hand luggage weights either. Some budget airlines don’t care. Others enforce strict weight and size limits, forcing you to pack any additional weight into your checked in baggage, which may just put you over the weight limit.
Tip: Find out how serious the airline is about baggage weights. If they have a reputation for being strict, believe it – weigh your bags, keep each separate bag under the limits and if possible underpack incase their scales are out.
You’ll be spoilt forever
Fly budget airlines too often and you’ll find you’ll never be able to justify paying full price again. Which can be fine EXCEPT if you want to go somewhere a budget airline doesn’t fly.
Last year we looked at flying from Penang to Bangkok in Asia. The flights were $USD70 per person including taxes. We refused to pay that because we thought it was too much! We’ve had one too many $2 sales and our total perception of what a flight should cost has been screwed. If we ever have to book a full fare flight we may just end up in therapy.
Call Centre woes
Unlike full fare airlines, many budget airlines don’t have a handy toll free customer service line. Calling a call centre can be an expensive exercise.
Calling a budget airline call centre often also results in an intense desire to bash your head against a wall. Long wait cues, language difficulties, training issues and of course the usual getting passed around between ten different operators before finding someone who can help you.
We’ve had more than our fair share of fun dealing with call centres. Two years ago for medical reasons we needed to cancel a holiday. We wanted to cancel our flights and recoup the money through travel insurance. My husband spent 3 months and countless hours on the phone getting passed from branch to branch before finally resolving the matter.
As I write this I’m listening to a friend who has spent the last three hours on the phone to her bank back home and a budget airline company trying to sort out a booking that’s just not being processed. The highlight of the various transactions is the airline’s booking system providing her with an error message that the airline’s support staff don’t know anything about!
You can get some amazingly cheap flights when budget airlines have sales. The problem is you and 30000 other people are all trying to book these tickets at the one time.
The result – laptop rage. As the airlines server keeps falling over thanks to the extra traffic you’ll be left staring at webpage error messages time and again late into the night. And just when you get in and start booking your flight, the page times out halfway through and you have to start all over again.
TIP: Look for a mobile version of the airlines website or check if they have a alternative booking website.
While we’re on the topic of sales, ridiculously cheap sales can also lead you to booking tickets before you really think it through. If it’s a $10 flight and you end up not being able to go that’s not too bad.
But what if it’s a ridiculously cheap $200 fare from Europe to Asia? It’s a fantastic price but $200 times the number of members in your family and we’re not talking about loose change. So what happens if you book that flight without really thinking it through? Or you stupidly book three months in Europe and then realize that you can’t afford to spend three months in Europe no matter how cheap those flights were.
Tip: Actually we’d love to hear your tips because we keep falling into this trap time and time again. While we’re on the topic, if anyone wants check flights from Malaysia to Europe for November we have 4 tickets to sell!!!