Budget airlines, also known as low-cost carriers, have become increasingly popular over the past few decades. These airlines offer cheap flights to many destinations around the world, but how do they manage to offer such low prices? And when should you book a flight with a budget airline versus a legacy or full-service carrier?
What are budget or low cost airlines?
A low-cost carrier or airline (sometimes called no-frills, budget or discount carriers) are airlines that operate with an emphasis on minimizing operating costs to provide lower fares, often cutting traditional services, amenities, and comfort.
Why are budget airlines so cheap?
Budget airlines like Southwest Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Allegiant Air are notoriously cheaper than legacy airline competitors. Oftentimes they are over $50 cheaper, which makes them appealing for those looking for a good deal on flights. But that raises the question, what’s the catch? Do you get what you pay for?
One reason budget airlines can offer such low prices is that they operate with a low-cost business model. This means they only offer basic services, such as a flight from point A to point B, and charge extra for any additional services such as checked baggage, in-flight meals, and seat assignments. By only offering the bare minimum, budget airlines are able to keep their costs down and pass the savings on to their customers.
Another reason budget airlines are able to offer cheap flights is that they often use smaller, less busy airports. These airports typically have lower landing and handling fees, which allows the budget airlines to save money and offer lower prices to their customers.
Should you book a budget airline flight?
When deciding whether to book a flight with a budget airline or a legacy airline, there are a few things to consider. If you're looking for a cheap flight and don't need any additional services, a budget airline may be the right choice for you. However, if you value things like in-flight entertainment, comfortable seats, and good customer service, a legacy airline may be worth the extra cost.
Reasons to book a budget airline
One situation where budget airlines may be a better choice is if you're traveling on a tight budget and are looking for the cheapest possible flight. Since budget airlines operate with a low-cost business model, they are able to offer lower prices than legacy airlines. If the cost of the flight is your main concern, a budget airline may be the right choice for you.
You want a no frills trip
Another situation where budget airlines may be a better choice is if you only need a flight from point A to point B and don't require any additional services. Since budget airlines only offer basic services and charge extra for additional services, you may be able to save money by only paying for what you need.
You pack light
Budget airline tickets often only include a personal bag, such as a backpack that can fit under the seat. Overhead bags, checked bags, and over weight bags will all have an additional charge, though this varies with each carrier. If you are a light packer and are just traveling with one personal bag, the cheaper ticket may be worth it. If you go this route, it's worth investing in a good quality and properly sized personal bag like the MB Packing Backpack to make these trips easier.
You read the fine print
If you are someone happy to research what is provided, what are extra costs, and calculate what is the better deal based on your needs, you will go in knowing what to expect. If you go in expecting the same amenities and services you might feel blind-sighted by additional costs normally covered in the ticket costs in legacy airlines.
You are flexible with your schedule
Additionally, budget airlines may be a better choice if you're flexible with your travel dates and times. Since they often use smaller, less busy airports for lower landing fees, budget airlines may have more available flights and routes to choose from. This can make it easier to find a cheap flight that fits your schedule.
Downsides of booking a budget airline
Up charges and hidden fees
One downside of budget airlines is that they often only offer basic services, such as a flight from point A to point B. This means that if you want additional services, such as checked baggage or in-flight meals, you will have to pay extra. Some services you are used to, like overhead bag and assigned seating are not included in budget airlines and cost an additional fee. Some can even be a bit sneaky, like a charge for printing out border passes or charging a credit card fee when credit cards are the only accepted form of payment. This can quickly add up and make the flight more expensive than it initially seemed. Be sure to read the fine print of what the flight includes and take things like baggage fees into account when comparing costs.
Another downside of budget airlines is that they may not have the same level of customer service as legacy airlines. Since they operate with a low-cost business model, budget airlines may not have as many staff members to assist passengers with their needs. This can make it difficult to get help or assistance if you have any issues before or during your flight.
Delays and cancellations
Delays and cancellations can happen with any flight, but can be more difficult when you have a budget airline as they may not have another flight for you, leaving you stranded or missing connecting flights. Fewer staff can also mean processing refunds can be a slow process.
Flights are often at less convenient times of the day, which can be a downside if you are planning activities and need to arrive at a specific time of day. Operating from regional or secondary airports also means you may need to travel further from home than the larger airport near you.
In flight comfort
Additionally, budget airlines may not always have the most comfortable seats or in-flight amenities. Since their focus is on offering cheap flights, they may not invest as much in the comfort of their passengers. Seats may be smaller and closer to fit extra rows to take in for more passengers, making it less comfortable for those with longer legs. This can make for a less enjoyable travel experience, especially if you're flying long distances.
Amenities not included can include preferred or assigned seating, catering, differentiated premium cabins, satellite or ground-based Wi-Fi internet, and in-flight audio and video entertainment.
Reasons to book a legacy airline
More flight options and flexibility
It's also important to consider the destinations and routes that are available with each type of airline. Budget airlines often only offer flights to a limited number of destinations, so you may not have as many options to choose from. If you're traveling to a destination that is not served by budget airlines, you may have no choice but to book a flight with a legacy airline. Legacy airlines typically offer flights to a wider range of destinations than budget airlines, so they may be your only option if you're traveling to a less-common destination.
One situation where you may want to choose a legacy airline over a budget airline is if you value comfort and convenience during your flights. Legacy airlines often offer more comfortable seats, in-flight entertainment, and other amenities that can make your travel experience more enjoyable. If these things are important to you, it may be worth paying a little extra for a legacy airline. This is particularly true for longer flights.
Ticket price includes most amenities you’d use
Another situation where a legacy airline may be a better choice is if you're traveling with a lot of luggage or need additional services such as in-flight meals or seat assignments. Legacy airlines often include these services in the price of the ticket, whereas budget airlines may charge extra for them. If you need these services, a legacy airline may be a more convenient and cost-effective option.
Loyalty program perks
If you’re a frequent flier, many legacy airlines provide perks for being loyal to their carrier and you can earn elite status or airline miles with them. Perks include elite status / special boarding, VIP lounge access, perks with associate partners, free class upgrades, opportunity to earn loyalty points which can be spent on other flights or amenities, and more. Co-branded airline credit cards can earn additional benefits like free checked bags, priority boarding, etc. In addition, if you travel a lot for work, sticking with legacy airlines will allow you to accrue better benefits over time.
In the end, the decision of whether to book a budget airline or a legacy airline will depend on your personal preferences and travel needs. If you're willing to sacrifice some comfort and convenience for a lower price, a budget airline may be a good choice. It can be a great option for travelers on a budget, who don’t mind sacrificing some comfort, if you know what to expect going in. But if you're looking for a more comfortable travel experience, a legacy airline may be worth the extra cost.
While budget airlines may not be the best choice for everyone, there are certain situations where they can be a great option for travelers looking for a cheap and convenient way to get from point A to point B. Personally, I would consider a budget airline for a short haul flight where I’m traveling alone with just a MB Backpack. However, if I’m traveling with family and friends. and want to sit together, or am going on a long haul flight, the extra cost for more baggage, food, and seat assignments would render the total cost to be about the same as a legacy carrier. In this case, it’s worth to go with a legacy carrier for the extra legroom and amenities.
How about you? Let us know what you think & what your experience has been in a comment below.