Customers and low cost carriers (LCC's)... did someone say love-hate relationship? We love them because they transport us all over the world for a very small investment and we love to hate them because of all their extra rules, charges and restrictions. We have ten tips for you to keep in mind when travelling LCC's to help you work the system.
The typical "no frills" LCC fares and the strictly enforced conditions that relate to them will not appeal to everyone, particularly those who are accustomed to full service airlines' offerings.
To help Australian travellers understand the pros and cons of flying on an LCC, Flight Centre has compiled 10 helpful hints.
1) Beware the extra charges
If you expect anything more than a basic seat, the headline price is not the price you will pay to fly on an LCC.
While traditional carriers typically provide full service offerings, LCCs and new world carriers typically promote no frills fares with few inclusions beyond the basic airfare.
This means that travellers can now expect to pay for a range of features that are typically provided free on traditional carriers including:
- Airport check-in
- Assigned seats
- Checked baggage
- Sporting equipment
- Food and drinks
- Pillows and blankets; and
- Access to in-flight entertainment
These extra charges, which airlines generally class as ancillary services, can significantly increase the cost of the cheapest no frills fares, making them comparable to or more expensive that full service airlines' fares.
Research conducted last year by Flight Centre showed that a $28.95 Tiger Airways domestic fare was more expensive than a $95 Qantas fare on the same route if various commonly requested extras, including luggage and assigned seats, were required.
2) No refunds
Fares offered by LCCs are often non-refundable.
In some cases, you can apply for a refund of the unused fare's tax component, but you will be required to pay an additional administration fee to the airline. The airline's administration fee can be larger than the refund you are owed.
3) Don't go changing
Fares may be non-changeable.
If you need to reschedule your flight, you might be forced to cancel your ticket, which means you will also have to buy a new one.
This problem is exacerbated by the nature of airfare sales. The cheapest fares typically sell up to six months in advance, which means travellers initially buy on impulse and may need to amend their plans closer to their departure date.
4) Check the check-in requirements
LCCs generally require travellers to check-in earlier than traditional carriers.
If you don't check-in on time, chances are the airline will not allow you to board the flight, even if you are just a minute or two later than required.
In addition, some LCCs apply additional charges if you choose to check-in at the airport. To avoid the extra charge, you need to check-in online and well in advance of your departure.
5) Avoid the carry on about carry-on and checked luggage
LCCs strictly enforce the weight limits they place on luggage.
If your carry-on luggage exceeds the allowance, you are likely to be charged a hefty fee.
The same applies to suitcases.
6) Travelling with kids
If you're taking the family, make sure you factor in the services you will require when you compare an LCC fare with a full service airline's fare.
Chances are a full service airline will provide pre-assigned seats, a luggage allowance, entertainment and a snack, all of which will typically be considered chargeable "extras" on an LCC.
7) Cancelled flights
While airlines generally make provisions to help passengers when flights are cancelled, some LCCs specify, under their Terms of Carriage, that they will not be responsible for reaccommodating travellers.
8) Interline agreements and alliances
LCCs generally operate independently of traditional airlines and are not part of the various alliances.
If your holiday itinerary includes flights on both LCCs and traditional carriers be sure to leave sufficient time between flight connections to collect and recheck luggage and to accommodate possible delays.
If you miss your connecting flight, your airlines might not have arrangements that will allow you to reschedule without incurring significant costs.
9) Secondary airports and terminals
LCCs do not always use major airports and terminals.
When evaluating the cost of your LCC airfare, factor in the time and expense of transferring from a secondary airport to your ultimate destination.
You may also need to factor in travel time between an LCC terminal and a terminal used by traditional carriers if you have connecting flights at the same airport.
10) At the airport
In addition to pioneering no frills airfares, some LCCs have also opted for “low frills” terminals to reduce costs.
If your schedule includes lengthy airport layovers at an LCC terminal, don't expect to lounge in comfort.