Do You Really Save More with Budget Airlines?
Am I Saving More with a Budget Airline?
Full-service carriers like Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines are generally more expensive than budget carriers, with fares sometimes costing twice or three times that of a budget airline. But there are exceptions to the rule.
For instance, even budget airlines can sometimes end up being an expensive option when you opt for ‘extras’ like checked baggage, meals and seat selection. These items which may be chargeable with most budget carriers are often free with full-service airlines. When these charges are accounted for, the fare difference can sometimes be quite tiny.
Also, if you book your tickets from a non-budget airline far in advance vs. booking with a budget airline less than two weeks from your departure date (for short-haul trips or within the ASEAN region), you might find that the prices of tickets are again, almost similar.
Therefore, while low-cost carriers usually provide cheaper tickets, it’s not always the most cost-effective – and you are NOT necessarily saving more. The fact is you can buy affordable, value-for-money tickets with both types of airlines.
The Third Option
Regional airlines or subsidiaries of major airlines such as Firefly and SilkAir (of Malaysia Airlines and Singapore Airlines, respectively) fall in the middle lane. These can be considered the lower-cost option that still offers relatively premium services and complimentary extras.
For instance, Firefly provides a free checked baggage allowance of up to 20kg as well as complimentary refreshments. Similarly, SilkAir allots a checked baggage allowance of up to 30kg in addition to in-flight entertainment and refreshments.
Naturally, these tickets will cost more than ones on a low-cost carrier like AirAsia, but you’ll likely enjoy more value for money spent, if you require the extra services.
So should I opt for a budget airline or a non-budget airline?
This decision depends on the specific deals available, the cost and necessity of flight extras (e.g. excess baggage) as well as the destination, among others.
It might make more sense to opt for a budget airline if:
- You don’t need to add checked baggage
- It isn’t a necessity to have extra legroom
- You don’t require in-flight meals
- You’re going on a very short trip (for example, from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore or flying within Malaysia)
- You’ve found a flight ticket with a budget airline that is much cheaper than the full-service carrier offer
On the other hand, a non-budget or regional airline would give you more value for money if:
- Your luggage exceeds the carry-on limit.
- You are making a longer trip (say, from Kuala Lumpur to Côn Sơn Island, Vietnam and want a comfortable experience with more leg room, larger seats, and more)
- You require greater flexibility with your travel dates; some full-service airlines will allow you to modify your booking (with terms) at no extra charge.
- You require meals on-board either for health issues or as a matter of preference.
- You want in-flight entertainment like music and movies.
- You can book your tickets well ahead of time.
- You find that the difference in price tickets (between a budget and non-budget airline) is low.
How to pay less for flights
So if you’ve made it this far, you know that affordable flight tickets are possible with both budget and non-budget airlines.
You also know how to choose between the two. Now it’s time to find out how to maximise savings for either option:
1. Book early
Book your tickets as early as possible, six to eight weeks or more, especially if you are planning to travel during peak periods or to popular destinations. This can help you shave hundreds of Ringgit off your fare.
2. Sign up for promo alerts
Promotional fares are often provided on a first come, first served basis and could also be time sensitive. Thus, it’s a good idea to sign up for alerts and be notified as soon as a good deal is available. Tickets prices can be very low during flash sales, but of course, these promos don’t last long.
Prices can sometimes rise within hours and so if your airline provides a price alert option, do sign up for that as well. For instance, Jetstar Asia Airways, a subsidiary of Qantas Airways, has a Price Watch system that alerts subscribers when fares for specified destinations and travel dates rise or fall.
3. Sign up for loyalty and miles programs
If you like a particular airline, be sure to sign up for their loyalty and frequent traveller programs. Much like your supermarket loyalty card, an airline program helps you earn travel miles which can be cashed-in and redeemed for a discount on flight tickets. Interestingly, certain loyalty programs unrelated to travel can also be used to redeem miles.
For instance, with points earned from shopping at Mydin with their Meriah Loyalty Program, members can exchange their Meriah points for AirAsia BiG points and redeem flight tickets and rebates.
4. Get a travel credit card
Travel credit cards often provide many benefits that result in cheaper tickets and other savings. For instance, certain travel credit cards will help you rack up extra travel miles that can be used to redeem flight tickets or discounts, when you spend with the card.
Maybank 2 Gold, Citibank AirAsia Platinum and Alliance Bank Infinite are all excellent examples of rewarding travel credit cards that help you earn more miles.
5. Buy direct
While it might be easier to check on flight prices from fare engines, they don’t always provide the cheapest tickets.
Always double check with the airline’s website to see if the fares on the comparison sites are actually cheaper.
6. Fly during off-peak hours and seasons
Flights on certain days are costlier than others, and sometimes for obvious reasons – short-haul trips (e.g. from Singapore to Malaysia) over the weekends are more expensive than on weekdays.
In general, flights that depart or arrive on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, depending on the destination as well departure and arrival times are cheaper.
Flights that depart after work hours on weekdays or that will land from 7am to 9am on workdays are often relatively pricier as well.
So, can travel insurance help you save more on flights?
A comprehensive travel insurance plan can indirectly help you save more if it covers things like cancelled trips and missed or delayed flights (even connecting flights). This is because you may receive compensation to help alleviate your ticket costs and other expenses.