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guide on low cost carriers

Short-haul journeys can often be made on two types of airlines: full service carriers or low-cost carriers. The full service carriers, such as British Airways provide a reliable, professional and comfortable service with staff that do actually care about their customers. Low-cost carriers, on the other hand, sacrifice much of this in order to provide you with a cheaper flight. Is it worth paying for the extra service?

Yes! Full Service is better!
  • If things go wrong (delays, lost baggage etc), there is a customer service department that will generally help and compensate you for inconvenience. No frills airlines offer very limited customer services involving either expensive phone lines or impersonal e-mails (if you're lucky enough to get a response).
  • If a flight gets cancelled, full service airlines can use their alliance partners to help get passengers home. For example, passengers on a cancelled BA flight from New York can be re-booked onto an American Airlines flight to get home sooner than the next BA flight. Low-cost carriers do not have partner airlines to do this, if they cancel a flight you could be stranded for days - this DOES happen!
  • Your low cost flight quickly becomes more expensive when adding on all of the hidden extras such as checked-in baggage charges, in-flight entertainment, food and drink. See our tips below on how to make sure you get the cheapest price for your flights.
  • No frills carriers often use airports with cheaper fees that are further from the city centre. The extra time and cost to get into the city may not be worth the money saved on the flight. Don't be fooled by airport names, make sure you know exactly where you're flying to!
  • Low cost flights are so cheap partly because the airline pays less for airport landing slots that are at unsociable hours (early morning or late evening). Full service carriers generally operate more frequent flights throughout the day, so you can choose the time that suits you best.
No! Low Cost is better!
  • Some European flights are so short that sacrificing comfort, in-flight entertainment and food is simply not a big deal.
  • No frills airlines do sometimes use the same airport as the full service carriers - check this by looking for the exact name of the airport or 3-letter IATA airport code. For example, both BA and Easyjet fly to Madrid Barajas Airport (MAD).
  • Low-cost carriers operate the same types of aircraft as the full service carriers and are subject to the same strict rules on maintenance - safety is certainly not sacrificed.
  • Major problems such as cancellations are infrequent enough that for cost-conscious leisure travellers it's probably worth the small risk of being stranded for a much cheaper flight.
  • You should always have travel insurance anyway, that should cover you for the costs of getting home or at least compensate you in the event of a cancelled flight - check your policy.
Comparing the Costs

Of course, choosing between full service and low cost carriers is likely to come down to the complete package of quality, service, and price. It's a trade-off, for example: 'shall I fly Easyjet to Madrid or pay an extra twenty quid to go BA?' - how much the extra service and quality is worth is up to you. But first, make sure you're comparing like with like. Low cost carriers have a habit of sneaking up on you with hidden extra charges that you probably didn't consider when choosing which flight to book.

Here is a list of things that low cost carriers charge for:

  • Paying for your flight - ridiculous as it seems, Ryanair only offer one free payment method, the obscure prepaid Mastercard
  • Checking in - you have to check in, right? Right. And Ryanair charge you for the pleasure.
  • Checked-in baggage - low cost carriers charge for checking in hold bags, which increases with weight
  • Boarding first - pay to avoid the scrum for seats, which contrasts with the civilised pre-allocated seating on full service carriers
  • Food and drink - onboard prices can be astronomical so either bring your own or choose to fly full service
  • In-flight entertainment - some airlines offer paid-for films and TV; on longer flights this is an important consideration
  • On board amenities - pillows, headphones etc, and Ryanair are even planning to charge for using the toilet!

To illustrate the cost comparison, BA has an insightful value calculator that shows how extra costs can rack up.

In conclusion, flying with full service carriers is worth paying extra to an extent, but by how much depends on circumstances and personal preferences. Consider the issues raised above when deciding how much extra you're willing to pay to go with the likes of BA instead of Easyjet & co, and try to weigh up all of the costs involved - that low cost carrier fare is always missing an extra charge or two...or three...