At What Cost is a Cheap Airfare?

This is an open letter to all travellers of all descriptions to stop and think before your opening thoughts in planning your holiday start to go along the lines “I want the cheapest flight I can get”.

Travel can be transformational. It can be an experience that gives you a lifetime of memories. You want the memories to be good ones. Quality travel experiences do not have to be expensive, but the “cheapest” holiday can produce memories of the wrong kind.

Why will people pay an extra 50cents for their morning coffee every day? To get the experience they enjoy (flavour, taste, body, great service from a barista who knows their name). Why will they not put the same effort into considering what they are spending on their holiday?

Only too often I hear stories about people who have, for example paid top dollar for their tours and other arrangements to find things that they really want to do in the style they wish to travel, and then insist on getting the “cheapest” airfare to get there.

Do you consider asking what the penalties on the airfare are if you decide you are having such a great time away you want to come back home a week later? Cheap airfares cost more to amend / cancel than those you pay a little more for.

So you are going to Bali? Vietnam? I bet you shop up a storm – oops – need a few extra kilos baggage allowance on the way home? The difference between airlines chosen can mean a difference of you being allowed 20kg or 30kg on an economy ticket – and trust me 10kg of excess luggage charges is not cheap!

Travelling with the family? On that cheap airline did you not realise you have to pay for each meal and drink? Oops – no seat back entertainment for the kids on that long flight? Oh – and the hand held entertainment unit is not complimentary – you have to hire it and there are not enough on board for everyone to have one?

Cheap little airfares within Europe on low cost carriers are so attractive, I agree. But did you know that you have to pay extra for your checked baggage on some? There is no baggage allowance included with the ticket. Oh – and if you don’t check in on  line before you get to the airport, and you want an airline staff member to check you in for your flight at the airport….that costs you extra too!!

Feeling a bit chilly with the air-conditioning? Pay for your blanket. Want a snooze? Or to freshen up? That amenities pack will cost you extra as well.

It is always worth looking at a full service airline for any trip you are making. The cheap fares on other carriers look good at the start, but then when you add on all the extras, there is often very little difference between the total cost you pay, and the services of a premium airline in the first place.

Often the premium carriers will have more flexible terms and conditions on their fares, which may not mean anything to most of us, but if you have to cancel or change your plans unexpectedly (and let’s face it, who has a crystal ball that predicts the future these days?) at least the changes will not cost more than the ticket.

Spelt your name wrong on your ticket? Many premium airlines will charge you a nominal fee to change it by a letter or 2. Often low cost carriers will make you purchase a new ticket. Oops!

There is one thing becoming more common across all airlines though, and that is the increasing popularity of charging you to choose your seat on the aircraft. Nearly all low cost carriers do this, and more and more premium airlines do now to. BA, Qantas, Emirates, Lufthansa to name a few.

How do you decide which airline is the right one for you?

NOT by the price you pay. Price is not indicative of value. Price is not indicative of whether you have chosen the right flights on the right airline to suit your likes, dislikes, wants and needs. Why would you buy a cheap coffee and not enjoy the experience of it when for an extra 50 cents you can get one that you like?

Why would you buy a flight because it’s cheap and then be stuck for a 16 hour transit half way through your journey when you may be able to get a different airline with a much nicer connecting time for not that much more? Do you put a value on your time? Your holiday is only for so long….why spend so much of it in an airport?

Sure the price difference will be more than 50 cents. But what price do you put on a holiday that is full of fun? Full of enjoyable days and nights spent making wonderful memories? Why would you want a horror stopover story or nasty extra bill to pay at the airport?

My role as a Professional Travel Advisor is to talk to you about what you like to do on holiday. What type of break are you looking for? What is important to you when you travel? What will make you memories that last forever? What inspires you? Then the next step is to build those experiences into a trip that is the best possible price for the holiday you are dreaming of. And in regard to flights, at no more cost to you than if you booked online yourself, but with a far better service experience, and final outcome.

If you are going to a fancy dress party, buy a cheap costume. It only needs to last for one night. If you are taking a holiday – take some professional advice from an expert on how to choose the best value trip for you – the flights are only the beginning but can be a really significant portion of your time - the memories that last forever will be awesome ones if you get it right.

By Sarah Fenton

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