Money at 30: Are Discount Airlines Worth It? 3 Big Things to Consider
At the time that I’m writing this, I’ve just returned from a week in Las Vegas. This latest trip also meant another flight on the discount airline Allegiant, which I’ve now flown several times and have reviewed in depth. But, while I’ve gotten used to some of the quirks that come with flying a discount carrier, it occurs to me that many others may have questions about them — especially as people start to solidify their holiday travel plans.
As you can probably imagine, there are a few pros and cons to flying discount airlines along with a few other things to know about the experience. So, are they ultimately worth it? Let’s take a look at a few factors that can help you answer that question.
Base fares versus final prices
The biggest thing to know about flying discount airlines is that the ultra-low fares you see when searching for flights are unlikely to be the final price you end up paying. Beyond the various taxes and fees that airlines are required to charge, a major way that discount carriers make money is by adding fees for things that might be included with other airlines. For example, common upcharges include:
- Selecting a seat
- Carrying on luggage (an item that requires overhead bin space)
- Checking luggage
- Priority boarding
- Printing a boarding pass
Depending on how many of these options you’ll need, the final price you pay could be well above that base fee. That said, even with a couple of add-ons, you may still come out ahead. But, there’s still a bit more to that story, as you’ll see.
Not only do discount carriers often price their services differently from larger airlines but they also tend to operate in a notably different way as well. While major airlines regularly use hub airports to route passengers, some discount options like Allegiant use more direct, back-and-forth routes. In this particular case, while the airline is headquartered in Las Vegas and has sizeable operations in cities like Los Angeles and Sanford, Florida (near Orlando), flights will usually travel to these destinations from smaller cities and back.
This means a couple of things for flyers: 1) Connecting flights may not be offered and 2) Flight schedules may be limited. Returning to my Allegiant example, the airline only flies from Springfield to Las Vegas twice per week, allowing them to service more routes with fewer planes. While this is smart business for the airlines and might not be a big deal for some passengers, it can certainly be inconvenient for others — especially when flights get canceled.
In-flight comfort and amenities
Lastly, just as booking a flight with a discount airline often means enduring some “nickel-and-diming,” that experience may continue even after you board. Would you like a drink from the cart? That’ll probably cost you a few bucks. Bag won’t fit under the seat? Then you’ll not only need to pay for a carry-on but will likely cost you more than if you’d prepaid. Luckily, to my knowledge, no domestic carriers have a lavatory surcharge yet but who knows what the future holds! Joking aside, costs such as needing to buy even a bottle of water can be shocking if you’re not prepared for them.
On a similar note, some flyers may find that they’re more uncomfortable on discount carriers. That’s because the seats on these aircraft may not recline, might have less padding, and the like. In-flight entertainment such as TV screens may also be lacking, so you might want to pack a tablet in your personal items.
Are they worth it?
In my opinion, flying discount carriers can be worth it in some scenarios if you know what to expect. First, when comparing to other airlines, be sure to crunch all of the numbers with all the applicable fees, bells, and whistles factored in. Also consider the flight schedule and its implications as needing to spend extra days at your destination could mean additional lodging costs that may offset your savings. Next, be sure to do your research on what the in-flight experience is like with the discount airline you’re considering so that you’re not taken aback by beverage charges, non-reclining seats, and other unpleasant surprises. Once you’ve looked at all of these aspects, then you can truly determine if the savings are indeed worth it for you.
Also published on Medium.