By: James Asquith, CEO and founder of Holiday Swap.
As I’m sure many people have seen, I had a little bit of fun recently on both Ryanair and EasyJet on my social media. Self-proclaiming myself as their ‘top-influencer’ and taking a light-hearted approach to budget travel – or in Ryanair’s case, super budget travel. I actually think that Ryanair does a great job. EasyJet, not so much so. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that Ryanair is pretty awful in terms of the actual product. But, how does that old phrase go? You get what you pay for. In Ryanair’s case, the quality is matched by incredibly low and incredible prices. For anyone that hasn’t ever flown Ryanair in Europe, imagine doing absolutely everything yourself (and paying Ryanair for the pleasure). From printing your boarding pass (with a penalty charge usually more expensive than the ticket itself if you forget to do this), to even paying for carry-on baggage.
In addition to this, as we all know, every little thing consumed between take-off and landing will cost you more money. If Michael O’Leary (Ryanair CEO) had his way, he would likely make passengers pay for fresh air as well. Ryanair’s CEO, like so many people in powerful positions these days, is a great marketeer and PR strategist. O’Leary plays on the shock effect and the fact that Ryanair is likely the cheapest airline in the industry. When he publicly claims he wants passengers to pay to use the toilet on Ryanair, or that modern planes only require one pilot, he knows that this would most likely never get approval, but it’s shock value. People talk about it, and it builds on the fact that Ryanair has its reputation as the cheapest airline in the industry. “Oh you’ll never believe what Ryanair is doing now” – the PR machine at Europe’s largest airline is almost doubling down on the fact that everyone thinks they are, well, basic to say the least.
So, where do passengers look first for low-cost flights? You guessed it, Ryanair. This is similar to AirAsia, who have dominated low-cost air travel in Asia and opened up more travel possibilities for cheaper. AirAsia is another airline that I rate highly in the low-cost space.
However, as we know, booking low-cost doesn’t always mean the cheapest by the time our journey is actually complete.
One of the things that grates on me the most when I book travel is the lack of pricing transparency. Anything that centers around low-cost seems to regularly include a lack of visibility and extra added costs. EasyJet is an example of an airline that I feel rarely has great value fares. Granted, they usually fly to better airports than their European rivals in WhizzAir and Ryanair, but their ‘advertised starting fares’ are rarely what passengers ever see. They only work out slightly cheaper than legacy carrier airlines, and when you consider that most of the time passengers have to travel much further to secondary airports (and pay extra for the privilege), the cost may often work out the same!
Low-cost carriers have noticed this feedback from passengers and continued to move more flights to primary airports, however, overall, by the time you add in the extra time of traveling to subsidiary airports, (usually cost as well), the cost to select a seat, pre-board, purchase snacks, pay for carry-on, and any other ‘hidden’ extras, then if your low-cost airline isn’t TRULY low cost, you may end up paying the same for a whole lot more hassle.
Now a continuing trend to notice as well are low-cost airlines that aren’t really low cost at all. What I mean by this are those airlines that are actually owned by legacy carriers and full-service airlines (Jetstar is owned by Qantas, Level is owned by British Airways and this may soon be joined by Norwegian Airlines too who are facing increasing financial difficulties, and Singapore Airlines own Scoot and Tigerair for example). What this does is actually acts to protect the legacy carriers from potential entrants who are the true low-cost carriers, like Ryanair, or even Spirit in the USA. Low-cost carriers are great for competition but work on incredibly small margins. A string of issues (such as the bad luck Norwegian has faced with the grounding of the 737-MAX and engine issues on the 787 Dreamliner) can quickly turn budget carriers small margins into bankruptcy – which is what recently happened to WOW air in Iceland and Air Berlin.
The overriding point is, it’s always worth still looking for full-service carrier fares. To compete with low-cost carriers, the likes of British Airways, United Airlines, and Air France have essentially had to offer very basic fares to compete with low-cost airlines on flight search pricing engines.
We have all done it, searched for a flight and filter results by the cheapest. We always think ‘oh I’ll deal with traveling a further 40km to an airport in the middle of nowhere when the time comes – but look how much money I save today!’. To counteract that, many fares on legacy carriers are now basic and also require paying extra for baggage and food. Long gone on short-haul flights are the free drinks and almost every extra service. What this does mean, however, is that fares that cost only a few dollars more on booking, may end up costing you a lot more on the day of travel (not to mention a whole lot more time) if of course, your low-cost airline is not truly really low cost.
Follow more of James’ travels and adventures on @jamesasquithtravel on Instagram.