Low Cost Airlines?

After spending some considerable time over the past week looking at a cheap flight from Sydney to Adelaide on a weekend I have worked out that there really is no such thing as a cheap flight.

With more of us taking to the skies than ever before it would seem the price of flying should be dropping exponentially however in reality the airlines are fleecing us just as much as they have in the past.

While flying last century was far more expensive than it is today it was a unique experience not yet viewed as a daily ritual for many people.  It was also an experience unmatched today except for the high flyers in today’s first class.

In recent times airlines have pushed the limits to how many people they can fit on a plane sacrificing comfort for profits.

Anyway, back to my story.  So I’ve been looking at some weekend flights from Sydney to Adelaide.  The 4 major Australian airlines vary in both delivery and price in a huge way.  While some airlines only fly 1-2 routes Sydney to Adelaide in a day, others fly frequent services but have significant costs associated with the convenience.

Prices ranged from $90 one way with Tigerair to $220 one way with QANTAS.  While Tigerair seems a logical solution, their return flight leaves shortly after it arrives being on the same plane with no more Saturday flights available.

QANTAS and Jetstar fly the same route at similar times yet their fares vary from $95 with Jetstar to $220 with QANTAS (one way) and really what’s the difference between an A320 and a 737-800 which is the only real difference between the carriers.  Sure you get a coffee and snack with QANTAS but is that really worth $125?

Let’s not forget Virgin Australia with prices starting at $179 one way for a morning flight.  The same fare is $399 with a flexi ticket.  It costs less to forfeit your ticket and rebook a new flight than to change your fare with a flexi ticket!

For the most part the Australian domestic market is pretty much the same level of service.  All the airlines fly major routes in either an A320 or 787 plane (with exception to busier/longer routes such as Sydney to Perth).  All of the onboard services are available with all the airlines, some as inclusions, others as paid addons.  If you’re lucky enough to fly with Virgin or Qantas you can boost yourself up to a business class service for a considerable chunk of cash and fly at the pointy end of the plane in a more comfortable seat.

Then let’s talk about rewards programs.  Both Qantas and Virgin offer their own brand of frequent flyer points.  The points are not given for their low cost alternatives (Jetstar and Tigerair) unless you pay extra for them.  You earn roughly 750 points for a basic fare Sydney to Melbourne.  To redeem a standard fare costs $149 one way or over 10,000 points.  After 14 flights you’ll be eligible for a 1 way ticket.  For those who don’t fly to accrue points you may opt to collect points when you fill up your car.  With Virgin’s offering at BP you would need to fill up with over 10,000 liters of fuel to redeem a one way flight Sydney to Melbourne.  And don’t forget, those points expire so you’ll want to hope you have a lot of cars to fill up each week.  With fuel at an average of $1.50 a liter you’ll need to spend $15,300 to earn the 10,200 points to save yourself $149 on the fare.

All in all we still have a long way to go before flying is considered a cheap alternative to travel.  While for many of us it is a necessity it has not got any easier to undertake.  Costs vary by the day and airlines tweak the prices to meet demand on an almost daily basis.  (Does anyone remember the AFL grand final weekend click here).  How long until we can book a flight for any given day and know in advance that we’re not paying more to fly on a Tuesday instead of a Wednesday?  What happened to the days you could be put on a reserve list for a fraction of the cost and if someone didn’t show for their seat you could jump in at a small cost?

On a side note, be sure to always read the terms and conditions before you fork out for extras such as seat assignments etc.  On a recent international flight I paid around $100 to make 2 changes to the seat assignments because the airline kept changing them and after all that I still ended up with another passenger assigned between my wife and I in the same row despite paying to sit next to each other.

Until the costs of flying come down unfortunately for some of us our feet will be firmly stuck to the ground.  While I love to fly I certainly can’t afford to do it nearly as much as I would like.

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Posted in Travel.