General information on low cost airlines
Low cost airlines and their prices have revolutionized the air travel market. A low cost (or no frills or low fare) airline is one that offers flights at very competitive prices, eliminating or charging extra payment for most of the services to passengers (in-flight meals, reserved seating, etc.). The concept of low cost flights was pioneered in the U.S. with Southwest Airlines in 1971, they then became widespread in Europe in the early 90's, initially with the Irish airline Ryanair.
Statistics and a bit of history
To highlight the strong growth of low cost flights, we can show some statistics: in 1994 some 3 million passengers flew low cost, mostly with Ryanair; by 1999 this had risen to 17.5 million passengers.
In 1995 the airline British Airways decided to establish a low cost division under the name Go, which began operating in 1998 from London Stansted Airport. In the same year it expanded its service from London Luton Airport. In the year 2000, Go was sold to easyJet with an operating income deficit of more than 21 million pounds sterling. In 2000, KLM also entered the low cost world with the start up of the airline Buzz, bought by Ryanair in 2003 with a large deficit. EasyJet and Ryanair are currently among the most successful airlines in Europe, operating on hundreds of routes.
Today's market situation sees a strong and steady growth of the low cost flight market, with new routes being opened daily by the major Airlines. A strong growth is expected for the future in the low cost market, even in the sector of long haul flights, which represent the new frontier of challenge.
Why low cost flights are cheap
The low cost companies have very flexible and efficient organizations and very different cost structures to traditional airlines.
Cutting many of the costs makes it possible to offer customers very competitive ticket prices. Costs are mainly optimized in the following areas:
- Distribution of tickets: sales are made directly, and the main channel is the internet, which reduces costs by shortening the chain of intermediaries
- Airports: smaller-scale airports are used, which are cheaper and have less air-traffic congestion
- Services and flight attendants: meals are not served, so the cabin crew is reduced and the aircraft gets less dirty
- Use of the total capacity of the aircraft: the low cost airline planes are always full and make many flights in order to keep costs down. They have much shorter loading and unloading times (25/35 minutes compared to 2 hours for traditional airlines) and thanks to their punctuality, they have an efficient fleet management.
- Modern planes all of the same type: the Low Cost fleets are made up of planes of a single type, which are new and easy to handle and maintain, in order to keep them running at maximum efficiency.
All this generates a cost per pax/km of EUR 0.06 against a cost of EUR 1.20 of traditional companies.
Characteristics of low cost airlines.
To operate in the low cost flights segment an airline has to have some basic characteristics, thanks to which the prices work out very cheap; these are:
– a single passenger class and free choice of seating
– a single model of aeroplane (this optimises maintenance costs), often the Airbus A320 or Boeing 737 (for example, Ryanair: the Boeing-737 Series; easyJet: Boeing 737 and Airbus A319)
– arrangement of aircraft layouts with a greater number of seats; for example, Lufthansa’s Boeing 737-300’s offer 132 seats, compared to 148 seats with easyJet
– a lower baggage weight allowance is allowed, for both carry-on and checked luggage, compared to “traditional” airlines (the excess weight charges are on average quite expensive)
– Elimination of the free drinks and meals service on board. These are available at set prices.
– multifunctional staff (hostesses and stewards perform more tasks)
– more intensive use of the fleet (for example, easyJet flies on average 10.7 hours per day while British Airways about 7.1 hours), by means of short airport stopovers (the turnaround time between two flights is usually 25 minutes), and short flights
– links between secondary airports, often outside of cities, and more convenient, with no slot restrictions and heavy traffic, and with low airport taxes
– direct flights between two airports, without luggage transfers to other connecting flights (separate check-out and check-in), no coordinated flight plans with other airlines
– cost savings through direct distribution, particularly through the Internet and call centres, automatic check-in machines, with possible service fees
– some low cost flights promotions (for even EUR 0.99) are valid only for advance reservations or limited
– administration: lean management (saving on staff), for example Germanwings in Cologne has about 50 employees.
Being low cost is not easy: some failures
There have been cases of new low cost airlines that have flown only for a short time, and then suspended their activities after a few months, or even after a few days, such as JetGreen Airways (an Irish company), which suspended operations in May 2004 after only a week, without refunding the 40,000 tickets sold.
- V Bird (flew from October 23 2003 to 8 October 2004, with its base at Düsseldorf)
- Volareweb - the daughter of the Italian airline Volare, for the sale of low cost flights, declared bankruptcy on 23 November 2004. Already on 30 October 2004 the company had abruptly suspended low cost flights from Germany to Italy. In June 2005 the company resumed its air service with flights mainly in Italy and to some European destinations.
Other fairly illustrious failures: Minerva, Gandalf, Blue, Air Sicilia, Italy, Air Liberté.
When to book cheap flights
Generally it is always worth booking well in advance, at least 15 days before departure, the best deals are offered for departures from Mondays to Thursdays. Avoid leaving on weekends if possible. Always book both the outbound and return tickets and be prepared to travel at unusual hours (early morning or late evening).
Cancellation or changes in booking
Before booking, always carefully read the company regulations about cancellation or amendments of booking! Generally, tickets that have not been used for the flights for which the bookings were made will not be refunded. The right of withdrawal provided for distance contracts is not applied to this type of sale, in accordance with paragraph b) of art. 7 del D. Lgs. 22 May 1999 No 185.
Each airline has different regulations covering changes to booking dates, which we always invite you to check on the website of the company itself. Normally, making changes to bookings is not convenient, and it is often better to make a new booking and forfeit the old ticket.
How do I pay for tickets?
To shorten the chain of intermediaries, and thus offer competitive prices, the low cost airlines use the internet and call centres as their preferred commercial channels (call centres sometimes add a small surcharge). So get ready to pay by credit card (they are in secure mode, don’t worry, and just to be sure, always check that the address changes from http to https).
Ticket confirmation and check-in
When you book online, a confirmation email will be sent to the address you have indicated, with a summary of the data of the flight you have chosen and the booking number. With telephone bookings through the booking centre, confirmation will be sent to you by fax, email or by post. For this last option, some companies require a small additional charge for delivery by courier. With e-tickets, i.e. if you make the booking online, you will receive confirmation, together with the booking code, by email, and for checking-in you just need to print it out and present it at the airport desk.
Secure online payments
Online payment is the preferred channel for low cost airlines, and to ensure the confidentiality of credit card data given online, companies make use of the most advanced technology - Secure Socket Layer (SSL). SSL is currently the preferred method of secure transferral of credit card and other confidential data over the Internet. At the time of payment, if your browser supports SSL, you can select the Secure Mode option and your data will be protected by this technology. If your browser imposes restrictions, you can use the non-secure mode, but we recommend you to update your browser to the latest version in order to make all your future transactions with confidence.
A glance at taxes and additional fees
Unfortunately, the offers of many low cost companies reflect the bad practice, which is not yet regulated, of displaying only part of the price, and hiding taxes and various additional fees. So do not be fooled by offers of EUR 0.01, but always calculate the total price, including taxes, additional fees and fuel surcharges. Sometimes the price can increase enormously.
Be well prepared for moving around
As a rule, low cost companies fly to secondary airports, often quite far from the main destination, so inquire carefully (about fares, schedules and travelling times) and organise yourself well for the transport links to your final point of arrival.
Bookings have a surcharge
Credit card ticket bookings made through call centres or web pages, with the exception of bookings made with Virgin Express, have a surcharge. With Ryanair, as well as SkyEurope, EUR 2.50 is charged for payment by credit card, an expense which should be calculated for each passenger and single route, while with Myair, the figure is even higher, at EUR 2.75. There is a EUR 3.00 Credit card surcharge with Wizzair (who also have a call centre booking fee of EUR 5.00), and with Jet2 the charge is as high as EUR 6.00.
The Main Rule: no second thoughts
If it happens, the air ticket will no longer be so cheap. Changing the name on a ticket, as well as the date, time and destination has a penalty. Beginning with Ryanair, the date, time and route can be changed, according to availabilities and subject to payment of a charge per flight leg and per person. This is EUR 25.00 if the change is made online, and EUR 45.00 if done through their reservations centre. In both cases, any difference between the original price paid for the flight and the minimum price available at the moment of booking will also be charged, whereas, if the total price is lower than what was originally paid, no refund will be made. There is a fee of EUR 65.00 for changing the name on a ticket.
Myair have the same services, but different prices: changes made to an issued ticket are charged EUR 25.00, with the exception of the “Myflex” tariffs (the highest and most recommended in this category at the moment of booking) that allow you to change bookings without any penalties or price differences on the tickets. Wizzair indicates the penalties on its website: for a name change the fee is EUR 30.00, and EUR 28.00 for changes to flights made online, and EUR 35.00 through their call centre. EUR 25.00 is charged for any changes made, always per leg and per person, by SkyEurope and Jet2.com (with an additional charge for any difference in tariff), and the fee rises to EUR 30.00 with Virgin Express.
Invoice and Postal Charges
Do you need an invoice for you ticket? Only SkyEurope, Virgin Express and Wizz Air provide this service: the first two for free, while the third adds a charge of 3 euro for sending a written invoice (with a penalty of EUR 5.00 for changes to the invoice data) and EUR 2.00 for postage.
Rules for baggage transport
Transporting luggage is a matter which requires some attention with low cost airlines, so as not to spend more on excess baggage than the price of the ticket. Excess weight charges are very high, and the low cost companies are very strict on this point. So, check carefully the airline’s excess baggage policy and weigh your suitcases well, to avoid to going over the limit allowed, if possible.
Point to Point flights, Connections not guaranteed
Low cost travel means flying point-to-point: no consideration is therefore given to passengers and luggage in transit, or to connecting with main hubs where you can take on-going flights. Therefore connecting flights are not guaranteed, and each flight is a separate matter (also in regard to cancellations, changes of date, etc.).