Are discount airlines as cheap as they seem?
Answer: Yes and no.
So that’s very helpful, isn’t it?
Here’s a recent experience.
Driven barmy by two grounded years I decided to go to an airshow in Knoxville, Tennessee, and the National Air Races in Reno, Nevada.
That starts with a flight into LA which local travel agent Flightcentre arranged. They had a special deal with Fiji Airways that got me from Auckland, New Zealand, to LAX for $1096. The best alternative on-line was around $2100. So, a good start.
I then asked them to price flights from LA to Knoxville and Knoxville to Reno.
$1150 they said, flying full-service airlines like United and Delta.
I’m much smarter than that! I can do better than that! I checked Skyscanner and flying Allegiant, Spirit and Jet Blue through Las Vegas I could do it for around $580.
Watch out for the “gotcha”
Oh yeah? You’d think a combat-hardened international traveller like me would know to watch out for the “gotcha” charges. Like $50 if you wanted to carry anything other than a small backpack as carry-on luggage. Not checked . . . carry-on. Checked was $70. And that was if you bought at booking time. Add it later and the prices got higher, as I discovered.
In the end my “cheap” flights cost me $1054. I would have been better to go with the full-service flights for a hundred bucks more and got more leg room, a meal and a drink.
But worse was to come.
Doing a roadtrip through moonshine country, I visited the Old Smokey Moonshine Distillery in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, and bought a jar of traditional corn moonshine.
Checking in for the flight from Knoxville to Las Vegas the security guy called me aside. Instantly I knew the problem – the jar of moonshine in my backpack. I had to either leave it behind or put it in a bag that could be checked in.
Rather than leave it – a foolish decision as it turned out – I elected to put it in my carry-on case and check it through as hold baggage.
“That will be $40, sir”, said the nice man at the check-in counter.
“But I’ve already paid $40 for carry-on baggage”, says I.
“Yes, sir, but to check it in to the hold at check-in time is an extra $40”.
In Las Vegas the same routine. Instead of carry-on it had to go into the hold. On Spirit Airlines the additional cost was $79.
Given the cost of the product, $132, plus $40 plus $79, an all-up cost of $251 I could have bought a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue, a top-of-line scotch whisky.
So, children, cheap isn’t always actually cheap.
All-in, my “cheap” flights on discount airlines cost me $1173, marginally more than full-service airlines.
And the bloody moonshine tastes like an industrial solvent. Johnnie Walker Blue it surely isn’t.