Since I usually buy budget airline tickets several months in advance, It has been a while since I bought one to anywhere. Did a couple of bookings this past week which led to some startling if not, annoying discoveries which seem to foretell an inevitable trend in the LCC segment of the airline industry.
Generally, I find the booking systems of most LCC’s to be quite annoying – this stems from their tendency to pre-select add-ons by default in a way that is not so obvious to unsuspecting passengers. Previously, the pre-selection was only confined to travel insurance. Lately, I discovered that not only more and more of these add-ons are pre-selected, but also that some airlines have made it more tedious for passengers to unselect the pre-selected add-ons (probably in hopes that passengers won’t want to exert the extra effort of unselecting and just pay the extra dollars). Smells like an unethical way to make a quick buck to me, but in a highly volatile industry I suppose every cent counts.
At the end of the day, budget airlines can still offer a lot of value especially during seat sales and I suppose that for the majority of the target market, these are hassles that one should just take note of. Thought I’d share some tips on unspoken rules with regards to LCC bookings and how to avoid getting charged unnecessarily in the booking process. These are in my opinion, 7 things people should watch out for when buying a budget airline plane ticket.
One – Cancellation Policy
Cancellation policies differ greatly depending on the type of ticket booked. Sale fares are usually not only non-refundable but also non-rebookable. Aside from common sense, a proper way to get thru this is to buy travel insurance especially if you booked several months in advance (will talk more on travel insurance below).
Even if you manage to buy a standard fare ticket, rebooking fees usually apply so I would suggest comparing the price of a rebooked ticket to a new one and find out whether it still makes sense to amend your existing bookings — in case you can’t make it on your original date.
Two – Travel Insurance
Despite being one of the pre-set selections in most budget airline bookings, travel insurance is actually not a bad idea. I usually opt for travel insurance if my ticket booking is more than 3 months from the departure date and if it costs more than US$100. Even then, I also consider the destination I’m going to and the duration I’m spending there. If it’s in a country where medical care is expensive, I would think that spending a few dollars for travel insurance isn’t a bad idea.
When buying travel insurance, I would suggest reviewing the coverage details to see what kind of situations can warrant a claim, and how much you can expect to receive for common occurrences such as baggage loss, delays or unexpected travel cancellations.
Three – Changes, know your rights!
One major inconvenience that I get when buying a ticket several months in advance is that the flight schedules are often moved — more often than not, the timings become later than earlier. This throws travel itineraries into chaos or worse, causes one to miss a connecting flight. But fear not, there are ways to get around this!
For most airlines, a flight timing change of 3 hours or more is sufficient grounds to have tickets rebooked for free or even refunded. This also applies if the flight timing changes in such a way that causes you to miss a connecting flight (often for the same LCC).
Four – Inclusions
When comparing fares, it would be helpful to familiarize yourself with the various standard inclusions that come even with your bare-bone tickets. As everyone knows, legacy airlines and flag carriers usually have a standard baggage allowance that doesn’t need to be booked as an extra, but do you know that LCCs such as Airphilexpress also have free baggage allowance and that Jetstar allows up to 10kg of carry-on luggage? A standard 15kg luggage allocation may cost anywhere between US$5 to $15 depending on the carrier, so it would be wise to factor in such things as well when comparing prices between airlines.
Five – Read carefully and don’t click on the wrong buttons!
Sad to say, the booking systems of most budget carriers seem to be moving backwards rather than forwards in terms of customer-friendliness. The process of buying a ticket from these outfits is like going through a minefield of potential charges where one has to read each and every step carefully in order not to purchase something unnecessary. Curiously enough, I have yet to see any budget airline booking site with a functional BACK button.
As I said previously, despite this annoyance, budget airlines can still offer a lot of value so it would be helpful to just be mindful of the following common traps:
- Baggage pre-set : Most baggage add-ons usually come in tiers of 15kg, 20kg, 30kg, etc. The default option is usually 20kg — unless you really need this much, you have to manually set it back to 15kg
- Travel insurance : As per my tip in the abovementioned, it really depends if you need it or not. For very cheap tickets, I usually don’t bother
- Seating : Another major annoyance, I found that one airline had even recently gone as far as pre-selecting the seats (with a fee of course) and requires customers to uncheck the seats one-by-one on a per passenger basis if they opt not to pre-select a seat. Major hassle!
- Other add-ons such as meals, option to board first, donations to offset carbon emissions or ground transportation inclusions are usually not pre-selected so no qualms about these (for now)
Six – Extras! Buy now or later?
For a ticket that I buy way in advance, I usually do not opt for any extras until near the departure date. Most airlines allow amending flight details for such add-ons at the same price but there are some which charge a bit more for add-ons made post-booking.
Seven – Group bookings
Booking LCC place tickets can be quite a chore. What more if you’re going on some family reunion excursion and have to book not only for yourself, but also your family, and even your extended relatives? Fortunately, this is where you get a slight notch up in the customer-friendliness scale. Many LCCs offer group booking services which are done over the phone. Applicable for bookings of more than 10 passengers, you may even get a slight discount over the online rate. So might as well call up the customer service agent and have him click all the buttons for you!