Purchasing your airline ticket is typically the first thing travelers do when they decide to go on a trip. It’s also often the biggest single expense for most travelers.
Having a good idea of how the industry works, the different options for buying tickets and how to get the best deal and cheapest price on a ticket can make the whole experience a fun first step into planning your trip. I’ll describe here my thoughts on buying an airline ticket and how I go about planning a route, picking an airline and searching for the best ticket deals online. Different types of Airlines: Legacy and Low Cost Carriers
Picking the best airline and flights for your trip starts with your decision to fly with a legacy carrier (sometimes called a major) or with a low cost carrier (sometimes budget or charter airline).
The legacy carriers are typically the big names you first think of when you consider airlines: United, Delta, British Airways and Lufthansa. The low cost carriers (or LCC from here on) are the upstarts with the hip new names: Jet Blue, Ryan Air, Virgin Airlines and Air Asia, for example.
The two types of carriers often act like two parallel travel worlds that rarely cross paths with each other. The carriers often fly from different airports, sell their tickets in a different manner, offer different inflight options and can have very different prices. And that’s just a start.
Here are the key points that define legacy and low cost carriers:
* Generally have better and more complete service than LCCs — e.g. transfer bags between connecting flights, serve meals, offer in-flight entertainment.
* Typically offer passengers different classes of seating (e.g. first class, business class), airport lounges and frequent flyer programs.
* Most legacy airlines are a member of an alliance whereby partner airlines share routes, offer connecting flights and issue boarding passes for other airlines.
* Work on the hub and spoke model between major cities.
* Tickets for missed flights (because of a missed connection) are usually honored.
Low Cost Airlines
* Known for cheap — often ridiculously cheap — ticket prices. Some of the European LCCs have offered flight promotions with tickets across the continent for as little as €1. But even non-promotion ticket prices are regularly in the €10-30 range. (These ticket prices however, often don’t include the high taxes and fees that LCCs usually charge. Be sure to compare the total ticket cost not just the initial quoted price when booking.)
* Usually fly shorter trips and routes (e.g. Amsterdam to Rome) — though this is changing and it’s now possible to complete an Around The World trip solely on Low Cost Carriers.
* Large fluctuations between ticket prices by the hour, by the days of the week, by high and low season.
* Must book through each individual airline’s web site and usually no ticket issued (i.e. only paperless ticket).
* Flights are point to point, so you don’t get a discount for flying from point A to B, and then B to C like you would on a Major airline
* Return tickets (i.e. a typical roundtrip ticket) are usually the cost of 2 one way tickets.
* Luggage is rarely conveyed from one flight to another connecting flight even when both flights are with the same airline. Passengers will need to collect their bags and re-check them at the baggage counter.
* Often use smaller airports that can be quite a distance from the city and the city’s main airport. Check transfer times and distances carefully if you’re connecting to a flight on a different airline.
* Baggage restrictions are often stricter on low cost carriers and checked baggage will usually entail a charge of €5-20 euros and then an excess baggage charge for heavier bags.
* Some Low cost Carriers have credit card charges (Ryanair has a €5 charge for credit cards) on top of the fees, taxes, and baggage costs.
* Usually no in-flight entertainment
* Not always the cheapest. The majors have become more competitive with pricing so don’t automatically assume that the budget airline has the cheapest ticket.
* LCCs can and often do change times, dates and routes with little or no notice. You’ll have the choice of rebooking or getting a refund but if your entire vacation is dependent on getting from, say, London to Mykonos, this could be a major interruption to your plans.
Friday, July 30, 2010