It’s A Trap! Don’t Fly Into These Budget Airline Traps
Have you ever booked a “cheap” flight ticket with a budget airline that turned out to be not such a good deal after all once you factored in all the “extras”?
We’re not surprised.
Budget airlines are known to strip back what is normally included in the standard price of a flight ticket, sometimes offering fares that are 50% or even 80% less than what the big carriers charge.
However, with cheaper fares also come pesky surcharges. Some are so skilfully “hidden” that you might not even notice them when booking your ticket. For the unaware, these extra surcharges could end up adding quite significantly to the price of a flight ticket – in some cases resulting in a more expensive price tag than a full service flight!
Budget airlines available in this part of the world include Air Asia, Jet Star, Firefly and Tiger Air.
We examine some real-life examples in which these pesky surcharges might show up when you book a flight with these budget airlines.
1. Baggage fees
Once you’ve filled up your details, you will likely come across the first extra charge trap: checked baggage.
Malaysian low-cost airline AirAsia lists 20kg as the default option. This will cost you an additional RM45 for a single journey.
A 20kg checked baggage allocation (or more) may be necessary if you’re planning on going away for a long holiday. However, if you have a shorter trip on your agenda, say a weekend in Singapore from Kuala Lumpur, chances are, you probably won’t be needing all the extra luggage space.
If minimalist is your way of life and you’ve decided to go with zero checked baggage, make sure you deselect the default options twice, for both journeys, if you have booked a return flight ticket. It’s really easy to just click next and miss this.
Singaporean budget airline JetStar charges similar rates for checked baggage, at RM47 for 20kg. However, customers are notified of the pre-selected (optional) 20kg checked baggage option during the booking process. In addition, JetStar also offers a slightly cheaper 15kg (RM40) checked baggage option.
Meanwhile, Tiger Air, another budget airline headquartered in Singapore, charges RM55 and RM61, for 15kg and 20kg of checked baggage respectively. However, checked baggage does not come as a default option when you book your ticket online with the airline.
2. Insurance charges
AirAsia lists its Travel Protection insurance as the default option. For RM30, passengers get to enjoy benefits such as flight cancellation or delay, loss or damage to baggage, and personal accident coverage.
We do not recommend having no insurance when travelling, but if you already have travel insurance, you can always uncheck the insurance option to save some cost.
You can also get covered with your credit card. Some travel credit cards offer travel insurance benefits when the full cost of your flight is charged to the card.
Most budget airlines charge to book specific seats. And they present this to you like it’s just a standard option. So it’s easy to accidentally pay for your seats when you really didn’t need to.
Fireflyz (a subsidiary of Malaysia Airlines), takes a step further by charging RM15 for a standard seat for both domestic and international flights – this means you will need to fork out RM15 just to be on-board whether you like it or not.
Children below the age of two will also be charged a RM50 “infant fee” (per child) for each way of the flight. This applies for both domestic and international flights.
Passengers can book preferred seats with travel companions if they pay RM25 extra, and for RM45, they can have extra legroom with the desired seats.
4. In-flight meals
It’s almost a given that budget flights will charge you extra for in-flight meals. However, purchasing food and drinks on a budget flight often costs a bomb, sometimes up to a few times more than what it would cost you anywhere else.
That said, most airlines do offer cheaper prices when you include your meals in your flight booking. That said, they still cost you more than a regular meal on ground but are notably cheaper than what you will have to pay for if you bought them during your flight.
For example, if you’re flying with Air Asia, a nasi lemak meal would cost you RM15 if you bought it online together with your flight ticket. The same nasi lemak meal could cost you up to RM20 or more if you were to buy it during the flight.
Meanwhile, with JetStar, even a light meal comprising of just a sandwich, a bottle of water, and a chocolate bar would cost you RM23. But this could have something to do with the exchange rate and the weak Ringgit, since JetStar is a Singapore-based airline.
5. Processing fees
Some credit cards give you discounts when you shop online. For example, CIMB Cash Rebate Gold offers 5% cash rebate for online shopping, and up to 25% discount and additional 20% cash rebate at participating merchants like Expedia and Agoda.
However, AirAsia does charge a processing fee when you pay for your booking with credit cards, debit cards or charge cards.
The processing fee is as per guest per way if you pay with your credit card.
According to AirAsia’s website, the fee was introduced to “ensure that guests are provided with a comfortable and safe booking environment.”
Not keen on paying extra? Well, you can skip the processing fee if you pay through the BIG Visa card, though it comes with a RM10 one-time joining fee.
Alternatively, you can save a few bucks on processing fee if you pay via direct debit (charged as per booking). It won’t eliminate the fee completely, but you pay less when you use direct debit.
Sign up for the relevant frequent flyer programme, and you will be able to save a few bucks.
So you see, just by being mindful about our spending and by keeping a lookout for these pesky extra fees, we could save quite a bit on our travels.
Based on the above example, if you plan on making a round trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore with Air Asia, and you’ve decided to forgo checked baggage, insurance, and are paying with direct debit, you save up to RM132 in total – that’s enough to fund for another trip to a closer location! The amount also adds up more if there are more travellers.
Meanwhile, if you’re flying Tiger Air, you save at least RM110 if you’re flying with zero checked baggage.
However, if you simply cannot do away with options such as extra baggage or insurance, it is not difficult to see why the headline price of a flight isn’t likely to be the price you end up paying. If that’s the case, you might want to relook your options or even consider travelling with a full-service airline, as (believe it or not) doing so might actually work out to be cheaper than a budget airline.