Last Updated on February 6, 2021 by Jim Ferri
Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Most people like “bargain travel” on the airlines, at hotels and resorts, etc. But are those low travel costs always a bargain?
At one time or another most of us have gone online to book an airline flight, and noticed a much lower price given by one of the budget carriers.
Sometimes you can find great savings on budget carriers, especially in Europe, if you don’t mind flying no-frills and pack lightly. But there are other things to be aware of.
First of all, many budget airlines fly into secondary airports, something you may not be aware of, and they may not be as close to your destination as the main airport. That can cost a lot in time as well as extra bus or taxi fares.
Where Does the Flight Actually Land?
If you’re en route to Hamburg on Ryanair, for example, you won’t land at Hamburg International, less than 6 miles from the city, but instead at Hamburg-Lübeck, about 34 miles away. And if you’re off to Frankfurt, Germany on Ryanair or Wizz Air you’ll fly into Frankfurt Hahn airport which is actually closer to Luxembourg City than it is to downtown Frankfurt. That could mean a pricey taxi fare back to Frankfurt. Perhaps it’s not such a travel bargain after all.
Obviously, it pays to look at a schedule carefully, even on the same carrier. Fly discount carrier EasyJet to Milan and you’ll have a choice of two airports, Malpensa and Linate. But Malpensa is more than 27 miles from the city, Linate only about 6.
There are other considerations as well, especially when you’re booking a ticket online.
A Great Difference in Price
Since I need to be on the Greek island of Rhodes in a week, a few days ago I went online to make my booking to fly there from Athens. I saw three airlines that flew the route: Aegean Airlines (a popular regional carrier), Ryanair (along with EasyJet, one of the best-known European budget carriers) and Olympic. I ignored Olympic since it was considerably more costly, even though it is now owned by Aegean.
Since there was a great difference in price between the two – Ryanair was charging €25.35 ($35.31) and Aegean €53.64 ($74.71), more than double the price – I decided to see the reason for the great disparity in cost. Both prices also included a surcharge for paying with a credit card.
Also putting you at a disadvantage is that airlines now use software to continually reprice their tickets, some times several times per day, in order to get the highest price for a ticket.
Bargain Travel Often Entails Extra Charges
I went on the Ryanair website and began the booking process.
After choosing my flight for €25.35 I was then asked if I wanted to choose my seat. I chose a regular seat for €5.65 although I also could have chosen a premium seat in the first five rows or in the two exit rows for €11.30.
The booking process soon became laborious as I was nickeled and dimed, or more appropriately, Euro-ed to death. Since overhead space is usually at a premium on Ryanair, I opted to also choose priority boarding (an additional €2.26) to ensure I would have space for my carry on.
Additional Services – Sometimes Not a Travel Bargain
When you’re running around a foreign country it always helps to have your airline schedule at hand on your cell phone so I also ticked the box (an additional €2.81) to have the info sent to my cell phone.
Ryanair then offered me parking for €8 per day at Athens airport and a transfer to Athens airport for €29 (in Rhodes €7). I said no thanks to both.
Ryanair also had a rather restrictive luggage allowance. I was warned that my free carry-on could not exceed 21”×15” × 7 ½” in size, the same as Aegean’s, I later found out. Regular checked baggage was charged at a rate of €16.95 to 15 kg, €28.25 for 20 kg, €33.90 for 30 kg and €45.20 to 35 kg.
Not for New Mothers and Musicians
If you were traveling with any “baby equipment” you were levied an additional charge of €11.30. If you were shipping any musical instruments or sports equipment you would need to fork out another €56.50 per piece. Obviously it would be quite costly if you were going surfing with your newborn and brought your guitar along.
Aegean did not charge for my luggage and allowed me to take one carry-on for free. It also sent my flight info to my cell phone at no additional cost.
Do the Math If You Want “Real” Bargain Travel Fares
In the end the prices for both flights (without taking into consideration in-flight purchase such as food or drinks) were almost identical. The Ryanair ticket came to €53.57 ($74.61), the Aegean €53.64 ($74.71).
But there were two final things to consider. Since my plans could change I viewed change charges and found that Aegean charges a €30 fee for ticket changes, Ryanair €40-€60.
And also, while I’ve heard nothing but complaints about Ryanair’s unfriendly service, Aegean is an award-winning carrier. Additionally, I would earn frequent flyer miles on U.S. carriers in the Star Alliance with Aegean but none with Ryanair.
In the end I found that the Aegean, the non-discount carrier, provided better value.
It’s pays to do the math.