Southwest Airlines

Are Low-Cost Airlines Actually Cheap?

Low-cost airlines now operate in every corner of the world: North America has Southwest Airlines and WestJet; Europe has Ryan Air and easyJet; Asia has Tiger Airways, AirAsia and Jetstar, which also operates in Australia.

Low-cost airlines enjoy low operating costs which, in theory, should translate to lower airfares for passengers. But do travelers who fly low-cost always find cheap flights?

Definition of “Low-Cost Airline”

Low-cost airlines are defined as such, first and foremost, because of their low operating costs. Traditional or “legacy” carriers, on the other hand, operate with cost structures more attune to the business environment of days gone by.

As a result, low-cost airlines often offer lower fares than traditional carriers. This is particularly the case in Europe and Asia, where airlines like GermanWings and AirAsia post extremely low sale fares, some of which are even free — passengers need only pay taxes and fees!

Hidden Costs of Low-Cost Airlines

But when you fly low-cost airlines, airfare is only the beginning. Low-cost airlines almost always assess additional fees, some of which are hidden. (Hint: This — passing the cost onto the consumer — is how they keep their costs so low!)

Some of these aren’t surprising, such as having to pay for baggage or food and drink on-board. But others are downright ridiculous. Europe’s easyJet, for example, charges customers who lose their printed boarding passes. Some low-cost airlines even charge customers to use on-board toilets!

Not all low-cost airlines take advantage of their customers, however. America’s Southwest Airlines, for example, assesses less fees than any other U.S.-based carrier, such as legacy airlines like American, Delta and United.

Inconvenience of Flying Low-Cost Airlines

The important thing to remember about low-cost airlines is that while you may enjoy a lower airfare, this isn’t always guaranteed. In fact, unless you purchase far in advance, you are likely to pay the same fare as you would only a legacy carrier, perhaps even higher.

Another inconvenience of flying low-cost airlines is the airports out of which they operate. If you fly to Frankfurt on RyanAir, for example, you’re closer to Luxembourg than you are to Germany’s financial capital.

And service? Forget it. Although you might encounter the occasional friendly, upbeat flight attendant — again, Southwest Airlines is an exception — employees of low-cost airlines are almost always unpleasant. Their wages are just as low as their employers’ costs!

Alternatives to Low-Cost Airlines

If you can’t find the airfare you want on a low-cost airlines, the extra fees and inconveniences make flying a low-cost airline not worth it. But what are your alternatives?

You could fly a legacy carrier. Using tools like SkyScanner, I have frequently found cheaper tickets on legacy airlines like TAP Portugal and KLM than with low-cost airlines — and without extra fees or hassles!

Traveling a relatively short distance? You could travel overland, such as taking trains in Europe or China, or long-distance buses in South America.

The bottom line is this: Low-cost airlines are not always cheaper than traditional airlines, and are uniformly less convenient. Unless you get an extremely low fare to begin with, you’re better off traveling another way.

About The Author

is the author of 1074 posts on Leave Your Daily Hell. Robert founded Leave Your Daily Hell in 2010 so that other travelers would have an entertaining, reliable source of information, advice and inspiration at their fingertips. Want to travel more often? Subscribe to email updates today!


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Priyank Thatte September 25, 2012 at 7:51 pm

In addition, low cost airlines often fly at odd hours which makes it hard to catch proper sleep or find public transportation. I wonder if some day when the airplane is crashing you’ll hear an announcement ‘please deposit one dollar to access the life jacket’ 😉

Robert Schrader September 26, 2012 at 8:47 am

It’s sad to say, but we aren’t too far off from that these days. Also, I didn’t think about the late arrival times…

Laly September 15, 2013 at 9:00 am

LOL… “I wonder if some day when the airplane is crashing you’ll hear an
announcement ‘please deposit one dollar to access the life jacket’ ;-)”

Jesse Duffield May 21, 2015 at 10:19 am

This is an article that I think everyone should read before taking an LCC (or other budget airline). I think you missed one important point though, and that’s what happens when things go wrong. Most airlines lose thousands of dollars on a cancelled flight because they need to support their customers through rebooking on other airlines, hotels etc. But LCCs actually save money, because they’re not obliged to offer alternative transport or even give refunds, even when they c goose to cancel flights for their own reasons (it’s in their terms and conditions). So needless to say most LCCs cancel more flights than other airlines. I found out the hard way when I was left stranded by Vanilla Air in Japan.

ashanti littleton April 19, 2016 at 9:12 pm

Informative article – one of the best things I’ve recently read, and by far
the most useful. I think it could also be useful for everyone to know
how and where to fill a form online. I’ve forgotten the last time I
filled out a form on paper. I mostly use PDFfiller to edit. You can
easily fill a form here

Marineti January 9, 2017 at 6:47 am

It really depends on where you want to flight with cheap airlines. I thing it is proven and working in short destination flights among decent population cities. For example I’ve traveled a lot with Ryanair in Europe, there is a lot of options to book that flight, I’ve searched on a link Robert removed because I am a spammer. I thing it is very popular in Southeast Asia also.

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