Ready...Set...Vacation! with Erik the Travel Guy


Travel Tip - Low Cost Air Carrier WARNING

Are all airlines created equal? Well, yes and no. Yes, for the most part they safely fly people, pets and cargo to places all over the world. No because ticket price has everything to do with fleet size, seat size, route schedule and amenities. In addition, every country is a little different, so for purposes of this article, we are dealing with US carriers. 

Low cost carriers can be found all over the globe. Recently, the industry has gotten even more specific with the moniker of "ultra low cost" carriers. Like every other purchase, there are pros and cons to flying with any airline, low cost or otherwise. 

Defining a low cost carrier is not exactly easy. But for now, I'll use the Wikipedia definition.  "A low-cost carrier or low-cost airline (occasionally referred to as no-frills, budget or discount carrier, and abbreviated as LCC) is an airline that is operated with an especially high emphasis on minimizing operating costs and without some of the traditional services and amenities provided in the fare, resulting in lower fares and fewer comforts. To make up for revenue lost in decreased ticket prices, the airline may charge extra fees – such as for carry-on baggage. As of July 2014, the world's largest low-cost carrier is Southwest Airlines, which operates in the United States and some surrounding areas". 

Okay, let's start with a general consensus of low cost airlines operating in and around the US.

Allegiant Air
Frontier Airlines
Southwest Airlines
Spirit Airlines
Sun Country Airlines

Perhaps by the time this article is published, a new low-cost carrier will pop up, but I think you are starting to get the picture. 

I have flown on every single one of these carriers. Offering a critique might be as useful as an expensive orange peeler. I say this because every single one of these airlines I've flown has taken off and landed in the place I was going. Simple as that. 

Low cost carriers are capitalizing on consumers' desire to go from point A to point B with no frills.  But low cost carriers are competing for your business, not just with the legacy carriers (AA, United, Delta), they're also competing with other low cost carriers. Therefore, each low cost carrier is just a little different and the devil is in the details. Some charge for snacks and drinks while others do not. Some have different seating configurations, boarding priority schemes while others do not. The key here is to identify what is important to you. All of these low-cost carriers have mobile apps and direct booking sites. Some have better customer service than others. But it’s important to note; if you select one of these carriers, then you are accepting the risk of flying with them. Not usually a safety risk. Low-cost carriers don't crash or have more mechanical problems than others just because they are low cost. The same, basic functionality of a low cost carrier is the same as the big carriers. They are governed by the same government agencies as well. 

The risk I'm talking about has everything to do with the number of aircraft the low cost carrier owns and the number of flights they offer per day in their departure and arrival cities or towns.  

I fly on low cost airlines about 30% of the time because 70% of my travel these days is work-related. Oftentimes, low cost carriers have limited schedules. Not always, but when I travel for work, I need a lot of options. So this is my cautionary warning, when flying on a low cost carrier, lower your expectations. I don't mean to sound persnickety or elitist, I'm simply reminding you,  the business model is different on a low cost carrier. Once again, read the fine print and know what the cost of your ticket includes (and what it doesn't). 

On a related note, I suggest you familiarize yourself with the low cost carriers that fly (seasonally and/or year round) to and from your home airport. Deals can be found if you have some advanced warning and regardless of your airline of choice, respect your travel days and treat as such! Happy flying and I’ll see you in line at security. 



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