My first memorable experience with a discount airline was when my dad and I flew RYANAIR in Scotland. If you’re not familiar with a discount or budget airline as it’s also called, below is a photo that will give you a good visual. Basically, they are airlines that have really cheap flights; however there are many catches. It’s cliche, but if it seems to good to be true, book it. As in book it the ‘ell out of there!
So a few years ago my dad and I found a dirt cheap flight on RYANAIR from Glasgow, Scotland to Dublin, Ireland. It was probably under $100 USD each. Since we got such cheap flights we decided to splurge and stay at a fancy hotel near the Glasgow airport the night before we would fly to Dublin. This was very important because discount airlines are notorious for flying at odd times during the day, and our flight to Dublin was probably at 4 am. We returned our rental car before checking into the hotel, and had sweet, stressless, dreams knowing that we only had to cross the street to get to the airport in the morning.
So we showed up the next morning, probably at 3 am. RYANAIR doesn’t have much money to hire employees so we had to deal with kiosks. That was when snag one happened.
We were penalized for not having printed out our boarding passes ahead of time. Usually you can just print them out at the airport for free. I’m not sure how much the boarding pass charge was, but I know my father was not happy with this hiccup. Of course, we were also charged for our bags, but that was to be expected. The real snag that put a damper on our day was when we found out that we were at the wrong airport.
It seems that the Glasgow airport that RYANAIR flies in and out of is some 50 kilometers from the main Glasgow airport which we had assumed was the only airport. This was a low blow for two reasons:
1. We had paid a lot of money to stay at an expensive hotel right on the airport property so we’d have a smooth morning.
2. We had returned our rental car the night before.
At this point my dad was fuming, and in the midst of the smoke coming out of his ears I saw dollar signs. Actually pound signs. Hundreds of pounds/euros/dollars and four letter words later, we arrived in Dublin.
We, and dad’s wallet, learned our lesson that discount airlines have such cheap flights because they cut corners. One of which is renting airstrips outside of cities (in the Glasgow case, 38 miles away) so they have lower costs than they would incur if they rented space at the main airports. If you’re flying an airline that you haven’t flown before, please do yourself a huge favor and make sure that the airport you’re flying in and out of is the airport that you think it is. This saved me several times especially on my flights to Barcelona.
Lately I have been flying the American discount airline, Spirit, a lot. I fly it from La Guardia to Chicago because it’s on average about 20% cheaper than the major airlines, and they offer nonstop service to Chicago whereas most airlines do not. But, unlike other airlines, Spirit does ding you for bags, boarding, beverages, and soon, breathing. Just joking about breathing although their bare-bones aircraft are not built for comfort, and you’ll have to bring your own reading material. No SkyMall catalog or airline magazine in the seat back pockets. In fact, I’m not sure their seats have pockets. Or that they recline.
Although every time I fly Spirit I tell myself that I am never going to fly with them again, I have yet to keep that promise. Their low price email alerts that arrive in my inbox on a daily basis lure me in like flies flocking to horse shit. In fact, I even went so far as to sign up for their credit card so I could receive a promotion of 12,500 free miles. So far the miles have yet to appear on my account, and I’ve been unable to reach a customer service rep. to find out why. Visit their website, www.spirit.com, and tell me if you can find a contact email address. Customer service should not be that sketchy.
I’ll be flying Spirit to Costa Rica and Chicago next month and figure that I saved at least $150 by booking both flights with Spirit. However, I realize that I’m sacrificing quality assurance for more money in my pocket. Money I’ll probably just spend at the airport:)
For a list of discount/budget airlines, see here. Disclaimer: I’m not sure if it’s 100% accurate.