Do budget airlines save you money?

Do budget airlines really save you money? Not in every case or every situation.

While budget airlines Jetstar and Tigerair usually offer the cheapest fares, they exist for their no-frills packages. So, in some cases, if you want to purchase extras, you may be better off flying with one of the two major carriers (Qantas and Virgin) for your domestic travel, according to Skyscanner.

If you are prepared to fly without any of the additional comforts or extra luggage you will certainly pay less by choosing Jetstar or Tigerair. You will still get to your destination in the same amount of time and you can make significant savings.

Where those savings start to get eaten up is when you add extras such as checked luggage, inflight entertainment and meals. That is because these items come as standard on Qantas and Virgin.

The four airlines serving Australia’s domestic market have their own basic fare offering, but they differ greatly in what they provide.

australia budget airlines

The basic fare with Jetstar is Starter, which gets you a seat on the plane and a 7kg allowance for carry-on luggage – but anything extra carries a fee (including checked baggage, seat selection, entertainment and food/drink). You can upgrade to the Starter Plus (includes baggage, seat selection and a meal or snack) or to Starter Max (which also gives you a priority seat) but these are both more expensive. Inflight entertainment costs money unless you book a business seat.

In Qantas economy seats, you always get the bonus of in-flight dining and entertainment. The only difference in domestic fares is whether you get a flex deal or not. The flex deal offers you the ability to change names on your ticket, move the date of your flight or cancel your ticket entirely.

At the time of booking, Tigerair offers two options: Light and Express. Both only offer carry-on luggage, but Express (which is slightly more expensive) also gives you a queue jump and the option to select your seat. As you go through the booking, you have the option to add extras such as checked luggage, entertainment and other options to make your trip a bit more luxurious.

Virgin Australia
As with Qantas, Virgin Australia gives all economy passengers something to eat and drink on their planes, checked luggage and the option to watch a film. Extras such as seat upgrades are available for a fee and different fares exist to give you options for ticket flexibility.

Skyscanner found that on a flight from Brisbane to Sydney, Tigerair had the cheapest basic fare ($65), with Jetstar next best ($88), Virgin Australia ($103) and Qantas the most expensive ($121).

However, once they changed the flight options to include travelling with 20kg of checked luggage, eating a light meal and choosing your own seat, the budget airlines struggled to keep pace with the full fare alternative. Virgin Australia was cheapest ($103), narrowly beating Tigerair ($105) and Qantas ($121) was cheaper than Jetstar ($125).

The upshot is that if you are only interested in having a seat on a plane, then the budget airlines will definitely be the cheapest. If, however, you are looking for a few more creature comforts, you will definitely need to look beyond just the basic fares you will be charged, or you could end up paying extra.

Have you ever been caught out buying extras on a budget airline? Do you prefer a meal when flying or are you happy just paying for the seat?

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