Going “budget” doesn’t always have to mean going “cheap”. Sometimes it’s really a matter of getting the most out of your money. For example, every Monday in June, Grab is giving away “free” rides worth $15.
But since it’ll cost me more than $20 to travel home from the office, what I did was take the MRT and get off several stops earlier, then took a free Grab ride home for the rest of the journey. All in all, I shaved 5 cents off my usual public transport fare, and got to travel home in comfort (for 15 minutes). Okay, I guess when I put it that way it doesn’t sound so impressive. Heh.
But what IS impressive is the way budget airlines manage to offer ridiculously low ticket prices. While we know that they save money by flying at godforsaken late night hours, making you pay for check-in baggage and charging you for overpriced meals in-flight, surely they can’t be making all their money that way? Especially with the way Singaporeans travel – we’ll make sure we don’t get caught by all these extra costs, even if it means starving during the flight.
Here are 3 of the biggest cost-cutting measures that budget airlines use to keep your airline tickets cheap.
1. Operate an entire fleet of the same aircraft model
Have you noticed that all your AirAsia flights are on the Airbus A320-200 model? That’s because the budget airline only uses one model at a time. In fact, by the second half of this year, when AirAsia will be changing its aircraft model for only the second time since becoming a budget carrier. Back in 2011, it ordered 200 of the new Airbus A320neo model. This particular deal made AirAsia the single biggest customer of Airbus.
There are two reasons to use the same aircraft model. Firstly, by buying in bulk, budget carriers enjoy significant discounts on their order, and even if it’s just a 30% discount, that’s several billion dollars in savings. Naturally, they will pass some of these massive savings on to the customers.
Secondly, using just one aircraft model saves time and money on training not just pilots and service staff, but also maintenance crew. This one size fits all strategy also reduces maintenance costs, and thus operating costs.
2. Flying to secondary airports
The level of service that you would usually take for granted with regular airlines suddenly becomes a premium with budget airlines. Chief among these is actually the fact that budget airlines don’t fly to the usual airports in a major city. This is because there are usually high landing fees charged by these major airports, so budget airports use less popular airports in the major city. For example, using the older Don Mueang International Airport in Bangkok instead of the newer Suvarnabhumi Airport.
Not only are these secondary airports significantly cheaper, they also are less congested, which means less air traffic delays and higher turnaround times. Which brings me to my last point.
3. Almost immediate turnaround times
An aircraft that is flying earns money. An aircraft that is parked wastes money. No one knows this better than budget airlines, who ensure that their aircrafts get the highest utilisation possible. Carriers like AirAsia boast a turnaround time of 25 minutes. That means that as soon as an aircraft has landed, it’s ready to fly off again.
The crew is also held to these fast turnaround times. All too often, the same team of cabin crew that fly on a flight to a destination are the same crew on the flight back. This practice is still within international standards and procedures, so it’s not illegal. They’re not slaves.
This high utilisation also means that budget airlines run the risk of cancelled flights. Because aircraft are expected to keep being on the move, any unexpected delays could result in the entire flight being cancelled.
The infamous Scoot case last year is a perfect example. An aircraft had been discovered, at the last minute, to have tyres too worn out to fly and had to be replaced. This delay had a compounding effect, as it caused the cabin crew to exceed their permitted aviation work hours. The crew was therefore required to take a 12-hour rest period, causing further delays and very, very angry passengers.
Should these cost-cutting measures make you worry?
While most budget airlines don’t compromise on safety, trying to cut costs often results in flight delays and flight cancellations. It’s unfortunately the price you pay for cheaper fares.
So if you’re planning to fly with a budget airline, and risk those inconveniences, then you should definitely use some of that money you’ve saved to ensure you are sufficiently covered by travel insurance.
And don’t go with the travel insurance that budget airlines offer. If you read the fine print, they obviously they won’t cover flight delays and cancellations they cause. Instead, go with a proper travel insurance policy, that will compensate you should you find yourself stranded in the middle of nowhere. Just because you’re flying “budget”, doesn’t mean you should fly “cheap”.
What has your experience with budget airlines been? Share them with us.