On the face of it, the increasing number of budget flights to faraway destinations like Athens and Melbourne is great news for Singaporean travellers. All the more reason to plan a holiday to these places since your flight will now cost half of what it would have 10 years ago.
But the question is… do you really want to take a budget airline on a flight that’s anywhere between 7 and, ugh, 12 hours? Flying budget usually means no in-flight meals unless you pay separately for them, and no check-in luggage. It means less leg room, no entertainment system, and certainly no smiling Singapore girl in her kebaya making you feel like a king.
Still, for many Singaporeans, toughing it out is worth the $300 to $600 you save. Here’s how to survive that long haul budget flight without tearing your hair out.
1. Pre-book if you need meals and check-in luggage space
If you want to bring a long a big suitcase for all your shopping or forsee yourself starving on the long flight to another continent, make sure you pre-book checked baggage allowance and meals in advance if the airline doesn’t include them. Right now, of the four major budget airlines serving Singapore, only Air Asia X offers free check-in luggage space.
Sure, it’ll cost you money—but nowhere near as much as if you wait till you show up at the airport or get on the plane.
For instance, Scoot lets you pre-book check-in baggage space costing between $42 and $52 for long-haul flights (each way). On the other hand, waiting till you show up at the airport to check in your luggage would cost you a whopping $100.
2. If you’re not booking meals or luggage space, plan in advance so you don’t regret it
When the main reason you’re willing to rough it out on a budget airline is to save money, it can seem pointless to spend an extra $100++ on luggage space and meals.
If you’re determined not to book meals or luggage space, plan ahead so you don’t end up kicking yourself.
Those taking a long-haul flight without booking luggage space absolutely need a backpack, duffle bag or trolley suitcase that’s small enough to be taken on board as carry-on luggage. Always measure the dimensions of your bag when it’s fully-packed. Discovering your bag is too big at the airport is going to ruin your trip.
And while bringing your own food to eat on the plane is strictly forbidden, well, let’s just say that people do it anyway, and on a long haul flight you’ve have plenty of opportunities to secretly stuff some food into your mouth. Otherwise, make sure you have a full meal before you board the plane so you’re not tempted to spend $5 on the airline’s cup noodles.
3. Don’t plan an overly tight itinerary in case your plane is late
Budget airlines have a bad reputation for being less punctual than good full service airlines. You want to take delays into account when planning your itinerary.
For instance, if you’re planning to arrive at a particular destination by using a combination of budget flights (for instance, to fly to Vientiane in Laos you might first take a flight to Kuala Lumpur before catching an Air Asia flight from KL to Vientiane), avoid placing them too closely back to back.
I once did that Singapore-KL-Vientiane route and found myself racing through the airport to catch my connecting flight despite the fact that my first flight had been on time.
Another issue with budget airlines is that there is often little to no compensation from the airline in the event of lateness. You’ll have to purchase your own travel insurance to cover that.
4. Don’t automatically buy a return ticket from one single budget airline
When booking flights, many Singaporeans have the tendency to just search for return flights on all the budget airlines and then choose the cheapest one. Since you have to pay double the booking fees if you book two one-way tickets from different airlines rather than a single return ticket, it may not make sense to do the former for a short, cheap flight.
But when it comes to long haul flights, the overall cost of your flight is going to be high enough to make it worthwhile in many cases to book two flights on different airlines. An aggregator like Kayak can help you find the cheapest combination of flights.
5. Bring your own entertainment
If you’re hoping for your own private screen with everything from the latest blockbusters to Super Mario, forget it. You’re not paying enough on budget airlines to get your own entertainment console. (Actually, Scoot flights, Jetstar flights and Australian flights on Air Asia X offer an entertainment system for rent, but if you have your own laptop or tablet it’s not really worthwhile to spend money on it).
You’re an adult, so you should know how to entertain yourself. Bring something to do on the long, interminable flight. I’ve seen people playing Minecraft on flights using their laptops, while there’s always good old reading, just in case you’ve forgotten.
6. Don’t ignore personal hygiene and comfort on your flight
You know how you can get off long haul flights feeling like a train wreck, with unbrushed teeth and parched skin? Well, it feels 10 times worse on a budget flight.
Don’t ignore personal hygiene just because you’re flying. Brush your teeth and wash your face just as you would at home. And bring a big bottle of water so you can stay hydrated. I guarantee you’ll get off the flight feeling better. Just remember to pack your toiletries in small containers since you won’t be able to carry anything over 100ml in your check-in luggage.
If you have the space, you might be able to squeeze in a few other items that can make your flight more comfortable, including neck pillows (obviously you should not expect to receive pillows and blankets like you would on a full service flight), eye covers and ear plugs (useful to protect yourself from wailing babies).
7. Don’t forget to buy travel insurance
Budget flights tend to have a reputation for arriving late, and you are much less likely to enjoy compensation like free meals or hotel stays for long delays and long layovers, even if their oversights have caused you to camp out at the airport for an eternity.
That makes travel insurance a very important thing to have. If you’re not sure where to get yours, compare insurance plans for free on MoneySmart’s travel insurance wizard.
Have you ever taken a long haul budget flight? Share your experiences in the comments!