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I Thought All Budget Airlines Were The Same. But Only 3 Are Worth My Time And Money.

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Jeff Cuellar

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Changi Airport is more than just a group of terminals filled with duty-free goods, restaurants, and art displays like the kinetic rain (when they’re not being damaged by tourists anyway). It’s an escape portal to exotic destinations away from whip-cracking bosses, long working hours, and disaster movie-style overcrowding at public transport terminals.

Of course, your first step towards freedom is buying and flying. But not all budget airlines are created equal – some are more equal than others. So instead of buying the absolute cheapest ticket from some no-name airline that’s still flying propeller-driven planes that are older than you are, go with an airline that’ll get you there safely and cheaply.

Here are the 3 best budget airlines to book your getaway with:

 

AirAsia

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AirAsia has won international awards for being the “world’s best low-cost airline.” Maybe that’s because its strengths lie in its impressive availability of routes, comfortable seats, and competitive ticket prices.

Having flown AirAsia on numerous occasions, I appreciate its consistentency in offering good value-for-money flights that’ll get me where I’m going with minimal disruptions.

Here’s how AirAsia stacks up:

Routes (9.5/10): AirAsia travels to 88 locations all across Southeast Asia including Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei, Bali, Bangkok, and Jakarta. Check out every available route.

Ticket Cost: (8.0/10): Tickets are not only cheap, but you can further reduce your ticket price by choosing from a wide variety of flight times (*hint* fly out at non-peak hours). AirAsia also offers “flash” sales on flights through its TripGroupy portal.

Comfort (8.5/10): AirAsia has a modern fleet of Airbus A320s, which offer more legroom and seat comfort than older planes carried by other budget airlines.

Service (7.5/10): The check-in service is better than most major airlines I’ve flown with, but you’ll still need to deal with long lines. The self check-in kiosks are useful, but tend to run out of paper when it’s busy. The aircrew is generally pleasant and helpful as well.

Food (7.0/10):  It’s a budget airline with typical buy-on-board Southeast Asian and Western fare. Yeah it’s overpriced, but the food is fairly decent as far as airline chow goes.

Checked Baggage (7.0/10): The cost to check in baggage with AirAsia ranges from $26 for a 15kg bag to $70 for a 40kg bag. If you want to save some money, you can travel light by just bringing a carry-on bag no more than 7kg in weight with you.

Air Fleet (8.5/10): Modern Airbus A320-200s

Frequent Flyer Program (7.5/10): AirAsia’s frequent flyer program is called BIG, which is more of a prepaid payment card you can use to buy groceries, petrol, and book flights with. So you’ll earn “BIG” points for every X number of RM spent. You can redeem these points towards free flights and hotel packages. It’s a reloadable card that unfortunately, has many fees attached to it.

Overall Rating: 8/10

 

Tigerair

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When it comes to flying on Tigerair, it’s not that you want to fly with them – it’s about two things: 1) it happens to fly to the destination you want to visit and 2) it happens to offer the cheapest ticket available. That’s how pretty much everyone gets to experience Tigerair, myself included.

Those two things are also the airline’s greatest strengths. It flies to many major destinations that tourists want to visit and it can usually (but not always) offer cheaper prices than other budget carriers.

Here’s how TigerAir stacks up:

Routes (6.5/10): You can fly to 47 locations such as Tokyo, Hanoi, Bali, Manila, Taipei, and Hong Kong among other places. Tigerair also flies to most major cities in Australia (although you’ll have to fly to Perth first and then transfer). Click to see every available route.

Ticket Cost: (8.5/10): Again, it won’t beat AirAsia every time, but when it comes to certain locations, Tigerair flights will be far cheaper (particularly if you’re flying “light” with just a carry-on bag!).

Comfort (8.5/10): Like AirAsia, Tigerair uses modern Airbus 320s to ferry you to your destination, so expect reasonable legroom and comfort.

Service (7.5/10): With Tigerair (as with every budget carrier) there’s no getting around the wait to check in because of long lines, but at least the boarding process is pretty efficient at least. The aircrew is pretty helpful and the service isn’t too different from that of AirAsia.

Food (7.5/10): Like AirAsia, Tigerair offers Southeastern and Western fare. What Tigerair has going for it is that buying food (when you book your ticket) is pretty cheap and the taste is slightly above average for airline chow.

Checked Baggage (7.5/10): It costs a bit more to check in baggage with Tigerair as prices range from $26 for a 15kg bag to $70 for a 40kg bag. But you’re allowed to bring a carry-on bag that weights up to 10kg. Tigerair also has a promotion allowing you bring a check-in bag up to 40kg for FREE when you fly to Malaysia or Indonesia on a Tuesday or Wednesday (ends 31 March 2014).

Air Fleet (8.5/10):  Modern Airbus A320-200s

Frequent Flyer Program (8.5/10): I find the Tigerair “Stripes” frequent flyer program to be more useful than AirAsia’s because you get priority booking and special deals on flights, car rental, and hotels. Of course, you need to pay yearly fee of $29.95. It’s a good program to sign up for if you’re willing to make Tigerair your preferred budget airline.

Overall Rating: 7.8 /10 

 

Scoot

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Yeah, Scoot is the new kid on the budget airline playground that happens to have a very rich father called Singapore Airlines – you might have heard of him. Anyway, Scoot is the fastest rising budget airline today, and the reason is because it beats more established companies when it comes to price and comfort.

Its service on the other hand… needs work, but when an airline only has a fleet of 6 planes, you’ll run into numerous delays and cancellations. But if you’re lucky enough to avoid those, you’re off to a great start to your next weekend holiday!                                                                                                                         

Here’s how Scoot stacks up:

Routes (5.0/10): Scoot doesn’t really “scoot” you to as many destinations as AirAsia or Tigerair (only 13 destinations), but if you’re looking to escape to Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Bangkok, or Perth like an obnoxious wealth planner *hint*, you can. Here’s every available route.

Ticket Cost: (9/10): While Scoot doesn’t fly to as many destinations as Tigerair and AirAsia, it still offers some of the best flight deals. If you’re flying with only a carry-on bag, expect some ridiculously cheap fares. And if you purchase a “bundled” ticket with a 15kg check-in bag, it’s still usually cheaper! And that’s without checking out its promo fares.

Comfort (9.0/10): Unlike the airlines above, Scoot uses reconfigured Boeing 777-200ERs, which gives you the option of having even greater legroom and comfort with the option to book “spacebed” if you book a ScootBiz seat. Even if you sit economy, you’ll still sit in probably the most comfortable seats possible on a budget carrier.

Service (5.5/10): Unfortunately, Scoot’s great ticket prices and comfort come at a cost. As the “new kid” on the budget airline block, Scoot has had many complaints about inconsistent service and numerous flight delays and cancellations. But with a current fleet of only 6 planes, it’s something you’ll have to live with for now.

Food (8.5/10): Unlike other budget carriers, Scoot offers in-flight meals that look like something out of a restaurant. Seriously. Then again, being a budget airline spinoff of Singapore Airlines does have its perks.

Checked Baggage (8.0/10): Scoot’s checked baggage fees are the cheapest on this list (for lightweight baggage), with prices ranging from $20 for a 15kg bag to $75 for a 40kg bag. You also have the option to bring a carry-on bag as long as it’s less than 7kg.

Air Fleet (8.5/10): Ex-Singapore Airlines Boeing 777-200ERs

Frequent Flyer Program (N/A)

Overall Rating: 7.6/10 

 

Final Note:  Already planning your next weekend getaway? Great! But before you get to booking, you should check to see if your credit card offers FREE travel insurance for your trip. Not sure if your card offers it? Just check out our article “Top 3 Credit Cards That Give Free Travel Insurance” or visit MoneySmart to check out some great Frequent Flyer cards that do.

Judging budget airlines is pretty subjective business, so tell us what YOUR top 3 are! Share your experience on Facebook! And to find even more useful information on everything personal finance, visit MoneySmart today!

Image Credits:
Kentaro IEMOTO@Tokyo, Simon_sees (Tigerair), Simon_sees (Scoot)

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Jeff Cuellar

I'm known by many titles: copywriter, published author, literary connoisseur, ex- U.S. Army intelligence analyst, and Champion of Capua.