| Best airfares in the world |
Apr 22 2008, 06:57 PM
Group: Local Expert
Joined: 24-May 07
From: Sydney, Australia
Member No.: 56605
IF you're enthralled by tales of vampires and want to visit the home of Dracula, you can fly to Transylvania with Wizz Air.
If you happen to be in Geneva with a sudden hankering for a gondola ride, Flybaboo will take you over the Alps to Venice.
And if India is your passion, the evocatively named SpiceJet will bring you to the beaches of Goa and the pink palaces of Jaipur.
A new generation of discount airlines with funny-sounding names is making air travel cheaper than ever. No matter what unusual route you may want to fly, some airline will now take you there – often at very low cost.
Of course, it's all brought into sharp focus after such disasters as last month's One-Two-Go crash on the Thai island of Phuket.
But the fact remains that cheap airlines aren't the only ones that crash, and they've been around a long time.
A history of bargains
Discount airlines first appeared in the 1980s in Europe, when Irish carrier Ryanair started a 15-seat aircraft flying from Waterford, in Ireland, to London's Gatwick.
Ryanair, whose founder Tony Ryan died earlier this month, now flies more than 50 million passengers a year on 543 routes around Europe. It has become the world's largest international airline.
EasyJet and Air Berlin are other big European players.
But the Continent has more than 60 discount airlines, including Air Baltic, bmi baby, Brussels Airlines, Condor, flyglobespan, Germanwings and Jet2.com. It isn't hard to see the attraction. Special promotions have fares going for as little as a few euros. Indeed, in May, 2007, Ryanair even announced it was giving free tickets to a million passengers.
Average fares are more likely to range from $32 to $126, depending on the route. That's still often half the price of those offered through national carriers.
Tips of the trade
To get the cheapest fares in Europe, aim to travel in spring and autumn, mid-week, and early mornings or late evenings.
Keep an eye on airline websites, as there are often last-minute discounts.
Such has been the success of discount airlines that Air Berlin alone saw an increase of nearly 12 per cent in passenger numbers in the first quarter of 2007, with rises out of Nuremberg and Hamburg airports exceeding 20 per cent.
British company EasyJet now has significant hubs in Basel, Dortmund, Geneva and Paris. Slovakia-based Sky Europe recently added Vienna as an important hub, flying to an impressive 22 destinations out of the Austrian capital alone.
Things are also hotting up elsewhere. Discount airline Air Arabia, based in the Emirates, now flies to destinations in the Middle East, central Asia and India for prices it says are 40 per cent less than standard fares.
In North America, Southwest Airlines was once considered the cheapest of the low-cost carriers; these days, it has plenty of competitors such as JetBlue, WestJet and Allegiant Air.
This year, new player Skybus Airlines began offering fares across the USA from its hub in Columbus, Ohio, for as little as $12 one way.
Still, not everything about discount airlines is good news. Understanding how they operate to reduce costs will help to avoid any disappointment.
Most issue e-tickets that can be bought only over the Internet.
There are no assigned seats, and in-flight food and entertainment – if any – are at additional cost.
Many charge hefty fees for overweight baggage. Ryanair, for example, levies $13 for every kilo above its modest 15kg limit.
Few discount airlines offer onward connections. Passengers must collect their baggage and check in again to connect to another flight. There's no compensation for missing such a connection.
And, as anyone who has watched airline TV programs will know, stringent check-in times apply. Passengers who are just a few minutes late are likely to be refused boarding. That's because, to keep costs low, turn-around time for aircraft at airports is sometimes as little as 30 minutes.
For the same reason, beware of airlines that fly to smaller city airports. For example, it will cost you around $35 to get from Stansted into central London by train – probably more than you paid for your airline ticket.
Despite the drawbacks, low prices continue to lure customers. In our own region, Asia is now catching the discount airline bug.
For the moment, south-east Asia has the best network of discount airlines, with fierce competition keeping prices low.
Qantas-backed Jetstar now operates mainly out of Singapore to various south-east Asian cities.
Rival Singapore Airlines, in partnership with Ryanair and others, runs Tiger Airways, serving south-east Asia, India, China, and now Perth and Darwin.
Melbourne's Tiger has also announced it is entering the Australian domestic market.
Malaysia-based Air Asia is the biggest discount airline in the region, with hubs in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru (near Singapore), Jakarta and Bangkok.
It is due to begin flights to Australia (Melbourne and perhaps Adelaide) later this year.
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