Volume 3: Confessions of a budget airline ticket hunter

It’s been a while since the last time I’ve written those random articles: Volume 1 – Greatest fears while on a vacation and Volume 2 – Mind of the Wandering Traveler.  I don’t know if anyone reads them but here is my third entry – CONFESSIONS OF A BUDGET AIRLINE TICKET-HUNTER!

The cost of Air travel has gone down so low that going overseas for holidays are becoming increasingly common.
Cr: 9gag.com

In the workplace, when you tell your colleagues that you’re going on leave, usually the first question they will ask would be:

“How many days?” and “Wah! Where are you going?”

Many times, taking a long leave (>5 days) is clearly understood by everyone that you are going overseas. If you’re not, people can’t seem to understand. “Staying at home to sleep and rest”does not seem to be a legit reason anymore. You need to have a good reason if you’re going on long leave. Apparently, there was a report by Straits Times some time ago, “8 in 10 Singaporeans do not clear annual leave” Well, I guess this is so not true for the people around me.. Well, in the near future, I’m pretty certain that the number would go down. Lower ticket prices are negatively correlated with annual leave consumption. heh..

When ScootTiger (Air Asia & Jet Star sales are rather insignificant in comparison) launch sales promotion (Morning Glory Tuesdays & Thursday Tigerflash), apart from receiving their emails, I get Facebook news feed updates, Twitter updates and also SMS or Whatsapp updates/travel suggestions from friends. Almost every other day, I discuss potential vacation plans with potential travel buddies.

(Random: I always like to take credit that flyscoot.com had been inspired from flyhoneystars.com. which started back in 2009..)

The rise of Social Media has exponentially increased the temptation for overseas holiday vacations. In the recent Scoot post-Christmas sales last December, 2 out of 5 friends booked their ticket(s) with Scoot, some with travel dates of more than 6 months in advance. brave. (Best deal I’ve heard so far is a $300+ return ticket to Seoul.)

Sometimes, ticket prices are so ridiculously low that I wonder if the airlines can even profit from the flight =/ However, if a business ain’t profitable, how can budget airlines be in the industry for so long? It’s a cut-throat industry with narrow profit margins, but definitely profitable. Let’s analyse.

How budget airlines entice you with cheap tickets, and then overcharge for everything else:

  • Booking/Convenience fees for payment made via SingPost, AXS, Credit Card, others
    Approx $6-10 per flight/per person.
    So far, the only time I didn’t have to pay this extra fee was when I booked my flight to KL via JetStar and paid via 7-11.
  • Check-in Baggage fees – ranging from $15+ depending on the type of airline, amount of baggage allowance you require (up. 30kg per luggage)
    The tip is to always buy more baggage allowance. It is only a $5 difference between 15kg and 20kg.. (You will need it especially for trips to HK/Taiwan/Seoul, especially if you can’t control your spending.)
  • Seat Selection – Premium/Business Class (for a budget airline..)
    E.g. ScootBiz, AirAsia Premium Flatbed (sounds really cool!)
    I never understood the concept of business class on a budget flight. If you’re willing to pay the premium, why are you taking budget airlines in the first place?
    But, I haven’t experienced any before.. I guess I’m not in a position to comment.. Img Cr: economists
  • Seat Selection – More leg-room seats @ Emergency exit + Front row seats
    These seats are reserved for people who are willing to pay for comfort, especially for the long-legged passengers =p
    TIP: There was once I was given the front row seats (economy class but worth a premium of $5-15) because I was upset with not getting a seat with my friend despite checking in early at the counter. Well, you don’t have to be really upset. The trick is that you just appear to be upset.What’s the great deal with front row seats apart from the extra leg-room? From my experience, front row seats are extra necessary if you’re rushing for time and if you have to be the first few to get out of the plane quick. e.g. running for the last train from the airport to Seoul if you’re flying by Scoot. Thus, it is highly recommended to check in early and request for front seats (without paying the premium).
    If necessary, sit separately if everyone can secure a front seat.
  • Priority Boarding – Another premium which I will never buy. I honestly don’t understand the purpose of boarding early as you still have to wait in the plane anyway. The only usefulness that I can think of on why boarding early is ideal, is that if you are carrying bulky carry-on baggage and that you need to use the overhead compartment directly at your seat. Otherwise, save that $5.
  • In-Flight Blanket – Yes, plane rides can be really chilly and this is yet another money making opportunity. Scoot does it really well by bundling it together as ‘Comfort Kit’ which comes with neck pillow too! At $18, it can be a reasonable collectible.
  • In-Flight Food – Sky high prices but your stomach growls can make you part with that $5 for cup noodles, that $4 for mineral water, and that $4 for a can of coke.
    TIP: Always bring an empty water bottle and fill it up after you’ve passed the security bag scan. It is likely to feel dehydrated during and after a flight due to the air pressure.

Before you start complaining and whining about such marketing gimmicks, the budget airlines that Singapore has are pretty fine, relatively.

  • Infamous Irish Budget Airlines Ryan Air wanted to charge passengers a dollar per usage for the restrooms in the plane.

“By charging the use of toilets we believe that we will change the passenger behaviour hoping that they will use the toilet before or after the flights. It will allow us to remove two or three toilets and put at least six more seats”, said Stephen McNamara from Ryan Air.

FYI – The proposal was eventually shelved but Ryan Air still reconfigured its planes by reducing the number of toilets to increase the number of seats.

  • Ryan Air charges passengers 15 euros/pounds to print your boarding pass.
    By default, you are required to check in online and print your own boarding pass.
  • To save on fuel cost, budget airlines tend to hire lightweight female stewardess and do away with the heavier male stewards.
  • Passengers charged according to their weight: Samoa Airlines
    One year on: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2013-12-11/an-samoa-air27s-pay-by-weight-success/5149148
  • In the (near) future, airlines may start charging for window & aisle seat => You will have to pay to sit together D:
  • Standing-room concept in the plane may become a reality. I can’t decide whether to laugh or to cry when I read such articles . Yes, I definitely welcome cheaper tickets in return for discomfort, especially for short-haul flights but I’m not sure if my safety would be compromised greatly =/

Well, not to worry, budget airlines are here to stay and in fact growing, despite global increase in oil prices. Apart from all these flight related add-ons, they can also earn by trapping customers into their brilliant marketing gimmicks.

Usually, budget airlines make use of every single public holiday/(significant) milestone/random occasion as a reason to have a PROMOTION. Before the sales launch, they will release a teaser advertisement (usually guess the place or jumbled letters), which induces tons of people to comment/like/share/retweet. Social Media at its best again.

What comes next? the entire crowd of kiasu/desperate/kaypoh/could-be-serious people camp in front of their computer or hand phone and standby for the sales launch. Sometimes the destination or price is revealed beforehand, sometimes both destinations and prices are revealed, sometimes none is revealed at all. All these techniques do nothing but increase hype, interest and temptations, especially to irrational and impulsive buyers.

The clock ticks by and the golden hour finally arrive. After countless refreshing (usually the newsfeed on Facebook), you will see the revealed promo code or the significantly reduced ticket prices. Many times, you may be greeted with the white page of death – “We are currently receiving high traffic, … In order to ensure that all our passengers have a smooth transaction, we have put you in a queue..” This screen only makes you panic more and keep your finger on “F5” or click the refresh button with your mouse =/

Slowly but surely, you get into the booking page and then you analyse the promotion’s T&C, travel dates and block-out dates. By imputing in the travel dates, only then you will be rewarded with the frequently changing and ideally low prices. Then, you pick up your phone, you whatsapp or facebook that potential travel mate. You discuss, you hesitate, you verify your leave balance, you verify with your colleague who covers you during your absence.

After which, there are usually two outcomes:

(1) You Only Live Once (YOLO) mentality – book the ticket (it could be 3 days, 3 months or even just one day in advance) Be sure that you have all the passport details or full name/birthday on standby.

(2) Things will still get better (Price will get lower) mentality – do nothing for now but continue to spy on social media sites for further promotions.

Oh wait, there’s a third outcome:

(3) No, No, No (Reality sets in) mentality – No more spare cash in bank account, No more annual leave to clear, No one to go with (unless you’re planning to do a solo travel). No – you don’t need that overseas vacation =(

Somehow, I’m glad my brain chooses (2) & (3) most of the time and that budget airlines hasn’t flown to USA or Europe yet. Uncontrollably, I would have probably booked my vacation to Bali, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Krabi, Seoul, Japan, NZ and the USA for this year.

However, proven by the continual growth of budget airlines, choice (1) seems to be the more popular choice. ah-hah! After you have made that booking and pay up, that’s when you get trapped. Once you’ve paid them via Credit Card (unless it’s via offline payment methods – SAM/7-11 within 12 to 24 hours), your money is stuck with them, regardless of whether you are able to make it for that trip or not.

So here’s a list on how they can screw you have parted with your money.

(1) Trip cancellation (personal/travel buddy matters) – For flights that are booked on impulse, there is 50% chance that you are unable to make it for the trip. So what can you do with your wasted ticket?

  • Re-book your tickets and pay the extra charges not excluding:
    – Difference in flight fare (would be a lot if it is closer to the flight date)
    – Administrative charges via call center (the only method)
    – Name Change fee
    – Payment Processing fee
    – and the list goes on..
  • Cook up a good excuse/reason and attempt to get a (hopefully full) refund via travel voucher.
    Do take note that most vouchers have very short validity period (e.g. 3 months or less)
    Some vouchers are non-transferable and you have to miraculously find time and a place to go, provided that your traveling partner can accommodate.
    If you’re lucky, the vouchers may be transferable and you can sell them to friends and family (easier way) or public (really hard).
  • Forfeit everything (Yes it happens and don’t worry, you’re not alone.)

(2) Trip cancellation (by the airlines) – This is the worse of them all. It could spoil ALL your travel plans.

USUALLY in such cases, airlines will try to reschedule their cancelled flight, at the very best, within the same day or +/- 1 day. However. we do know that 1 day would make a huge difference especially if you’re booking everything extra early to get the best offers. Not only does it affect your hotel/attractions/transport bookings, it might affect your annual leave consumption and/or even resulting in forgoing the entire trip.

(3) Trip cancellation (wonders of God, political instability) – Suck thumb; BUT, the chances of getting a refund voucher is higher when such cases are involved. However, if you want your money back? Seemingly impossible with budget airlines (for now!).

*** Thus, the conclusion is :To protect yourself, always get travel insurance whenever you travel. You’ll never know what will happen next. ***

Anyway, I would like to re-emphasis on the impact of social media

Just some numbers (food for thought):

  • Scoot has 821,000 likes as at 21 Jan 2013 and it was only launched in November 2011.
  • Tigerair has 264,000 likes (21 Jan 2013)
  • Singapore Airlines 565,000 likes (21 Jan 2013)

Well, this entry is called “confessions”for a reason.. and I’m sure most of you can relate to at least 50% of it.

To be continued..

Next article: How to not be that annoying travel buddy.

 

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