Renting A Rowboat and Expecting a Luxury Cruise Ship – Let’s Talk Budget Airlines

Posted on / by Alex Berger

Smithsonian Air and Space Museum

It happened again, I posted an update about an upcoming flight with a budget airline and before long had messages from several friends and readers telling me to be careful or suggesting I book with a traditional airline. I ignored their warnings and happily booked with EasyJet. Why? Not only because they were the cheapest option but because I genuinely like budget airlines.

Wait….what?  Those of you who have been reading for a while will no doubt recall that I have a long history of being disappointed by airline customer service and transparency. From being charged for water by US Airways on a ticket between AZ and Europe to being lied to by British Airways I always groan a little when the time comes to deal with airlines.

I should be the last person ready to sing budget airline’s prices, right? Not exactly. My upbeat opinion seems to lay in managed expectations. When I book with a budget airline I’m not expecting traditional “airline” quality service. I’m booking a ticket on an air-bus. An air-bus that is usually only slightly above the quality of a city bus, lacks the crazy people and has slightly more comfortable seating (though RyanAir is working on “fixing” this). The ticket is cheap, the perks are non-existent, the rules are firm, and it gets me where I want to go. In effect, I book a rowboat to get me where I’m going and expect a rowboat when I arrive. The big problem, and source of endless frustration, complaining, and agitation among travelers seems to stem largely from occasions where people book a rowboat usually knowing it’s a rowboat and then show up expecting a luxury liner.

To be fair, budget airlines don’t make a major effort to differentiate themselves from traditional airlines. Let’s face it, “service for a premium, shitty seats, cramped planes and ridiculous fees but GREAT prices!” isn’t exactly marketing gold. For those who assume most airlines are the same, this can be a massive shock. Especially if they’ve paid sticker price for their ticket and failed to anticipate and incorporate the secondary fees and rules designed to generate the airline significant secondary income.

When I book a budget airline, I book differently.

I do my research on the front end and make sure that I know what the rules are – especially for luggage and check in – and then make sure that I’m well within a safety buffer. If I think there’s a chance I’ll go over weight or that my bag is over sized I don’t assume they’ll overlook it, or that I can just risk it. I incorporate the $10-$20 extra for a checked bag into my fare cost.

I’m also not put off by the $5 credit card fee, the $5 nonsense fee, the $5 made up just because fee or the $7 mickeymouse convenience charge. Again, these are all expenses that I’ve already incorporated into my cost when analyzing which airline I choose to book with. It’s an annoying game and involves some added mickey mouse, but if I can play the game and get a a fare at 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of a conventional carrier then so be it. Bring it on!

Additionally, I almost never book a standard or last minute ticket with a budget airline. Budget airlines are cheap within a certain structure. That does not mean, however, that they’re always going to be the cheapest option. In many ways I view them in the same way as department stores – if you’re paying sticker price and it’s not on sale, you’re tossing money away.

At the end of the day I weigh the actual cost of the fare with a budget airline, the length of the flight, the airports I’m flying between, and the cost of more traditional airlines before booking. The end result? I book about 40%/60% on traditional/budget airlines.  There are also a number of budget airlines I just won’t fly.  Groups like Spirit Airlines have chosen fee structures which I find defeat the purpose of flying on a budget airline entirely.  Others have reliability or safety issues which leave me uncomfortable.

For many of you this may be nothing new. For some of you, hopefully it serves as an invitation to re-frame your personal perspective and approach to engaging with budget airlines. Still not convinced? Share your piece in a comment – I always value your feedback!

Alex Berger

I am a travel blogger and photographer. I also am involved in academic research into the study abroad and backpacker communities.


  • wandering educators
    November 11, 2011

    oh, YES. this is brilliant. because, it’s all about expectations, isn’t it?

    • Alex Berger
      November 13, 2011

      It really is, makes a huge difference in satisfaction and experience!

  • Heather
    November 13, 2011

    Great post! Totally agree. I think so much of travel, not even just airlines, is based around expectations and how they can make or break your trip. That’s why I do just enough research to know how to get around and the important rules/tips and then go with completely blank expectations. Not expecting things to be bad, but not having a built-up idea about how things should go, what kind of amazing time I’ll have, or what kind of service I would like to receive. I am rarely disappointed by places or air travel, and when I am, it passes quickly because I didn’t have my heart set on one thing. As long as you’re keeping an eye out for safety/common sense issues as you mention, I think having open and flexible expectations can be your greatest assets in travel.

    • Alex Berger
      November 13, 2011

      Great point Heather. It really is amazing how much it can change things. I know it had a huge impact on how much I enjoyed Venice the first time (hated it) and second time (loved it). Same with major “must see” sites like Chichen Itza, which I found impressive but underwhelming vs. Tikal which blew my socks off.

      I definitely like the point on reduced research the more experienced you become as a traveler. I wonder (and expect) that’s a fairly common trend among veteran travellers. I commonly just chock it up to being a bit lazy, but in reality it really does contribute to a richer and more open minded experience.

  • Roy Marvelous
    November 19, 2011

    Definitely, it’s all about research and working the system. Eg. When I fly budget, I only have carry-on luggage.

    • Alex Berger
      November 20, 2011

      Yep, definitely. Just to be very realistic when evaluating what you’re doing on/with the trip and need.


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