Low-Cost Carriers

Low-Cost Carriers

Last Updated on July 17, 2023 by Stacey Levesque

Don’t be sucked in by lowball advertised one-way fares! 

We’ve all seen it.  The $69 fare to Florida or Vegas or a city where friends and family live.  The tempting low fare to a sun destination is just too good to look past.  Of course, there’s the fuel surcharge (can they do it without fuel?  Is that an option?) and a myriad of taxes, so $69 one way becomes into the $300 – $400 + range very quickly.

BEWARE of low-cost carriers!

They are low-cost for a reason.  It’s not that they’re jam-packed with tight economy seats – that is normal these days for all airlines.  But most low-cost airline seats do not recline – maybe that’s a good thing.

Baggage charges are common these days, but how about paying extra for a carry-on that goes in the overhead bin?  Cha-Ching.  How about a hefty penalty if you forget to check in online?  Or if you have a problem checking in online and dare we say, show up at the airport not having done it.

Higher than average baggage and seat selection fees.  No drinks or snacks other than water (some don’t even include that!). Everything else for purchase, and higher prices if you didn’t buy it ahead of time online (really? I have to decide now if I want a muffin or cheese & crackers)

But this is not the biggest price.  All the above are annoying nickel-and-dime fees and options that can easily be justified by a super-low fare, especially on short flights.

RELIABILITY is the big cost!

Low-cost carriers have smaller fleets.  Their schedule maximizes flying time, as aircraft on the ground earning no revenue is the biggest cost of a low-cost carrier.  A tight schedule and small fleet mean that anything going wrong (weather, mechanical, crew sickness, labour shortage, airport operations, airport congestion) will cascade throughout their schedule.

We’ve seen more cancellations and significant delays at the last minute by low-cost carriers “for weather” when the weather was perfectly fine, but the weather from two rotations of prior flights delayed flights days later.  Think about overnight flights from the west coast and Vegas.

If you are going to visit and stay with your Auntie Betty, or you are headed to the Florida home or condo you own, you may be able to tolerate the nasty delay or cancellation.  If you are meeting a cruise or pre-arranged tour, attending a wedding, concert, or meeting the next day or two after flying, or have any non-refundable accommodations… lookout.

Worst, low-cost carriers also have basic reservation systems and just enough call centre staff to handle making sales.  Some actually use a Facebook page and messenger to communicate schedule changes to customers.  And we at tripcentral.ca or any other travel agency have no special contacts or system access at these low-cost carriers – in fact, some want to charge us per booking for the privilege of having their fares and schedules on our website. 

Who are these?  Swoop (owned by WestJet, but WestJet has nothing to do with them), Flair (who recently had aircraft repossessed), Play, Lynx & Canada Jetlines (newer ones with less track record established yet), a series of US carriers (Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier, Southwest), a bevy of European low-cost carriers (EasyJet, Ryanair amongst the oldest). 

Some owned by bigger airlines designed to compete with the low costs are more reliable – especially in Europe.  Eurowings is owned by Lufthansa and Jetstar is owned by Qantas – sometimes there is no choice – the entire route is operated by the low-cost division.  The difference here is that they code share with the bigger airline, we have system access and contacts at the main airline.

Once the low-cost carrier backs out of the gate and starts flying, it’s mostly all fine, but for the nickel and diming of fees and one interaction with a flight attendant.  All things going well, it will get you from point A to point B. 

But all things not going well…

Last-minute cancellations and an offer of credit or even a refund – sound fair?  If you have to buy a new ticket on another airline at the last minute, count on paying double, triple, or more.

Miss your cruise, tour, business meeting, wedding, or special event.

And this assumes the cancellation is on the outbound.  We’ve seen cancellations like this when people are at their destination, not only triggering the higher one-way flight cost but additional hotel nights (they don’t pay for this) or missed work & events back home.

The refunds can take forever – low cost, because next to no staff to process refunds and their low-cost systems don’t do it efficiently.

A credit to rebook?  You might spend hours on hold or never use it and have it expire.

And yet, $69 one way does sound pretty good…

We at tripcentral.ca experienced a lot of this during the past winter as some of the low-cost carriers were packaged from small attractive airports.  Packaging flights with hotels introduce consumer protection obligations to the tour operator (not the airline) in regulated provinces such as Ontario, Quebec, and BC.  However, those protections are limited.  Many were attracted by direct flights from small airports (Hamilton, Kitchener, London) rather than big airports like Pearson, connecting flights, or driving much further to bigger airports (people in PEI and NB driving to Halifax). 

Beware.  The old saying goes, “You get what you pay for”, but in these cases, you get your money back or credit, and a whole lot of expense, inconvenience, and missed life events.

And finally, low-cost carriers have a bad track record of financial failure.  They are mostly private companies, meaning we have no ability to know their financial position and if they are in trouble or when they could fail.  It can happen when they expand too quickly, underestimate a voracious competitive response by incumbents, or face unforeseen headwinds:  political, economic, or other (SARS, H1N1, Zika, COVID). The federal government is absent on any financial regulations for airlines, and the provinces have no jurisdiction.  Never mind a low-cost carrier in the US or Europe.  In this case, you’d be on the phone with your credit card company trying to get a chargeback, which is also not guaranteed.  This is entirely a goodwill gesture by credit card companies, and some even have language that they will not provide chargebacks for airline bankruptcies.  The Globe and Mail recently did a piece on airlines that disappeared, and these include: 

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