Nothing makes a long flight more entertaining and productive like the Internet. We investigate which airlines offer the cheapest inflight wifi services.
Unless you have bizarre grasp of pricing, you probably pick an airline based on flight ticket costs and not its wifi services. But if you are choosing between comparably priced tickets and you need wifi on board, it might be the deciding factor.
A Quick Explanation of the WiFi Pricing System
The economics of inflight wifi are in Twilight Zone territory. There are huge differences in speed and cost, depending on the carrier.
The reason is that the ISP providers for these services have differing strategies. For example, Gogo (the most popular inflight wifi providers on American carriers) charges steeper prices, which can reach up to S$50.
Their rationale is that wifi is most commonly used by businessmen (who can afford the charges), or by people who will simply charge it to a corporate card or claim it back from their company. As such, high prices will not be a deterrence.
On the other hand, some providers and airlines see wifi as a way to differentiate themselves, and will drop prices to compete.
It is quite possible for a carrier to charge twice the price of another, for wifi that may not be better or faster. So check the prices on their airline websites (air ticket comparison sites may not have the information) before making your decision.
WiFi Prices Vary Based on Device and Have Time- or Volume-Based Plans
On some airlines, you will pay on a volume basis (e.g. $10 for every 10 Mb.) On others, you may have to pay by time (e.g. $15 per hour, or $60 all day pass.)
Note that prices may be different for each device – it may be cheaper to use your laptop than your phone. Check this detail on the flight itself (ask the cabin crew) as it is often not listed on the airline’s website. In addition, note that the same airline may offer different versions of the plans on different flights.
It is generally a bad idea to accept volume based pricing, with the exception of Emirates. In 2014, a passenger on Singapore Airlines managed to rack up a S$1,520 bill this way. If you accept volume based pricing, note that reloading a social media page can be around 5 Mb.
With that in mind, here are the top five airlines that offer the cheapest wifi if you’re flying out from Singapore. For reference, SIA charges around S$17 per hour, or S$31.40 for the entire flight. For volume-based charges, it’s around S$10 for 15 Mb and S$28.50 for 50Mb.
1. Turkish Airlines
Approx. Cost: $0
Turkish Airlines is one of the first carriers to offer free wifi. Just utterly, completely free. It is not available on all of their planes however, so be sure to check before you book.
Approx. Cost: $0 for 10 Mb, S$1.30 for up to 600 Mb
Emirates has an unusual approach. On the downside, everyone is restricted to 600 Mbs of downloads, maximum. That’s not a lot, so you will be down to simple email and Google docs.
On the upside, the service is totally free for 10Mbs or less, and there is only a token charge of around S$1.30 for the maximum volume.
Approx. Cost: S$7 per hour, S$34 for entire flight. But $0 in Business Class!
If you are flying Business Class, Finnair has free wifi. Otherwise, S$34 for the entire flight is a good deal for longer trips. Word has it, however, that Finnair wants to replace its entire in-flight system with wifi connected tablets. If that happens, it might go straight to the top of this list!
Not only would your wifi then be free (in-flight entertainment is part of the ticket cost), you wouldn’t even need your own phone or laptop to stay connected.
4. Qatar Airways
Approx. Cost: S$7 per hour, S$14 for three hours, or S$28 for the entire flight. First 15 minutes is free.
Qatar Airways does try to keep costs down for casual users. If you just need to answer a few quick emails, or something urgent comes up and you need to send a document, the free 15 minutes comes in handy.
The three-hour option is also useful. If your intent is to work, and you can get that presentation done in three hours, then go for that instead of the hourly rate.
5. Delta Airlines
Approx. Cost: S$3 for the first two hours on mobile. For laptop, S$22.80 for entire flight, or S$71 for one month unlimited.
The S$3 access for two hours is only applicable to mobile phones. Perfect for the little things, like if you need to make a quick Skype call to inform your hotel of changes, or to tell your friends where to pick you up at the airport.
At $22.80, wifi for the entire flight is quite affordable. You can also fork out for a monthly pass, but you’d need to be flying Delta more than four times in a month for that to be worth it.
Maximise Your Frequent Flier Miles While You’re At It
While you’re comparing wifi options, don’t forget to check your air miles credit card to see how you can use your accumulated miles. Cheaper wifi will never match up to the amount you save on a free seat upgrade, or a free ticket altogether.
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By Ryan Ong
Ryan has been writing about finance for the last 10 years. He also has his fingers in a lot of other pies, having written for publications such as Men’s Health, Her World, Esquire, and Yahoo! Finance.