With so many extra costs and inconveniences, cheap air tickets from Singapore are sometimes anything but worth it.
These days, budget airlines like Scoot and Jetstar are beginning to dominate short flights from Singapore. Which is not surprising, because most Singaporeans don’t want to waste a year of mortgage repayments to top up our flight with cold buns and freezer-burned chicken.
Before you book your flight though, make sure you know all the pros and cons of budget airlines – and why they aren’t always worth it.
The Upside of Budget Airlines
Once you’ve flown a cheap flight, you would have tested the very limits of human endurance and patience. Yes, flying budget changes you. Just like prison.
Some other benefits of flying budget include:
1. You Can Afford to be More Flexible
Try to buy even an economy class ticket on a week’s notice. Go ahead and look up the prices. I bet you can smuggle three illegal immigrants to wherever you’re going for the same price.
If you’re going to use a big commercial airline, one of the only ways to save money is to plan in advance. Book your holiday at least a month in advance, if not two months, and the cost can drop drastically.
With budget airlines however, even the priciest tickets are in a comfortable three digit range. There is significantly less sting if you are forced to abandon your vacation plans and the tickets already bought (it still sucks, but less so compared to losing S$1,000+ tickets).
That means it’s easier to take off on short notice, and you can be less worried about drastic schedule changes. It’s ideal for the overworked and the impulsive.
2. You Have More to Spend on the Actual Trip
The less you spend on cheap air tickets, the more you’ll have to go shopping. You might also want to divert funds from the air ticket to the hotel, considering you’ll be sleeping there much longer (and have you ever tried a budget hotel in Bali? Every one of the five stars it’s missing represents seven communicable diseases you’re likely to get from staying there).
Until you crunch the numbers, you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes. A commercial airline ticket is about S$1,500 for a short hop, and budget airline tickets are about $300 (sometimes lower). Assuming you want to eat a candlelit S$100 dinner every night, that’s enough for luxury dining for 12 days straight.
Or you can trade that for tiny coke cans and hospital quality food tucked into a plastic tray (and probably just one of those).
3. Promotion Periods
Budget flights hold promotions when they need to fill seats. Sometimes prices drop so low, you’re practically paying the price of a bus ticket – amounts like S$50 are not unheard of. You do need to keep track of these last minute deals though, so maybe sign up for updates.
The Downside of Budget Airlines
Pick the wrong budget airline, and you’ll realise why the seatbelt lights are kept on more often. They’re trying to restrain you from leaping out the emergency exit first chance you get. Problems with budget airlines include:
1. No Obligation to Help in Some Emergencies
A good example of this was Scoot’s 22-hour delay last year, where many Singaporeans were left sleeping at Changi airport. When something like this happens, a big commercial airline might step in and provide hotel accommodation, and even transport. For budget airlines, forget it – you’re on your own.
The fine print almost always stipulates that the carrier has no obligations in the event of massive delays and rescheduled flights. It’s up to you to prepare for such possibilities.
(We suggest buying travel insurance, which is even free with some credit cards anyway. Check out our comparison tools to find such deals. Your travel insurance can provide a payout for unintended hotel stays, or cancelled trips).
2. Off-Peak Timings
Budget airlines save money by flying at off-peak hours. This is when airport taxes are low, and the sun isn’t even sure if it’s up or down (conversely, it’s at a bizarre timing like lunchtime on a work day, so you need to take an extra day off to make the flight).
These days budget airlines are improving on their time schedules, but you should still expect to get dragged out of bed at midnight to pack for your flight.
3. The Airline Can be Flexible Too (for Itself)
Most low-cost airlines reserve the right to change flight timings at the last minute, or even to change the placement of your seat. While it is becoming more infrequent (budget airlines are becoming more professional all the time), it is still something you need to expect.
You should always set your e-mail or phone to receive constant updates, in the event that this happens.
4. They Charge for Every Little Thing
Don’t be surprised to find a lot of extra charges. Many low-cost carriers may even impose a fee to print your ticket for you if you didn’t handle the check-in yourself. Likewise, be prepared for extra costs due to airport taxes that aren’t figured into the ticket costs, for your hand-carry bags, and for overpriced snacks if you must eat on the plane.
These costs do add up. S$80 for airport taxes, S$30 for a ticket, S$40 for a carry-on, S$5 for a sandwich, etc. and suddenly your ticket is S$155 more. Still, it remains cheaper than a big commercial airline.
Spend Less on Better Flights with a Travel Credit Card
This is why an air miles credit card like the Citi PremierMiles Visa Signature Card is such a useful tool for budget travelers. With every dollar you spend in Singapore, you can earn anywhere from 1.2 miles to 1.4 miles, and 2 miles or more for each Singapore dollar you spend overseas.
This means that if you use your credit card to pay for all your daily expenditures, you can earn enough miles in one year for free or discounted flights on major carriers like Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific, and more. (We’ve actually done the work for you and found out which credit card you can use to earn KrisFlyer miles.)
Just make sure you pay your bill in full and on time. You can’t redeem your miles if you carry a balance on your card.
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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.