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What Are Budget/Low-Cost Airlines?

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    Jonathan Chum

Budget airlines provide basic air transportation service from one airport to another with virtually nothing included in the ticket price beyond the seat that you reserved. Budget airlines operate on smaller profit margins than larger airlines but take steps to keep costs controlled and flights profitable.

How Budget/Low-Cost Airlines Came About

The basic principle of transportation is to go from point A to point B as quickly, efficiently and safely as possible. Initially, the airline industry mostly did just that with relatively short routes connecting big cities and their respective airports. As the quality of aircraft improved and airports grew in number, so too has the global airline industry with lots of big-name carriers competing to carry passengers to distant destinations in comfort and style.

The United States has 5,080 public airports and only so many big airlines to serve them. That leaves smaller no-frills airlines to provide services between smaller airports and the bigger hubs in much busier locales, like O’Hare in Chicago.

Southwest Airlines generally gets credit for creating the first successful budget airline and remains one of the most popular carriers in the United States. Many others have followed, and budget airlines now often outnumber the big-brand airlines in total aircraft and passenger seating. As long as airline passengers are willing to accept less from their flights to save money and still arrive in far-off places in a relatively short time, the budget airlines are destined to stay.

How Budget Airlines Reduce Operating Costs

Budget airlines provide profitable air passengers services by cutting back on costs that many larger airlines choose to carry in order to continue doing business. It starts with the aircraft. Budget airlines like Northwest use just one type of aircraft for all of its routes. The aircraft also tend to be smaller with less passenger space and hold less fuel than larger competitors use to maximize the number of passengers on a particular flight.

Using a single type of aircraft for the entire fleet makes it easier to hire and train qualified mechanics to maintain the aircraft and keep them in safe and legal flying condition. When maintenance and repairs are in order, the single-type of aircraft makes it possible to buy more parts and maintenance supplies while saving money. They can deal with a single parts supplier and have mechanics who specialize on that one type to do maintenance and repairs much faster and at much lower cost.

Fees Rule the Day

The entire business model for budget/low-cost airlines is to cut as many operating costs as possible while continuing to provide safe, effective and affordable air transportation. Most budget airlines require you to book your flights online so that they do not have to maintain staff to do it. If you want to choose a particular seat, you likely will have to pay a fee. The same goes for ensuring you get a window seat.

Even using a third-party site likely will cost a fee, and if you choose to book straight from the airline’s website, you likely will pay a maximum price on your ticket. Some no-frills flights will give passengers a free cookie and maybe a free soft drink, but even that little extra is getting harder to find.

Reduced In-Flight Services

You likely get one carry-on bag that you can put in an overhead bin without incurring a fee. If you have one or more bags to check in at luggage, a budget airline typically charges a fee for each bag. The fee offsets the cost of fuel due to additional weight while making the flight even more profitable for the airline. The fee also helps to discourage checked bags, which lessens the need for airline baggage staff at the airport.

Odds are there is no first class or other class difference in flight because all passengers sit in the same compartment area and in essentially the same types of seats. A window seat is the closest thing to luxury seating that you will find on a budget airline. You also likely will not get an in-flight movie or even snacks or something to drink – unless you pay for it. But even that might not be an option if the airline decides in-flight snacks are not worth the cost.

Budget Airlines Provide Affordable No-Frills Flights

When you are going to spend no more than two or three hours on a flight and just want to get from one place to another quickly and affordably, budget airlines provide many suitable and affordable solutions. Smart travelers can save money that is better used on the trip and still have a reasonable enjoyable flight to and from their respective destinations.