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In recent decades, low-cost flights have revolutionized the way we travel, offering the opportunity to explore new destinations without completely draining personal savings. But behind the enticing fares and promises of affordable travel, there is often a less appealing reality, particularly with some of the more notorious airlines such as Ryanair. This company has often been the subject of horror stories about unexpected costs and frustrating passenger experiences that can ultimately turn a seemingly good deal into an expensive affair.

Ryanair, in particular, has become synonymous with low-cost flights, attracting customers with incredibly low base prices. However, this pricing strategy often hides a maze of additional costs for services that, on other airlines, are considered standard. From seats on the plane, which often come with a supplement if you want to sit near your loved ones, to restrictive hand luggage policies and additional costs for onboard services, the Ryanair experience can quickly become less advantageous than it first appears.

We start with flight prices as a basis for comparison:

  • Low-Cost: Rates starting from €30 for round-trip flights on domestic European routes, offering extremely competitive prices, but with no other services included and for which additional charges are added for a multitude of necessary/mandatory services.
  • Full service airlines: Fares start from around €100 for European flights, reflecting the services included, but also a superior travel experience. Additional services are connected with comfort or a luxury experience, but they are not vital to the trip, therefore completely optional.

In other words, unlike a flight with a low-cost company such as Ryanair, where the apparently low cost is supplemented by all the important services attached to the flight such as hand luggage, seats in the aircraft and various hidden fees, a line company such as Turkish has these services included for free in the apparently higher price, but also extra free services on board. All these aspects can result in a cost perhaps even lower than a low-cost flight with the services included.

Example:

At Turkish Airlines, the difference in switching from one fare class to another is only 10€, an upgrade that brings with it benefits (check-in baggage, preferred seat, flexibility options) that would be much more expensive if added individually.


1. Luggage

In the search for the most affordable flight options, many people are attracted by the deceptive promises of low-cost airlines such as Ryanair. However, what initially seems like an unbeatable deal can quickly turn into a complicated financial calculation once hidden costs are added. This difference highlights not only a major discrepancy in value, but also a different philosophy in customer service, highlighting how expensive 'economy' flights can actually be when all expenses are accounted for.

  • Low-Cost: Fee starting from €30 per flight for checked baggage up to 10 kg. Taxles are charged for both checked and larger hand luggage. Only a very small personal item is included in the lowest ticket price, making it unlikely to travel with only such luggage.
  • Full service airlines: Hand luggage included in the ticket price, consisting of a small trolley and a personal item, usually a satchel or purse. Checked baggage is often included free of charge in higher fare classes, the limit being usually between 20-30 kg for economy.

Ryanair

With Ryanair, without extra options you can only benefit from one small bag for free. Costs if you add other types of baggage:

  • Priority and 2 cabin bags - prices from 6-36€ (online) or 20-28€ (the airport)
  • Checked baggage of a maximum of 10 kg - prices from 12-30€ (online) or 24-36€ (the airport)
  • Checked baggage of a maximum of 20 kg - prices from 19-60€ (online) or 45-60€ (the airport)
  • Excess baggage fee: 9-11€ per kg

KLM

In Economy class, you can benefit from:

  • 1 piece of hand luggage with a maximum size of 55 x 35 x 25 cm including handles and wheels. Hand luggage can have a total weight of up to 12 kg.
  • 1 accessory (such as a small handbag or laptop bag) with a maximum size of 40 x 30 x 15 cm.
  • For Standard or Flex ticket type: 1 piece of checked baggage, up to 158 cm (length + width + height) including handles and wheels and with a maximum weight of 23 kg.

On some routes, you can bring 1 extra piece of checked baggage.

2. Selecting the Place and comfort

In the competitive world of air travel, seat selection and passenger comfort are two essential aspects that can significantly influence the travel experience. Low-cost airlines, in their quest to optimize every aspect to reduce costs, have turned these standard services into chargeable additional options. Thus, passengers often have to pay extra for the privilege of choosing their seat in advance, with fares varying significantly. In addition, certain practices, such as the intentional allocation of seats far apart for those traveling together, appear to be deliberate strategies to maximize revenue by encouraging the purchase of preferred seating options.

  • Low-Cost: I charge extra for being able to choose your seat in advance. Rates for seat selection start from4.50-15.50 € (per choir) Also, some low-cost airlines intentionally allocate far-flung seats to induce those traveling together to add the priority seating option in the future.

For example, with Ryanair, there is a requirement for family seats.Adults traveling with children under 12 years of age (excluding infants) must purchase a reserved seat per flight (unless they have chosen a fare that includes reserved seats). Additional cost can start from 6-10€ per flight. Those traveling with a baby (under the age of 2) have to pay a baby fee of25 €.

As for comfort, it is usually limited to low-cost companies. The legroom is approximately 76 cm, and standard seats do not recline. For those willing to pay extra for comfort, seats with extra legroom will add another €11-33 (per flight) to the total cost.

  • Full service airlines: Generally allows free seat selection during booking or at check-in for most fares. In the case of families traveling with babies (under 2 years old) or children (between 2-11 years old), discounts are applied to the ticket price.

The legroom is up to 78-81 cm in economy class and offers the possibility of tilting so necessary for comfort on board.

3. Services on Board
  • Low-Cost: Meals and drinks available for purchase; no free service is provided. Most of the time, the options are of inferior quality and high prices.
  • Full service airlines: Free meals and drinks, with varied and high quality options.

Example: On Ryanair, a 500 ml bottle of water will cost you €3, while on airFull service airlines water is offered for free.

Image taken from the Ryanair catalogue

4. Loyalty programs

When it comes to rewarding customer loyalty, airline loyalty programs can play a significant role in choosing an airline for the long term. In this arena, the difference between low-cost airlines like Ryanair and scheduled airlines is not only obvious, but profound, with a direct impact on the value passengers receive in return for their loyalty.

  • Low-Cost: Limited rewards program at some low cost companies, which generally only includes modest discounts.

Example:

Wizz Discount Club Standard offers a €10 discount on the ticket price and a €5 discount on checked baggage, for a maximum of two people, provided that the price of enrolling in the program is between €30 and €70, depending on the number of companions. Added to these are promotions at Wizz Cafe and discount coupons on board.

In the case of Ryanair, there are no discounts of any kind, they do not have such a program, recurring customers not having the possibility of a benefit reflecting the interest that this company offers for the loyalty of its customers.

  • Full service airlines: Through alliances and loyalty programs, airlines offer access to upgrades, access to lounges, free points accumulation, and other benefits.

Example:

Miles&Smiles - Turkish Airlines. By accumulating miles, depending on their number, Miles&Smiles members benefit from benefits such as access to selected lounges, priority at check-in and boarding, free additional baggage, flexibility in managing bookings without additional fees, as well as the possibility of free upgrades to a higher class.

Another benefit is the fact that miles can be accumulated not only from flights with Turkish Airlines, but also through partnerships with other Star Alliance airlines, partner banks and hotels, or even by purchasing them on the company's website.

5. Airport Location and Transfer Costs

Choosing secondary airports, while reducing company costs and theoretically fares, often adds additional cost and time to travel by requiring long and expensive transfers to and from the final destination.

One of the aspects often neglected, but significantly influencing the total cost and convenience of an air trip, is the location of the airport of departure or arrival. In an attempt to reduce operational costs, low-cost airlines frequently opt for secondary airports, which, while theoretically could reduce ticket prices, in practice often add additional cost and time to passenger journeys. These airports are generally further away from city centers, necessitating long and often expensive transfers, adding further costs to the seemingly low prices of low-cost airline tickets.

  • Low-Cost: It often uses secondary airports further away from city centers, which can result in higher costs and longer transfer time to reach the final destination.
  • Full service airlines: Use major international airports closer to city centers, often with more public transport or taxi options and potentially lower transfer costs.

Example of transfer costs from the airport to the city center:

  • Charles de Gaulle (CDG) - RER B: Suburban train connecting CDG to Gare du Nord, Saint-Michel/Notre-Dame, and other central stations, with a ticket costing around €10.30. For taxi, there is a flat rate from CDG to €50 / €55 depending on which side of the river Seine the destination is.
  • Beauvais (BVA)- Beauvais Official Bus: Provides direct transport to Porte Maillot, with a ticket costing around €15.90 if bought online and €17 on the spot.Being the farthest airport from Paris,at least an hour away, a taxi from Beauvais can cost upwards of €100-€160, depending on destination and traffic.
6. Customer service

Low-cost airlines, in their attempt to adapt to a business model focused on reducing costs, offer a level of accessibility and quality of support that can vary significantly. In the context where passengers often face difficulties in contacting the company in cases of emergency or need, these companies promote the intensive use of online platforms to manage interactions, thus limiting direct and personalized contact. In particular, companies such as Ryanair, although they have call center services, present customers with significant financial and time barriers to accessing support.

  • Low-Cost: Although Low-Cost has strived to improve customer service in recent years, accessibility and quality of support can vary. Customers may find it difficult to contact the company by phone or email in case of urgent questions or problems.

Although low cost companies such as Ryanair offer international call center services, they are at a cost. The waiting time varies, up to 1 hour. Also, most requests cannot be resolved over the phone and you will be directed to a chatbot and possibly, after a queue of several tens or hundreds of people, to an agent who can resolve your situation or refer you to the information on the website. Alternatively, you are asked to complete a complaints form, which has an average response time of 10 days.

  • Full service airlines: Are known for a high level of customer service and greater accessibility in case of need. Full service airlines offer multiple support channels, including phone, email and social media, making it easy to interact directly with its representatives. In addition, airlines have a good track record of assisting passengers in delayed or canceled flight situations, often offering accommodation and compensation without requiring extensive formalities from customers.

In terms of airlines, Lufthansa and Tarom are among the most prompt, with a maximum waiting time of 10 minutes.

7. Check-in

The check-in process is the first step in the air travel experience, and depending on how it is handled by the airline, it can set the tone for the rest of the trip. The practices of low-cost carriers that force the passenger to self-check-in, and otherwise charge a very high surcharge at the airport, can damage the travel experience for customers, adding layers of complexity and potential frustrations before boarding.

  • Low-Cost: The check-in process for low-cost airlines is predominantly online, and passengers are encouraged to check-in via the airline's app or website before arriving at the airport. While this may be convenient for tech-savvy travelers, there is one caveat: Low-cost carriers charge a significant fee for those who need to check-in at the airport or fail to check-in within a certain time frame before their flight their. This policy can catch less frequent travelers off guard, adding unexpected costs and potentially causing stress before they even get to the boarding gate.

Companies such as Ryanair can also block bookings made through online travel agencies and require extra identity verification procedures, including unnecessary bank details. Those who do not complete the additional verification and thenonline check-in, they have to go to the Ryanair counter at least 2 hours before departure and check-in and check-in at the airport for a fee. Taxa check-in at the airport is by€55 (For flights to Spain €30).

Image taken from the Ryanair website.

  • Full service airlines: It offers a more traditional and flexible check-in experience. Passengers can check-in online, via the airline's app or at the airport at no extra charge. Airlines ensure a smoother process for those who prefer or require assistance at the airport, including elderly travelers, families with young children or people with special needs. This inclusivity and flexibility can improve the overall travel experience, reducing stress and potential airport delays.
8. Flight Change and Cancellation Fees

Flexibility in travel planning is more important than ever in today's uncertain environment. However, low-cost airlines' policy regarding fees for changing or canceling flights highlights one of the most significant trade-offs of their business model. Passengers face high charges for any voluntary change with little or no flexibility, reflecting an approach that prioritizes cost efficiency over customer needs. Ryanair, for example, charges substantial fees for changes made both online and through traditional channels, thus limiting access to flexibility in travel planning.

  • Low-Cost: High fees for voluntary (passenger-decided) change or cancellation of flights with little or no flexibility. For example, at Ryanairthe fee will be €/£45 per passenger per flight for online changes. For changes through the booking center or at the ticket counter, the charge will be €/£60 per passenger, per flight. Also, if you want to change a passenger's name,the fee is €/£160 per passenger/per way if carried out by an agent.

There are also types of tickets that have flight change options, but these tickets are more expensive, on average, by 70-80 euros/way and do not provide reimbursement in case of voluntary cancellation.

  • Full service airlines: They generally offer more flexibility for changes and cancellations, often with lower fees. In the higher fare classes, these changes are free, paying only the difference in the cost of the ticket. In addition, they containand partial flight reimbursement in case of voluntary cancellation.

                  

Image taken from the KLM website                 Image taken from the Lufthansa website

9. Flight certainty

The certainty and reliability of flights is a crucial factor for travelers, significantly influencing travel planning and the psychological comfort of passengers. In the context of low-cost airlines, the often high frequency of cancellations and delays becomes a source of frustration and uncertainty for customers. These disruptions are frequently marked by a lack of effective communication and adequate airport support, leaving passengers to navigate the resulting uncertainty and inconvenience on their own.

  • Low-Cost: Frequent cancellations and delays, often without advance notice and unpleasant airport experience during the waiting period. These situations are usually marked by uncertainty and poor communication.

According to Vola.ro data, 40% of cancellations in 2023 were caused by a single low-cost carrier.

  • Full service airlines: Cancellations are less frequent and are communicated and compensated accordingly.Even in challenging situations such as staff strikes, a problem that Lufthansa, for example, occasionally faces, these companies make consistent efforts to minimize the impact on passengers and offer alternative solutions.
10. Overbooking or overbooking

Overbooking is an ethical and logistical challenge in the aviation industry, balancing operational efficiency with passenger rights and comfort. For low-cost airlines, this practice is often an integral part of their business model, aiming to maximize capacity and compensate for no-show passengers.

  • Low-Cost: Like many low-cost airlines, overbooking is part of the business model to compensate for losses caused by no-shows. If a flight is overbooked and more passengers show up than available seats, Low-Cost companies offer compensation to volunteers who are willing to give up their seats and be rescheduled on another flight. If there are not enough volunteers, passengers may be selected to be rescheduled against their will under EU regulations and are eligible for compensation. The practice is regulated by EU rules, which set out passenger rights and compensation in the event of denied boarding, but these are not properly enforced. In the case of Ryanair, passengers are forced to make formal complaints and know their rights to force them to apply the regulation on the spot, often facing the company's refusal to honor them.
  • Full service airlines:Although overbooking is a common practice in the airline industry, airlines have a reputation for handling these situations with great customer service. The Company provides generous compensation and convenient alternatives to passengers affected by overbooking, seeking to minimize inconvenience and ensure fair treatment.
11. Priority Boarding
  • Low-Cost: It offers the option of priority boarding as an additional paid service known as "Priority & 2 Cabin Bags". This option allows passengers to be among the first to board the plane and bring on board an additional carry-on bag. Priority boarding is popular with travelers who want to ensure space in the overhead compartment for their carry-on and minimize time spent waiting at the gate. The cost of the service varies by flight and must be paid in addition to the ticket price. Currently, more and more travelers opt for priority, which facilitates the creation of additional queues, often dominated by confusion.
  • Full service airlines: As part of its customer-oriented services, Full service airlines also offer priority boarding, but in different ways than Low-Cost. Passengers flying in higher classes (such as Business Class) or elite status members in its loyalty program automatically get priority boarding. This service improves the travel experience by reducing waiting time and providing faster access to boarding.
12. Access to the plane

Priority boarding, in the context of air travel, has become an increasingly sought-after service, reflecting passengers' desire for a faster and more comfortable boarding process. Low-cost airlines, recognizing this interest, have turned priority boarding into an additional paid product, such as the 'Priority & 2 Cabin Bags' option that promises early access to boarding and the ability to bring an additional hand bag. Although originally intended as an advantage, the increased popularity of this service has led to the formation of additional queues at boarding, sometimes generating more confusion than efficiency. This development highlights a tension between the intention to provide a superior service and the practical reality, where the added value is diminished by unclear implementation and the congestion created.

  • Low-Cost: Ooperate at smaller airports or less congested terminals where infrastructure may be limited. This may mean that passengers are transported from the terminal to the aircraft by bus, a process that can add additional boarding time and inconvenience to passengers, particularly when weather conditions are unfavorable and waiting on the access ladder is required.
  • Full service airlines: Line airlines often use bellows to allow passengers to board the plane directly from the terminal, a process that is perceived to be more comfortable and direct, especially in inclement weather. Also, the passenger boarding order, from back to front, optimizes efficiency and boarding time.  
13. Refunds

Refund policy in the airline industry is often a point of stress and confusion for passengers, especially in the context of unexpected cancellations or changes in travel plans. In the world of low-cost airlines, this problem is amplified by a fare structure designed to minimize costs, which leads to tickets being sold as non-refundable and non-refundable. On the rare occasions when refunds are possible, passengers can expect a long and often tedious process, with companies favoring issuing vouchers or credits for onward flights instead of refunds. The refund process, even when initiated online, can take months, leaving customers in limbo and with no guarantee of a satisfactory resolution.

  • Low-Cost: The refund policy of Low-Cost companies is often perceived as strict, with many tickets sold as replaceable and non-refundable, according to its low-cost rate structure. In cases where refunds are possible, the process can be complicated and time-consuming. Low-Cost companies usually offer vouchers or credit for flights canceled by them, with the option to request a refund through an online process,which can last up to 3 months, without a guarantee of resolution.
  • Full service airlines: They have a clearer, more rigorous and more customer-friendly IATA regulated refund policy. In the case of flight cancellations or significant changes made by the company, passengers are usually entitled to full refunds or rescheduling at no additional cost. Airlines also offer more flexible options for passengers who choose to cancel their flights for personal reasons, depending on the fare class of the ticket purchased.

In conclusion, we advise customers to think carefully about these aspects and to make choices that truly value their money and time and compare total costs of a low cost flight such as Ryanair to a legacy airline with everything you need included and less of the unpleasantries that may arise.

Article in Romanian here.