Here's What Your Airfare Actually Buys
In a winter as cold as this one — when record low temperatures are sweeping the country — planning a vacation seems like the only way to stay sane. You can't help but to look up airfare prices, whether you're determined to flee the frigid chill (even if only for a weekend) or you're already fantasizing about a balmy summer getaway. As you search flight prices, you're pleasantly surprised by what you see from low-cost carriers: $46 from Akron to Miami? $139 from Chicago to Palm Springs? Perhaps sun and warmth don't have to be distant memories after all.
What's in a Ticket Price?
Cheap ticket prices are enticing, but they can also be deceptive. Unlike larger carriers, low-cost airlines begin by showing you base prices that don't include luggage, in-flight snacks, and other fees. Some even charge for carry-on luggage, and you may need to shell out if you're tall and want adequate legroom. You'll likely pay extra to choose your own seat, so budget carriers aren't all that budget-friendly if you're particular about your flying experience.
Even if you don't mind traveling light and you're comfortable rolling the dice on your seat assignment, don't book that low-cost ticket just yet. Double-check where they fly out of — you may find yourself departing from a smaller hub that lacks the transportation options and amenities of larger airports.
Are Larger Carriers More Transparent?
If paying separate fees for every aspect of your trip makes you feel like you're being nickel-and-dimed, you might opt for a flight with a larger carrier. The complimentary snack and beverage selections might be meager, but at least you won't be overpaying for a can of Coca-Cola or a cup of coffee. Still, the big carriers aren't always models of transparency either.
Unless you have an air mile account or you're a member of the airline's loyalty program, chances are you'll be paying to check your luggage. And being able to bring a carry-on for free depends on your fare class. Even prominent airlines have begun introducing carry-on fees for certain passengers, typically those in Basic Economy.
What's the difference between Basic Economy and plain old Economy, you ask? Every airline applies their own rules, but you can expect Basic Economy to be a more stripped-down version of the classic Economy fare. In United Airlines' case, the Basic Economy rate only includes a carry-on item and doesn't allow passengers to change their flight reservations once they're booked. Whether you're in basic or regular Economy, you may also have to pay extra for Wi-Fi, entertainment, any snack more robust than a bag of pretzels, and even comfort items such as blankets.
Look at the Big Picture
Although the prospect of $36 dollar flights will have you reaching for the sunblock — and your credit card — don't be seduced by those shockingly low fares. If you travel light and you're content to purchase snacks before you get on the plane, the bargain deals might be perfect for you. But if you know you'll want to check a bag and you're anxious about where you sit, add up all of the additional expenses before you purchase.
When you tally up all of the additional fees, a regular Economy ticket might make more sense. That's not to say inexpensive airfare is always too good to be true, but sometimes paying less ultimately results in paying more. The key to finding a good price comes down to knowing your travels needs and preferences and accounting for all of the related costs. Then you can find a deal that suits your budget and has you soaking up the sun in no time.