To the budget traveler, budget airlines are a godsend. They’re a great way to save on the costs of traveling from Point A to Point B. However, budget airlines have restrictions that do not apply to regular airlines. They allow less weight for each piece of checked-in luggage, allow less pieces of checked-in luggage, and in some cases, they will also weigh carry-on luggage and will fine you for each excess kilogram. And that’s just a few of the rules that apply to luggage; there are many more for other aspects of flying!
There’s a trade-off for everything, including budget airlines in Asia. You get to save money, but there are strings attached. So when does it make more sense to fly on a regular airline, despite the higher cost?
With budget airlines, you get to save money, but there are strings attached.
When I was studying abroad in Beijing, my family came to visit me. As Beijing was the last city on the mainland China itinerary, they had to fly back from Beijing to Hong Kong. A one-way ticket from Beijing to Hong Kong was priced at roughly 1500RMB on a regular airline. A one-way ticket from Shijiazhuang, in neighboring Hebei province, to Hong Kong was priced at roughly 1000RMB on a budget airline. Thus, because the ticket was 500RMB cheaper, my family chose to purchase the flight out from Shijiazhuang rather than Beijing.
The decision made sense on paper. But when the costs (both monetary and non-monetary) of flying out of Shijiazhuang were added up, I’m not convinced it was actually a bargain.
First, there were the costs of purchasing train tickets from Beijing to Shijiazhuang (86RMB per ticket). Because the train to Shijiazhuang left from Beijing West Railway station, a railway station not connected to the Beijing subway, a taxi had to be taken to and from the railway station to purchase the tickets as well as to depart Beijing (120RMB total). Then there was the cost of traveling from the Shijiazhuang railway station to the airport (100RMB). Then there was the cost of miscellaneous items that were discarded during the packing process (unknown, but it’s likely that a brand-new shirt is going to cost more than a worn-out shirt that was selected for the trash pile).
Time and sanity are money, after all, and taxing situations like these rapidly drain both.
Then there are the incalculable costs: like the frustration involved in purchasing train tickets, as the lines are long and the employees selling tickets will go on unannounced half-hour lunch breaks, meaning that you have to wait that much longer to purchase a ticket. Or the complications of hailing a taxi to the mess that is Beijing West Railway Station, as Beijing taxi drivers can (and frequently do) turn down driving passengers based on the destination. Or the fact that it took two hours to travel by train from Beijing to Shijiazhuang. Time and sanity are money, after all, and taxing situations like these rapidly drain both.
Most of the time, a budget airfare is definitely more sensible than a regular airfare, especially to the budget traveler. But sometimes, it’s worth it to spend that little extra on a regular airfare, because you might not end up saving as much money as you originally thought.
Top photo by Conny Sandland (Creative Commons)