Low cost carriers vs big airlines: Which is right for you?

Low cost carriers vs big airlines: Which is right for you?

When you start to think about flying away to that next perfect destination, you’re usually bombarded with options. You can book online with this travel site or that travel site, or book right with the airline, or any number of options. What you may not have considered in all these options is just what kind of airline might be right for your trip.

When you’re making a short trip, it’s possible that flying on a smaller regional airline could save you on airfare, but major carriers may have regular routes that run where you’re heading that could have lower costs. The major carriers may also have more non-stop routes, or at least offer different non-stop routes as opposed to the low-cost airlines.

So called “low-cost airlines,” like Southwest, Spirit or Republic, often have low prices on certain routes, but often don’t service as many airports, may have older jets or may cut out some comforts other airlines offer. For instance, if you’re flying out of Austin, then Southwest has flights on the east and west coast; however, in Dallas, the same airline only services the near south and southeast with non-stop flights. Working with an Austin travel agent can help you to find flights to both coasts with the least amount of headaches. 

If cost is your only consideration, then the low-cost airlines will often be your best option, but if you’re taking a longer flight, then quality might play a bigger role in your decision-making process. Creature comfort may be more central to your decision if you’re flying across the country as opposed to short flights between nearby cities.

For cost-conscious consumers, knowing when to purchase flight tickets can save you money. For more information on this, check out Angie's List's When To Buy Airline Tickets infographic.

In airline customer satisfaction surveys, all three of the major air carriers outperformed the average score for the industry, so while you may end up paying more, you are also more likely to have a better experience overall flying with a major carrier. Another factor to consider is how many flights a carrier is operating out of a hub. If something were to delay your flight or force you to rearrange your plans, a major carrier is more likely to have other flights available, while a low-cost airline may not operate as many flights each day.

You should always be wary about booking your travel online. Mike Currie is a Dallas travel agent who warns, "Many products, services and pricing on the Internet are not what they appear to be.” Make sure that you know what you’re getting when you book online through third party vendors, regardless of what airline you’re flying.

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9 ways to save money on your next trip


(Photo courtesy of Naoise Sheridan).
(Photo courtesy of Naoise Sheridan).

Be flexible and shift travel dates. Airfares can vary several hundred dollars by days of the week or weekends within a month. Depart on days when demand is low such as a Tuesday or Wednesday. Flexibility is the biggest key to savings.

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