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I just started flying recently and over the last two years I was on an airplane about once a month. All my trips were between European cities. I have been successfully using Ryanair, Wizz Air and Vueling with zero negative experiences. I've been considering the full-service airlines for some time now, but every time I check them, their prices are an order of magnitude higher. I usually pay around €100 both ways (and another €100 for luggage and travel to the city itself from the satellite airport) while the full-service airlines charge €1,000-2,000 for the same flight.

One motivation I can think of are business trips, where you're going somewhere for one day and can't afford the additional hour on the bus/train on the way to the main city. Also, I like having ample space for my legs, but I can suffer being marginally uncomfortable for one hour in order to save a thousand bucks.

What are any other reasons to pay all this money?

  • 5
    I think the prices you mentioned are quite exaggerated, 100 EU in LCC is not always 1000 in a normal airlines... – Nean Der Thal Mar 8 '15 at 22:45
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    €1000 sounds quite expensive, you might have been looking at flexible fares or be particularly unlucky in your location or choice of destinations. I occasionally flew with a legacy full-service airline for prices similar to the low-cost flights available at the same time and frequently for prices that were slightly higher but not more than €200-300 return. – Relaxed Mar 8 '15 at 23:07
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    Can you really name a single trip within Europe, where you have to pay a at least a four digit sum in Euro for a ticket from a traditional airline? – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Mar 9 '15 at 1:22
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    @Lie Ryan: It was actually quite easy to find tickets with British Airways for non-stop flights from London to Athens for as low as 219€ (there may even be cheaper offers, I just searched on a few random dates). Distance is however not a good measure for ticket prices. Much shorter flights between odd destinations or on legs with no or little competition are likely to be much more expensive. – Tor-Einar Jarnbjo Mar 9 '15 at 1:28
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    I've personally stopped using low-cost companies as after you add luggage and check-in cost you get almost the same price of "full-cost" carrier, and for an often dreadful service. – algiogia Mar 9 '15 at 10:52
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Lots of reasons! Most of which boil down to prioritizing time and convenience over cost.

  1. You need to fly to a city with no direct service. Most LCCs only sell "point to point" and will not cover missed connections, while full-service carriers do.
  2. You have an unpredictable schedule and need the ability to change your flights easily. LCCs tend to fly less frequently and charge large arbitrary fees for changes, while full-service carriers operate high frequencies on their core routes and offer "flex" fares that have a high up-front cost, but allow unlimited free changes afterwards.
  3. The low-cost carrier flies to some ridiculous airport in the middle of nowhere (eg. "Frankfurt"-Hahn, 125 km away), while the full-service carrier flies directly to the main airport.
  4. It's a long flight and you're not willing to suffer for hours in a cramped seat. (Personally, I'll fly in a sardine can for up to four hours, but beyond that I'll at least fork out for a better seat.)
  5. It's business travel and somebody else is paying.
  6. You want to collect frequent flyer points. (See also #5.)
  7. You're already an elite frequent flyer and want to use your perks (lounge access, priority boarding, etc.)
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    125km? I thought Paris Beauvais was far! – JoErNanO Mar 8 '15 at 23:57
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    Honestly, those 'out in the middle of nowhere'-airports are indeed sometimes ridiculously named, but as long as you check where every airport is in time I have never really had a problem with it. Well, except that they tend to have relatively bad and/or expensive public transport connections. – David Mulder Mar 9 '15 at 2:08
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    There are something of tiers even within 'low-cost carriers,' though. In the U.S., Southwest and JetBlue are traditionally considered 'low-cost carriers,' but they do provide connections (and cover missed connections) and, at least with Southwest, it's easier and cheaper to change your flight plans than with the 'full-service' carriers. Since they fly only 737s, though, they don't fly into Nowheresville, North Dakota like the majors do with their regional jets or turboprops. – reirab Mar 9 '15 at 15:32
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    Blimey, Frankfurt-Hahn is absurd, it's closer to Luxembourg than Frankfurt. – user56reinstatemonica8 Mar 9 '15 at 18:28
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    @Andrey: yeah. Actually Dortmund Airport (also used by low cost carriers) is closer (in travel time) to Dusseldorf than Dusseldorf-Weeze – SztupY Mar 10 '15 at 15:15
16

You actually want to be somewhere on time. I had an Air France flight from Budapest to Paris which didn't fly and I told the desk I needed to be in Paris next morning 10am and that's it. They put me on a Lufthansa flight via Munich and I was there on time. Do you think a low cost would this? At best you can rebook for free at worst you get the money the EU laws prescribe.

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    Fun thing is that within India, Indigo which is a LCC has one of the highest on time ratings – Akash Mar 10 '15 at 4:51
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    The problem is not on time; the problem is cancelled flights (which can happen to the best) and what happens after. – chx Mar 10 '15 at 5:10
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In addition to jpatokal's excellent answer, budget airlines sell you a pair of one-way tickets, whereas full-service carriers sell you a return ticket. This means that the budget airline has considerably lower responsibilities to you if things go wrong.

When you have a return ticket, the airline has obligations to you from the moment you check in for the outbound flight: in particular, they're obliged to get you home again. If the weather's impossible on the day of your return flight, they're must to put you up in a hotel and get you home as soon as they reasonably can. However, if you're travelling with two one-way tickets, you're out of luck. Your trip home is a separate journey, which doesn't begin until you've checked in for that flight. If there are no flights today because of the weather, the airline can just cancel your flight and give you a refund, leaving you stranded in Whereversville at your own expense until you can find a flight home at whatever price they cost at short notice at a time when demand just went through the roof because everyone else is stranded, too.

  • 1
    Most airline conditions of carriage will limit their obligations for things outside the airline's direct control like weather, air traffic congestion, or labor action. On US domestic flights, the airline is definitely not obligated to put you up in a hotel if the weather's impossible, though as a customer service gesture they may provide discount vouchers. See for instance United and Delta policies. – choster Mar 9 '15 at 14:08
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    @choster European airlines do have to offer food and accommodation, but not compensation, for long delays even if outside of their direct control - look up EU-261, eg here on wikipedia – Gagravarr Mar 9 '15 at 15:52
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    It's also worth noting the converse: while traditional airlines will also sell you one-way tickets if you insist on buying one, the prices are often exorbitant. (That's probably what those 1000-2000 € tickets are.) If you book a round trip (or even a circle trip), it's usually a lot cheaper. Airline pricing can be really complicated, so if you want to minimize the cost, you'll all but have to use a computer search tool. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 9 '15 at 17:54
4

€1000-2000 is not a “normal” fare for a short-haul flight within Europe, even with a legacy full-service airlines. Most of them will have cheap fares that are slightly above the price of low-cost airlines (if you book a non-flexible return ticket in advance). Even full fares for a flexible ticket booked at the last minute or business class tickets should be in the hundreds, and not the thousands of euros.

You can however find fares of €2000 and up but that's best regarded as a glitch of the booking system resulting from very complicated way airline fares are constructed.

Very often this happens when looking for flights from an airline that does not operate them in the area at all and simply resells tickets from partners. In these cases, there are almost always better fares available. The funny thing is that one website will show you the crazy fare but a search engine will reveal more logical routings or perhaps even the very same flights for a lower price.

Finally, note that not all passengers on the plane are paying the point-to-point fare. Some of the short-haul flights you might have looked at are really feeder flights to bring long-haul passengers to a hub. When combined with an intercontinental flight, the short-haul flight can be essentially free and the whole ticket cheaper than a direct long-haul flight to your destination from your airport of departure. Again a counter-intuitive results of complex fare rules.

So nobody needs a reason to pay that much money. Mostly people just pay a small premium for all the reasons detailed in other answers (convenience of non-stop flights and better airports, hopes of a better service in case of irregular operations, points for loyalty programs), especially if they are not paying for the tickets themselves. And sometimes, the full-service airline can be the only way to reach your destination or even be cheaper than a low-cost airline.

  • 1
    It really depends on the Origin and Destination. Brussels-Basel for example paying >1000 Euro is "normal". It boils down to demand. Having said that, securing a cheaper-then-LCC on legacy carriers happens often as well. – user141 Mar 10 '15 at 10:02
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    Just out of curiosity I looked for Brussels-Basel tickets in April. Easyjet wins easily of course, but the second lowest price is on British Airways (through LHR). Where do you see Brussels-Basel tickets for >1000 EUR? – Anti Veeranna Mar 10 '15 at 10:28
  • There are non-stop flights for €800-900. Less than 1000, certainly not 2000, but still a bit more than I would expect. – Relaxed Mar 10 '15 at 10:57
  • @AntiVeeranna: I tried that too, searching for a one-week BRU-BSL-BRU round trip in mid-April: the cheapest option was EasyJet at 69€, but the next-cheapest was Brussels Airlines at 71€. Looking for a one-way flight changes things dramatically, though: EasyJet is still cheapest at 56€, but the cheapest traditional airline is now British Airways at 196€, with a 7-hour(!) transfer at Heathrow; the only direct one-way options besides EasyJet were Brussels Airlines at 820€ and Swissair at 874€(!). Moral of the story: always book a round-trip flight. – Ilmari Karonen Mar 10 '15 at 15:06
  • @IlmariKaronen Swissair became Swiss around the same time that Sabena became Brussels Airlines ;-) – Relaxed Mar 10 '15 at 15:28

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