Budget airlines: just how much cheaper are they in the end?

With the rise and rise of budget carriers, it would appear that getting from  A to B is more affordable than ever. But are cut-price airlines really that much cheaper in the end, or it is all smoke and mirrors?

We did a bit of number-crunching to find out the real deal (pun completely intended).

New York to Los Angeles return

Spirit Airlines

SEAT PRICE $565 (with one stop in Chicago)


  • $35 to check bags when booking (each way)
  • Up to $50 for seat requests (each way)
  • Up to $10 each for snacks (each way)
  • Up to $15 each for drinks (each way)
  • Up to $17.99 for a passenger usage charge (each way)


THE ALTERNATIVE New York to Los Angeles full service return on Delta (non-stop) – $911

London Stansted to Rome return


SEAT PRICE $158.55


  •  $49.56 for 20 kilograms of checked baggage when booking (each way)
  • $11.87 for seat requests (each way)
  • $8.06 for snack (ham and cheese panini)
  • $8.79 for wine


THE ALTERNATIVE London Gatwick to Rome full service return on British Airways (non-stop) – $453

Sydney to Singapore return


SEAT PRICE $383 (with one stop in Gold Coast)


  • $34 for 20 kilograms checked baggage when booking (each way)
  • $19 for a premium meal (each way)
  • $131 taxes


THE ALTERNATIVE Sydney to Singapore full service return on Singapore Airways (non-stop) – $1157

Brisbane to Honolulu return


SEAT PRICE $932 (with one stop in Sydney)


  • $85 for Plus Bundle: seat allocation, meal, $5 in-flight food and beverage voucher (each way)
  • $7 for seat allocation (each leg, each way)
  • $9 for entertainment package (each way)
  • $24 for meals (each way)
  • $39 for 20 kilograms of checked baggage (each way)

APPROXIMATE TOTAL $1088 with Plus Bundle or $1121 without

THE ALTERNATIVE Brisbane to Honolulu full service return on Hawaiian Airlines (non-stop) – $944

Perth to Kuala Lumpur return

Air Asia

SEAT PRICE $389 (including compulsory $39 checked baggage each way)


  • $19 for seat allocation (each way)
  • $18 for entertainment (each way)
  • $12 for comfort set including pillows and blanket (each way)
  • $11 for meals


THE ALTERNATIVE Perth to Kuala Lumpur full service on Malaysia Airlines (non stop) – $678.62


The Verdict

So, the resounding result of our straw poll is that budget airlines, more often than not, do offer the cheapest option when it comes to flights, but the savings are usually modest, to say the least.

You need to look beyond the bottom-line figure (especially when the difference is just $20) and consider convenience and value for money.

Many of the cheapest flights available included stopovers (some more than one), adding hours to the journey.

Budget carriers also often depart from and land at regional airports; if this is the case, if the taxi/train/bus fare to take you where you need to be is more than the saving you are making on the flight, opt for a full-service carrier instead.

And sometimes the time and effort required to pre-book meals, luggage allowance, entertainment and even blankets can take as long as the flight itself!

Buy This Issue

This article appeared in issue 17


  • Results from our Readers' Choice Awards 2015
  • What's hot and new in Europe right now
  • Tokyo's best day trips and more!