I’m a frequent traveler, so I take dozens of flights every year for work and vacation. To keep my transportation costs down, I often fly budget airlines — but it’s usually an uncomfortable experience.
Last month I embarked on an ambitious trip to four countries across Asia: Taiwan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. As I had work and school commitments in Singapore, I only had nine days to complete the trip.
One of the biggest challenges of the trip was the logistics of air travel. Since I didn’t have time to explore longer routes via bus, train, or boats, I made it a point to travel between countries exclusively through flights.
But I had a strict budget for flight costs — just 650 Singapore dollars or $480 — which meant I had limited choice when it came to the kinds of airlines I could fly. Flying top airlines was out of the question — it’s common for a return ticket from Singapore to Taiwan on Singapore Airlines to cost more than my whole budget. So I decided to purchase only the cheapest tickets available on several popular low-cost carriers.
Here’s what the experience was like, and why I think it’s worth the stress and hassle.
To save money, I flew without any add-ons, including baggage allowance. I’m not a light packer when it comes to vacations, so I took it upon myself to hand-carry a lot of my things.
After backpacking for reporting trips in several countries in Southeast Asia last year, I quickly learned how to pack light and efficiently. But on vacation, when I’m off-duty, I enjoy bringing a more exciting collection of shoes and clothes. Because of this, it’s pretty easy for my suitcase to be overweight.
Some airlines are extremely strict about how much each suitcase weighs. The budget airlines typically charge for check-in baggage, although these fees can be reasonable when pre booked. It’s when you try to add anything on last-minute at the airport that prices go up.
For example, VietJet Air, the budget airline I flew from Taipei, in Taiwan, to Vietnam’s capital Ho Chi Minh City, charges a hefty fee per kilogram for having excess baggage. To pre-book a 15 kilogram, or 33 pounds, bag with them, it’s about $15.
But others, like Cambodia Angkor Air — which has a tiny fleet of just six planes — checked in my suitcase for free. While the airline has a small fleet, it’s Cambodia’s flag carrier and not technically classified as a budget airline.
Nonetheless, I always take an extra-large foldable bag or shopping tote with me in case I need to remove items from my bag to meet the maximum baggage weight.
Most of the flights were just two to three hours long, with the exception of the trip from Singapore to Taiwan. I didn’t buy any food on board, but I quickly found a solution that didn’t leave me hungry.
Since I was traveling on short-haul flights, I figured that skipping out on airline food wasn’t a bad thing. But after a five-hour Scoot flight from Singapore to Taiwan, I was famished by the time I got out of the airport. It took over two hours to get through immigration.
On the flight, I saw a passenger sitting nearby prepare some instant noodles. He had a flask with hot water that he packed in his handcarry, and even added Hanjuku eggs and ready-to-eat sausages from 7-Eleven to his meal. At Changi Airport, some gates have cold and hot water dispensers, which are handy for refills after going through security, a customer service agent at the airport told me.
Feeling inspired, I packed snacks on board for the rest of the flights. I even packed a full meal — a banh mi sandwich made in a crispy baguette and an iced coffee that kept me wide awake — from Vietnam to Cambodia. It made my flights so much more comfortable, and the food I had looked fresher than what was being served by the airlines.
One drawback to traveling on budget airlines can be how cramped the planes usually are. Most of the time the seats don’t even recline, but for someone petite like me, it’s not a deal breaker.
Unlike more expensive airlines, there weren’t any business or first class options on my flights, which meant all passengers were seated in the same section. The seats were very tight, without much legroom, and some didn’t even recline.
Certain budget airlines like Scoot have an upgraded class for some flights with bigger seats and more legroom. I flew on ScootPlus for a six and a half hour flight to Seoul, South Korea, and my ticket was around $200 more expensive than the one in the regular class, so it might not be worth it for those traveling on a budget.
On the flight from Taiwan to Vietnam on VietJet Air, there were quite a number of empty seats, and some passengers converted the triple seats into makeshift beds, making the $92 ticket so worth it.
As I’m only 5’1″, I find the small seats bearable. But when I have the extra budget, I often pre-book a seat in the emergency row for the extra leg room — sometimes this can cost as little as $10 to $15 extra for short-haul flights. It also usually comes with extra perks like boarding the flight first.
In certain airports, budget airlines don’t have access to boarding bridges. Instead of walking directly to the terminal, passengers have to take a bus or walk to get inside the airport.
I grew up in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. My family and I often traveled on long-haul flights to the US. These flights all departed from the city’s infamous Ninoy Aquino International Airport, which was once named the worst airport in the world. At the time, it was common for buses to pick passengers up from the plane and transport them to the terminal. But these passengers would still have to walk a considerable distance to reach the immigration and baggage collection.
It was a similar situation at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City. I had to walk down a flight of stairs that was connected to the plane and walk to the bus — it wasn’t easy because I had to carry the bags I had with me on board. The bus was packed with people, but it was a small inconvenience to pay for the cheap ticket.
But there were times that walking down the tarmac felt like a good thing — one airport, which only had two flights a day, made me feel like I was arriving on a private plane.
With only a limited number of flights arriving and departing Siem Reap International Airport in Cambodia, there weren’t many options I could take to get there. The hour-long flight with Cambodia Angkor Air from Vietnam was the most expensive flight I booked at $131.
But landing on the empty tarmac felt surreal. It was vast, but there were barely any people — and planes — around. I didn’t mind wheeling my hand-carry suitcase all the way inside and to the immigration counters as I took my time snapping photos of the surroundings.
Overall, flying on low-cost airlines can be an uncomfortable and stressful experience. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from traveling if you have a limited budget.
Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the hassle-free experience that full-cost airlines provide. But I see budget airlines as something that enhances my travel experience — spending less on flights meant that I had more money for activities, food, shopping, and sightseeing in the countries I traveled to.
Low-cost flights also help me to cast my net wider — I can fly more often to more countries because of how inexpensive the tickets are. Over this recent trip, I’ve developed a bit of a blase attitude towards flying budget, because the inconveniences feel like a fair exchange for the low prices.
After all, you’ll still arrive at the same destination — and save a lot of money in the process.
Source : INSIDER