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Flying budget vs full service

February 2012


I have read and heard a lot about the discussions regarding flying budget vs. full service. Obviously, there are cost implications, as budget fares are considerably lower than regular fares with budget fares as low as perhaps 25% of full service airlines. For example, you can get very cheap fares for Cebu Pacific especially if you happen to be watchful of their frequent promos like their Piso (One Philippine Peso) and Zero promos, where they practically charge passengers taxes, insurance and fees on baggage only! That means a round trip fare can easily range between 5,000 PhP to 8,000 PhP for a flight between Manila and Singapore with 15 kilograms allowance for each way. Meanwhile, “regular” budget fares can reach a high of 11,000 PhP for the same baggage allowance. This compares favorably against fares from full service airlines like Philippine Airlines (PAL), whose promos still result in higher fares (around 12,000 PhP based on their online ticketing) while regular fares are in the range of 18,000 PhP (Fiesta Class or Economy) to perhaps 30,000 PhP (Mabuhay Class or Business).  That’s easily 3 budget flights for the price of 1 full service flight! And other full service airlines flying MNL-SIN direct are surely more expensive with Singapore Airlines (SIA) charging even higher fares than PAL.

I have been able to take advantage of such promos that significantly reduced costs for my flights between Manila and Singapore (where I have a second home). Though I can afford to fly full service, I don’t think its practical for a 3.5-hour flight that I have come to be accustomed with considering the frequency of my travels. A flight that long is quite bearable and one has a lot of options to while away the time including bringing a good book to read during the flight, working on your computer or enjoying music on your portable player. I have seen a lot of people sleeping through the flight and waking up quite refreshed prior to arrival.

It makes even more sense to fly budget for domestic trips considering the furthest destinations are roughly 2 hours from Manila (e.g., Davao and Gen. Santos in Mindanao island). For most flights, it is just 45 to 60 minutes of flying time and travelers would usually have their own food and drinks (baon) with them anyway. Why purchase an expensive ticket for food that you would probably be criticizing? Service? There’s really not much of a difference for domestic flights as Ceb Pac and PAL staffs provide similar quality of service. To some, maybe the recent labor problems of PAL would suggest that their current staff would be less experienced except perhaps for international flights where they should have the slight advantage over Ceb Pac. In other airlines, however, the quality of service and experience would be the same though I can say that SIA, Thai Airways and Cathay Pacific provide better service than PAL nowadays. In fact, many full service airlines of other countries have their budget counterparts, with SIA competing with Tiger Airways, Garuda with Lion Air, and Malaysian Airlines with Air Asia, and their staffs would probably have the same experiences and service qualities.

Long haul flights are a different case since these flights can really be quite tiring and stressful, and there are things like in-flight meals, which though much maligned in many cases, are actually a necessity for long flights. Flying Singapore Airlines for a recent trip between Manila and Bali, for example, that consisted of two legs (3.5 hours MNL-SIN and 2.5 hours SIN-DNP) each way will definitely be more comfortable even with a stopover at Changi. Flying non-stop between Manila and Los Angeles is another example of a trip where full service airlines will have an advantage over budget, even after factoring in the additional costs attributed to fare differences. For such flights, one needs to be taken cared of and it would be such a hassle to prepare meals to bring with you on those flights but as they say and based on experience, there are always exceptions.

So as far as flights coming in and out of the Philippines (international) are concerned, the rule of thumb would probably be to take full service airlines for long flights (i.e., longer than 3 or 3.5 hours continuous or cumulative) and take budget airlines otherwise. For domestic flights, budget should definitely be chosen over full service. Of course, such preferences may be irrelevant if someone else is paying for your fares and your travel budget allows for the more expensive options. Still, with “value for money” being one of the original slogans of budget airlines, such is still very much the case here. And who wouldn’t want to be able to save on airfare and use such savings for food and shopping at their destinations?

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