NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Would you give up legroom for an ultra cheap airfare?
How about lavatory access?
The questions are not academic. For one, there are ever more carriers whose pitch is to be as frugal as Ryanair and EasyJet in Europe and Spirit and Southwest in the U.S.
The other thing: online travel agency Expedia decided it really wanted to know what we will give up, and so it commissioned a survey. It only asked travelers in western Europe - where short flights have spawned a lot of discounters - and they were quick with answers.
What about Americans? Mainstreet informally surveyed a number of you to hear your opinions too.
Understand this: time in flight matters. We will suffer but only for so long. That is underlined in the Expedia findings where 45% of respondents said they would consider a low cost carrier for flights of three hours or less (roughly JFK to Miami). For five hour flights (Newark Airport to Phoenix, say), the number plummets to 23%. Only 3% said they would fly discount on a flight of eight hours (roughly Newark to Paris).
As for what Europeans said they will give up for cheap air, 81% waved goodbye to good customer service (believed to be better with traditional carriers). 65% were willing to jettison free inflight entertainment. 51% said sayonara to free beverages and snacks. And 45% are O.K. not being able to pick seats in advance.
But there are non-negotiables, items few of us are willing to trade for cheap air. Free checked baggage - only 17% in Europe would give that up (although we already have in the U.S., except with Southwest). Just 16% said they would give up leg room.
And - rumors aside - no carrier has in fact installed pay toilets, though Ryanair did look into it.
As for U.S. passengers, our list of sacrifices tracks what Europeans will give up. For instance, Madeline Boughton, who blogs at TravelingMad.com, told her willingness to deal without some creature comforts. “For lower airfare, I would give up legroom and preferred seating," she said. "I would sit in the middle seat too. Low airfare is the priority. As long as I can get to my destination, I don't need all the frills.”
Dena Roche, who blogs at TheTravelDiet.com, told about her sacrifices for cheap air: “To keep costs down, I've stopped checking luggage, bring my own food onboard, and suffered longer layovers to get a cheaper fare.”
Emily Hawkins, who does public relations for New York’s Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, said that exactly where she sits does not matter if the price is right. “I've gone with AirTran/Southwest who makes you pay for a seat assignment ahead of time. So in essence, to cut costs, I sacrificed selecting my own seat and ended up being at the back of the plane by the bathroom to save $30.”
A word of warning comes from Scott Long, publisher of Ante Up Poker Media, who said he is on the road 147 days a year. He covets the deal - and frequently flies Spirit - but, he said, do the math before believing a deal is a deal.
Spirit has a long list of upcharges - for everything from a printed boarding pass ($10 when a gate agent does it) to a glass of water ($3). So Long insisted that before buying a Spirit ticket because the fare is cheap, add in whatever upcharges you anticipate starting with up to $100 for a second carry-on (that could be a purse or a laptop bag).
Sighed Long: “Sometimes Spirit is no longer competitive on price when I add in the one thing I almost always need - a carry-on in the overhead bin.” Price for that is $26 to $100 (the last is for bags paid for at the gate).
Oh, and don’t think you always have to pay the upcharges. Sometimes you don’t.
Bayyina Black, who posts at ThePlanetBlaster, said she recently flew discounter Spirit to save money, and so she rebelled at the carrier’s checked bag fees (from $21 to $100, depending). Black did not pay a dime. Here is what she did: “The baggage fees are outrageous, so I did what any budget traveler would do. I layered up. I had on about ten shirts, three pairs of jeans, two hoodies and a scarf. It was completely ridiculous, but guess who didn't have to pay any additional baggage fees?”
What will you do to save money?
--Written by Robert McGarvey for MainStreet