Travel News: How low-cost carriers are changing the airline industry and what’s in it for you!

This week’s Travel News is looking at trends in the airline industry and how low-cost carriers are changing it. I’ll point out how you can take advantage of those changes to make your next trip more affordable, more fun or to a more exotic destination than you might have considered previously! Read on how to get more out of your next trip!

Ever since air travel became available and affordable to the general public after World War II, there was a push to take people to more far flung places for less. In Europe, charter airlines started to fly to leisure destinations in high-season, focused on price over convenience. Similarly, more focused on scheduled routes, cheap air fares developed in the US and for the trans-atlantic market. Over time, this developed into a distinct business model to leverage lower operating costs to offer lower fares. This concept has taken the travel world by storm and has made flying more affordable around the world. Here are the most important trends that are shaping air travel today:

1) Low-cost carriers are going global!
Richard Branson famously said: “If you want to be a Millionaire, start with a billion dollars and launch a new airline.” And while the airline industry is littered with failed attempts, low-cost airlines like Southwest in the US, Ryan Air in Europe or AirAsia in Asia have proven that the low-cost model can be successful. Since then, there are new airlines starting up following that model and adjusting it to local needs all around the world. You can find low-cost airlines on every continent and in every region, allowing you to travel anywhere for less!  You can find a list of all the low-cost carriers on Wikipedia!

2) Low-cost carriers are going long-haul!
The “original” low-cost carrier model was focused on short-haul flights with narrow-body planes from point-to-point, without hubs. But for years, the legacy airlines still controlled the long-distance flights as some low-cost carriers tried – and failed – to penetrate the long-distance market. AirAsia started flights to Europe, only to stop them after facing losses. Now, planes like the Boeing B787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 are offering significant cost savings on long-haul routes and low-cost carriers are fine-tuning their models. Norwegian Air has been the most aggressive, bringing low fares to the trans-atlantic market between the US and Europe, and starting a fare war – trans-atlantic fares have dropped drastically, with discount fares now available between the US and Northern Europe (where Norwegian Air is based) all year long! AirAsia and Cebu Pacific are offering similarly low fares across the Asia Pacific region and Azul is connecting North and South America!

NorwegianAir transatlantic routes3) Low-cost carriers are going upscale!
Many people have gotten used to the idea that low-cost carrier also means low-price tickets – but it doesn’t have to! It refers first of all to the business model of the airline! While it results in lower fares in a lot of cases, the low-cost carriers are also leveraging it to offer you more for less, especially on longer flights: JetBlu has gone the furthest, introducing a fully-flat bed on their trans-America flights, competing directly with the legacy carriers. AirAsia is now offering a flat-bed seat on their long-haul flights, giving you a business class seat with economy service (read my review here) for the price of an economy seat on a legacy carrier. Other airlines, like Scoot, Jetstar or Norwegian, have introduced “Business Class” that is similar to what Business Class was before the arrival of flat-bed seats – wider seats with more leg room, entertainment and meals!
At a time when economy class seats are getting narrower and tighter and services are reduced more and more, and business class has become more and more upscale with flat beds and “book the cook” restaurant-style service, the gap has become so wide that these new “Premium Economy” or “Business Class Light” services are overing a great alternative, both for leisure and business travelers who want a little more comfort without paying the luxury prices of the legacy carriers!

AirAsia Business SeatSleep

4. Low-cost carriers do alliance!
One of the advantages of the full-service carriers is their participation in big airline alliances, giving you easy access to countless flights to destinations all around the world, all on one ticket! The low-cost carriers are now taking a page out of that book and are starting their own alliance. The Value Alliance, led by Singapore Airline‘s budget subsidiaries Scoot and TigerAir, as well as NokAir in Thailand and Cebu Pacific, Philippines and others, is now allowing passengers to book flights from the participating carriers as well as seat assignments, meals and luggage, all on one web site and on one ticket. Given Singapore Airline’s track record, I have high hopes for this alliance and will provide my own experience once it is available more broadly later this year! See the announcement here!

So, what does it all mean? With low-cost carriers growing and evolving, you have more choices than ever to make your next trip more affordable, more comfortable or just go further. You might be able to go non-stop from a secondary airport, might pay a little extra for a more comfortable seat or just go a place far away that you didn’t think you can afford! It does require a little more work on your part – you do have to research what exactly you will get – does your ticket include check-in luggage, food or a seat assignment? Is that business class seat full-flat, angled-flat or just a recliner the legacy carriers would call “Premium Economy”. And, not to be taken lightly, is that low-cost carrier a reliable and safe alternative worthy of your trust or a shaky new venture that’s cutting corners on safety and might be around by the time your flight is scheduled to depart!

Come back to read my TravelMadeEasy tips “How to pick your Low-Cost Carrier”, read my airline reviews or check out my DreamTravel Services to let me help you with your next low-cost trip!

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