Be wary of that low cost air ticket

Saturday March 10 2018


True to their offer, the low carriers cost their fares below those of full service airlines, but not without a catch. FOTOSEARCH 

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Most flyers have a love-hate relationship with their airlines of choice, and away from delays, lost luggage and missed connections, the most contentious issue is that of fares.

Most if not all domestic airlines in the region quote their fares on one-way basis.

Perhaps this is guided by the principle that quoting return fares gives the illusion of being expensive, yet the idea is to market the airline as low cost.

In actual sense the region still does not have an airline that qualifies as being an absolutely low cost carrier. What we have instead are in between hybrids or mutants.

Traditionally, airlines have charged highly for one-way fares as a way to dissuade passengers from picking an alternative airline for their return trip. In doing this, they are simply assuring themselves of a seat “sold in advance” without having to work for it, as passengers are compelled to buy a return ticket.

It doesn’t help that most countries outside the region require proof of a return ticket for issuance of visa or at immigration desks on arrival.

But what is the best option? A one-way or return ticket?

If you are flying domestic on low cost regional carriers, a return fare is most often than not priced at twice the one-way fare.  

True to their offer, the low carriers cost their fares below those of full service airlines, but not without a catch.

As much as the one-way ticket offered on such carriers gives the perception of being affordable, change or cancellation fees can be punitive.

Hence the low cost travel might not necessarily be a bargain for you in this instance should you change your travel plans.  

The affordable perception falls apart when one starts to pay for every add-on service, including, in some cases, legroom, snacks, pieces of bags, choice of an exit row seat and checked-in baggage per kilo not to mention seat allocation fee.  

This is unlike say what happens in the United States, where all airlines are required by law to allow ticket changes within 24 hours before travel without penalties.

So, for example, if you choose to fly from Nairobi to Entebbe on a low cost carrier, just bear in mind that in case of changes in travel dates, a full service carrier on the same route would be more lenient and accommodating.

Those going on non-essential travel could find it better to use full service airlines, which sell or encourage return ticket purchase but on the other hand go easy on change of reservation or travel dates.

One free change is a common feature of such tickets and where they must, a fee of $25 or $50 is levied to cater for change of reservation.

Business travellers who do not have very flexible schedules and “just need to get there” might on the other hand find the high frequencies and no frills services offered by the low cost airlines works for them.

Regrettably in East Africa, the business or corporate traveller is still looking to be offered business class travel even on such short sectors.

Until most of our airlines around start pricing per trip or one-way whether full service or low cost, we cannot say with certainty that one-way tickets are cheaper than return trip tickets.

Michael Otieno an aviation consultant and travel writer based in Nairobi. Twitter: @mosafariz; Email: [email protected]