Business Traveller

Budget airlines: 10 things to learn from bargain flier Richard Quest

Richard Quest and Maureen O'Hare, CNNUpdated 22nd March 2017
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Editor's Note — This article was originally published in April 2016.
(CNN) — Last month Richard Quest took on his greatest Business Traveller challenge yet. He flew round the world in eight days, visiting nine countries, using 10 airlines -- all on low-cost carriers. The cost: $2,345.
Now you can watch the first part of his budget airline odyssey on CNN International and online at
We asked him for the 10 most important lessons he took away from the experience. Here's what he said:

1. The industry has changed; we need to catch up

The low-cost airlines of today are very different from 20 or 30 years ago. Look at the size and scale of Ryanair, which will carry 100 million passengers this year.
It's the largest airline in Europe -- it's bigger than Lufthansa group or AIG. The routes and size of these airlines: They're vast!
I wanted to look at not only how these airlines got so big and how they have so many bases, but also, how are they going to grow? Where will they continue to grow? And what sort of new products are they going to offer?

2. 'Low cost' is for the airline, not the traveler

The term "low-cost" talks about the airline's costs, not the low fares. There are certain things that these low-costs do that keep their costs below, say, a British Airways or a Virgin Atlantic.
They fly the same type of plane. They go point to point. They don't connect passengers. They charge ancillary revenues for everything from a bag in the hold to a cup of coffee on board.
They have very fast turnaround of the aircraft -- 20 minutes or half an hour. The plane flies straight back with the same crew. They almost never overnight crews down-route.
Doing the trip, I was surprised by how closely they kept to the model in many cases. But they're trying to experiment.
They know they can't move away from the model too much because they risk destroying the low-cost basis, but they all want to try to discover new ways of doing things.
Richard Quest goes round the world in eight days on low-cost carriers
Quest's eight-day journey began and ended in London.
Sarah-Grace Mankarious

3. Product bundling is big business

Where things have changed in recent years is that the airlines have spotted opportunities for increasing revenues without destroying the low-cost base.
So, for instance, offering business travelers flexibility on the ticket for an extra price.
Offering a bag in the hold for an extra price, lower than if you just bought it at the airport.
It's known as bundling and what they're doing is they're bundling various prices back in again.
Remember the airline will make up to 25% of its revenues from ancillaries so it's not small beer.

4. Business travelers fly low-cost too

The low-costs' short-haul route networks are vast. Take Europe.
If you want to visit certain places, they are often the only airlines that fly there.
Whereas British Airways has a base at Heathrow, Virgin has three UK bases, Lufthansa has one base in Frankfurt, Dusseldorf and Munich, Ryanair has 76 bases across Europe and North Africa. Easyjet has dozens of bases across Europe where they park planes overnight.
So these airlines are huge by comparison and they are literally crisscrossing the continent, taking advantage of Europe's single-skies policy.
Gone are the days when low-cost airlines were the preserve of leisure travelers on package vacations.

5. Some stay closer to the original model than others

Ryanair, Air Asia and Air Arabia stay very close to the original model.
I think what happens is these are the ones that are determined to stick as close as possible to the model but recognize that you may have to make minor modifications.
In the case of Ryanair it's becoming more friendly, but they couldn't have got worse. In the case of Easyjet and Ryanair, it's adding a business class or business-friendly product. In the case of JetStar, out of Australia, it's even adding a business class itself.
The same for JetBlue in the United States.
JetBlue realized that they needed a flat bed on transcontinental flights from New York to Los Angeles and San Francisco, so that's what they added.
It's recognizing when you need to add these things, that becomes important.

6. JetBlue offers the most

Of the 10 airlines we flew on the trip, JetBlue is the one that offers the most. The free larder where you can help yourself to snacks and soft drinks, to the free Wi-Fi, to the free television.
But it's perks like these that mean there are those that claim JetBlue isn't a real low-cost airline anymore.

7. Norwegian is the big new player

Norwegian has been short-haul for a long time, and they've been growing very fast within Europe. But now Norwegian is pushing the boundaries, using the 787 Dreamliner, by doing the long-haul low-cost.
They've got six destinations to the U.S. from the UK.
With 40-odd Dreamliners on order, they're planning to open the base in Paris, so they're going to open up more and more and more and it's going to be interesting to see how that develops. Getting the long-haul to work is not as easy as the short-haul.

8. If the airline is selling an amenity package, buy it

What happened was we had full overnights in Prague and Dubai, and everywhere else we would often have a day room in a hotel for a couple of hours just to shower.
There were a couple of nights we didn't have a night's rest at all: we were sleeping on planes. My tip for overnighting on planes would be: If the airline is selling an amenity package, buy it.
Most airlines will allow you to buy an extra seat. If there are two of you traveling, buy the middle seat. If the plane isn't full, ask where the empty seats are before you get on.

9. Stow your snobbery

If you're flying low-cost, get yourself into the state of mind so that you can enjoy it.
Reckon on the basis it's not going to be first or business class, you're not going to have a flat bed. There's not going to be champagne, unless you buy it.
If you look at JetStar or Norwegian or Scoot, all of whom are running 787 Dreamliners with brand-new leather seats and seatback videos, it's as good as anything you're going to get in economy on a legacy carrier -- if not better.
I think that once we've got rid of the snobbery around low-cost carriers, then I think you start to understand that it's just as good to go on a low-cost carrier if it's a short flight.

10. It's all eminently doable

Was it hard-going traveling around the world on low-cost carriers? Absolutely. It was brutally hard-going at times.
When we all got back to London, we were all very, very tired, there's no question about it.
If I were to do the trip again, I'd allow myself more time and I'd enjoy it, but what I think we have proved is that you can do it. And you can do it at a price.
I wouldn't necessarily go around the world, but if I had a two-week vacation I might think: I'm going to go to Prague for two days, then Dubai for two days, then I might have a week in Asia, then work my way back to London the same way.
It requires a bit of planning. It's not as straightforward as just booking it and leaving it at that, but it's doable. It's all eminently doable.


Richard Quest and his team documented his trip on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #flywithquest.