(Pictured above, Lufthansa, not a low-cost carrier, and in my opinion Europe’s best airline. Lufthansa is my personal choice, and they are my #1 recommendation to clients flying to or connecting through Europe. I can help you find the most ideal flights, on good carriers, based on your schedule, preferences, and budget.)
Thanks to my social media feed algorithms, I see it every day. Advertisements for insanely cheap flights between the US and Europe. Carriers such as WOW, Norwegian, Level offer to fly passengers from smaller airports, such as Stewart airport, near New York City, to less traditional European hubs, such as Edinburgh. Some of these carriers have expanded their services and are now flying in and out of the more traditional hubs as well, for example, LAX. On paper, these flights look so appealing. And I even once flew Norwegian from Barcelona to Oakland in their version of “premium class.” Though I was unimpressed, I understood that I got what I paid for. Norwegian is a low-cost carrier. Personally, after that experience, I vowed to personally only fly mainline carriers (such as Lufthansa, Swiss, KLM, etc) on transatlantic flights going forward. But I still regularly recommended low-cost carriers to my clients. However, due to some recent events and client experiences, such as lost luggage and cancellations, I no longer suggest these carriers to my clients for long-haul flights. Here are some reasons why:
1. You get (only) what you paid for: When you purchase a ticket on a low-cost carrier, that is all you are buying: transport between point A and point B. Dehydrated and need some water on the flight? That will cost you extra. In some cases, if you show up at the airport without a printed boarding pass, the low-cost carriers will charge you to print it. And of course, checking a bag, choosing a seat in advance*, ordering food on the plane will all cost extra. Often when you add up the total for a low-cost carrier, factoring in all of the fees, a ticket on the mainline carrier comes out to be about the same cost.
* – Admittedly, many of the mainlines have introduced a fee to select a seat if the ticket is booked in one of the discounted fare classes. But they do not nickel and dime their passengers for everything else on most transoceanic routes.
2. Cancellations: Summer is high season in the travel industry. Many travelers make their summer travel plans far in advance to ensure they are getting the best price, routing, and schedule. However, this summer Norwegian has canceled a plethora of flights, some because the route was not lucrative enough for them to continue, and some because of planned maintenance. Yes, I want my flight to be safe, and it is good that they are addressing maintenance issues. Mainline carriers do this too, but the difference is that this does not usually result in flight cancellations, as the mainlines have backup plans.
3. Schedule changes: Low-cost carriers are notorious for major schedule changes. Found a flight with good layover times (and on the date you wanted) to your destination? Don’t be surprised if closer to the travel date, you get a notification of a schedule change which results in many more hours (or sometimes even days) added to your layover. Sometimes your direct flight will be changed to a connecting flight with a ridiculous layover (see above). Schedule changes happen even on the mainlines, but the big difference with low-cost carriers is that they have fewer flight options, there simply is not a similar flight that they can reprotect you on.
4. Lost luggage: Paid the baggage fee with hopes that your checked bag will make it to you? Hopefully it will, but lately, I have been hearing firsthand from my clients who flew low-cost carriers that their bags sometimes go missing for days. A recent client’s bag somehow ended up in Oslo, even though Oslo was neither her final destination nor her connection city. It took several days to reunite her with her luggage.
5. When things go wrong, there is no one to help you: All of the above points lead me to this one, and it is the biggest of all of them: (practically) non-existent customer service. Lost luggage? There is really no one to call to try to get information. Delays? Although the airlines are supposed to pay for a hotel for you, it is often very hard to get in touch with someone from the airline to assist. Cancellations? Your choice is usually to refund (and then you will need to buy a new ticket, much closer to the date of travel, and normally at a much higher price) or to accept a crazy re-route, often on different dates and with 24+ hour stopovers. Strikes? Here in Europe, they are common, but with subpar customer service getting rebooked really is a challenge.
The bottom line is, when everything goes right on a low-cost carrier, it is worth it. But in the event of a mishap, even a minor one, there is no real customer service or a good solution. This makes choosing a low-cost carrier a real risk, especially if your travel plans are not flexible.
This is why, as a travel professional, with nearly 20 years of professional travel industry experience, I no longer recommend low-cost carriers to my clients. It is important to me that my clients have the best travel experience possible, and flying a mainline helps to achieve that. This does NOT mean that I will not work with a client who chooses a low-cost carrier; I simply will not recommend these carriers going forward. At the end of the day, I can help a client book (almost) anything they want, as I also provide full travel agency services to my clients. Every trip is different and every budget is different. Need help making your travel plans? Please fill out this form, and I will be in touch with you as soon as possible!
My name is Karen & travel is not only my passion but also my profession.