Low Cost Airlines But What's the Sacrifice?

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Today we ask the age-old question… how important is good service versus getting a cheap ticket?

Recently I purchased a number of flights with the low-cost airline Air Asia through their website. I have been planning my trip to Malaysia and India for some time now and even though I am not staying in luxury hotels, the budget was starting to blow out. So when I saw an advertisement online for a massive sale on airfares with Air Asia I was naturally excited to see if I could bag myself a bargain.

No stairs
No stairs?

I ended up booking six flights in total for just under $1,000 Australian dollars (AUD) including taxes and all the associated costs (we will address this a little later). Now I need to tell you that I work as a travel agent so I’m well aware of the terms and conditions that are set by airlines and I make sure to check the conditions of the fare before booking. It states that there will be no refund if you cancel your ticket but you can make changes to the flights at an additional cost.

Two of the flights I purchased were from Kuala Lumpur to Kota Kinabalu return as I was looking to travel around Sabah. Unfortunately for me, being a travel agent turned out to be a disadvantage once I started looking into what I was going to do in Borneo. Most of the trips we plan in the region are for families where the best accommodation is in Kota Kinabalu, like the Shangri la Rasa Ria. I was looking for an eco-adventure though, which seems to be on the opposite coast around Sandakan and therefore the flights would be best to fly into Sandakan airport.

I went about calling Air Asia’s reservations line to make the change to my flights. After more than two hours of waiting on hold, I was told that the change was impossible and I would need to forfeit my ticket and purchase a new one. “Not good enough”, I thought so I asked to speak to a supervisor to try and talk some sense. I was willing to pay a change fee and any fare difference, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t looking for something for nothing.

The reservation girl promptly advised me that there were no supervisors available and that I would just be getting the same response from them anyway. Well as you can probably imagine this infuriated me and I demanded to speak to someone senior who could help me out. She then offered to get someone to call me in the next 12 hours. About an hour or so later I received a call from the so-called supervisor who quickly and repeatedly explained, in detail, the fine print of their changes which states you are not allowed to change the route. I then asked that I be refunded the taxes and services charges (such as meals, seat reservations, and baggage charges) as these were not part of the flight ticket.

To cut a long story short the response was continually a negative one and not a single staff member would help me out. All this drama over the $120 AUD they stood to gain for my cancellation, where I was willing to pay more than that to make the change……. Now they have not only lost a customer (before I have even flown), but I will make sure to tell my network of friends and family not to travel with them.

First, it’s really important to understand that bad airline service is more of an overall attitude than one specific incident. Most experienced travelers can handle a delayed bag or missed flight if there’s a helpful, even sympathetic, and knowledgeable professional on the other side of the counter who sincerely tries to help and seems to care.

Perhaps consumers are tired of taking the time to complain about a system that seems to need a total overhaul. Many have accepted bad airline service as a fact of life. As long as you obsess over low fares as the overriding factor in your decisions to buy, you’re going to get what you seem to demand in the marketplace: a cheap but lousy product.

Is there any hope for relief on the horizon? It’s not easy to see. Clearly, a majority of travelers want the cheapest possible tickets, no matter what. As long as that mindset persists, lousy airline service is inevitable.

So will it end up that you will arrive at the airport ready to check-in and the staff swiftly duck for cover behind the counters…….. I know that I will be basing my flight decisions on service now rather than price alone.

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Michael Glass

Michael is the founder of Backpacker Travel. He also runs walking tours in San Francisco and is a freelance travel writer. Michael is extremely passionate about travel and loves to explore festivals around the world.

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7 comments on “Low Cost Airlines But What's the Sacrifice?”

  1. You don't expect nice, luxury service from a cheap airline. U pay cheap, you get cheap treatment, You pay expensive, you get expensive service.

    All the problems you said were basically your fault. You did not PLAN well before booking. If You planned well and then booked, no problem! AirAsia is a great airline that makes poor people avail of cheap traveling.

    So now, your BIG LESSON: Plan well, plan ahead... then book.

    1. I agree with you that the issue could have been avoided with better planning. As it happens with these type of promotions that low cost airlines offer it is a matter of ‘purchase now or miss out on the deal’. The fact that the terms state you are able to make changes to the booking is the only reason I jumped on the deal.

      I don't think I was being unrealistic in my request and it was the way I was handled that has left a bad taste in my mouth.

      As for your comment about expectations. I would say that on a whole this is true…. but not always. I know of many budget services that provide excellent customer service and also on the flip side many exclusive services that don't give a toss about their customers.

      All I can say is that Air Asia CAN win back my patronage IF they give me a decent travel experience (which includes customer service) from here on in.

      1. Yes, I agree that all airlines should follow their terms and conditions.

        By the way, try Cebu Pacific Air, a Philippine-based budget airline, a comparison between Malaysia’s AirAsia and Cebu Pacific would be nice as both airlines have the same target consumers and serve pretty much the same destinations. ^^

        Travel more.

      2. You raise some valid points. Cheap airlines make traveling more affordable, and in hindsight, perhaps I should have planned better.

        However, if it states in the terms and conditions that a customer can change a flight (with a fee, that I am willing to pay), but then AirAsia doesn’t honor that condition, well, that’s just plain bad customer service and a breach of the T&C.

        I’ve always been of the belief that if you (a company) treat me right and offer me value, then you will be rewarded with my long term and continued patronage. If you are only interested in taking my money, then I’m not going to give you my repeat business.

        Lifetime customer value should not be sacrificed by short term profits.

      3. You are the most polite bloggers I have ever encountered. 🙂

        Makes me think my first comment was a little harsh. Sorry.

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