A low-fare ticket might actually be an expensive option. Photo: iStock
There was much outrage on social media last week when a passenger discovered that IndiGo was not allowing him to pick any seat for free to complete a web check-in. But as per Directorate General of Civil Aviation’s existent regulations, IndiGo could charge for those seats at check-in.
With airfares going lower, we will only see more and more aspects of flying being monetized to keep the bottom line healthy. For the business traveller, however, it would become important to draw a line between low fares and lack of benefits of flying, especially when flying no-frill carriers such as IndiGo and GoAir.
One of the insider secrets of airlines here, is to ensure that all of them try to come up as the top choice by fares on your search for a particular itinerary. Most passengers and travel desks still do comparison shopping with online travel agencies (OTAs) or meta-search engines, so it becomes important to stay in their consideration set. This is the reason full-service carriers such as Vistara and Jet Airways often have to match fares with their no-frill peers. These deep-discounted tickets often are non-refundable, leaving passengers on the hook when plans change or get cancelled. This happens more often than not for frequent flyers. To come around this problem, I almost always book with airlines I have an elite status on, picking a fare class that allows for changes and cancellations.
For most fares, Jet Airways offers free changes and cancellations to JetPrivilege Platinum members while Vistara offers free rescheduling to its Club Vistara Platinum-tier members. Air India offers no-cancellation/rebooking fees to its Golden Edge and Maharaja club frequent fliers. Almost all major OTAs now offer programmes which allow for changes on tickets, such as the MakeMyTrip Double Black programme (paid), which allows free cancellations of five domestic tickets a year. This covers no-frill carriers as well.
The next big issue is the seating. As airlines have cranked up the levers to get people to pay for seat allocation, picking the right seat has become important given the shrinking legroom. Vistara offers free seat allocation for everyone. Jet Airways allows its top-tier elites to pick their seats without a charge and seat allocation is free if you web check-in six hours before the flight.
Almost all Indian airlines, full-service carriers included, now sell preferred services (baggage handling, boarding, seat selection) individually or as a bundle, even if you are not a frequent flyer. When flying a no-frills carrier, I almost always buy the bundle of preferred services to save myself the trouble. For instance, SpiceJet’s SpiceMAX allows flyers to get an extra legroom seat along with a meal and beverage, priority check-in and baggage handling. IndiGo’s 6E Prime is a similar package, including access to the extra-legroom XL seats. SpiceJet and IndiGo have been running promotions with HDFC Bank which allows the bank’s credit or debit card customers to buy these bundles for cheap or get them free on a certain day of the week. Do check if there is a special promotion on the bundles before booking your tickets.
Business travellers travel light, so usually the 15kg baggage allowance works well for them. However, there may be times when you need to buy more baggage allowance. At times like these, try and see if you could fly a full-service airline instead of the no-frills variants. Air India, for instance, offers 25kg baggage allowance to everyone.
Co-branded credit cards come very handy for travellers without an elite status, so it would help to get one for the benefits. Jet Airways’ co-brand partnerships with American Express, HDFC Bank, IndusInd Bank and ICICI Bank allow many co-branded cardholders to get 5kg extra baggage allowance and join the priority check-in queue with the Business Class passengers and the Platinum members of the airline.
One final tip: stay away from the restrictive terms of low-fare tickets. You read me correctly. Airlines have started to offer fare families, each offering a different set of benefits depending on the ticket condition. For instance, Jet Airways has five fare families for Economy Class tickets (Deal, Light, Saver, Classic and Flex). Vistara has three (Economy Lite, Standard and Flexi). The lowest fare is always the most restrictive ticket and usually not cancellable. My advice is to buy a ticket directly with the airline, which helps you pick the right fare family as per your requirements. The higher fare families are sometimes a couple of hundred rupees more expensive, but give benefits to the passengers, and totally worth the extra money. Also, buying directly from Jet Airways and Vistara allows you to change or cancel tickets within 24 hours for free.
The next time you are flying, for business or pleasure, make sure you add up all the hidden costs before you pick the lowest fare ticket. You might just be shelling out more in the long run for it.
Elevate Your Travel is a column for the business travellers by a business traveller.
Ajay Awtaney is founder and editor of Livefromalounge.com, a frequent-flyer website.