As a seasoned traveler, on the road for over 15 years, I’ve seen the evolution of travel in India. Personally, I moved from a frequent train traveller to a frequent flier over the course of these years.
The travel came a lot from work and visiting family and leisure travel in that order. Time is money, and it helped a lot to be able to have more time on the ground rather than being on the road.
Back in the day, Air Deccan disrupted travel for me with their 1 Rupee tickets, just like they did for everyone else I am sure. This really helped me fly more frequently, visiting new places and old anew. It also unleashed in India, the era of "yield management."
Before Air Deccan, airlines used to sell tickets at fixed prices. After Air Deccan, air travel became really affordable. Simply speaking, if you booked far ahead, you could afford to get a cheaper ticket, and fares would become more expensive as you come closer to the day of travel.
There are multiple airlines that have been launched in India after Air Deccan. Most of them are no-frills carriers but are commonly referred to as low-cost carriers. Globally, the terms are interchangeable, however, in India, it hasn’t worked out exactly the same.
They provide the service of air travel between two cities, along with a minimum amount of check-in baggage allowance, and charge for everything else, including meals and other facilities.
In return, they try and charge lesser than their full-service peers, and the difference in price is significant. However, since in India, the airlines share the same airports, they keep their prices at the same level as full-service airlines.For instance, to fly on June 16 between Mumbai and Calcutta, here are the lowest prices of an Economy Class ticket on various airlines:
Air India: Rs. 9,956 IndiGo: Rs. 9,957 SpiceJet: Rs. 10,022 Jet Airways: Rs. 10,243 GoAir: Rs. 10,650 And here are the lowest prices if you wanted to book a ticket for travel after a month out (on July 31) between Mumbai and Delhi, for instance. Air India: Rs. 2,627 Vistara: Rs. 2,749 SpiceJet: Rs. 2,762 IndiGo: Rs. 2,820 GoAir: Rs. 3,047 Jet Airways: Rs. 3,240
The point I am trying to make is a simple one, if you haven’t noticed it already. Everyone charges roughly the same amount of money on the ticket. Which makes it easier for me to decide to fly a full-service carrier such as Vistara or Jet Airways almost 95% of the times.
If you are a number cruncher like me, it makes sense. Every time I fly a full-service airline, the experience starts right away after booking the ticket. Vistara doesn’t charge for seat selection yet, and being a Jet Airways Platinum-tier frequent flier, I get to select any seat on the plane for free.
I can check-in on the internet 48 hours prior, much before it is open for everyone else. Which means, another opportunity to select the best seat for free. On a no-frills carrier, I’d be paying anything between Rs. 99 to Rs. 999 for the privilege of selecting a seat.
At the airport, as a frequent flier with Vistara and Jet Airways, I am able to skip the long queues and check-in at the business class counter. For those who don’t fly often enough, once you have a web check-in done, you could also collect your boarding pass at the airport check-in counter and drop your bag in the Bag drop counters, quicker than the rest of those who haven’t checked in yet.
Sometimes, I may really have had a long day. Those days, work travel policies don’t change to accommodate my tiredness, but these airlines would take care of me. Some days, they’d move me to another earlier flight free of cost. On other days, I have the means to buy myself an upgrade to business class via the miles or vouchers these frequent flier programs offer me.
While the value of that upgrade may be 5 times the price of my original ticket, the value of the rest I need to get on those days is priceless.
And those frequent flier programs offered are not just numbers on a card. There have been times that ticket costs have been unaffordable, but I still could redeem miles from my mileage balance and afford to fly without breaking the bank. Imagine buying a ticket worth Rupees 20,000 for 8,500 miles and some cash towards the taxes and surcharge.
On a day full of meetings, I’ve many a times eaten all my meals on a plane. Breakfast on the way to a meeting in a different city, and dinner, on the way back on the evening flight. Flying no-frills airlines, I’d be paying money out of pocket buying those meals, but here, it comes a part of the package. That is another 250 Rupees saved.
The bottom-line then is, that all things being equal, a full-service airline doesn’t want more money out of your pocket after you pay for the ticket, and give you a complete package, including food, transport, baggage and miles accumulation, for a similar cost as the no-frill carriers. So, why not get more value for the money spent rather than just buy the cheapest.
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel and aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge (