TRAVEL

The Lowdown on Low-Cost Carriers Overseas

(Niall Carson - Pa)
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By Kristin Harrison
Special to the Washington Post
Sunday, February 3, 2008

When traveling abroad, you can drop $20 on dinner (mere sustenance), a trinket (hello, closet) -- or a flight to another city or country (how economical and adventurous).

Thanks to the boom in low-cost, no-frills airlines around the world, you don't need to spend a fortune to jet from, say, London to Belfast ($13 one way on Ryanair) or Singapore to Bangkok ($46 on Tiger Airways). On the major airlines, these fares wouldn't even get your foot on the gangway. (British Airways, for example, typically charges $352 for the London-Belfast route, and Singapore Air flies from Singapore to Bangkok for $244.)

Many international budget carriers resemble those in America; in fact, a few (Canada's WestJet, Irish Ryanair) even patterned themselves after Southwest Airlines. Yet some cut even more corners, charging for every little perk, from assigned seats to water.

"Airlines sell you a seat," said Steven Lott, a spokesman for the International Air Transport Association (IATA), a trade association, "and everything else is extra."

In addition to collecting extra fees for amenities, budget airlines often trim costs by selling tickets exclusively online and forgoing call centers, making it impossible to speak to an agent except at the airport. Even if the airline does take phone reservations, the best fares are usually found online. And keep in mind that most fares are listed and charged in the local currency and that your credit card company may tack on a foreign transaction fee.

Because low-cost carriers work on a shoestring budget, it's important to know what the fare does and does not include. Also, be apprised of the airline's schedules and financial record. Many fly to a specific destination only once or twice a week, which can impact your entire trip if you miss that flight. Some cash-crunched carriers also have canceled flights at the last minute or have abruptly gone out of business, stranding passengers.

To take the worry out of your trip, fly on a well-established carrier with a proven flight record. You can check its reputation with a travel agent or peruse the 2007 "World's Best Low-Cost Airline Survey" by Skytrax, an independent research company in London that surveyed more than 5 million passengers around the world. For ratings info, visit http://www.airlinequality.com, which also features passenger reviews. Additionally, find out if the airline has an "interline agreement" with larger carriers, so you can check your bags through to your final destination if you switch airlines.

Safety-wise, budget airlines must meet the same government standards as other carriers flying in that country. For historic accident data of airlines around the world, view http://www.aviation-safety.net; if you don't find your chosen airline, that's a good sign.

As the budget airline sector burgeons and expands around the world, it's becoming harder to keep up, confusing even the savviest travelers. To help you sort through the carriers and their ridiculously low fares, we looked at some of the major budget airlines around the world, focusing on five regions. We provide some background info and sample one-way fares (taxes included) for each airline, and prep you for that moment when you drop some spare change on a side trip to Paris or Rio or Sydney. For more information on foreign low-fare carriers, see http://www.Flybudget.com, http://www.Whichbudget.com http:// or http://www.attitudetravel.com; for routes in Europe, visit http://www.low-cost-airline-guide.com.

EUROPE

* Air Berlin (011-49-30-4102-1003, http://www.airberlin.com)

History: Founded in 1979 by a former Pan Am pilot in Oregon, but became German-owned in 1991. Now the third-largest low-cost carrier in Europe.

Destinations: Headquartered in Berlin, with 97 destinations in Europe, plus additional cities in Africa. Also offers limited service from select U.S. airports (including Washington Dulles) to Germany.


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