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The Risks of Flying an Independent or Low-Cost Carrier

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Grammy-winning UK band Foxes learned the hard way about the dangers of relying on a low-cost carrier. The band was booked on a La Compagnie flight from London’s Luton airport (LTN) to Newark (EWR) the day before they were to join Coldplay’s North America tour. But, when they arrived at the airport, they found that their flight was canceled, and there was no one willing to help them get on a new flight.

The band and their support colleagues — 11 people in total — had to scramble to another London airport and pay top dollar to catch the last flight that night to New York. Otherwise, they were facing an embarrassing no-show at a high-profile concert the next night. While La Compagnie agreed to refund the band’s flights, the airline wouldn’t rebook them on another flight or provide any other compensation.

Dangers of Low-Cost and Independent Carriers

When a low-cost carrier
When a low-cost carrier loses a plane to maintenance, there may not be a back-up plan.

The fares offered on low-cost and smaller carriers are enticing, and oftentimes everything works out fine. TPG himself had a decent experience on La Compagnie last year. However, when the situation goes bad, low-cost carriers prove one reason they’re able to minimize expenses — providing travelers either poor service or no service at all. If you’re traveling for pleasure, getting stranded like this may be an inconvenience. But, when traveling for business or for an urgent engagement, you may end up having to pay a lot more to get where you need to go.

Low-cost carriers have major disadvantages over legacy airlines when there’s a cancellation — especially on an international flight. It’s very unlikely that a low-cost carrier has another aircraft sitting around that can be recruited to help the stranded passengers. Also, the airline probably doesn’t have more than one flight a day, meaning you’re going to have to wait at least a day — if not longer — to get rebooked on the carrier’s next flight. Plus, low-cost carriers typically don’t have partner airlines to lean on when there’s a cancellation.

Legacy carriers have more flights and partner airlines to help out when there’s a cancellation.

Instead of booking La Compagnie from London’s Luton to Newark, let’s consider if the band booked on British Airways from Heathrow to Newark, instead. British Airways has just two flights from Heathrow to Newark each day. But, if one of those flights was canceled, BA has eight daily flights from Heathrow to New York’s JFK airport. If those flights couldn’t accommodate the band, BA’s partner American Airlines has another four daily flights from Heathrow to JFK, and from there, the airline could even move on to other carriers, or route through other cities in Europe or the US.

While the band might get in later than they’d originally booked, they’d be spared the extra expense of having to book a last-minute flight. Also, they’d avoid the stress of having to frantically change airports to catch that flight.

Act Quickly

Cancelled-delays-flights-airport-featured-shutterstock-229354759
It pays to be proactive when you need to be rebooked. Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

When you get stuck with a cancellation, remember that time is of the essence. There’s a whole plane of people that just got stranded, and most of them probably aren’t planning on abandoning their travel plans. If other airlines have done a good job of filling their flights, there might not be many available seats. So, don’t wait around for the airline to get back to you. Head to the service counter and — if the line is long or the service is unhelpful — pick up the phone and call customer service. Twitter can also be a great resource for connecting with airline agents.

TPG reader Dlesels reported having a similar experience as the band when booking with La Compagnie: a last-minute cancellation with a tight schedule. However, Dlesels proved to be a savvy traveler, calling La Compagnie and turning down offers until satisfied. Their group ended up being rebooked by La Compagnie onto a Virgin Atlantic Upper Class flight that night!

Credit Card Coverage

Book with the right card to get travel delay insurance.
Book with the right card to get travel delay insurance.

There’s no mention of which credit card the band used to book their flights, but their credit card company may cover them for some or all of their extra expenses. It’s always a good idea to use a credit card that offers travel delay insurance — but it’s an especially good idea when you’re traveling on a low-cost or independent carrier.

Although we’re sad to hear the recently-announced changes to the Citi Prestige Card, one benefit it didn’t lose is its excellent travel insurance coverage. For this reason, it can be a great choice for booking travel, especially when it comes to low-cost carrier flights.

Another great choice is the Chase Sapphire Preferred. If the band had and used the Chase Sapphire Preferred, they’d be covered for up to $500 per ticket for unreimbursed expenses like meals during their delay — and lodging if they weren’t able to fly out that night.

Bottom Line

Remember that sometimes being cheap is expensive. If you’re booking a flight for an important business meeting or a pressing personal matter, you might want to pay more to fly on a legacy airline rather than take a gamble with a cancellation on a low-cost carrier. Either way, make sure to book your flights with a credit card that offers solid travel delay insurance. And, when you’re faced with a cancellation, be proactive and contact the airline as soon as you can to figure out your options.

H/T: God Save The Points

Featured image courtesy of La Compagnie.

Have you dealt with significant delays or cancellations when booked on a smaller carrier?

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