Are all the ‘frills’ with full-service carriers worth it, or are lower fares by low-cost carriers a bargain too good to resist? Let’s find out.

The domestic airline industry in Australia is currently dominated by two full-service carriers, Qantas and Virgin Australia, and their low-cost subsidiaries, Jetstar and Tigerair, respectively.

Whilst the first two offer full-service flights including in-flight catering, checked baggage allowance and seat selection, Jetstar and Tigerair target the leisure and value-based segment of the market, providing affordable ‘no frills’ fares to more price-conscious travellers across Australia.

Although the low-cost carriers can deliver you from A to B for a fraction of the price of their parent companies, nothing complimentary is included with budget airlines. Meals, luggage and seat selection all come for an extra cost.

When adding up all of the additional costs, do low-cost carriers really offer a bargain compared to full-cost carriers, or do the included extras in Qantas’ and Virgin’s flights justify the higher pricing?

Comparison method

To find out, I did a few comparisons between flying from Sydney to Brisbane on Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar and Tigerair flights, and compared the total costs that would include the following:

  • minimum of 20kg luggage
  • in-flight catering
  • seat selection
  • in-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi

For fairness in comparison, I chose a random one-way economy flight on a Monday in May that is not a public holiday, and compared the prices for the first flights of the day departing from Sydney to Brisbane.

Fare price

Qantas

The ticket price for flying from Sydney to Brisbane on Qantas comes to $185.00 + payment fees. This is the most expensive of all the four airlines, but does include all of the extras one would expect from a full-service carrier.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar

The cost of flying from Sydney to Brisbane on a Jetstar flight is $97.00 + payment fees. This is strictly an air fare price only, and does not include any extras besides a 7kg carry-on allowance.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Paying an annual fee of $49.00 to become a Club Jetstar member could save you a whopping $52.00 on that particular flight, making the Sydney to Brisbane fare only $45.00. However, for the purpose of this article all four airlines are compared from a perspective of an ‘everyday’ flyer and not of a member of any of the frequent flyer programs.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia charges $165.00 + payment fees for flying from Sydney to Brisbane, including complimentary inclusions.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Tigerair

The fare price from Sydney to Brisbane on a Tigerair flight is $79.95 + payment fees. All extras besides a 7kg carry-on allowance can be purchased individually at an extra cost.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Luggage

Qantas

All Qantas fares include 23kg of checked baggage allowance, in addition to 14kg of carry-on baggage (excluding Dash 8 services).

Full service vs low cost comparison

Extra checked baggage can be purchased in addition to the one piece of included baggage for $45.00 per bag.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar

Jetstar starter fare includes two items of carry-on baggage with a combined weight of 7kg with no additional checked baggage.

However, Jetstar gives you an option of adding a bundle to your booking, allowing for certain extras that would normally be included on a full-service flight.

Extras such as checked baggage, seat selection and in-flight meals could also be purchased individually.

To make the Jetstar flight as similar to a full-service flight and still get the best value, I selected the “Plus” bundle that costs $40.00 and includes extra checked baggage, standard seat selection, and in-flight food and drink.

Full service vs low cost comparison

The “Plus” bundle allows for 20kg checked baggage in addition to the 7kg carry-on. Anything over that will cost extra. If booked individually without the bundle, 20kg of baggage would cost $19.00.

Full service vs low cost comparison

The carry-on allowance can be increased by 3kg for $14.00.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar does point out that they are very strict about the weight of the baggage and it is monitored at the airport. So when you think you may need additional baggage, it is cheapest to purchase it during your booking, as it costs more to add it later online, and even more to add it at the airport.

Qantas and Virgin Australia have recently begun to crack down on carry-on baggage limits and are implementing a Jetstar style weighing of carry-on baggae prior to boarding.

Virgin Australia

Virgin Australia fares allow for 23kg of checked baggage, in addition to 7kg of carry-on baggage.

Additional checked baggage can be purchased in addition to the one piece of included baggage for $39.00 per bag.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Tigerair

Tigerair fares do not include any additional baggage besides two items of carry-on baggage with a combined weight of 7kg.

Tigerair does not provide any bundles like Jetstar, so additional baggage can be purchased individually for an extra cost. I chose 20kg allowance for $20.00 to make the total booking equivalent to other three airlines.

Full service vs low cost comparison

The carry-on baggage can be increased up to 12kg for $19.00.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Seat selection

Qantas

Qantas provides a complimentary standard seat selection, whilst extra legroom seats cost an additional $25.00. It should be noted that most front seats are blocked off for higher-status frequent flyers, so the standard seats available for selection are mostly on the back side of the plane.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar

The Jetstar “Plus” bundle selected earlier allows for a standard seat selection. If booked individually without the bundle, selecting a standard seat would cost $7.00. If you are not happy with the standard seat selection, Jetstar charges $12.00 for a seat in front of the plane, and $13.00 for a seat with extra legroom.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Virgin Australia

Virgin provides an option between a standard seat selection free of charge, or Economy X seat for $35.00. Similarly to Qantas, a lot of front seats are blocked off for higher-status Velocity flyers, so the standards seats available are from row 15 onwards.

Full service vs low cost comparison

Tigerair

Tigerair charges $5.00 for a standard seat selection, $10.00 for an up front seat, and $16.00 for a seat with extra leg room.

Full service vs low cost comparison

In-flight catering

Qantas

Qantas provides breakfast and beverages free of change. As it is a morning flight, alcoholic beverages in economy cabin can be purchased for an additional fee.

Jetstar

An in-flight meal deal is included as a part of the Jetstar “Plus” bundle. There was no specification or selection option when making the booking though, so it is unclear what the meal-deal actually is. Without the bundle, the meal prices range from $6.00 to $15.00.

Full service vs low cost comparison

It should also be noted that Jetstar does not accept cash payments on board, so meals purchased during the flight can only be paid by credit cards.

Virgin Australia

Virgin offers their customers a complimentary snack with a choice of tea, coffee, water or juice. Virgin Australia also provides an onboard retail menu where customers are able to choose more food- and drink items for an additional cost.

Prices range from $4.00 – $18.00 for food and $3.50 – $16.00 for drinks. It should also be noted that purchases can be made by credit card only, as Virgin Australia no longer accepts cash on board.

Tigerair

Although not included in their fare price, Tigerair promises a comprehensive on-board meal selection accustomed to every season of the year.

Pre-ordering meals is currently unavailable due to the menu being updated, but customers can still purchase meals during the flight. Tigerair accepts Visa, MasterCard and American Express on board.

In-flight entertainment and Wi-Fi

Qantas

Qantas provides in-flight entertainment and a ‘chance of Wi-Fi’. The availability of Wi-Fi is subject to the aircraft, as approximately one third of their Boeing 737 aircraft is currently not equipped with Wi-Fi.  

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar

Jetstar currently provides in-flight entertainment only on their international flights, so I recommend to bring a book, magazine, or preload your own device with your favourite movies or TV-shows to keep yourself occupied on a domestic flight.

Virgin Australia

Similarly to Qantas, Virgin Australia provides in-flight entertainment on their flights, but a selection of Internet packages is subject to the aircraft. Passengers can check whether their aircraft is Wi-Fi equipped up to three days prior departure.

Tigerair

Tigerair does not provide any Wi-Fi or in-flight entertainment besides their Tigertales magazine, so bringing your own entertainment is recommended.

Total cost

Qantas

As the Qantas initial fare price includes all of the extras, such as 23kg of checked baggage, standard seat selection and in-flight catering, the total cost of the flight came to $185.00 (+ payment fees).

Full service vs low cost comparison

Jetstar

Jetstar flight came to a total of $137.00 (+ payment fees). This includes the flights ($97.00) and the “Starter Plus” bundle ($40.00) that contains of 20kg checked baggage, standard seat selection and an in-flight meal deal.  

Without any extras, the flight from Sydney to Brisbane could be booked for as low as $97.00 (+ payment fees).

Full service vs low cost comparison

Virgin Australia

As a full-cost carrier, Virgin Australia also provides 23kg of checked baggage, standard seat selection and in-flight catering as part of their initial fare. Therefore, the total cost of the flight came to $165.00 (+ payment fees).


Full service vs low cost comparison

Tigerair

Tigerair flight added up to a total of $104.95 (+ payment fees). This includes the flights ($79.95), 20kg checked baggage ($20.00) and standard seat selection ($5.00).

However, it should be noted that as the online meal booking option was currently out of order, this total price does not include an in-flight meal. Without any extras, the flight from Sydney to Brisbane on Tigerair could be purchased for only $79.95 (+ payment fees).  

Full service vs low cost comparison

Here is a table showing the overall cost for each airline:

AirlineBase fareBaggage allowanceSeat selectionIn-flight cateringTotal cost
(excl. payment fees)
Qantas$185Free 14kg carry on + 23kg checked baggage,
$45 per bag in excess
Free, $25 for extra legroomYes$185
Jetstar$97Free 7kg carry on +
no checked baggage,
$40 for 20kg (bundle)
Free with bundle,
otherwise $7 for standard seat,
$12 for front seat,
$13 for extra legroom
Yes with bundle,
otherwise $6 to $15
per meal
$137
Virgin Australia$165Free 7kg carry on +
23kg checked baggage,
$39 per bag in excess
Free, $35 for Economy XYes$165
Tigerair$79.95Free 7kg carry on +
no checked baggage,
$20 for 20kg
$5 for standard seat,
$10 for front seat,
$16 for extra legroom
No, onboard meals available for a fee$104.95

Summary

All in all, deciding whether to go with a full-cost carrier or a low-cost carrier is really up to personal preference. Low-cost carriers do work out to be cheaper even with added on extras, whilst Qantas and Virgin Australia are generally known for their superior service and also provide in-flight entertainment on most of their flights.

Qantas and Virgin Australia also both have substantial frequent flyer programs that can come with a lot of perks for their loyal customers.

Having checked baggage, standard seat selection and in-flight catering included in the initial fare price, Qantas and Virgin save you from the hassle of worrying about adding any extras to your booking.

With Jetstar and Tigerair, everything besides the initial flight fare comes for an extra cost. With low-cost carriers, it is also important to keep in mind that if you forget to book any extras when booking your flight, or change your mind later on, it is much more expensive to add on extras at the airport or on the plane.

If you don’t care about checked baggage or seat selection, and can go for an hour and a half without eating or entertainment, then low-cost carriers can deliver good value for money with their fare prices costing only half of what the full-service carriers charge.


Full service vs. low-cost airlines – a cost comparison was last modified: June 27th, 2019 by Elina Kalavus