Friday, August 22, 2008

SkyEurope Is No Longer a Budget Airline

Many blogs out there are still reporting the fabulous fares on budget airlines. Taking a closer look, these blogs are really retail sites that suck you in to exploring their site further and receiving money for clicks on their links like an AdSense account. Budget airlines are not the budget savings they once were. Just as the major airlines are experiencing crisis proportions, so are the budget airlines.

Case in point: I decided I needed a summer break before starting to teach again in September. I will be in charge of a new program, which is creating a minor in Journalism. Most of my summer was spent researching reading books to use for classes and developing a curriculum. This summer was hot and drawn out. Many days, I spent working with my fall semester thesis students to get a jump on the semester, since I have seven of them. My last get-away was our short rain-filled days in Istanbul in March, so I was itching to get out of the city, even if only for a breather of a different culture. Searching the SkyEurope site after getting the e-mail newsletter stating they were having a sale, I booked us two tickets to Trieste, Italy. We leave this Sunday. The fare price for the two of us round-trip was 6,000 Huf. At today's exchange rate, it would seem that it is an incredible bargain at $39.73. Two tickets, round-trip from Budapest to Italy for $40.00? Wow! Here is where the hook comes in. You immediately start fantasizing about being away, even if you have no clue about the destination, romantic scenes flit through your mind. Honestly, I had no idea what the attraction to Trieste is still. I will blog it later. So as you go from the fantasy price screen and click "Continue", here is where the idyllic daydreams start to show the cracks and crumble into reality. There is a payment charge for using your credit card to book online. This happens to be 4,000 Huf ($26.50). The fee is much higher if you have the audacity to call their phone center or use a travel agent. Silly of me, but I chose to have a confirmation sent to my mobile phone: cost 250 Huf ($1.65). Because we travel with saline solution for my contacts, shampoo, conditioner, sunscreen, toothpaste, and so on, we chose to check one bag to store all of these "liquids" rather than hassle with trying to find the 3 oz. bottles needed. Budapest does not have a readily accessible travel store or any other to run out a purchase these little nnecessities. The fee to check one bag is 3,600 Huf ($23.85). Had we done the calculations ahead of time, we could have bought the things we needed once in Trieste probably at a lower cost. Now the hefty hidden charge, the "Fees and Taxes": 22,026 Huf ($145.86). So all in all, our BUDGET airline fare of 6,000 Huf or $39.73 transforms magically into a grand total of 38,874 Huf ($257.44) or $128.72 for each of us. For the unseasoned, this may still seem like a bargain and yes, it is cheaper and more convenient than the train. Points taken. However, just a couple of years ago, when budget airlines were budget airlines and there were 20 of them flying in and out of Budapest, we really had bargains. We flew to Zurich for 35 Euros each, total with fare and taxes, one way. We trained to Milan and flew home from Milan for 30 Euros each total with fare and taxes. "Those were the days my friend, we thought they would never end..." Actually, we thought it would only get better with the competition. If we could have forseen the future, we would have traveled more while the getting was ripe for the picking. SkyEurope tried snaring me once again yesterday. Their newsletter announced a 2 for 1 sale good until January 2009. Buy one ticket and the second one is completely free of fares and taxes. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Being a risk taker, I went forward for the potential shame moniker with thoughts of an autumn break get-away in mind. The problem is that SkyEurope only flies from Budapest to Trieste. Flying from Vienna or Bratislava had numerous choices. Each is only three hours away, but if it is an early morning flight, it would mean an overnighter in either city the night before. But, hey, 2 for 1? With that savings, why not? Here is the catch. We tried Vienna to city after city that interested us, but "No flights are avaiable for this time period". When you look at their calendar for October and November, you would think the airline had gone under. City after city only showed blank calendars. Trying from Bratislava, the same was true. Nice trick. We are offering you a sale, but we are not offering any flights. Ha, ha, jokes on you! Well, SkyEurope, you are now on my blacklist. We will take the train to Heidelberg visit one of my students there instead.

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