In recent decades nearly every new airline that dared enter this insanely competitive business has been what is considered a discount airline, and in the past few years their numbers seem to be multiplying like rabbits even as some of them go under at the same time. As consumers grow ever more price conscious the airlines continue to get more competitive on that standpoint alone, while they dramatically cut back customer service, in-flight meals, and everything else they can think of to try to keep their flights full.
One very positive thing that has come from all this competition is that all the old school major airlines have to compete mostly on price as well. Except for the lucrative business travel market, the major carriers from before have to go toe-to-toe with the discount airlines by matching or beating their prices. The result of this is that so-called “cheap airlines” are listed right alongside the major carriers when you sort by price on a travel search engine. But in many cases some of the discount airlines aren’t even listed on airfare sites because they don’t offer a booking commission to those sites and they can fill their planes in other ways.
Here are the major players among discount airlines in four different regions:
Southwest Airlines — This Dallas-based airline was the first major discount carrier in the US and is now the largest airline in the world based on numbers of passengers carried. This is due to their concentration on short and cheap flights, but they’ve also expanded to cover the entire country with 64 total destinations. They don’t show up on most airfare searches so you must go to their site to get a price quote.
JetBlue Airways — Only launching in 2001, this New York City-based airline covers 54 US destinations and has a reputation for great service and low prices.
US Airways — This airline actually flies from the US to destinations in 30 countries so it’s one of the few international discount carriers. After their 2005 merger with America West they were able to compete all over the United States by adding key Phoenix and Las Vegas hubs.
Frontier Airlines — Denver-based carrier flies to 62 destinations, mostly in the US, but also to Canada, Mexico, and Costa Rica. Nearly all their flights start or finish at their Denver hub.
GOL Transportes AÃ©reos — Brazil-based discount airline that flies to destinations in Brazil and major cities throughout Latin America.
TACA Airlines — Not technically a discount carrier, but they do dominate low-cost flights in Central America through their network of 5 different airlines under the TACA banner.
Aegean Airlines — Based in Greece.
Air Baltic — Flies mostly from Latvia and Lithuania
Air Berlin — Flies to many European countries, Egypt, and Morocco.
BMI Baby — Based in England and covering Europe.
Condor — Based in Germany and covering Europe and elsewhere.
EasyJet — Based in England and covers most regions in Europe.
LTU — Based in Germany and covers Europe and has cheap flights to the US in season.
RyanAir — Based at London Stansted and covers most of Europe.
Transavia — Amsterdam-based carrier covers much of Europe.
China United — Beijing-based covering most of northern China.
Spring Airlines — From Shanghai and expanding rapidly in the region.
Air Deccan — India’s largest low-cost airline.
Air Do — Tokyo-based carrier covering much of Japan.
Air Arabia — Based in the UAE, they fly all over the region to many different countries.
Air Asia — Kuala Lumpur-based covering most of SE Asia.
Tiger Airways — Based in Singapore and covers many countries in the region.