A common observation as Tiger Airways lurches towards potential collapse has been to note that anyone getting a super-bargain airfare can't complain when the whole process goes wrong ("you get what you pay for"). That may be accurate enough, but the less commonly-discussed truth is that the Tiger options on offer aren't invariably such a bargain anyway.
Picture by Jimmy Harris
It's not yet clear whether Tiger will manage to continue as a business once/if it gets CASA approval to fly again, but many observers are already concerned that its disappearance and the subsequent reduction in competition would result in prices overall going up from other airlines. We won't know that until it happens, but it is worth pointing out that Tiger isn't always the cheapest option right now, even though it does have a lot of low-priced fares.
Rather cheekily, Tiger is still selling airfares for dates after July 9, even though it's widely anticipated that it may take longer for regulatory safety concerns to be resolved. To see how it weighs up right now, I compared the cheapest available fares on Tiger, Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin for a single flight from Sydney to Melbourne on Monday July 11. (In every case, that means a fare which you can't change; on everyone except Qantas, it also means carry-on luggage only.)
This scenario should favour Tiger, since it follows practically none of the rules for scoring cheap fares from other airlines. Mondays are a busy day of the week, and the flight is being booked less than a week from when it's needed. But what is the actual outcome?
Tiger runs Sydney-Melbourne seven times on that Monday (Jetstar is similar with six flights; Virgin has 27, and Qantas has 32). It does have the cheapest seat on a plane on offer for that day, at $69.95 -- but that's only available on its late-night 2045 and 2210 flights. That's not the absolute cheapest way to do it either; a Greyhound coach can be had for $65. Admittedly, that takes 14 hours, but it actually gets you to Melbourne at roughly the same time. The similarly-timed train fare is $91.18. The other option is that you could take a late-night cheap flight and stay overnight -- but if you have to pay for accommodation, then you're suddenly looking at a lot more money.
If you need to be in Melbourne during the day, the situation doesn't favour Tiger to anywhere near the same extent. Tiger's 0845 flight costs $119.95, the 1030 flight is $99.95, the 1345 is $179.95, and flights at 1650 and 1900 are $99.95.
In many of those cases, you can get a similar fare at a similar time from one of Tiger's rivals. Virgin's 0715 flight is $135, only a little more than Tiger's 0845. Jetstar's 1215 flight is $149 -- cheaper than Tiger's 1345. The nearest direct competition for Tiger's $99 1030 flight is, somewhat surprisingly, Qantas at 1000 for $159 (though earlier $135 Virgin flights are also in contention).
Given the better reliability records of those airlines, I figure paying an extra $20 or so and hitting the airport a little earlier is well worth it. (You could easily waste that on coffee and snacks waiting at the terminal.) And that's without considering the safety issues.
Those prices do confirm one commonly-touted travel idea: Qantas is rarely a cheap option if you don't book in advance. However, even on this notice, Australia's busiest air route has plenty of options even without Tiger. I know what I'd be choosing.
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