When talking about cheap charter flights, I am certainly not referring to corporate charter jet rentals. That’s anything but cheap! I am actually referring to discounted flights where a group of people travel together in an airplane to a destination, maybe stay in the same hotel, and then a week or few days later, fly back home. Tour operators are often behind these arrangements, where the rates for a flight are fixed (to a group rate) vs per seat. The flights are booked in advance and seats are sold later. Prices for these direct flights are typically lower than those of commercial flights.
Let’s talk about a few budget travel tips and some things you can do to get the most out of a cheap flight.
What You Should Know About Low Cost Charter Flights
So we know that the main advantage of going on such a flight is the affordability. But what else should you be aware of?
#1 There is no flexibility on setting your travel days. There are a few downsides to going on charter, and this is one of them. If you want to fly to Europe on a Tuesday, and the charter flight only leaves every Thursday, then by golly you will be traveling on Thursday.
#2 You may be limited to certain departure cities. If you’re traveling from the U.S., you will need to get to a gateway city: New York, San Francisco, Atlanta, etc., before you board the charter jet, which, of course, increases your costs and may neutralize your savings altogether. Taking this option works better if you already live in a gateway city.
#3 You won’t have your pick of nice hotels. Wherever it is you’re headed, your hotel may be off the beaten path and may very well be less well-appointed — probably the reason the charter company is using it to begin with.
#4 You should wait till the last minute for the best deals. Unlike with traditional flights, where pricing tends to be relatively static, charter flight tickets may see deeper discounts as the date of departure looms closer. This is because these discount flights find it harder to fill seats at the last minute. I’m guessing it’s because of the lack of convenience and flexibility that are the hallmarks of a cheaper flight. Those are the tradeoffs! Check with a travel agent or flight operator two weeks before you plan to fly out to see if there are great deals available.
#5 Your ticket is usually non-refundable. You won’t get much back if you try to change your plans, but you may be able to transfer your tickets to someone else by paying some kind of fee. Well, you can try.
#6 You could be subjected to an unexpected and unwanted change of plans. There is a risk of a charter flight operator pulling the plug and leaving you “stranded”. They may cancel flights with little notice or even go belly up with no warning. If they can’t fill their quota of passengers, then a flight may be scrapped.
My Personal Experience With Charter Trips
I have taken two charter trips, including my all-time favorite trip to Athens, Greece. Having to buy another plane ticket to New York to join the group seemed to be a slight inconvenience, when the charter’s price to Athens was so much cheaper than anything else I could find. Our out-of-the-way, nondescript hotel had a shuttle that took us to the heart of the fun in Athens. That was fine with us. After all, how much time are you going to spend at the hotel, anyway?
My second charter trip was to Germany and just included the flight, as I was staying with a friend in Heidelberg. Once I got to the airport in New York, I heard discouraging news: The charter company had just gone out of business, but they were going to book us on a commercial airline. Well, they booked me on Pakistani Air and said my return tickets would be waiting at the Frankfurt airport on the return date. Sure enough, I got my return tickets without incident, but that wasn’t the case for some fellow travelers, whose tickets for whatever reason were not there, and they had to shell out a couple of thousand dollars on the spot to get home. Moral of the story: Always check out a charter or tour company before booking. I didn’t, but I was lucky!
Upon recalling my own stories with charter flights, I have been struck by what hasn’t changed in many years: the lack of charter companies based in the U.S. Many of the ones you find are based out of Canada or the U.K, making it harder for those from the U.S. to take advantage of this kind of travel. Those based in the U.S. tend to limit their travel to Mexico and the Caribbean.
Where Can You Book Charter Flights?
Here are some companies that offer charter trips and last minute deals:
- Funjet Vacations — funjet.com
- Apple Vacations — applevacations.com
- Vacation Express — vacationexpress.com
- Worry-Free Vacations — worryfreevacations.com
- Contiki — contiki.com (worldwide travel for 18-35 year olds)
You can also check with a travel agent for more information or a local university about discount travel for students. You don’t always have to be a student to take advantage of the great prices. Check out our article on how to book cheap flights if you’d like more insights on low cost travel.
Contributing Writer: BEM
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