George Hobica is founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, an airfare alert and listings website.
Bottom Line: When it’s worth the hassle—and when it’s not
When Primera Air filed for bankruptcy in October, thousands of passengers, including Americans in the middle of trips between the US and Europe, paid the price. Tickets they had bought from the 15-year-old European discount airline were rendered worthless.
Any airline can go bust, but foreign low-cost carriers are especially vulnerable. Factor in most foreign discount airlines’ unusually tight legroom, frequently long layovers, poor on-time-arrival records and steep fees for things such as checked baggage and seat selection, and it’s fair to wonder whether it’s worth flying these carriers at all. It might be, but only if the ticket is significantly cheaper than any fare offered by a better-known “legacy” carrier…you travel light (otherwise, baggage fees could eat up your savings)…and at least one of the following is true…
The discounter is well-established…or the subsidiary of a major airline. Established foreign low-cost carriers include Norwegian Air, Ryanair and easyJet in Europe…AirAsia in Asia…and Jetstar Airways in Australia.
With a discounter that is a subsidiary of a major airline, ticket holders almost certainly would be shifted to flights on that airline (or another carrier) if the discounter ceased operations. Examples: Level is owned by IAG, which also owns British Airways among other carriers…Joon is owned by Air France-KLM…Jetstar is owned by Qantas.
You’re flying within approximately two months. The closer you are to your travel date, the lower the odds that the airline will fail beforehand. And if there are 60 days or less between when you buy your ticket and when the airline fails, you likely could get your money back—not from the airline, but from the issuer of the credit card you used to buy the tickets. Contact the card issuer, explain that you paid for a service you did not receive, and ask to initiate a “chargeback.” US consumer-protection laws require card issuers to make refunds in situations such as these if the cardholder initiates this process within 60 days of the charge appearing on his/her statement.