Upgrading some Indian airports like Amritsar and Pune, among others, to handle more flights to India has reduced the travel time for NRIs to reach their towns and villages. On arrival at the Delhi airport, the NRIs had to take a bus or a train to reach the nearest town to their village in Punjab and then take a taxi. Now their flight lands directly in Amritsar and reach home in a matter of hours by taxi.
With fierce competition among a dozen airlines within India, domestic flights have become very cheap. This revolution started last year as private airlines began to offer seats at prices competing with first-class fares of trains over major routes. Hundreds of thousands of Indians experienced the thrill of air travel for the first time. Yet the NRIs are not fully aware of how much can they benefit from these 'low-cost carriers'.
Not long ago, NRIs booked their flights within India through their travel agent abroad on the government-owned Indian Airlines, now renamed Indian. Seats were difficult to book, fares were higher compared to similar distances in the US or Europe and the service was poor.
Enter the private airlines and the fares fro flights have taken a tumble and the service has improved. Here is a check-list of air carriers operating on routes within India: Air Deccan, Air India, Air Sahara, GoAir Airlines, Indian, IndiGo Airline, Jagson Airline, Jet Airways, Kingfisher Airline, Paramount Airways, SpiceJet and more.
You can book on the Internet and pay with your credit card from anywhere in the world and get hefty discounts. On average, the discounts can be around 50 percent of the full fare: the secret - Book early, pay less.
Take the Mumbai-Delhi airfare at Rs.9,500 in round figures. Booking a few weeks ahead of the date of your travel, you can get a seat at less than Rs.3,000. In fact, some of these airlines offer promotional fares at less than Rs.1,000!
Even if you do not book so much in advance, you can try your luck in an auction on the airline's website for low fares. Finally, even on the day of travel, you can get a 'last minute' ticket on the Internet or at the airport counter at a much lower price. And there are more than one airline counter serving the same major destination at the airport.
Then there are the travel websites for India that offer airfares for more than one airline for the same route. You can check them out for the best bargain and click the deal with your mouse and credit card. Just print your ticket on your printer and on showing the ticket and a proof of your identity at the check-in counter, you climb aboard.
Of course you can approach your travel agent in India who will try and sell you the full fare but if you insist that the agent goes shopping on the Internet for the lowest fare, you can get a good discount. These low-cost carriers are selling their tickets at public call offices, LPG gas stations, lottery outlets and soon at post offices as well.
You must be wondering: how come these airlines offer cheaper fares? Simple, by cutting their costs! With no inter-line agreements or waiting for flight connections to block their seats, these carriers offer more seats as they do not have first and business class. To cut staff costs, they have 60 employees for an aircraft compared to 200 staffers for the full-fare airlines. So their costs are trimmed drastically.
Then the fares... A quarter of the seats are sold at less than a third of the full fare for promotion fares. About half of the seats are sold at around 50-60 percent the price of the full fare; and the final quarter of the seats are sold at more than 60 percent of the full fare for the 'must-go' passenger a few days before the flight. Whatever is left is sold at a heavy discount on the Internet or at airport for 'last-minute' passengers. So the flights are normally full at rock bottom fares.
Plenty of low fare flights but a major problem: avoid the fog at Delhi airport!
(A media consultant to a UN agency, Kul Bhushan previously worked abroad as a newspaper editor and has travelled to over 55 countries. He lives in New Delhi and can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org)