First things first: I know Tigerair is a budget carrier, and as such they will engage in certain practices that full service carriers won’t. I know they earn their margin on add-ons. I know they are dependent on cross selling you car rentals and hotels in addition to just flights. I know that I am getting a ticket for under $100 so I have no right to complain.
Now I’m going to complain.
Booking with budget carriers is a great way to save money for short hops around SEA, provided you’re attentive. Tigerair’s booking process is a classic case study in caveat emptor, and I find some of their tactics bordering on the edge of bad faith.
Let’s walk through a typical Tigerair booking process. Suppose I want to buy a round trip from Singapore to Bangkok. Go to Tigerair.com, punch in the details, get the listing of flights. I want the cheapest deal, so I pick the Light option. Total price with taxes comes up to S$150.79 for a return trip. So far so good.
Next screen is for me to enter my traveller info. Here’s where the sneakiness starts. I’ve quite clearly indicated on the previous screen I’m ok with the Light package, i.e no bag, no food, no nothing. Why then is the default option for baggage selection set at “Prepaid Baggage 25kg @ 25 SGD” for both legs?
Note that the onus is on the customer to spot this and change both fields manually to “No check-in baggage”. The system at no point alerts you that it has been selected- in fact if you click through after filling in the details it will be silently added to the total price on the sidebar. This is clearly a deliberate design choice by Tigerair, and it’s downright sneaky. It gets worse.
What’s this at the bottom? Another default selection that charges you more money?
If you don’t de-select this you will pay $16.99 for travel insurance that your credit card may already cover, or you may already have bought elsewhere. Am I reading too much into this? I’d argue no. Default selections matter. The average consumer may not catch such a thing. And sure, you can argue that it is the responsibility of the buyer to read the fine print carefully. I absolutely agree with that. But the fact that your default selections are designed to catch out people who aren’t paying attention smacks of bad faith.
It gets even better. Let’s say I de-select that pesky travel insurance. Look at the pop-up message that comes up when I try to click through.
Tigerair has gone from sneaky sell to just outright fear mongering. Maybe it’s the phrasing that ticks me off. The insinuation that you are an irresponsible person for not buying their overpriced insurance and therefore exposing yourself to costs of “tens of thousands of dollars”. You should definitely cover yourself before you travel. But that’s why credit cards have free travel insurance, that’s why you can buy a cheap policy from DirectAsia before you go (don’t buy via the banks, they charge you a mark up).
Next screen, and more default selections! By default they’ll have picked you a seat and charged you $4 each way.
Want to opt out? Look for that small line of text that says “continue without selecting seats”. Oh, and then deal with this naggy message when you try and continue
And finally, the best part. Pay us more so we can process your booking online. Want to pay by credit card? That’s $18 additional, $9 each way. In my consulting job I’ve done work in the payments processing business before. Let me tell you that they are definitely not paying $18 in merchant fees to the credit card issuer. I’d say up to 90% of that is pure profit for Tigerair.
Want to save some money by paying via AXS instead? Sure! $5 please. If payment fees are not avoidable, they need to be part of the base fare. These are not optional add-ons. The failure to do so is deceptive to consumers.
What bugs me about this whole process is that all these are conscious decisions made by Tigerair management. Which add-ons are included by default. Charging $18 to book via a credit card. The pop-up message shaming you for not buying travel insurance. Do other budget airlines do this? Probably. I’m sure Ryanair commits even more egregious violations. But two wrongs don’t a right make. When you look at airlines like JetBlue, like Southwest- they’re budget, but they don’t engage in crap like this.
I mean, I’ll still fly Tigerair (in fact I’m flying with them tomorrow) because they’re cheap, but I can understand why they engender so much ill will with stunts like this. Any business model which tries to take advantage of customers not paying attention is ultimately not sustainable.
cover photo by joolsgriff