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Are You Really Saving Money on a Budget Airline?

We’re all about finding cheap flights here at Skyscanner (did you know we had a flights deals club?) but sometimes it’s a bit trickier than just booking the cheapest fare.

While Jetstar and Tigerair have the reputation for offering the cheapest domestic flights in Australia, this is only true to an extent.

As you’ll see, once you start adding on extras, you may be better off flying with Qantas or Virgin Australia.

The cheapest domestic flights in Australia

If you’re happy to fly no frills and simply want a seat on a plane, it’s nearly always cheaper to fly with Jetstar and Tigerair than Qantas and Virgin Australia. You may not get the same creature comforts, but you’ll get from A to B in almost exactly the same time and in the same manner.

However, once you start adding extras like checked luggage, inflight entertainment and a meal on the plane – things that come as standard on the more expensive airfares – the budget carriers don’t come out so rosy.

Kangaroos at Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park. Credit: Tourism Western Australia
Kangaroos at Lucky Bay, Cape Le Grand National Park. Credit: Tourism Western Australia

Budget vs all-inclusive carriers

To show what we’re talking about, we’ll use some real examples found through searches on our site.

We’ll look at base rates to get our comparisons started. If you just want to book a direct flight as cheaply as possible, these are your options.

We have used our own advice and looked at the best time to book domestic flights for two of the most popular routes in Australia.

Sydney to Melbourne

AirlineLowest fare
Virgin Australia$112

Sydney to Brisbane

AirlineLowest fare
Virgin Australia$103

With both options, it’s the two low-cost carriers that seem to offer the best deals.

What’s included in your fare?

Each airline has its own fare types for you to consider and not all fares are created equal.


The basic fare with Jetstar is Starter, which gets you a seat on the plane and a 7kg allowance for carry-on luggage – but anything extra carries a fee (including checked baggage, seat selection, entertainment and food/drink). You can upgrade to the Starter Plus (includes baggage, seat selection and a meal or snack) or to Starter Max (which also gives you a priority seat) but these are both more expensive.

Inflight entertainment costs money unless you book a business seat.


In Qantas economy seats, you always get the bonus of in-flight dining and entertainment, the only difference in domestic fares is whether you get a flex deal or not. This offers you the ability to change names on your ticket, move the date of your flight or cancel your ticket entirely.


At the time of booking, Tigerair offers two options: Light and Express. Both only offer carry-on luggage, but Express (which is slightly more expensive) also gives you a queue jump and the option to select your seat.

As you go through the booking, you have the option to add extras such as checked luggage, entertainment and other options to make your trip a bit more luxurious.

Virgin Australia

Like with Qantas, Virgin Australia gives all economy passengers something to eat and drink on their planes, checked luggage and the option to watch a film. Extras such as seat upgrades are available for a fee and different fares exist to give you options for ticket flexibility.

Travelling comfortably but cheaply

Looking at our earlier routes, let’s assume we want to travel with 20kg of checked luggage, have a light meal and choose your seat.

With Qantas and Virgin Australia you know what you’re getting, but with the others, there are fees to add on top of your fare.

Sydney to Melbourne

AirlineLowest fareLuggageMealSeatTotal
Qantas$140 – – –$140
Virgin Australia$112 – – –$112

Sydney to Brisbane

AirlineLowest fareLuggageMealSeatTotal
Qantas$121 – – –$121
Virgin Australia$103 – – –$103

For one journey, Jetstar and Tigerair remain the cheaper options, but in the other, they ended up being more expensive than their full-service counterparts.

This change in fare changes depending on your individual needs (maybe you need two checked bags, for example) which can change on longer routes (for a flight to Perth, you might want to add an entertainment package to your Jetstar/Tigerair flights).

Which airline offers the best flight prices?

There’s no one answer, unfortunately. If you want to travel light and aren’t worried about food, it tends to be Jetstar and Tigerair that win. If you want a bit more comfort and a bit of checked baggage, you may be better off elsewhere.

Regardless of your requirements, finding the cheapest fares on Skyscanner is the best place to get started.