Written by James Field & Enrique Perrella

MIAMI — The relentless fight of the cheapest, lowest in cost, most affordable, and more convenient airline in the world is at its peak.

Low-Cost Carriers (LCCs) and Ultra-Low-Cost Carriers (ULCCs) are emerging out of every corner of the globe, some with very successful concepts, others with a yet-to-be-defined path.

But sometimes, the LCC credo does not throw out the results one would expect.

Some airlines, like the world’s most famous and controversial LCCs, Ryanair, claim to be the ‘cheapest,’ when, in reality, they are not.

How to measure the true LCC?

In fact, what a passenger pays for an air ticket does not determine how cheap the airline really is.

For instance, let’s compare two similar flights out of neighboring airports. If a flight from Miami to New York on Airline X (a 1,089-mile journey) costs $100, but a flight on Airline Y from neighboring airports from Fort Lauderdale to Newark (a 1,065-mile trip) costs the same, which airline is cheaper to the passenger?

The result: Airline X, from Miami, will cost the passenger $0.091 per mile, whereas Airline Y, from Ft. Lauderdale, will cost the passenger $0.093 per mile.

It really comes down to the pennies.

A passenger flying the longer route is likely to save more. And that’s why, in the below list, ULCCs like easyJet or Spirit, are not featured among the world’s cheapest.

This data has been provided by travel website Rome2Rio, who looked at a selection of 200 major airlines across the globe, throwing in some enlightening results that will distort passenger’s awareness on what ‘cheap’ actually stands for.

The World’s Cheapest

According to the report, there are different ways to list the world’s cheapest airlines.

Australia’s LCC, Tiger Air, is the absolute winner with a $0.06 cost per km on its lengthy domestic routes.

Author: Aero Icarus

But in the international spectrum, the cheapest of all is Air Asia X, the Malaysian LCC that has become the country’s largest by size and passengers transported.

This airline has mastered the art of aircraft utilization like no other, with over 13 hours of flight per day.

It has been described as the pioneer of the LCCs in the region, becoming the world’s most prolific—and cheapest—of all.

Now this is a surprising top-10, isn’t it?

As far as the cheapest country price is concerned, Chile takes the win with the lowest average prices.

Full-service, legacy carriers like Etihad and Qantas are featured with a whopping $0.10 per kilometer metric—a few cents behind the world’s cheapest, the ULCC Air Asia X.

But other factors play important roles in these metrics.

As said by Rome2Rio, “there are many factors which can influence per km costs, including the type of aircraft flown, routes flown, local salary and fuel costs, ancillary revenue and airport landing fees.”

Cost vs. Length is key

With this data unveiled, it’s evident that the further a passenger travels, the more efficient the investment is.

All the carriers in the list, except for Ryanair, are long-haul route providers, diluting the investment with the number of miles traveled.

According to Rome2Rio, LCC Primera Air offers the cheapest transatlantic flights, followed by Iceland’s WOW air.

However, Etihad is one of the airlines with the lengthiest routes within its network. But it is also one of the carriers with the most luxurious offerings in the industry.

This dichotomy is what distorts the passenger’s perception, separating the true low-cost concept from LCCs and full-service carriers.

On the contrary, LCCs like Air Asia X offer wide-body, low-cost services on long-haul routes, dropping its per-kilometer fees down to $0.07.

These carriers are much more efficient at collecting ancillary revenues while charging its passengers less for plane tickets, dropping its per-kilometer cost considerably.

As a result, American ULCCs like Spirit and Frontier are not featured in the study’s top 25. In fact, not a single American ULCC or LCC is featured in the top ranking.

As far as the “original LCC” is concerned, Southwest Airlines, metrics place it three times higher than Ryanair, with a hefty $0.29 per km.

The Top-25 List

As we scroll down the list past the Top-10, we find even more surprising results. See the full table here.

The Middle Eastern, luxurious and full-service giants, Qatar Airways (15th), Emirates (25th), and Oman Air (11th) are all listed within the table. But not only these are highlighted in the ranks. Kuwait Air (17th), Royal Brunei Airlines (19th) and Gulf Air Bahrain (23rd) are also up the charts.

If we look closely, at least 70% of the carriers displayed above, are full-service carriers with no popular advertising campaigns naming themselves as “low-cost,” or “cheap,” or “most affordable.”

“We have seen some significant shifts in pricing and ranking,” said Kirsteene Phelan, CEO at Rome2Rio.

“The AirAsia Group is particularly dominant with three of its airlines in the top 20.”

According to Phelan, “although Qantas (8th) ranks highly for value, we are often seeing travelers from the UK to Asia and Australia booking with carriers such as Etihad (6th), Royal Brunei Airlines (19th), China Southern (20th) and Emirates (25th).”

Phelan believes that such choice suggests that “while overall value may be high for one airline over another, specific route pricing can vary greatly and travelers need to be vigilant for deals to ensure the best price to their destination.”

Overall, the “Fly me because I’m Low-Cost” catchline might no longer be valid.

From now on, before booking, throw out a calculator and punch in the numbers of how much the ticket costs and divide it by the distance. Compare it between airlines; you might be surprised.