Travel Tales: The Cost of Budget Airlines (and Motels!)

Because sometimes saving money isn’t worth it

For the record, the airplane in this picture is Air New Zealand. This article is NOT about them.


A (Not-So) Professional Trip Planner

I went to New Zealand in 2017 (to see the Hobbit holes!). It was a fantastic trip.

It was also the first trip I planned myself. And since three other people heard I was going to New Zealand and decided they had to come too, I was responsible for planning their trip too!

My sister helped plan part of the trip from all the way across the globe in Papua New Guinea! She and her husband met us in New Zealand for part of our time there. So between the two of us, we organized and booked everything.

  • (And we definitely made some mistakes. Like booking a flight on the wrong day, because their calendar started on MONDAY and not SUNDAY. So be sure to watch out for stuff like that!)

The whole time we were there, my travel buddies kept saying what a wonderful job we did! How everything was so perfectly lined up, and we booked such great tours, and everything was just working out splendidly (classic last words…)!

Everything (pretty much) did work out splendidly.

Until our last day.

Our Last Day in New Zealand

We ended our trip in Dunedin (to see the penguins!), but we had to get back to Auckland in order to fly home.

Now me, I like to save money. Off-brand all the way!

In fact, I purposely picked a hotel near the train station in Dunedin so that we could walk there and not have to pay for a cab.

Dunedin is basically a mountain…

Do not skimp on the cab in Dunedin.

But we had put that behind us, and had a wonderful time. And now it was time to fly back to Auckland before our official flight home the next day.

A (Not So) Great Start to the Day

We spent the morning enjoying Dunedin before the cab (that I actually had booked) showed up around one to take us to the airport. The hotel where we were staying wasn’t exactly a hotel… it was a refurbished chapel. Which was super cool.

Except for a few things.

For one, there was nobody at the front desk. All of our communication was done via email. Now normal check out time was around 11 or 12, but the email said other check out times could be arranged.

So I emailed and said we were leaving around 1, could we leave our bags in the room until then.

And I never got a response.

So when we came back from our morning adventures we found our suitcases sitting out in the lobby and the maids cleaning our room.

Which brings me to the other problem with the apartments.


So our suitcases were sitting there all alone next to the front doors that never shut.

With nothing else to do but wait for our cab, we made ourselves comfortable(ish) on the hard floor next to our suitcases. Because, being a chapel and all, it didn’t exactly have all the amenities of a modern hotel lobby (like chairs).

It also didn’t have a bathroom.

And we couldn’t get back into our room (which was being cleaned), to use our toilet! So we sneaked (snuck?) into the room across the hall (which was of course wide open) that had just been cleaned, and used their toilet…

On to the Airport

Finally our taxi arrived, we breathed a sigh of relief, and headed off to the next leg of our journey. We eagerly headed up to the Jetstar desk at the (tiny) Dunedin airport, but there was no one there!

Now, it should be noted at this point in the story that this was our second time taking a cab to the airport. The first time we flew from Auckland to Queenstown. While we were on the way to the airport, one of the other passengers asked what airline we were flying. “Not Jetstar, right?” Well… no, we were flying Air New Zealand. But we had booked a (cheap) flight from Dunedin back to Auckland on… Jetstar. He groaned, “Oh no!”

Well… here we were, at the airport, ready for our cheap flight back to Auckland, and a quick night at a (cheap) motel with a (free) airport shuttle. And then back home the next day!

Experienced travelers will be well aware that when you book a super cheap flight, you should always check to make sure you don’t have to basically book a second ticket just to cover the cost of your bags.

We did not check the cost of the bags.

We had already flown three international flights (including a layover in Australia where we discovered one of my travel buddies had managed to bring two giant bottles of shampoo and conditioner in her carry on), one domestic flight, and traveled by train across the country.

At this point, we weren’t even considering that our bags wouldn’t be allowed to come with us!

But… well… they weren’t. Unless we paid for them.

Tossing the Luggage

Finally, a stewardess arrived at the counter, and we hurried over to check in.

“Soo… are you planning on bringing those bags with you??” she eyes us suspiciously.

“Um… yes? I think? That’s generally the idea.”

This is the part where she has to explain about 7 times to the dumb Americans how many kilograms they’re allowed to bring, how much they have to pay to bring said kilograms, and how much extra for each kilogram over they will have to pay.

Mostly we stared at her dumbfoundedly…

“I’m sorry, we’re going to have to pay how much for how many pounds?”

It was more or less the cost of $70 for 15 kg of luggage, which is approximately 30 lbs. My small carry on suitcase that I had crammed everything in was just barely under the limit.

And let me tell you, I really don’t pack like a girl.

Everyone else had a lot more…

In addition to the $70 for our 15 kilo bags, we had to pay about $10 (I don’t remember the exact numbers) for every kilogram that was over that.

And that Adds. Up. Fast.

We raced to the corner of the airport, throwing open our bags and seeing what was precious enough that it couldn’t be left behind.

The antique books that we just found at the used bookstore in town? The map of Middle Earth from the Hobbiton movie set? Or the 6 free candy bars from the Cadbury Factory tour? What could we leave behind, and what could we take with us?

Clothes that we loved but were starting to get a little too tight (or too loose!)? Sneakers that we could easily replace?

Since my bag was still a tiny bit under the limit, we jammed extra stuff into it. We pulled out all of our coats and layered them on (it got hot!). My one friend threw away a pair of old shoes, only to find when we arrived at the hotel that night that she had accidentally only thrown away one! So she had a whole shoe’s worth of unnecessary extra weight!

Lightened as much as we could, we shuffled back to the desk where the stewardess was totally judging our pathetic uninformed Americaness, and begrudgingly handed over our credit cards.

Then we (begrudgingly) shuffled over to the security gate, only to find that we couldn’t go through yet. Because once again, Dunedin is a small airport. And no one was on duty yet.

Not wanting anything else to go wrong, we planted ourselves on the floor (we spent a lot of time sitting on the floor today…) right in front of the gate. Yes, there were restaurants where we could have been sitting, enjoying some lovely food and chairs… but we were not about to miss our flight.

And besides, we would get drinks and snacks on the flight, right?

So, let me clue you in how budget airlines apparently work. They’re cheap. You don’t get free drinks.

I mean, they do come around offering drinks. But they cost money!

All I really wanted was just a small cup of water (not sure if that was going to be free or not). But they didn’t even ask me! It’s like, they knew exactly who I was, that cheap, unaware American, and so no I was not going to get offered a drink of any sort.


We just had to land, call the hotel shuttle, and get to our hotel.

Landing in Auckland

Silly us. The night was only beginning.

We arrived in Auckland, tired, hungry and grumpy. I suggested eating at the airport, since we didn’t know what would be around our hotel. But we really just wanted to get away from airports, so that suggestion was shot down.

My instructions from the hotel said to look for the free phones to call the shuttle when we arrived. I assumed that meant they would send their personal shuttle for us when I called.

While I was frantically searching the airport the phone, my friend realized that that precious Middle Earth map we couldn’t throw away… was no longer in her bag. It had rolled out in the plane!

She raced back with her mom to find her map, while my other friend and I tried to find the phones and call the shuttle. When I finally located the phone, I picked it up, dialed the number, and said, “Hey! I’m calling for the shuttle!”

“Uh…ok. Well go stand by the #4 sign and wait for the yellow bus.” Click.

Um… ok. That was helpful. I really didn’t need to call you to find that out. Luckily right outside that door was a #4.

Just to add to our frustrations, my other friends returned unsuccessfully from their map hunt. It never made it home from New Zealand.

Just get to the motel. Then everything will calm down.

That’s what we kept telling ourselves.

The Yellow Bus

So we step outside to the #4 sign and wait for the vaguely described “yellow bus.” Immediately a bus with a big splash of yellow on the side pulls up. Like a good tourist, I wave him down.

He opens the door and I ask if he’s going to the Kiwi Motel. He gives me an exasperated look and tells me I want the “yellow” bus.

Oh. Right. My bad.


So we sit down (on the ground) and wait.

And wait.

And wait.

“Are you sure they said to go to number 4 and wait for the yellow bus?” they ask me.

Just when we’re about to give up (although I don’t know what else we would have done) a bus pulls up.

And it’s yellow.

And on the side it has about 10 hotels listed, and in big glaring letters, “The Yellow Bus.”

Right. Got it.

So we hop on the bus with the grumpy bus driver, and sit down (on seats this time!) with all the other passengers. And then we begin our journey.

The Auckland Airport Kiwi Motel

(AKA where not to stay)

We passed a lot of decent looking hotels (near food!) on our way to the one I had booked (because it was cheap!).

Finally we arrived at the Auckland Airport Kiwi Motel. The hotel I had booked because it was cheap, and had a free shuttle to the airport.

Of course, the shuttle was only free one way.

If we ever wanted to leave that place, we were going to have to pay.

I mean, it was only $2, but still.

Our flight didn’t leave till after 1 the next day, so we asked to be on the 10:00 shuttle.

And then we walked to our room.

This was one of those motels where all the rooms open to the outside. It was dark and sketchy as we walked down the unlit pathways towards our safe abode. Honestly New Zealand is not at all a scary country, but I figured if I ever got mugged in New Zealand, this would be the place.

It certainly didn’t help that the door wouldn’t open.

All four of us tried it, but even though we had a key, it was stuck.

Finally, one of us turned it at just the right angle, so we could get in. And then we could have a look around.

Basically, it had everything that hotel rooms are supposed to have. It had light, in the form of three light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. It had a plain desk, a TV stand that didn’t match, and a sliding bathroom door that didn’t close all the way.

It had a little smear of blood on the wall (probably from a bug…?), and just an overall feeling of… griminess. I slept in my new winter hat I had bought, so my head wouldn’t have to touch the pillow.

But it was our home for the night, and since we hadn’t eaten since our big breakfast in Dunedin, it was time to find whatever was available for dinner.

That would be the restaurant at the motel.

I was honestly afraid to leave our room, because I wasn’t sure if we could ever get the door back open to get back in!

At this point, I wasn’t even hungry any more, just desperately in need of water. I ate a quick granola bar, and ordered a glass of water at the restaurant.

But everyone else was starving! So let’s see what this budget motel has to offer for food…

So… to start with, the menus didn’t all have the same prices. Some of the prices were typed in, and some of them were scratched out and written in. But even between all the typed ones, they weren’t the same!

And let me tell you, for such a cheap motel, the prices were pretty high!

The tablecloths had burn holes in them, and the chairs didn’t match. Just saying.

And even though there were only two other tables of people there, both of whom already had food, it took FOREVER for us to get our food.

But that’s not even the best part.

One of my friends ordered a burger, but with no onion. Another ordered the chicken sandwich, and asked if she could add onion to it. And then they ordered Italian dressing with their salads.

First comes the salads. And what we’re assuming was French dressing. Maybe that’s what they call Italian dressing in New Zealand…?

While they’re eating their salads, the waitress comes up to my friend who ordered the chicken sandwich.

“I’m sorry, we don’t put onions on the chicken,” she says, and walks back in the kitchen.

Wait, WHAT?

You don’t put onions on the chicken? Is that not a thing in New Zealand? Are they against onions and chickens ever meeting?

But… they put onions on the burgers! Because our other friend ordered a burger with no onion! Soo… here’s an idea: take the onion from the burger and put it on the chicken… Novel!

Well, at least they were sustained.

We finished our meal, managed to get back in our room, passed an uncomfortable night, and then asked to get on the shuttle as soon as we were awake and dressed!

This time the shuttle came promptly and took us right to the airport, where for the first time in almost 24 hours, we actually relaxed, and enjoyed our last few hours in New Zealand.

So the moral of the story my friends, is that sometimes the budget airlines and motels cost more (be it in money or sanity) than you think they will. Beware, my fellow helpless travelers. Beware.