Are you planning that long overdue winter vacation? “Maybe somewhere abroad this year,” you tell yourself as you key in the destination, timings, class and dates into the travel meta-search engine.

It throws up a list of flight options and routes: most familiar, some not. The names of the big carriers make an appearance but there are also some you've never heard of.

“But the fares of these smaller airlines look so tempting,” you tell yourself. While planning a recent trip abroad, this writer took the plunge.

After returning home safely despite dreading the worst, she is glad to have flown with the lesser-known national carrier.

She paid ₹42,000 per head for round-trip economy tickets (₹5,000 less than the bigger carriers), with a stop-over of an hour (both ways), and a baggage allowance of 40 kg for check-in.

Not only was the baggage allowance more and fare cheaper than some of the larger carriers, the service offered was on par. The meal served on-board was tastier and the quality of in-flight entertainment and accessories such as blankets and earphones met international standards.

For frequent travellers

Bhoomika Subramanian, a public school teacher based in the US, isn't surprised at this revelation. She makes frequent trips to India to tend to her ageing parents and it is primarily the cost of tickets that determines her purchase decision. “I have to fly back and forth sometimes up to seven times in a year,” she says. Belgium's Sabena Airlines was a carrier she had never heard of before she flew with them on one such trip in 1999. “It was a great experience, much cheaper too, and I booked only a few weeks in advance,” she says. But everyone isn't as enthused as Subramanian by such prospects. A Chennai-based author narrates her experience of having travelled with the now defunct US-based Tower Air between Bombay and Frankfurt in 1995.

Old bus

“The aircraft really looked, felt and moved like we were in a rickety old local bus, and there was absolutely no legroom,” she says. She speaks with the kind of excitement and relief that comes from surviving a horrible experience whose sole purpose now is to serve as a funny anecdote.

“It was most frightening especially because it shook violently even in the slightest turbulence,” she adds.

Rahul Mantri, a medical student in Moscow, who travels frequently between India and Moscow on Aeroflot, had apprehensions initially.

But it was perfectly fine, just like any other international airline, he says.

Ever since, he has flown with the carrier to the UK as well. “The tickets are very competitively priced.”

So maybe you shouldn't ignore that lesser-heard of carrier after all, especially it you have a tight budget. But check out some reviews first and if you find yourself suitably convinced, don't wait, just hit ‘book!’