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Published: Aug 22, 2019 5 min read
Illustration by Lixia Guo; Getty Images

Royals — they're just like us!

Paparazzi photographed Prince William and his family boarding a plane in England Thursday to go see Queen Elizabeth II at Balmoral Castle in Scotland. But the Cambridges didn't take a swanky private jet to visit grandma. They hopped on a £73 ($89) flight operated by budget airline Flybe, according to the Daily Mail.

It's not the first time Wills has opted to buy cheap plane tickets for personal travel.

A couple of years ago, the prince flew American Airlines in the U.S. to get to a friend's wedding (he sat in coach and ordered a water bottle). In 2015, he was spotted on a Ryanair flight ahead of pilot training. In 2012, he and his wife, Kate, caught a no-frills EasyJet flight back from Switzerland, and in 2011, just after his $34 million wedding, William flew Flybe to see his cousin Zara Phillips marry Mike Tindall.

Prince William has an estimated net worth of up to $40 million. He could be king of England one day. So what's he doing fighting for legroom and requesting extra pretzels with regular folk in economy? Here are three potential explanations.

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He's Following the Rules

The British public spent £67 million, or about $85 million, on the monarchy in 2018, according to figures released by the palace earlier this summer. The Sovereign Grant "meets the cost of official journeys undertaken by or in support of The Queen and other members of the Royal Family," which basically means they're only supposed to fly private when making state visits. The queen even enforces a travel budget so taxpayers don't think they're wasting money, the Daily Express reported.

Of course, their spending gets scrutinized anyway. In January, The Australian reported that taxpayers down under had to pay roughly $200,000 for the 19 flights Prince Charles and his entourage took during a 10-day trip there in 2018.

To follow policy and head off criticism, William typically pays for his own recreational flights. Prince Harry does, too: Amid some controversy, he covered the cost of a trip to see then-girlfriend Meghan Markle in Canada in 2016.

He's Stirring Up Drama (and/or Saving the Planet)

Speaking of the Sussexes, they recently came under fire for taking four private jet trips in 11 days, which critics told CNN clashed with their environmental activism. The outcry prompted Elton John to post on Instagram that he and his husband had forked over the cash for the couple's trip to their house in France.

"To maintain a high level of much-needed protection, we provided them with a private jet flight," John wrote. "To support Prince Harry’s commitment to the environment, we ensured their flight was carbon neutral, by making the appropriate contribution to Carbon Footprint™."

Given the rumors of a feud between William and Harry, the Cambridges' choice to fly commercial to Balmoral could be an intentional one.

"It is cost-effective, safe and secure, and sends out the right message when he [William] has often spoken about the need for action with regard to climate change," royal commentator Robert Jobson tells Money.

He's Just Being Frugal

There is the possibility that Prince William flies budget simply because he prefers it. After all, eating nachos and wings on a layover in Chicago makes for quite the story. And as Travel + Leisure pointed out in 2018, the Cambridges have a personal connection to commercial flights: Kate's mother met her father while working as a flight attendant for British Airways back in the 1970s.

But Marlene Eilers Koenig, a European royals expert who runs a blog called Royal Musings, tells Money there's probably some maneuvering behind the family's Thursday Flybe photos.

"I have no doubt that a) they were advised to fly commercial or b) that William decided that this would look good for he and his family, when in fact, it smacks a PR effort that is backfiring," she adds. "I think this may have been a ploy to show, 'Hey, look, we are flying commercial.'"