Avoid These Budget Airline Rip-Offs!
Budget airlines may have rock-bottom fares, but if you're not careful, you could get charged an extra £32 just for checking in a bag at the airport. Here's a guide on how to avoid these, plus other tips on budget travel.
Over the past decade, budget airlines have revolutionised short-haul travel. Low cost flights have really taken off, as Brits enjoy the idea of getting no-frills air travel at a fraction of the price.
However, as I wrote last year in The Hidden Costs Of Budget Airlines, sometimes `budget' doesn't always mean low cost, and many of them will slap on extra charges for things you take for granted with more mainstream airlines.
Despite this, budget airlines say they remain committed to providing travel at affordable prices. Just last month, Ryanair announced that despite a predicted loss of up to _60m in 2009 if fuel costs remain high, they would be cutting fares as opposed to raising them.
However, is this actually true? Or are the budget carriers simply stinging you in other places in an attempt to recoup their losses?
Here's how five of the budget airlines size up against each other. The end column shows the extra charges incurred should you pay for your ticket using a debit card and need to check in one bag at the airport.
Price per checked bag online (each way)/at airport (each way)
Excess Baggage Fees
£8 for first bag, £16 for each additional bag (up to three bags in total)/£16
Credit/debit cards £4 each way. No charge for Visa Electron.
Credit cards 2.5% of fare (minimum £4.95). Debit cards £1.75 flat fee. No charge for Visa Electron.
Credit cards £2.99 each way (minimum £5.50). Debit card £1.50 each way (minimum £1.99) No charge for Visa Electron.
20kg baggage allowance.
Credit cards £3 each way. Debit cards £2 each way.
From £5.99/From £11
17kg baggage allowance.
Credit Cards 3.75% of fare (minimum £6.99). Debit cards 1.75% of fare (minimum £1.99).
As you can see from the table, budget airlines make a lot of extra money from baggage and card handling charges. In fact, since my last article, fees and charges for budget airlines have gone up exponentially, as they try to bump up their returns as much as they can.
easyJet takes the top spot in terms of the cheapest baggage and booking fees, with only £11.75 in extra charges for checking in a bag and paying for your ticket by debit card.
Bringing up the up the rear is Ryanair, with a scandalous £32 in extra charges should you wish to check one bag in (£16 for checking it in + £8 in personal airport check-in fees + £8 debit card booking fee), which in Ryanair terms, can end up costing more than the flight itself.
In addition, not only do they have the least generous baggage allowance, but will charge you the most if you exceed it. Ryanair has also removed free priority boarding for those checking in online with no bags, and now charges £4 for this service each way.
In all fairness to Ryanair, if you only have hand luggage, check-in online, and pay for your ticket using a Visa Electron card, you can avoid paying for any of these extras. Just make sure you select this option when paying for your ticket, as it's easy to assume you have to check-in at the airport.
In addition, Ryanair along with easyJet flies to far more destinations than their closest rivals (for example, Ryanair flies to over 145 destinations compared to Flybe's 55).
Between these two top budget players, I also checked ten popular holiday destinations for a return ticket during the last week of November and found that easyJet was more expensive in eight out of ten cases, costing upwards of £10 more per flight than Ryanair.
However, from my experience, Ryanair also tends to fly to the more rural airports in some destinations (including Barcelona, Rome and Milan) while in many cases easyJet does serve the more central ones. Again, this is another variable you may wish to consider.
Bearing with the bare essentials
If you do plan to avoid extra baggage charges by only taking hand luggage onto the plane, bear in mind size and weight rules for these items.
Three of the five budget airlines listed above will let you take up to one bag weighing 10kg on board, as long as it has dimensions of no more than 55x40x20cm, although Jet 2one stipulates it should not be in excess of 46x30x23cm and Flybe specifies dimensions of 50 x 35 x 23cm.
If your bag exceeds this, you may be forced to check it in, meaning you will have to fork out for the inflated fees of checking in a bag at the inflated `airport check-in' prices.
You should also know that you will not get any complimentary food or drink while on board, so if you decide that temptation is too great to bear, be prepared to fork out cuisine prices for some rather ordinary food.
Alternatively, pack your own food (bearing in mind airport rules on liquids and what you can bring through security), which will cost you much less than anything you buy on board.
For more info on rip-offs in the airport, plus some great tips on to avoid them, check out Serena Cowdy's great article, Avoid These Airport Rip Offs!
The final thing to remember before choosing your airline is to shop around. Search price comparison websites such as lastminute.com and Skyscanner, which look at both budget airlines as well as the main players to get the best price for your flight.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal choice and the type of traveller you are. Are you a business person carrying hardly any luggage? A couple just going away for the weekend? Or are you taking your family (and quite a few suitcases) away for a budget holiday?
All these questions are extremely important when it comes to travelling no-frills, and hopefully these few tips will help guide you the next time you're booking a flight. And whatever you do, don't just book blindly, as if you do, going `budget' can end up costing you more than you bargained for.