Budget airlines and hidden costs

As budget airlines continue to advertise cheap flight prices, our travel expert Bob Atkinson talks to Clare Francis about hidden costs and charges that you should be aware of when booking.

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Clare Francis: There’s no doubt that budget airlines have really shaken up the travel market, but as you probably know they now seem to charge extra for everything – from checking in to the seat you sit on and the coffee you have on board.

So do they really offer good value? Well we went out onto the streets near moneysupermarket.com’s offices, just to see what you think.

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1: ‘No, I don’t think it’s very good value for money anymore. I think it was, but I do feel now that you’re sort of getting ripped off now with all the additions, and when you see these £10 flights but by the time you end up going into it you end up paying about £80. So no, I don’t think it is a good way to go.’

2: ‘Overall I think they’re quite good. The only thing I’m not a fan of is that they are quite complicated to book and as you say you’re not totally sure what you’ve paid until the end of it. But at the end of the day they are always a lot cheaper than the big airlines, and I’ve been lucky enough to fly all over the world with both types really. So overall they’re good, but could be simpler.’

3: ‘I usually end up paying more than I expect to, but I shop around. I use them around 5 or 6 times a year, and I just wish I was told the price I was going to pay rather than trying to fiddle around and find it out.’

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CF: So opinions vary, but are there bargains to be had? Or is it always the case that the price you see isn’t the price you pay? Well I asked Bob Atkinson who is Travelsupermarket.coms travel expert.

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Q1: So Bob you often see promotions such as free flights and flights for a penny, but are these genuine? Can you really get a flight for free?

Bob Atkinson: Most of the advertisements that we see. I think we probably all get used to the idea that if it says £1.99, £2.99, £10.99, we all think we are going to get stung. Now to be fair there are many charges that get added to those initial come-ons, if you like, that can inflate the price.

However, there are airlines out there that will actually give you the price that you see, subject to the availability of the deal and the classic one is Ryanair - and Ryanair sometimes give away even free seats - and essentially if you take the free seat option out and back, and you travel with no bags checked into the hold at all, you can actually get that flight for nothing.

So, yes you can get some of these deals online, but it varies from airline to airline and you do need to be aware of what each airline is charging. 

Q2:  I was going to say, the extra charges can often make what appears initially to be an ultra cheap flight is actually quite an expensive one and in some instances you may be better off paying what initially appears to be a higher price. Can you just explain what the extra charges are?
 
BA: The actual charges are broken down into those that you have during the booking process, and those that you maybe incur after the booking process, for instance on the day of travel or when you’re onboard.

Now in the booking process the charges to be looking out for are anything related to baggage and this essentially means bags that you may have to check into the hold, or if you decide to go with your hand luggage, what are the restrictions on the hand luggage? Because if you pitch up with something to big or too heavy, then the chances are that will be taken off you and be put into the hold and you will have to pay for that. So, baggage charges is the first one -

Q3: They’re also tightening up on the weight allowance on bags checked into the hold aren’t they, because I got caught out with Ryanair - because I think they allow a 15kg limit and a lot of airlines allow 20kg - and they charge a lot for every kilogram you are over that 15kg limit don’t they?

BA: Exactly, the general rule was 20 kg in economy pretty much across all airlines. However, with low-cost carriers now and also with the charter carriers the general rule for them now is 15 kilos. For most scheduled carriers it tends to be 20 kilos and for British Airways – well done British Airways – theirs is actually 23 kilos on your first bag.

So, yes you do need to check those limits and be very wary about going over them because the excess baggage charges for each kilo can be anything from £20 per kilo upwards. So the moment you are 1 kilo over – if you go with the wrong attitude, if you try and fight them over it – you are going to get charged. The thing to do is just stay within the rules wherever you can and follow some of our tips for how to get round getting extra baggage on, such as using all your pockets, using every other way other then putting it into another bag, wearing your heaviest clothes. All those kinds of things to try to help get around and minimise your bag weights.

Q4: Obviously baggage is one thing where there are extra charges, but what are the other areas where a lot of these sort of ‘no-frills’ airlines will add on the extras?

BA: Well it doesn’t just apply to no frills now, because people like British Airways – who we don’t think of as a no frills airline – are already at this game, recently with charges they have introduced.

The second area after baggage is really the kind of checking in online, selecting a seat, seat reservations – the kind of getting onboard early.

Every airline is slightly different - Ryanair and Easyjet are famous for not allocating seats, but what you can do with them is you can actually pay extra to be one of the first to board. Now, if you want to pay that extra by all means you go ahead and do that - that is your choice - however what I always recommend to do is someone like Easyjet, check in online because then you get in the second group to go onboard anyway and if you are travelling with any airline where they either bus you out to the aircraft or if you’re walking out to the aircraft, what you will generally find is they are using the back steps and the front steps, go straight to the back steps, get in as early as you can in the queue and you will get the best choice of that free seating.

For airlines that don’t operate a free seating policy, so it’s everybody from people like Fly Monarch all the way up to British Airways etc, you can now preselect your seats for most of those. If you want to sit in a specific seat you will pay a charge and its anything from £6 one-way upwards, depending on the carrying, and if you want those emergency exit seats – you know those coveted ones where you can stretch out, anything from £15 one-way upwards, its really up to you whether you think its worth while or not.

I think if you are a taller person you might feel like you are being penalised for being charged for these, but if you want to guarantee that seats its now the only way that you will get it. Don’t rely on trying to move into that seat when you get onboard because someone has not paid because those hostesses will be there like a flash with that machine ready to take that money off you for upgrading.

Q5: The way you pay for your flight can affect the cost as well can’t it - can you explain that?

BA: Yes, most airlines now will have a card fee, which can be up to £5 per person one way. The only real way around it is if you have an electron card. By paying with an electron card there are no fees, so try and get hold on an electron card - though do be aware if you pay for your purchase on that you’re not going to be covered under the consumer credit act should anything go wrong.

CF: Great, thanks Bob.

BA: Thank you.

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CF: So the key thing is if you are looking at flights from these no-frills airlines is to factor in all the costs and all of the things you do need, and plan ahead to make sure you know what you’re paying for and that its money well spent.

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