Hidden flight charges unravelled

Have you ever bought a ‘cheap’ flight which turned out not to be quite such a bargain once all the extras had been factored in?

With an increasing number of airlines stripping back what’s included in the standard price of a flight and adding things such as hold luggage, allocated seats and checking-in services as optional extras it’s easy to see how the cost can quickly mount up.

We give a run-down of the common ‘hidden charges’ so you aren’t caught out next time you’re looking to jet off somewhere. There's more in our video 'Budget airlines and hidden costs'.

Baggage Fees

The days of checking in your baggage for no extra cost are over for many carriers. Charges can be up to £15 one way per bag and often you will only get 15kg of weight allowance with that bag, so that’s £120 return for a family of four!  

Not all airlines have tightened up in this area. Carriers such as BA will still allow you to have one checked in bag weighing 23kg as part of your booking and at no extra cost.

It’s therefore always worth checking the policy of the airline you’re travelling with before you set off for the airport. If you don’t, you could be stung with an unexpected expense when you come to check in.

We’ve put together some top tips to ensure you don’t get caught out in this way:

  • Know the policy of the airline you plan to travel with, and make sure it is right for you and your needs, especially if you have to take extra items with you such as pushchairs or sports equipment.
  • Minimise the amount of luggage you take with you and where possible take hand luggage only.
  • If you must take checked baggage then ensure you book it online before you get to the airport. If there is a charge (and nearly all low cost carriers and charter carriers will charge), then it is cheaper to pay online ahead of flying. Ryanair, for example, charges £15 each way if you check in a bag online. But if you leave it until you get to the airport, you’ll pay £35 – more than twice as much!
  • Make sure your checked bag weight is not over the limit – if it is, you’ll pay an extra charge at the airport – up to £20 per kilo for Ryanair. And airlines are really clamping down on excess luggage, so it’s vital that you stick within that weight limit.
  • Pooling baggage is not a way round these rules – each bag itself must not weigh over the limits, not a combination of bags when more than one of you is travelling. And don’t get caught out by doubling up – if you’re sharing a suitcase with the person you’re travelling with, it doesn’t mean you’ll have double the weight allowance.

Check-in fees

To date, only Ryanair and Jet2.com have a check-in fee for all passengers. This is compulsory – the only exception is Ryanair’s promotional fares where the fee is waived.

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Jet2.com has a bizarre baggage check-in fee – not only does it charge you for checking luggage into the hold, but you’ll also pay an additional online check-in fee - an extra £3 each way per bag and no way round it.

And watch out for Ryanair’s online check-in requirements: Not only are you required to check in online, you must also remember to print your boarding pass out and take it with you. If you forget you’ll be charged a hefty £40 fee just to re-issue this piece of paper - a simple but expensive mistake and one that can be easily avoided. 

Seat Selection/Early Boarding

There are two different types of charges here:

Freeseating – Easyjet and Ryanair

Easyjet and Ryanair don’t allocate seats. This can be a bit of a pain if you’re travelling in a group as there is no guarantee that you’ll be able to sit together.

However, you can pay to board the plane first. This can cost as much as £10 each way per person but, in theory, you’ll get the pick of the seats. This is fine when you board the aircraft straight from the terminal. However if you are bussed you can end up being behind the people who should be boarded after you and have not paid for this service. So to be honest, it can be a bit of a waste of money.

Easyjet lets those with walking difficulties and families with children board first, so the secret here is to arrive at the gate as early as possible and get in the queue if you want to choose your seat on the plane. With Easyjet you can check in online several weeks ahead which gets you into the third boarding group, after those with Priority cards and those with children. The fourth group are those who have checked in at the airport. With Ryanair, check in online as early as you can and get to the gate to be at the front of the queue.

Paid Seat Selection

With all other airlines it is pretty much pay to get the seat you want – especially those coveted emergency exit seats. These can now cost up to £50 one way for exit row seats on BA, however, a typical charge on airlines such as Monarch is £8.50 one way for a normal seat and around £15 for one with extra leg room.  

If you really want to ensure you get certain seats, then book and pay for them online as soon as you are able to do so, preferably at booking stage. Otherwise you can leave it up to the airline to allocate your seat and take pot luck at the check-in stage of what is left. You may be split up, although children under 12 are always kept with at least one adult accompanying them for safety reasons.

Credit and debit card fees

Most airlines now charge a transaction fee if you pay for flight with a card. The costs vary but generally debit cards are cheaper than credit cards and there is usually no charge for using a Visa Electron.

The exception to that rule is Ryanair, which has announced that from the start of 2010, customers will have to use a prepaid Mastercard to avoid paying the charge.
Charges can add up quite quickly - on Ryanair it is £5 per person each way, so a family of four is £40, just to pay by debit or credit card.

We recommend that you invest in a sterling Electron card for booking low cost flights. If you’re flying with Ryanair, you should consider investing in a prepaid Mastercard to save money. Although you will pay a set-up fee of around £10, you’ll still save money after the first flight.

However, do be aware that if you choose to pay by Electron or a non-Visa debit card then you have no protection under the Consumer Credit Act should anything happen to the airline.

The protection is in force with credit cards and Visa debit cards only as long as the transaction is over £100 in total. If you aren't covered, take out a travel insurance policy to cover you for Scheduled Airline Failure (SAFI) which not only gets you your money back but will cover you for other items such as replacing your flight arrangements.

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