Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beating the budget airlines at their own game

Anyone who has booked a flight with the so called budget airlines will have suffered the frustration of finding out that the so called “bargain price” turns out to be a lot more expensive when you get to the final total  and your credit card is charged.

No-frills rule-busting

The methods that airlines use to bump up the costs range from just sly to those where it's hard to see how they're legally justifiable. The EU law governing this says, "the final price paid shall at all times be indicated… including the applicable air fare, taxes, charges, surcharges and fees which are unavoidable." Crafty airlines though have a way of getting round this. 

First off: you pay more just to pay

When you buy your flight, there's no cash option, yet all budget airlines charge extra to pay by credit or debit card. They get away with this policy by making it free to pay via Visa Electron debit cards.

It isn’t any cheaper to process Electrons than any other debit cards but airlines know that there are far fewer of these cards than the other types that banks issue. Saying that it is free to use an Electron card is just a way of getting round the legal loophole.

To make matters worse, while some industries do charge extra for credit card payments, it's usually done as 1pc or 2pc of the total cost, reflecting what they themselves are charged. But for credit and debit cards, BMI Baby, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Flybe and SkyEurope charge a fixed sum per person, each way.

So with Ryanair your flight may be just £2 return but you then pay a disproportionate £5 each way to use your credit card.

Automatic 'opt-in' insurance

EU rules clearly state passengers must now actively select travel insurance as an option, yet some airlines constantly thumb their nose at this by having their insurance boxes auto‑ticked. It is easy to forget to un-tick the box and find you have been charged for insurance you don’t want. You can buy annual travel insurance policies for as little as  £15. From Spain it is more difficult to get these policies but it is possible.

Check-ins unavoidable but optional

Some budget carriers charge big fees for checking in at the airport rather than online. Yet as most can only be booked on the web anyway, this isn't too arduous. Do ensure you print the boarding cards for both legs before you go though. We didn’t on Pam’s last trip to the UK and had to pay 8€ at the airport.

Ryanair charges a staggering £80 return fee for airport check-in, and £10 return for online. Yet there's generally no other option, so how is this an add-on? Admittedly, on its promotion £1-type fares, online check-in is included; can its argument really be that the ''option'' is to always go for a promo fare even if it is at a different time and place from that required?

While it is listed on the page, surely the £10 should be incorporated into the ticket price and then airport check-in listed as £70 extra?

Sky Europe 'pay, pay, pay' rule

This low-budget central European carrier will take you to Bratislava and Prague but charges €5 when you pay by  credit, debit and Visa Electron payments. There is no other way to pay so how can this be called ''unavoidable''?

It's time for legislative change. Online check in and debit card payment charges should always be included in the price shown. All other main charges including baggage, credit card payments and more, should – as with mortgage annual percentage rates (APRs) – be forced to be listed in the same font size.

Find all the £1 flights

Super-cheap budget airline sales tend to only last a couple of days, so monitor and be quick. Then check the details and focus your search; sales are always for fixed times and specific destinations.

Then, while a million seats may be on sale, try to find them and often full-price deals appeal.

You can use the free to find the cheapest seats.

On the site you simply opt to ''find any £10-and-under inc. taxes & charges (but not added extras) Barcelona flights in August'', or set a price and pick "I'll go anywhere".

However, for specific dates, use comparison websites like , and

Get a prepaid Electron card

To beat the up-to-£10 return per-person charges for paying by debit or credit card, you need to pay on a Visa Electron debit card. In the old days, this was tough as few bank accounts issued them. La Caixa here in Spain offer them so this is what we use to avoid charges.

If you haven’t got an Electron card, get the prepaid Travelex Cash Passport, which is a bit like plastic cash, just load it up and use to spend. It's available online or from Thomas Cook or Co-Ops. You pay 2pc to put the cash onto the card, but that's still a fraction of airlines' charges. See for full info.

Beat baggage fees

The best option is only take hand luggage; special cases have been designed to fit in the space, and most airlines give you 10kg allowance.

If not, you'll pay between £10  and £40 for each case in the hold providing you book it in advance, if not, the cost jumps.

The most important thing to remember, though, is that more bags don't usually mean more weight. You're still restricted to the allowance, you can just spread it over more cases. Go above the weight limit and you'll pay between £10 and £15 per extra kilo.

The advice is to  pack carefully and adopt some cunning. Wear your heaviest shoes, coat, a couple of jumpers as you get on the plane, then dump them under your seat for the journey.

Avoid paying excess on your hold luggage by making sure you use your full 10kg cabin allowance. In the past most people only took a few kilos onto the plane. Now it makes sense to go up to the limit but make sure that it fits into the right size bag.

If you're over on the return, be prepared to throw anything that costs less than £10 per kilo to rebuy.

Do your own 'no frills'

Since ''no-frills'' means exactly that in the air, avoid the ridiculous prices that airlines charge for a sandwich and a drink by taking your own (Pam always buys a Boot’s meal deal at Manchester. Not only are they cheaper but they taste a lot better). Really canny people make up their own and wrap them in foil to keep the sandwiches fresh.

It is  also wise to stock up on plastic bags if you're carrying make-up or liquids because if you don't have one, you may be charged an unbelievable £1 for getting one of those, too.

For a full airline-by-airline fee-beating guide, see

1 comment:

Pete said...

One interesting point is that whilst the Airlines are happy to rip us off, they don't have it easy either.

I was reading earlier this week the scale of charges for airport services published by Finavia in Finland and whilst very geeky, it was a very interesting read.

The airlines get charged a landing fee (based on weight), then a parking fee, then a fixed charge per passenger, then a security charge per passenger, then an assistance service charge per passenger, then a noise charge per decibel, then electricity charges, then run up area charges, then air navigation charges and then route charges. And if you need an airport to function outside its normal hours then that's even more cash to lay out. Incredible!