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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Are Budget Airlines All Run By Rip-Off Artists?

It wasn't cheap to get from L.A. to Morocco. I flew via British Air to London and then took Royal Air Maroc to Marrakech and Roland took Virgin Atlantic to London and then Royal Air Maroc. Helen and Michael flew from NYC to Madrid on Iberia and then on to Marrakech on Royal Air Maroc. We each paid around $300 for the final legs into Marrakech (and back to Europe)-- cockroaches, abysmal service and all. When we got there all the European tourists were talking about $50 round trip tickets on their local versions of Southwest, like RyanAir. This morning Sophie at Money in the U.K. suggested I republish a story by Sally Darby which takes a closer look into whether budget airlines really are as cheap as they claim to be.
With so-called 'budget' airlines clawing money back with a huge and seemingly unavoidable list of additional charges, we look at whether there is any way to get around paying these airline add-ons.

Of course it would be nice if the price of a flight ticket really did represent the actual cost of flying from A to B, but unfortunately this isn’t the way of the world (not yet, anyway). [Or, at least, not any longer.]

This is particularly the case with budget airlines who need to recuperate the cost of selling such low-cost fares somehow.  More often than not your ticket is likely to be accompanied by a whole host of additional charges and fees that will ultimately bump up the price of your flight-- making that £1 deal seem not so much of a bargain after all.

While some of these charges are largely unavoidable there are certainly ways around many of them-- read on for our top tips.

Many flight tickets nowadays, particularly when booked online, will come with an obligatory booking fee (apparently to cover processing, administration costs and the like). This tends to be around £5 per person per flight so the costs quickly mount up, but there are ways to get around paying it at all if you pay with the right card.

Ryanair for example (though they state this is a for a limited period only) charge no booking fee to those who book with a MasterCard prepaid card. Unfortunately this is likely to incur costs of its own. For this reason it's really important to shop around for the card that costs you the least in purchase, loading and payment fees and then using it to pay for all your Ryanair flights.

The vast majority of other 'budget' airlines won't charge a booking fee to those who book with a Visa Electron debit card. So it's well worth looking into getting either a Visa Electron prepaid card or a basic bank account that comes with a Visa Electron debit card so that you can book without the added cost.

Rather sneakily, some budget airlines will automatically apply additional charges to your flight by default unless you specifically make sure to de-select the option.

For example, Ryanair will automatically apply ‘priority boarding’ to your ticket costing you extra unless you make sure to un-tick the relevant box when booking.

Similarly if you pre-book a particular seat number with BmiBaby this will cost you extra, so it really isn’t worth doing unless you are particularly fussy about where in the cabin you’ll be seated – not to mention, the fact that pre-booked seats can even be over-ridden upon boarding by other passengers if the cabin is very busy.

Requesting a seat with extra leg room will too incur a separate charge so remember to decline this option when offered it if you are happy with a regular seat.

Most buget airlines will also charge you for checking luggage into the hold so only do this if you need to.  Instead, check the hand luggage restrictions and try to fit everything you're taking into a bag you can take on the plane; this is likely to be more possible for short breaks than two week holidays unless you're an expert in capsule packing. 

Remember, if you do forgo hold luggage you'll need to make sure you comply with the hand luggage liquid limits and find out how many pieces of hand luggage you're able to take on.  It's often the case that you can only carry on a single piece of luggage, so handbags and laptop cases will need to be squished in your bag too.

Before you even contemplate leaving for the airport, in fact before you even start packing, it’s vital to check the flight terms and conditions on the website of the budget airline you’re flying with.

These will include crucial points that may not have even crossed your mind, such as the liquid limit you are allowed to carry on board with you and the specific luggage dimensions your hold baggage and hand luggage will need to comply with.

Disobey these limits, and the penalties can be severe-- you may find you’re charged extra, some of your items have to be discarded, or you may even be offloaded from the flight altogether without a refund.

As well as checking these maximum limits you should also check things such as:

• whether you need to check-in before you get to the airport
• whether you need to book in any luggage before you get to the airport
• whether a boarding card needs to be printed off and presented upon boarding
• whether any other specific details such as your passport number and its expiry date need to be entered on booking
• whether you are able to pool your luggage allowance with your travel companions

Again, failing to comply with these sometimes unreasonably strict regulations will mean an additional and often steep charge.

One of the good things about budget airlines is that they frequently hold ‘sales’ on their tickets, dropping them temporarily to rock-bottom prices such as £5 or even 99p. When these come along it is worth taking advantage of them if they fit in with your travel plans as combining an extra-low fare with the tips above will ensure you get the best value flight possible.

However, it is always a good idea to go for the sales that include taxes and charges in their ticket prices otherwise you'll find yourself unavoidably paying extra from the word go.

Planning your travel as much in advance as possible is also a good idea, as it means you can book your cheap flight well ahead of time and be ready for the flight sales when they do come around.

And one bit of good news-- not even RyanAir or EasyJet, despite conventional wisdom, have been permited to charge for the use of toilets on their flights (yet).

Just 4 years ago this was a comedy routine. Today it's a reality show!

1 comment:

Nick Jacobs said...

I'm always wondering how I can avoid airline fees. I spend so long looking for cheap tickets, I'm not inclined to spend more money. Does anyone have good suggestions?