Counter-intelligence to help you escape excessive budget airline fees

1 September 2009

While it does little to sweeten a bitter stew of churning passenger dissatisfaction, we can take comfort in knowing that we in the UK are not the only ones protesting ridiculous airline fees. Brilliantly skewering American Airlines - one of the worst in the U.S. for tacking on fees - last December satirical news site The Onion's headline proclaimed: "American Airlines Now Charging Fees to Non-Passengers."

We could certainly go on at length about the indignities that are now automatically assumed to be part of air travel, but instead we want to help you avoid as many of those stupid fees as possible. Here are some tips for dealing with two of the stupidest: payment methods and baggage rules.

Here are two ways to pay less for the privilege of paying:

  • Get a Visa Electron card. It will get you a pass from the "convenience fee" you'll pay for the great luxury of paying for your ticket with a debit or credit card. Those fees range from "2.5% of transaction" on Thomson Air to a flat £10 per person on Ryanair. SkyEurope, however, is going to charge you £10 per person even with a Visa Electron card, which is available with basic bank accounts from many banks. Halifax and Abbey are two that allow you to apply for a Visa Electron card. Lloyd's and Barclays don't issue them to new customers anymore.
  • Check in online. While some airlines, still allow you the great joy that is airport check-in (like EasyJet and Aer Lingus), Ryanair will smack you with £80 per person per return if you don't check in online. Airport check-in is only available if you booked your flights before 20 May 2009 and are traveling no later than 1 October 2009. After that, Ryanair won't have airport check-in. They still charge you a one-off £10 when you check in online.
Another point of confusion is deciphering the real cost of checked baggage. The rules vary widely and are subject to change, but one theme runs throughout: you're going to have to pay to check baggage. Fees run from £6.50 for Thomson Air, checked online to £23 for Jet2, checked at airport. Unless otherwise noted, baggage check-in fees are per bag, each way. It is always cheaper to check bags online than it is to do so at the airport. Weigh your bags on your bathroom scale to ensure you're under the weight limit.

Note: when multiple bags are allowed, the weight limits are totals and do not average out across bags. In other words, if there is a 15 kg weight limit and two bags are allowed, you can't get away with one 10 kg bag and one 20 kg bag on the theory that they average out to 15 kg.

  • EasyJet: total weight up to 20 kg; hand luggage up to 55 x 40 x 20 cm (no weight specified)
  • Ryanair: up to 3 bags, total weight up to 15 kg; hand luggage up to 55 x 40 x 20 cm (no weight specified)
  • Flybe: one bag, weight up to 20 kg in Economy; one bag, weight up to 30 kg in Economy Plus; hand luggage up to 10 kg and up to 50 x 35 x 23 cm.
  • Ryanair: one bag, up to 15 kg; hand luggage up to 10 kg.
  • BMI Baby: one bag, up to 18 kg; hand luggage up to 10 kg.
  • Aer Lingus: one bag up to 20 kg; hand luggage up to 6 kg.
  • Jet2: one bag up to 22 kg; hand luggage up to 10 kg.
  • Thomson Airways: one bag up to 20 kg; hand luggage 5 kg.
  • Sky Europe: one bag up to 20 kg; hand luggage up to 55 x 40 x 20 cm (no weight specified).

A few ideas for making sure you stay under the weight limit include first and foremost, packing light. You  can easily pay more to check a heavy piece of clothing than the clothing itself costs. While it is horribly wasteful, passengers have been known to chuck some of their packed stuff in the bin at the airport rather than pay the excess weight fees. Wearing rather than packing your heavy coat is a good idea, as is leaving room in your suitcase for things you purchase while on your trip. Some people are able to get all their gear into hand luggage and avoid checked baggage charges altogether.

Another idea to avoid much of this hassle altogether is to consider taking a non-budget airline. There are cases when, with fees added in, the "budget" airlines cost more than some of the special fares offered by British Airways. The ticket price will look obscene at first, but it will include the things that the budget airlines itemize and charge for a la carte. Plus you'll still get snacks on-board. Let us know in the comments if you have any money saving tips for budget air travel.

TOPICS:   Travel

4 comments

  • Martin
    Useful information, many thanks. Looks like SkyEurope have charged their last Electron fee though...
  • Iggy P.
    Note: it is possible to check in for both flights at the same time. ie you do not have to wait until you are flying home before you check in to the flight. This may be really obvious and some may think im a retard for pointing this out but i got caught out with a checkin fee for ten smackers because i didnt think i could check-in to the home flight until i had landed at my destination and couldnt access the internet before my flight home. Fuckin retards.
  • Tomla
    Ryanair - Hand luggage is 10kg max.
  • Robert A.
    Are you using a US spellcheck tho clearly UK-based? Or was it just a blip?

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