Airline tickets on low-cost carriers can be extremely cheap at first glance. But that’s before the addition of a cauldron of hidden expenses that can ensnare the unsuspecting traveler. Paying for your flight, for example, should not be an “optional extra”. The good news is that you can avoid these add-ons. With a little inside knowledge – and time – it is possible to travel for the advertised price of a cheap flight.
The key ingredient to cheap flying is flexibility. Can you move your travel dates a few days either way? Do you really have to go to Berlin on certain dates, or will Belfast/Bratislava make a satisfactory substitute? Or could you fly into another German airport and take a train up to the capital from there? If you can, there will be a rock bottom fare in there somewhere.
The following tips are specific to Ryanair, because this airline operates the really dirt-cheap flights in Europe. However, the format of adding extra charges is more or less the same for all the no-frills airlines. Adapt slightly, and these tips are applicable to any low cost carrier in the world.
The internet is your friend.
Always book your tickets online. Do this even if you are paying an hourly rate in an internet café. Budget carriers charge – sometimes extortionately – for telephone bookings. It is not the case that the earlier you book, the cheaper the flight. In fact, booking three months in advance is generally more expensive than waiting for the upcoming deals. So it is a question of balancing price with peace of mind.
Subscribe to the carrier’s email newsletter. You will receive frequent emails keeping you up to date with offers and promotional fares. However, if you haven’t had an email it doesn’t mean there are no bargains to be snapped up. Flight prices can change daily.
Study the routes. Maybe you can fly cheaply into one airport, and out of another one nearby? Spend some time on the carrier’s website and play around with your options. And do not forget to check in online and print out your boarding card. You will get a reminder email to do this, so there is no excuse. It is far, far cheaper to pay to print this document than turn up at the airport without it. (See “Ryanair fees” for Airport Boarding Card Re-issue.)
Don’t get caught exceeding the luggage limits.
On the homepage, click on Ryanair fees. This gives you a simple chart of add-on charges. See how a second checked-in bag rockets the price? If traveling with a lot of luggage, it can be cheaper to avoid budget airlines altogether. This particularly applies if you’re taking sports equipment, musical instruments, or lots of gear for your kids.
Do you really need a huge suitcase for a three-day city break? Hand luggage is free, and the permissible weight is 10kg. Do not risk exceeding it; this will very quickly amount to more than the cost of the flight. If you’re not sure how much luggage you will have, don’t book the flight just yet. It is far cheaper to add luggage to an online booking than to turn up with extra weight at the airport.
Weigh your luggage on a scale at home. If that isn’t possible, most airports now have a machine at the entrance that weighs luggage for a modest charge. If you’re feeling cheeky, use the built-in scale at an empty airline desk. According to http://flightchecker.moneysavingexpert.com, even if the desk is not staffed/open, it should still work. If your bag is too heavy, consider wearing some of your packed clothes.
Carefully note the hand luggage maximum dimensions. Go fractionally over these figures and the bag will have to be put in the hold. Negligence may have just cost you $23. Compare that to the cost of the flight, which may only have cost $10.
When you’ve found a cheap flight and begin to book, many of the boxes for extras will already be ticked. Start unticking them quickly! For a start, can you take off the charge for a checked-in bag, which appears automatically on the booking page?
Unless there is a good reason for priority booking, take this off too. What are you paying extra for? Is it better to be cooped up on a plane, or milling about in the departure lounge for an extra ten minutes? European flights are rarely more than a couple of hours; it’s not as though you’re flying long haul to Sydney.
There is a field for travel insurance cover. If you’ve already flown to Europe, you’ll no doubt have a policy. Choose “no travel insurance required” from the drop-down menu. You also don’t need the option of flight information to be sent by text message for $1.50.
Online or Web Check In is often waived on promotional flights, so check these offers first. If you are flexible with dates, it is possible to avoid this charge. If you remove all of the extras, and it is a promotional offer with no taxes, the amount now due will be exactly the same as the original cost of the flight.
Watch out for “hidden” fees
You will always be notified of taxes at the beginning of the booking process. Some flights will initially look more expensive but have little or no taxes; some will look cheaper but be subject to higher taxes. Either way, you will know within a click or two. These are not hidden extras that crop up at the end of the transaction.
What does crop up, though, is being charged to pay for the flight. This is where all the budget carriers make some pretty easy money. Apply for a Mastercard Prepaid Debit Card, however, and you’ve found the loophole on Ryanair. You can pay for free using this card; any other method is subject to an $8 booking fee per person per flight. Yep, this can soon add up when booking return flights or traveling in a group. You can apply for a card online, and load it with funds online. (For Easyjet, the loophole card is Visa Electron. N.B. Non UK Cardholders transacting on the Easyjet website may be subject to a cross border fee applied by their Card Issuer.)
When booking online, you will see, “excluding administration fee (if applicable)” next to the total price. I have never seen this fee actually applied to a flight. Don’t worry about it.
Book return flights as two separate singles. This is because Ryanair will sometimes change the departure time of a flight, and ask you to accept or decline the alteration. The decision will affect both flights, so you may lose a great one-way price back from a destination, and have to rebook the same journey at a higher price (after a promotional offer has expired). If you accept, they will refund the cost in full.
Budget flight websites are a minefield and a rock bottom fare can easily end up costing double or triple what you thought it would. But if you have enough time, scrolling through all the deals will pay dividends. Just avoid all the extras and watch out for hidden fees and you can score a dirt cheap flight for the advertised low price.
By: Barnaby Davies
Photos by Roubicek, cranium, chris1h1