How to avoid unnecessary fees on budget airlines

By UK CreditCards.com

Budget airlines are renowned for adding extra fees and charges onto cheap flights, making the total cost a lot more expensive than originally advertised. However, it's possible to avoid many of these fees.

Here are some tips to help you reduce the cost of flights and avoid airline fees altogether:

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1. Skip the payment charges.
In recent years, no-frills airlines have jumped on the credit card surcharge bandwagon and implemented charges when a customer pays for tickets with a debit card or credit card.

When a customer pays with plastic, there are usually two different charges that may be applied by the airline: an initial booking or transaction charge and an extra charge for those paying with particular types of cards.

These charges are much higher than you would ever pay for any other purchase and are usually more than the cost the airline incurs for accepting these payments.

For example, easyJet applies an £8.00 booking fee for all customers -- except for those using a Visa electron card -- and an additional charge of either 2.5% of the transaction value or £4.95, whichever is greater.

Luckily, it's possible to skip the charges altogether. Here are some tips for getting around some of the fees -- or at least reducing what you pay:  

  • Check whether your card qualifies for a fee waiver. Some airlines, including easyJet and Jet2.com, waive the fee for customers who use a Visa electron card. Others, including Jet2.com, waive the fee if you use a Solo card. Ryanair, in turn, allows customers to skip the fee if they use Ryanair Cash Passport, a MasterCard prepaid card, to book a flight.
  • Skip the credit card. Reduce costs by using a debit card or prepaid card -- but also be aware of the risk. Most surcharges for paying with a debit card are lower than if you pay with a credit card. However, paying without a credit card is also less secure. Should the airline go bankrupt, a prepaid or debit card won't offer you the same financial protection.
  • Stay alert. Always check the airline's terms and conditions before you book a flight. You may find an exception that applies to you.

2. Don't overpay for baggage.
Charging consumers for taking luggage on their flight has become the norm in the airline industry, particularly on budget airlines. 

Some airlines apply charges for simply taking holding baggage, whereas others will implement sky high charges -- £20 per kg with Ryanair -- for exceeding size and weight allowances.

Here are some tips for getting around some of the charges:    

  • Travel lightly. Where possible, only travel with hand luggage as this can eliminate or reduce the fee.This will also allow you to check-in online - an added perk that can limit your fees as well. However, watch out for weight limits before you go. If your bag is too heavy, the airline may force you to check it.
  • Go online first. If the airline allows it, always pay for your baggage online when booking your flight. The price you are quoted online is often up to half the price of what you pay for checking in bags at the airport.
  • Consider pooling bags. You'll have to check your airline's rules first, but they may allow customers to pool baggage allowances together. For example, bmibaby has a scheme called FamilyFly passenger baggage allowance that allows 22kgs per person rather than per bag.

3. Reduce your check-in charges.
Being charged for checking in for a flight has to be one of the most infuriating charges there is -- especially since many customers have more than likely just paid extra for paying for the flight, faster boarding, choosing their preferred seats and taking more than a handful of luggage items with them.

Most of the budget airlines implement an additional cost for checking onto a flight at the airport. But some charge for online check-in as well. Ryanair, for example, now implements a flat £5 per flight charge for online check-in, after abolishing its airport check-in.

Here are some tips for getting around some of the charges:   

  • Look for promotional discounts. For example, Ryanair will allow you to skip the check-in fee if you book one of the carrier's special promotional fares.
  • Check in online. Some airlines still offer free or highly discounted online check-in fees so, when possible, avoid checking-in at the airport.

See related: How to extend the life of your air miles; How to compare airline rewards cards

Published: 21 December 2011