How to beat the budget airlines

Hefty charges from the likes of Michael O’Leary’s Ryanair can be avoided with these steps

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary. Photo: ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP

By John Cradden

Thursday April 28 2011

So you fancy a family holiday in Spain and think the budget airline is the quickest option? Well, it can be, but if you dither and fail to organise yourselves, the impact on your wallet can be catastrophic.

That’s assuming you go the whole hog and book on the basis of bringing suitcases and paying all the fees such as travel insurance as well as forking out for things like priority boarding (in the case of Ryanair) and the like.

It’s amazing how many people do incur almost all the charges simply by not paying attention or ignoring the small print.

Let’s look at how it can all go wrong before we come to a novel, cheaper approach to a budget holiday where you can save up to €500 when applied to a family of four.

1 How not to book a flight online

Book a non-promotional flight departing between June to September. Over-pack two large suitcases and check them in. Pay for ‘priority boarding’. Opt for the airline’s travel insurance. Pay by credit or debit card. Forget to print your boarding passes.

By doing all of the above, a family of four (both children under 16) travelling to Europe in mid-June for a week (booked in mid-April), could see the total cost of their return flight rise to nearly €1,000 even if the basic one-way fare was about €38 per person.

2 How it’s made up on a Ryanair booking

As well as the return fare of €310, this sum is made up of the taxes and charges (€135), the new €2 ‘delay’ levy (€16 in total), online check-in (€48), two checked-in bags weighing 21kg and 16kg each (€120), priority boarding (€28), travel insurance (€58), and the credit/debit card surcharge (€48).

Then there is the penalty for packing too much, which means another €40 for our unfortunate family with the two bags being 1 kg over the weight limit (€20 per 1kg). There is also the €40 charge for forgetting to print out your boarding passes (for a family of four, that means another €160).

Although a Spanish court ruled this charge illegal in January this year, Ryanair is appealing the decision and until the appeal is heard, will continue to apply this charge.

3 How it’s made up on an Aer Lingus booking

An Aer Lingus ‘low-fares’ flight on the same date to the same destination would cost our family €837, including taxes and charges (€394) and an administration fee of €48.

But that price doesn’t include the cost of two checked-in bags at €15 each and another €15 for both of the bags being 1kg over the 20kg weight limit (€60), and travel insurance (€48), bringing the total to €945.

4 So, how do you beat the budget airlines?

While Ryanair has many detractors, they also have plenty of supporters who point out that as long as you take a little time to understand exactly how it and any other low-fares airlines work, you can still benefit from very cheap flights.

Indeed, if you scrupulously compare the Ryanair and Aer Lingus flights, it’s possible to bring the cost of the Ryanair flights in our example to around €500 (still based on an ordinary, non-promotional fare).

5 For a week, take a backpack, it’s do-able

The most effective (not to mention the most obvious) cheat is to book only the promotional flights and, where possible, fly with hand-baggage only.

Ryanair, Aer Lingus and most other low-fares airlines will allow a hand-baggage allowance of up to 10kg per person.

This will save you between €15 and €40 per flight for each checked-in bag. There are a plethora of tips available about how to bring as much as you can with hand baggage.

Some of the more common hand-baggage tricks include wearing your heaviest clothes, jamming your pockets with heavy items, and rolling up your clothes instead of folding them. You can also use the money you save to buy toothpaste, soap and other bathroom stuff at your destination.

6 Book only promotional flights/seat sales

You may not be able to go exactly where you fancy, but particularly in the case of Ryanair, seat sales really are the cheapest offers going.

These sales usually include all taxes and charges, which also includes the online check-in fee of €6 (per person, per flight).

7 Don’t choose the airline’s travel insurance

Depending on which airline you are flying with, make sure that your booking does not include travel insurance. You can get far cheaper travel insurance elsewhere.

8 Don’t choose priority boarding

It’s one of the most criticised extras they’ve devised, but many flyers really do prefer to board first on Ryanair to get the seats they want (usually at the front for a quick getaway).

Be prepared to pay €8 per person on a return flight.

9 Pay for free

This only applies to Ryanair, but buying a pre-paid Mastercard will allow you to avoid the €6 credit or debit card surcharge (per person, per flight) that, for a family of four, will add up to €48 to the cost of the flight.

You can’t avoid the payment surcharge with Aer Lingus, unfortunately.

– John Cradden

This article first appeared in the Irish Independent

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