Ways to save on budget airlines

Caroline Cassidy
departure sign at an airport.
departure sign at an airport.

Pic: Shutterstock / SeanPavonePhoto

The budget airlines have been a boon for travellers since they first began flying to popular tourist destinations, but often what appears to be a bargain basement price can soon increase once you add all the 'hidden' charges.

Take note of these tips on how to get the cheapest fares, and keep them down.

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Time it right
Earlier this year an economics professor by the name of Claudio Piga researched the perfect time to book with Ryanair. He claims that the low-cost airlines' pricing policy operates on a 'U-shaped temporal profile', with prices rising by around three per cent each time one is sold. He therefore calculated that those booking at least seven weeks before the date or travel will pay more, and fares rise by between 50 and 75 per cent in the few days before departure. Professor Piga advises travellers to book ten days before your flight departs to get the best deal... although a Ryanair spokesman described the findings as "hopelessly inaccurate".

Advance booking
Putting the perfect ticket timing to one side, you'll save money on all the little extras by booking in advance. For instance, if you are taking hold luggage, you'll pay between £15 and £45 each way with Ryanair if you book it online, but book your hold luggage at the airport and that price rises to between £30 and £75. EasyJet, Flybe, Thomson, Monarch and Jet2 operate similar policies, though the latter's prices go from £8 to £20 for online booking to £45 if you book at the airport.

Most importantly, weigh any hold luggage before you leave home. Exceed the limit and you could be paying anywhere from £10 to £15 per excess kilo. If you're close to the limit or fear you may exceed it on the way home, wear as much as you can. There are even reasonably priced 'pack-in-the-pocket' jackets in which you can keep all sorts of items about your person and avoid the excess charges.

Similarly, online check-in is by far the best way to go. It's free with Ryanair, EasyJet, Flybe, Monarch, Wizz and Jet2 (though only if you have no hold luggage). But forget to do it, and Ryanair will charge you a whopping £140 per return to check in at the airport, with Jet2 charging £20 to £35, and Wizz £18 to £34.

Choose your payment method wisely
Yet another sneaky add-on amongst the budget airlines are the 'admin' charges associated with certain payment methods. Most of the budget airlines charge a percentage of the transaction price when you pay by credit card, ranging from two per cent to three per cent. Both EasyJet and Wizz insist on a fixed fee for credit card transactions, £11 and £12 respectively, with the former adding a two per cent charge on top. And both of those also charge a fixed fee when you pay by debit card, though the majority offer fee-free payment this way.
Go hand luggage only
To get the price you see online with the budget airlines, you'll need to travel with hand luggage only. Though you'll pay between £10 and £15 for booking your carry-on via the Internet, and in most cases you are restricted to 10kg in weight, you'll save a pretty penny by not taking hold luggage. Do take note of the size restrictions though, as they differ slightly from airline to airline, and avoid checking them in at the airport, as you'll pay at least double the charge.

If you cannot avoid taking more than the hand luggage allowance allows, consider sending your suitcases a different way. The likes of SendMyBag offer a courier service that will pick your bags up at your home and take them direct to your hotel, charging only £40 for 20kg of luggage, so it's well worth a look.

Have you been stung by the budget airlines' 'hidden' charges? Tell us about your experience below...

How to Find Cheap Flights and Track Prices Online
How to Find Cheap Flights and Track Prices Online