Flexible options when booking flights can send the cost soaring by as much as around 17 times the original price, according to Which?
The consumer group compared the prices of standard fares and flexible fares for flights to check if paying extra for flexibility is worth it after months of travel disruption and uncertainty.
Which? said in every example it looked at, the cost difference between a flexible ticket and a standard fare was greater than the cost of the standard fare.
This would suggest passengers could be better off simply paying for a standard fare and making a new booking if they ended up unable to travel, rather than paying for a flexible fare.
It said many passengers could also benefit more from the flexibility provided through airlines’ “book with confidence” policies, which many carriers have introduced to allow passengers to make changes to their bookings for free in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak.
Which? found a big increase between a standard and flexible fare for a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Barcelona in February 2021. The cheapest standard flight Which? found cost £57, but the same route booked with an Economy Plus Flex fare saw the price shoot up to £966 – around 17 times the cost of the standard fare.
Meanwhile, a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York in February 2021 that cost £319 if booked with a standard fare shot up to £2,031 when booked with a flexible fare – an increase of more than £1,700.
Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “After a year that has shown us all the value of flexibility when booking travel arrangements, airlines should be making their flexible booking options as attractive as possible.
“But while it’s not unusual to see airlines flogging extras of questionable value to their passengers, these excessive prices for flexible fares – which often aren’t that flexible at all, or charge for flexibility that is already on offer in their standard fares – are simply not worth it.”
A BA statement given to Which? said: “We offer our customers a wide range of options to give greater choice and to best suit their individual travel plans.”
Virgin Atlantic told the consumer group: “As is common practice we offer a wide range of competitive fares. Regardless of the fare or product, our current commercial policy supersedes fare conditions which may appear during the booking journey for a customer.”
It added: “We are constantly evaluating how best to ensure our customers are kept up to date with the latest booking policies, updates and most competitive prices.”