Summer may still be a couple of months away, but many people are already booking their holidays – either through agencies or by themselves. Planning your time off, however, can be frustrating, especially when it comes to booking a flight with all the additional fees charged for everything from seat selection to correcting a spelling mistake on your booking.
Those who have yet to make a flight reservation should prepare themselves for paying more than they did a year or two ago. In December, air fares rose by 44.1% compared to December 2021, according to official figures. This historic increase, the largest since the 1980s, will certainly make travelling abroad much more expensive, especially when UK holidaymakers are already struggling with the higher cost of living. Budget airlines may look like the best option, but are their flights really more affordable? The team at TradingPedia checked what several popular airlines are currently offering in order to see how much travellers are paying for airfare and how much for additional fees.
The Most Common Hidden Costs of Airline Fares
Those who are looking for affordable flights may already be late, since agencies and airlines have been offering discounted fares and holiday packages for weeks. January and early February is the busiest time for bookings, but there are still good deals to be had for the summer months. As budget airlines cut fares, however, additional, hidden costs are added to make up for the lower profits.
To be fair, these fees are not exactly hidden on the websites of the airlines – they are fully disclosed on each screen while you are making an online booking. However, they are not added to the final cost of the fare in advertisements and special offers, and do not become clear until the actual process of booking the flight is completed. For this comparison, we looked at fares marketed as “value”, “budget” or “standard” rather than more expensive ones.
Typically, budget airlines charge fees for any baggage larger than a small bag that can fit under the front seat, so before booking, passengers need to check exactly what they will be required to pay if they want to bring more luggage.
Ryanair, for one, allows you to take only one small bag (40cm x 20cm x 25cm) for free, or pay for a slightly more expensive fare when booking (£6 – £30) if you want to take two cabin bags – one small and one up to 10 kg. Of course, the post-booking fee is slightly higher (£6 – £35.99). The cost of checked luggage is steeper – from £12 to £25 for a 10-kg bag and from £17.99 to £50 for checked in luggage of 20 kg. Excess baggage can be purchased online up to 2 hours before departure for £9 per extra kilogram – if you purchase at the airport/call centre/kiosk, the fee is £11 per extra kilo.
Jet2 passengers are allowed to carry one piece of hand luggage free of charge if it weighs no more than 10kg and measures up to 56cm x 45cm x 25cm in size, including any wheels and handles. Additionally, handbags, laptops, and other small items can be brought into the cabin. Up to three 22kg hold bags (per person, per flight) are allowed if the applicable charge is paid – note that the fee will be displayed while booking but may differ depending on the date of travel, destination, type of fare, and so on. Jet2 has not published any fixed fees on its website – we made two bookings where the charge was first £27 and then £35 per bag. If any of the bags are heavier, you will need to pay the standard excess baggage rate of £12 per kilo.
If you fly with easyJet, you will also be allowed to bring one small bag for free – the maximum dimensions here are 45cm x 36cm x 20cm. A second, slightly larger cabin bag is allowed for those who purchase extra legroom and the upfront seat option – you can also pay for this second bag with a fee of at least £5.99 (£28.99). ( Numbers confusing??) The standard fare does not include any checked in luggage, so you will need to pay extra – fees start from £6.99 for a bag of up to 15 kg and from £9.49 if the hold baggage weighs up to 23 kg. Depending on the flight, date, etc, you could be charged as much as £55.99. The excess weight charge is £12 per kilo.
A small carry-on bag (40cm x 30cm x 20 cm) can be brought for free on board a Wizz Air flight and passengers can also bring a larger trolley bag if they purchase a more expensive fare (Wizz Priority). Both bags cannot exceed 10 kg. When it comes to hold baggage, the airline very generously allows up to 6 bags to be checked in per person. The price depends on the weight of the bag and whether it is low or peak season – charges vary from £5.49 to £109.39 during the high season. Once again, for excess weight, you will be charged £12 per kilo.
Those who fly with Norwegian and opt for a LowFare ticket will need to pay between £9 and £15 for an overhead cabin bag (max 55cm x 40cm x 23cm, 10 kg). For domestic flights, this is a fixed fee of £9. A small underseat bag can be brought on board for free. The cheaper fares do not include checked baggage and the airline charges you £15.90 – £36.90 per bag on international flights. A second checked bag costs between £29.90 and £39.90. The fee for excess weight is £12 per kilo.
British Airways also offers cheaper fares in its Economy class, and include two pieces of small hand luggage – a handbag or a laptop bag plus one slightly larger cabin bag. Everything else comes at an additional cost, but checked bags, for instance, cannot be added during the initial booking, so travellers will need to purchase those at a later stage. Prices range from £30 to £70, with the allowed weight being 23 kg – heavier bags are charged £65.
Budget-friendly Vueling flights are also available to UK holidaymakers if they opt for a Basic fare. It allows for bringing only one underseat bag while adding additional cabin baggage costs between £22.13 and £54.40. However, if passengers opt for a checked cabin bag during the booking process, the price could be reduced. Check-in bags and cases come at a price range of £9.22 – £73.77, depending on the weight of the bag, on the destination and on the date of the flight. Excess luggage costs £11.06 per kg at the check-in desk.
Seat Selection Fees
Seat selection, as well as opting for extra legroom, more space, or front seats, is usually charged an additional fee if you purchase a low-cost ticket. Some airlines also offer travel companions to sit together even if they have not picked any specific seats – this, of course, also costs a few pounds. The only exception is made for young children as companies will always try to place them next to at least one of the adults from their travelling party, so in most cases, you will not have to pay extra to sit next to your 5-year-old.
It is important to note that seat selection is always optional, even if you do not see this option anywhere at the time of booking. Most airlines urge you to pick a seat (rather than require that of you) but you can also complete your booking without choosing a specific seat. In this case, you will receive a random seat a few days before departing – this is completely free of charge but may be inconvenient, especially if you are travelling with other people.
Ryanair has the lowest charges – from £1 to £30, depending on where you wish to be seated, while the fee on Jet2 flights is between £10 and £30. Wizz Air charges passengers anything from £3.66 to £54.92 for seat selection, easyJet – between £0.99 and £46.99, and Vueling – from £4.61 to £27.66. With Norwegian, you will need to pay from £9.9 to £45.90, whereas with British Airways the seat selection fee is not clearly disclosed on the website. We tried to make several bookings through the website and the charges displayed for these particular flights were from £11 to £29.
Online Booking and Check-in Fees
Until a few years ago, many airlines charged some type of administration fee when booking a flight, but this is now almost non-existent, with fees being charged only for flight reservations made at the airport.
However, Wizz Air still requires passengers to pay an administration fee (£7.50 – £12.00) for booking via the website, the mobile app, its call centre and at the airport. It also has an odd System Surcharge Fee, which may be applied to bookings made by automated systems. In reality, you may be charged £9 if you use an ad blocker or the system flags your browser activity as suspicious.
Ryanair does not charge any additional costs for online bookings, but any reservation made at the airport comes with a hefty £50 fee. Norwegian also has this type of fee – it is £20 and is applied for any bookings or changes to the booking that are made at the airport.
Wizz Air also charges £12 if you check in online while at the airport, as well as £36.50 if you do it through the check-in desk. The airline also allows you to opt for an auto check-in, which is considerably cheaper at just £2.50. With Jet2, you will need to pay £15 for checking in at the airport, while with Ryanair, the check-in fee is £55 at the airport.
Other Fees That May Be Hidden
There are plenty of other additional fees and surcharges when booking a flight. Typically, the services you pay for extras are optional, such as extra legroom or additional checked baggage. Of course, you would also expect to pay for any food on board the plane, rental car reservations and so on. However, in some cases, passengers have no choice but to purchase these “optional” services.
One of these is the group administration fee – it is £4.50 if you fly with Wizz Air but with easyJet, group bookings are charged £15 per person. Also, Ryanair has a card payment fee, so you may be charged a percentage of the total transaction if you pay via a credit or debit card. When you fly with an infant (under the age of 2 at the time of the flight), you do not need to purchase a ticket but there is a mandatory fee. With Wizz Air, it is £28.50, while with easyJet or Ryanair, it is £25, and Jet2 charges you only £20. Norwegian, on the other hand, offers infant fares, which are around £20 to £30. Vueling also has an infant fee, ranging from £13.82 to £142.91, depending on the adult’s fare, the destination and the date of the flight.
Another fee that seems barely optional is the so-called rescue fee charged by all airlines when the passenger misses the flight. If you arrive at the airport right before or shortly after takeoff, you can pay the rescue fee and you will be given a seat in the next flight. Ryanair charges £100 per person, easyJet – £110, while Vueling has a rescue fee starting from £115.26 for international flights. Wizz Air’s rescue fee is only £73. The other airlines also charge a fee, but do not clearly state how much it amounts to their websites.
Of course, there are many other fees you may be charged outside of the actual cost of the airfare, so you need to make sure you are aware of all carrier policies for baggage, flight cancellation, or travelling with children, just to name a few.