Welcome to this week's Finance Fridays. Last week we were looking at what happens if my holiday company goes bust? We're staying on the travel theme this week with the cost of flights. There are many adverts on television, online and in newspapers showing cheap flights which look very tempting for a budget trip. However, in reality the price you see on those adverts are rarely what you actually pay. From baggage costs to check-in fees here's a guide to some of the hidden fees that airline charge and tips to avoid them.
Suitcases – Do you like to pack for all occasions? Think again. A plane ticket used to include a 20kg luggage allowance as standard. Now most airlines charge extra for hold luggage and the standard weight allowance can be anything from 15kg to 32kg. Do remember to leave room for an extras you buy on holiday as excess luggage at the airport will cost you a lot and can be charged by the kilo.
Hand luggage – You usually get a free hand luggage allowance of around 10kg per person but this can be as low as 6kg. There will be a size restriction of the bag which differs from airline to airline. Do also check what constitutes hand luggage. Your normal handbag or rucksack may be counted as 1 piece of luggage and any other bags may be charged as hold luggage.
Sports and musical equipment – If you are taking sports equipment with you always arrange the carriage of it in advance. Airlines will have set fees for common equipment such as bicycles, golf clubs and skis but for other sports and musical instruments you may need to send specific details to the airline.
Baby gear – For such small people babies come with a lot of stuff. Find out beforehand what you take with you in terms of pushchairs, car seats and cots. In some cases if such items aren't included with the ticket it may be cheaper to hire the equipment at your destination – this also means it won't be thrown about either by the baggage handlers!
Wear it – Currently no airline charges for what you wear. If your hand luggage is too heavy try to find some pockets to carry stuff in. When I came back from Austria many years ago I put a heavy plate (present for Mother JibberJabber) and the September edition of Vogue (known for being the heaviest month of the year) down the front of coat. Once checked-in both went into my hand luggage.
Checking in – Gone are days of getting to an airport, handing over your ticket and then getting a boarding card in exchange for free. Now airlines like you to check-in beforehand by logging on and doing it online. This shouldn't be much of a problem for most people if they are travelling from home but can cause problems for the return journey. Some airlines even require you to print out the check-in confirmation which is even trickier. Even when you check-in online these days there's unusually a fee. Whizz Air, which specialises in flights to Eastern Europe, currently charges £9 per person to check-in via its website but if you do it at the airport the cost goes up to £26.50 per person.
Choosing seats – The luxury of business or first class is beyond the budget of many of us which means a scramble for seats on the airplane. If you're travelling on your own you may not be bothered about where you sit but groups of people usually like to sit together. Some flights allow you to pick your seats in advance at an extra cost. Others offer priority boarding which means you join a queue with other people in order to board first. Some people do say this is a waste of money as people still charge on and there is no guarantee you will get seats together. If you are booking with children do not assume the airline will seat you together for free. It is not unusual to find families split up and a toddler or young child sat next to a stranger.
Changing names – Make sure the name on your booking and your passport match. It's easy when typing in forms to make a mistake but it could be very costly. Some airlines won't accept name changes at all – they state that when you made the booking the terms and conditions include this. This means you could face the possibility of buying your ticket again. Other airlines have a window of time in which you can correct any name changes. If you find out too late that your ticket and passport name don't match it could cost a lot to change it – Rynanair charges £160 at the airport for name changes. Always make sure you use the name your passport is in and not any diminutive or nickname. If you have just got married book the flight in your pre-married name which your passport is in if you are thinking about changing your surname.
Payment method – When booking a flight the most likely method of payment is by either debit or credit card. You'll find that usually paying by debit card will incur no extra charges (some airlines though do have a administration/transaction fee no matter how you pay). Payment by credit card though often incurs a charge. Currently Monarch doesn't charge for debit card payment but for credit cards the fee is 3% or £5 whatever is greater per booking. It may seem a simple choice if you have the money available to pay by debit card but they don't offer the same level of protection than if you pay by credit card. For purchases over £100 on credit cards you will be covered by section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974 if the airline goes bust or cancels your flight. Annoyingly you have to balance out the risk with the extra cost.
Shop around – It's easy to assume that the budget airlines will be the cheapest but with all the fees that we have mentioned sometimes it's actually cheaper to book with other airlines. British Airways at the moment offers baggage inclusive tickets plus child tickets which includes the same baggage allowance as an adult and a fully collapsible stroller and car seat.
Food and drink – Once on-board the charges don't stop there. There are restrictions on liquids you can take on board for security reasons. Some will allow water or soft drinks in transparent bottles but there will be a limit in the volume you can take. For short flights you can try to make sure you are fully hydrated before you board but be aware you may need to queue for some time once your flight has been called so don't miss it by having to rush off to the toilet! For health reasons if you need to drink may sure you do so have money available to buy drinks onboard.
Airline food is renowned for being expensive and not that great tasting. Contrary to popular belief you can bring your own food onto certain airlines including Ryanair and easyJet. Before you travel make sure you check with both your airline and also any local airport restrictions. Certain foods cannot be taken out of the country and will be confiscated from you before boarding.
Do you check for hidden charges before you book flights? Have you been caught out by airline fees?
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