Plane travel is a competitive business, a fact that has driven airlines to invent ever more ingenious ways of extracting money from their customers while keeping their base ticket prices strikingly low. This can be frustrating, as you’re never quite sure if the cost you’re quoted will bear much resemblance to the total that’s ultimately skimmed from your bank account. But it can also be turned to your advantage, and by learning how the system works you can whittle the price back down to an eminently economic level. Here we’ve gathered together five simple ways to avoid the many fees that airlines endeavor to sneak on top of the cost of your ticket.
Photo by Slices of Light/Flickr.
The first step is to understand exactly what additional services the airline is charging you for, and how much each of these contributes to the total cost of your flight. From there you can decide which are indispensable and which you can comfortably do without. Traditionally, this has been quite a dull and laborious process, as airline websites tend to do all they can to make this detailed information difficult to access. Fortunately for budget conscious travelers, here at Hopper we’ve developed an online tool that does all the hard work for you, allowing you to adjust the services for your flight and presenting the results in easy-to-understand graphics. Just follow the link, choose your route, and play around with the additional services you may want. Pricing is updated weekly and is based on good deals found over the past four weeks.
Standard practice with most budget airlines requires travelers to pay extra for any bags that are checked in. But in nearly all cases, airlines allow travelers to take one item of hand luggage and one personal item free of charge. A personal item can be a purse, a backpack or a laptop bag. Female travelers can consider packing their purse in their carry-on and instead using their personal item allotment for a larger item, like a backpack, to bring the most possible.
It may be that you dislike the idea of having to lug your baggage on-board and then battle with your fellow passengers to find storage space in the overhead lockers. If so, this is entirely understandable: the luggage game has become increasingly nasty since airlines first introduced baggage fees. More and more travelers are carrying on the biggest possible bags that the rules allow, making that locker space an increasingly precious and hard-fought-over commodity. If this sounds horrendously stressful, then don’t just resign yourself to paying check-in fees to avoid the unpleasant experience. You can avoid both the fees and the horror by taking the bag through security with you, and asking to have it gate-checked once you get to your final departure gate. If you’re lucky, the staff will put a tag on it and check it all the way to your final destination, entirely for free. This is not guaranteed, and is down to the discretion of the keeper of the gate. But with boarding becoming increasingly chaotic as people rush to secure locker space for their bulging carry-on baggage, airlines are usually more than happy to take a bag or two out of the mix.
Unless the capacity to nip unhindered to the toilet or gaze at the dazzling cloudscape is essential to your trip, then avoid booking a specific seat on your flight. Some airline websites are rather sneakily designed to make it look like you have to pay the extra fee to reserve a seat - don’t fall for it, you can skip the selection and save the dough, joining instead the pot luck of random seat allocation. And you may be able to avoid this purgatory without paying - some airlines, such as British Airways, will allow you to pick a seat for free when you check in online. So just check in online as soon as possible, usually 24 hours before your flight, and you’ll still be able to ensure swift access to the toilet or buff vistas out the window.
As with seat selection, online booking systems are designed with immense sophistication to unobtrusively nudge passengers into paying for a whole host of extras. These extras generally fall into two camps: they are entirely unnecessary; or they could be found much cheaper elsewhere. In the first camp are services such as text message confirmation (e-mail is sufficient), snacks (bring a sandwich), credit card charges (use a debit card) and WiFi (this could be worth paying for, but you could also just load up any information you might need on your laptop before leaving home). In the latter camp - extras that could be found cheaper elsewhere - you’ll be offered a smattering of services such as travel insurance, car hire, airport parking and hotels. Just ignore all these offers and use a price comparison website to give you more choice and better prices.