British Airways rolled out cut-price hand luggage-only fares across its entire short-haul network from Heathrow, Gatwick and London City last month. But do its prices beat self-proclaimed budget giants Easyjet and Ryanair? MoneySavingExpert.com put them to the test.

Budget airlines, which charge extra to store bags in the hold, are often thought of as offering the cheapest short-haul air fares (use our FlightChecker tool to find cheap air fares).

But a MoneySavingExpert.com investigation looking at fares (inclusive of all fees and taxes) to eight short-haul destinations from London found little difference in the prices offered by BA, Easyjet and Ryanair.

BA says its new one-way fares are £9-£15 cheaper than the lowest one-way fare for those who put bags in the hold.

Competitive prices

In our snapshot sample of 20 flights, BA offered the cheapest hand luggage-only flights in six of the routes. Easyjet and Ryanair were cheapest on seven routes each.

For example, you'll be charged £110 for a return flight to Malta with BA next July, compared to £173 with Easyjet and £188 with Ryanair, proving BA's prices can compete with no-frills airlines.

Martin Lewis
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MoneySavingExpert.com travel expert Jenny Keefe says: "Whether you're taking hand luggage or not, don't assume budget airlines are automatically cheapest.

"If you know when and where you want to go, check flight comparison websites such as Skyscanner, TravelSupermarket and Kayak.

"You can squeeze more in hand luggage than you think. Use home scales. If you're near the weight limit, put on your heaviest clothes and shoes then stow them under your seat on the plane. To push it further, look for a big coat with lots of pockets and cram it with books, socks and pants."

How do BA's hand luggage-only fares compare?

Here's a full breakdown of what we found. We picked flights with departure times close as possible to each other both time-wise and which airports they flew to and from.

Return hand luggage-only fares: 5-12 Jan 2014
Destination BA Easyjet Ryanair Cheapest airline
Alicante £83 £96 £83.10 BA
Barcelona £83 £62 £65 Easyjet
Malaga £82 £73 £156 Easyjet
Marrakech £98 £80 £63 Ryanair
Pisa £162 £108 £80 Ryanair
Data collected between 4pm and 5.10pm on 17 October 2013. BA and Easyjet flights from London Gatwick, Ryanair from London Stansted. Similar flight times were chosen (where possible) to make fares comparable.

 

Return hand luggage-only fares: 6-13 Apr 2014
Destination

BA

Easyjet Ryanair Cheapest airline
Alicante £198 £153 £218 Easyjet
Barcelona £108 £109 £145 BA
Malaga £166 £53 £218 Easyjet
Malta £210 £187 £151 Ryanair
Marrakech £406 £322 £158 Ryanair
Paphos £315 £227 £163 Ryanair
Pisa £98 £100 £107 BA
Data collected between 2.30pm and 3.40pm on 17 October 2013. BA and Easyjet flights depart from London Gatwick, Ryanair from London Stansted. Similar flight times were chosen (where possible) to make fares comparable.

 

Return hand luggage-only fares: 6-13 Jul 2014
Destination BA Easyjet Ryanair Cheapest airline
Alicante £148 £152 £142 Ryanair
Barcelona £128 £173 £142 BA
Ibiza £150 £147 £148 Easyjet
Malaga £131 £130 £142 Easyjet
Malta £110 £173 £188 BA
Marrakech £246 £149 £182 Easyjet
Paphos £265 £251 £202 Ryanair
Pisa £118 £198 £126 BA
Data collected between 3pm and 5pm on 16 October 2013. BA and Easyjet flights depart from London Gatwick, Ryanair from London Stansted. Similar flight times were chosen (where possible) to make fares comparable.

Cutting costs

If you're flying hand luggage-only, you can also avoid paying high fees for extra luggage by only taking essentials, and packing well. Roll clothes instead of folding them, and stuff smaller items inside shoes to free up space elsewhere. See MSE Archna's How to pack for a two-week holiday with hand luggage only blog post for more tips.

If you're flying with luggage in the hold, remember to compare how much this will cost and factor that into the overall ticket price.

Easyjet charges a flat fee of £20 per bag (up to 20kg) to check luggage into the hold for a return journey. The same luggage weight costs between £25 and £45 each way with Ryanair (it also offers a cheaper 15kg allowance), depending on the route and whether you are travelling in high or low season.

You should also take into consideration other factors. For example, with BA you get complementary snacks and drinks on every flight, along with a free newspaper and more legroom.

Whether or not you'll be charged to pay for your booking should also be taken into account. It's free to pay by debit card at all three of the airlines, but if you pay by credit card, Ryanair and Easyjet will charge you 2% of the transaction and BA will charge you £4.50.

See our Budget Airline Fee Fighting guide for more help cutting flight costs.

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