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Budget flight fee-fighting Cut costs on Ryanair, Easyjet and more

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Budget airlines' prices miss out pricey 'extras' such as Beat budget airline taking baggage and even checking in. Even so, learn to get over these hurdles and you can pay £30-ish per return.

Whether it’s Ryanair, Easyjet, Flybe or others, we've 30 tips to keep flying costs to a minimum. This guide will train you how to fly hand luggage only, beat check-in fees, wear your baggage and more.

01 Speedily find the cheapest tickets

Budget airlines take huge adverts out for £20 or half price sales, yet these flights are tough to find. Our Budget Airline FlightChecker is designed to crack this.

  • Instantly find super-cheap flights. Tell it what you're willing to pay, and it finds when that's available. Sub-£30 returns can be possible, though this jumps in school hols.
  • Try 'I'll go anywhere' for ideas. If you just want to get away cheaply, select 'I'll go anywhere' (or anywhere in Spain or Italy, etc) to reveal the winners.
  • Includes baggage and payment fees. The tool also includes an estimate of budget airlines' added extras, so you can search with or without those.

Budget airlines sales are always for set times (eg, April only) and specific destinations, so if you see a sale you're interested in, restrict your search to those.

02 £30 returns are possible - if you know what you're doing

Budget airlines can sell flights for minuscule prices because that's all you're paying for: a flight. First check the price includes standard charges such as airport fees and air passenger duty. Most of them do, but never assume.

Then take on the add-ons. The airlines include a plethora of extra charges to claw back this cash. The key is to think of these charges as a hurdle race. Get over most without knocking them down and the prize is uber-cheap flights. So remember...

Learn the system and you can still sometimes fly for £15 each way in total

Quiz: What’s the cost of a £30 flight?

Get it wrong, and it could cost you big. Guess the total additional charges for a family of four on a Ryanair 'including taxes and check-in fees' £15 each-way return flight.


They're flying in September, paying by debit card, taking two suitcases (not booked in advance) and forgot to print boarding passes.


Reveal the answer

03Fly hand-luggage only

luggageIf you want to stow luggage in the hold, you can pay up to £200 per case return (more in extreme cases). Plus budget airlines' weight allowances for checked-in cases can be lower than elsewhere at 15kg to 20kg.

No airlines charge for basic hand luggage (though Wizz Air charges for certain sizes). Up 10kg is usually fine - Easyjet has no weight limit. Though always check size restrictions.

You can squeeze more into hand luggage than you think - here are some tips.

Stick to carry on rules

Don't buy posh travel-size toiletries

Buy cheap, lightweight cases

Weigh to go

Take a soft case

Take travel laundry wash

Leave space for your return


Remember your bag will need to pass the size test

It's not just about weight - size matters too. Always check size restrictions before flying, or you could be hit with a hefty fee if your bag's too big.

If cases don't fit airlines' cabin requirements, they can force you to pay up to £75 per item, per flight to put luggage in the hold at check-in. If you chance it at the boarding gate by checking in online and taking too-big baggage through security, fees can double.

This table shows what size hand luggage you can take on board, and how much airlines charge to put oversized cabin bags in the hold. For a full list of fees to stow cases in the hold, see baggage charges below.


Max hand luggage sizes and fees (one way)
Max hand luggage size Maximum
weight
Per bag booked in advance At check-in At gate
Ryanair (1) 55 x 40 x 20cm 10kg From £15 N/A (2) £60-£160
Easyjet 56 x 45 x 25cm (3) No limit From £9 £25 £40
Flybe 55 x 40 x 23cm 10kg From £14 £40 £50
Jet2 56 x 45 x 25cm 10kg From £8 £40 £40
Monarch 56 x 40 x 25cm 10kg From £10 £25 £50
Thomson Airways 55 x 40 x 20cm 5kg From £22 £44-£75 Unclear (4)
Wizz Air 56x45x25 (but fees charged over 42x32x25) (5) 10kg From £9 £18 £27
(1) From 1 Dec, Ryanair will let you bring either a second, small carry-on bag (maximum size 35cm x 20cm x 20cm), or a duty-free carrier bag, alongside your main hand luggage bag. (2) No check-in at airport available, so you'd pay the gate fee for the first 15kg bag. (3) Easyjet can only guarantee bags measuring 50 x 40 x 20cm can be taken on board. If between the guaranteed size and the maximum, and they ask to check in baggage, there's NO fee. (4) A spokesman says there's no gate fee, but we're dubious given that's a no-risk licence to chance it. (5) Between 42x32x25 and 56x45x25, there are fees of up to €15 short-haul and €20 long-haul (depending on when you fly) to take on board.

04Wear your baggage

Use your home scales. If you're near the hand luggage weight limit, stuff socks and undies in to your jacket, then stow it under your seat on the plane.

Martin Lewis - Dodge airline baggage costsThen again, you could take it to the extreme. For an ITV Tonight programme, Martin wore a special US survivalist jacket on a Ryanair flight.

It contained a laptop, two books, a towel, passports, a T-shirt, socks, magazines and much more. Even though it was heavier than hand luggage, they don't have rules to stop it … yet.

Martin wore a 22-pocket Scottevest from the USA. It ain't cheap, so check your wardrobe or try a camping or army surplus store. One thing to look out for is a jacket with a poacher's pocket, a deep lower pocket at the back where hunters keep game.

£5 off 'pack-in-the-pocket' jackets
Another option is a Rufus Roo*, a specialist big-pocket jacket. Jackets normally start from £29.95 plus £3.95 delivery. But enter the code UKM5 and you get £5 off, bringing the total cost to £28.90, including postage. The offer is ongoing, while stocks last and some colours/sizes may be limited.

We asked forumites to road-test it. Typical feedback: "Fits in a lot of stuff, more than I expected. No hassle through check-in or security" and "It isn't the most stylish, but it's very lightweight". See more reviews and pictures in the forum.

Don't miss out on updates to this guide Get MoneySavingExpert's free, spam-free weekly email full of guides & loopholes

05Watch MSE Rose's top hand-luggage only packing tips

Above we explained budget airlines' hand luggage allowances. But to really push it to the max, watch this top packing tips video from our own MSE Rose, who has tons of experience flying on budget airlines.

Top packing tips for flying hand-luggage only
WITH MSE ROSE - Filmed on 23 July 2013

06 Always book hold luggage in advance

It’s much cheaper to book cases stowed in the hold online in advance rather than at the airport, so decent planning is important. Think carefully about minimising the number of cases you need to take.

Update 28 Oct 2013. From 5 Jan 2014, Ryanair is cutting the fee for checking in a bag at the airport without having booked online from £60 to £30 (from £60 to £50 at the boarding gate). This is just for a standard 15kg bag on a low season flight - no other bag fees are changing. See Ryanair cuts some fees news.

Some key hold luggage rules:

More bags doesn’t always mean more weight

Always use the scales

Trash it

You can't share weight allowances


Luggage fees and allowances
Per bag each way
(booked online)
Per bag each way
(at the airport)
Luggage allowance
Per kg Excess
Ryanair
£15 - £35¹
£60 - £160 ²
15kg 3
£20
Easyjet
£9 - £17
£25
20kg
£11
Flybe
£14
£40
15kg
£15
Jet2
£8 - £20
£40
22kg
£12
Monarch
£10 - £23
£25
20kg
£10
Thomson Airways
£22 - £37.50
£44 - £75
Varies by route
£13-£18
Wizz Air
£13 - £30 4
£38
Up to 32kg 4
Varies 5
1) 15kg bags are usually £15, or £25 if you fly peak (1 Jun-30 Sep and 21 Dec-4 Jan). Flights to Canary Islands & Greece cost more - £20 in low season, £35 in high season. See full charges list. ² It's usually £60, but £100 if you fly peak (1 Jun-30 Sep & 21 Dec-4 Jan). Second bags and flights to Canary Islands & Greece cost more at up to £160 - see full charges list. 3 There are options to upgrade to higher allowances at an extra cost. 4) Large cabin bags start from £9. Weight allowances vary - see full fees. 5) It does not charge per kg - you will be charged a large luggage fee.

07 Beat check-in fees

printerSome airlines charge up to £14 per person, per return for airport check-in - just plane cheeky. If possible, do it free online first. Ryanair usually still charges £7 - still it’s much cheaper than at the airport.

From 1 December Ryanair will no longer charge £70 each way if you check in online but forget to print your boarding pass. See Ryanair cuts some charges news story.

This chart shows how much you'll pay to check in.

Budget airline check-in charges
Online check in per
person, per return
Airport check in per
person, per return
Ryanair
£14 ¹
£140
Easyjet
Free
Free
Flybe
Free
Free
Jet2
Free / £12 ²
£17.50
Monarch
Free
Free
Thomson Airways
No online check-in
Free
Wizz Air
Free
£13
¹ Except on "including taxes and charges" sales. ² Free if you are hand luggage only, or £12 if you are checking in bags

08 Check in for free with Ryanair's 'including taxes and charges' sales

Ryanair regularly holds sales where prices include 'non-optional' taxes and fees. The beauty of these is that you usually don't have to pay its £14 per person per return online check-in fee. You usually also escape its £5.50 per return EU levies.

With all other fares, even those that look very cheap, you pay for online check-in. Though even on these, forget to print your boarding pass and you pay even more.

09Don't assume budget airlines are cheapest

If you've have specific dates in mind, are going further afield, or there's no budget airline sale, check budget airlines are cheap via comparison websites. Our top picks are Skyscanner* for ease, TravelSupermarket* breadth and Kayak* gizmos.

For traditional resorts such as Majorca or Malaga, charter flights (extra seats on package operators' planes) can be cheaper. Try TravelSupermarket*, Avro* & Flights Direct*, which include them too. For far more tips - for example, Orlando packages can be cheaper than flight-only trips - see full Cheap Flights guide.

Don't discount package holidays either. In traditional tourist spots, especially for seven or 14 days, package holidays can win, especially if you haggle. Plus you get extra protection if things go wrong. Full step-by-step system in Cheap Package Holidays.

10 Think carefully about how you pay

You used to be able to tool up with niche payment cards to avoid some admin fees. Since the OFT announced that airlines must display debit card prices, admin fees are pretty similar however you pay.

The safest way for flights over £100 is on a credit card (fully repaid so there's no interest) - then you get Section 75 protection, meaning the card company's jointly liable if anything goes wrong. Yet airlines often charge a credit card fee (see the chart below), so you need to balance the risk versus the cost.

Debit card payments get some protection too


Budget airline 'admin' charges per return
Pay by credit card Pay by
debit card
Ryanair
£14 per person + 2% of transaction
£14 per person
Easyjet
£10 per payment + 2.5%
£10 per payment
Flybe
3% of transaction
(£5 min)
Free
Jet2
2.5% of transaction
Free
Monarch
2.5% of transaction
(£5 min)
Free
Thomson Airways
2.5% of transaction
Free
Wizz Air
£12
£12

11Take a plane picnic

Budget airlines make extra cash by flogging snacks to hungry flyers at sky-high prices. A splurge on airline snacks could easily undo the savings on your ticket.

Yet it's only liquids that you can't take through security. You can plan ahead and bring your own snacks and sarnies with you.

For example, £2 on a single airline muffin will often buy eight of 'em in the supermarket, making it nearly 90% cheaper to bring your own.

How to have a picnic at 30,000 feet

Check airline restrictions

12 Beware budget airline baby fees

Baby on board? Budget airlines charge as much as £60 per return to take a tot under two on your lap. If that's you, it's worth comparing budget airline fees against other carriers to see if they'd be cheaper. See Cheap Flights for top pick flight comparisons.

Only babies under age two count as infants - you need to buy a ticket for other kids.

Budget airline baby charges (per return)
Ryanair
£60
Easyjet
£40
Flybe
12% of the fare plus taxes
Jet2
£40
Monarch
£40
Thomson Airways
£35 short-haul/£79 long-haul
Wizz Air
£42 1
Charges are for babies under two-years-old 1) If the flight costs less than £42, you pay the flight price.

13 Watch for auto-insurance

Some airlines pre-tick an insurance box, automatically adding travel insurance. One to be careful of is Ryanair. It doesn't automatically include insurance, but you still need to be careful.

Instead, it asks you which country you live in for the purpose of buying insurance. From the drop-down menu it displays, make sure you click 'travel without insurance'. If you click United Kingdom, you'll be charged.

You can get far cheaper travel insurance elsewhere. See Cheap Travel Insurance.

14 Flight delayed in last eight years? £100s in compensation possible

A blockbuster European Court of Justice ruling means some can net up to €600 compensation (£518 based on July 2013’s exchange rate) for delays if the airline was at fault.

You can claim back to February 2005, but it's harder for flights before 2007. If you don't remember whether or not your flight was delayed, check using FlightStats (register free to use it).

Under EU rules, you may get compensation for delays of three or more hours. In some instances you may also get your ticket money back, plus other costs like meals and accommodation. See the Flight Delays Compensation guide for full help.

15 Sit together without paying more

Budget airlines often charge to book specific seats or jump the queue at the gate so you board first. These are generally short-haul flights lasting a few hours, so unless you've kids, sitting separately's not the end of the world.

To boost your chances of sitting together:

  • Turn up early. If seats are unassigned, arrive early and lurk by the boarding entrance to boost chances of grabbing a prime spot. If seats are assigned at check-in, do it online if possible, early.
  • Find the best seats. Check the plane's layout on Seatguru, which shows the best and worst seats on different airlines' planes. If there's a choice of seats at check-in, you can pick the good 'uns.
  • Consider if priority boarding's worth it. It simply means you'll be first on the plane to pick seats. While some MoneySavers with families say priority boarding's worth it, others reckon it's still a big free-for-all and priority boarders don't always get on first.

    Some forumites pay for priority boarding for just the biggest, burliest member of their party, who then gets on and saves the seats for the others.

16 Hostels: Dirt-cheap, not dirty

For a budget room to go with your budget flight, hostels can offer massive savings over hotel prices. Don’t think dodgy smelly dorms. Many are clean, have private rooms available and breakfast.

To check out prices and availability, use Hostelbookers.com* and Hostelworld*, both of which give hostels a percentage rating, based on users' experiences.

Alternatively, spare room and apartment rental sites, such as Airbnb and Wimdu, offer cheap short-term stays in private homes worldwide. We found a room in Barcelona flat for £26/night, while a similar hotel was £61/night. See Cheap Hotels for more.

17Avoid a 70-mile trek into town

Budget flights can touch down in airports some distance from the city centre. "London" Southend airport is 40 miles from central London, Stockholm-Skavsta is 60 miles away from the Swedish capital and Oslo-Torp is 70 miles from the centre of Oslo.

So factor in the cost of getting to and from the airport. Take the time of day into account too – if the flight gets in at midnight, a taxi's cost could wipe out any savings if you can't take public transport.

18 Combine one-way budget flights with Avios

If you are an Avios (formerly Air Miles) collector, our 30 Avios Points Boosters can help you push it to the max.

One big advantage of Avios over the old Air Miles scheme is you can book one-way tickets – they simply cost half the number of points as a return flight.

This is a boon if you find a super-cheap budget airline flight for your outward journey, but can't find a cheapie on the way back.

Short-haul Avios flights are top value

Unlike the old Air Miles system, Avios charges passengers taxes and fees on flights, wiping some of the gain. These can be up to £100 for British Airways return flights within Europe.

Under its Reward Saver scheme, you pay a fixed £35 fee on most short-haul economy flights, as long as you earn at least one point in the year before you book.

19Treble-check details when booking

Typos, mistakes and wrong dates can cost large on budget airlines, so treble-check everything before submitting.

Ryanair charges £110 per return to change the named passenger (£160 at the airport). However, it can be sympathetic to innocent errors, for example, if you booked a Ryanair flight under the name Matt, rather than Matthew, as shown on your passport.

If you enter an incorrect nickname, typo or old maiden name, call its helpline and it will usually amend for a £10 admin fee.

However, if you want to a change a passenger, say, Ariel Hassle to Justin Credible, it charges £110 to alter the ticket (£160 at the airport). Ryanair's press office says this fee's to stop travel agents buying up the lowest priced seats and reselling them.

20Beware high cost helplines

Budget airlines' premium rate helplines can cost up to 77p per minute (Wizz Air). The website SayNoTo0870.com has a searchable alternative number database to help you work around the charges. See the full Say No To 0870 guide for more.

If you can't locate a cheap number, do as much as possible online, and call at quiet times to avoid long queues.

21 Never wait until the airport for foreign cash

You're a captive customer at an airport or ferry terminal, so you'll probably be lumbered with the worst rates. If you must get your travel cash from the airport, order for pick-up to get a better rate.

Use our TravelMoneyMax travel money comparison site to instantly uncover the best possible deal, including all fees and any commission. The tool lists all the big currencies, and also lets you see who's cheapest for exchanging unused currency back to pounds when you get back (if you've any left!)

22Check fees before bringing buggies and car seats

If you're doing a budget flight with young kids in tow, check how much equipment you're allowed to check in, as allowances vary.

On Ryanair, you can take one collapsable buggy per child for free. But car and booster seats cost £10 per item each way if you book online (£20 at the airport).

On Easyjet, for every child you can put two of the following in the hold for free: booster seats, buggies, push chairs, car seats and travel cots.

Hire car seats at special airport shops

Child seats are compulsory in Europe for under-3s. Yet from £5/day, hiring child seats from car rental firms is expensive. Some airports, such as Malaga, have places where you can rent car seats at half the cost. See Cheap Car Hire for more.

23 Always book cheap airport parking

Airports often make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave the car there without booking first and you risk sky-high rates, so don't just turn up. Booking first, even on the day, could save money. See the Cheap Airport Parking guide for the full technique, plus safety tips, how to grab hidden local discounts and more.

24 Free flights - if you play your cards right

Credit cards offer all sorts of free gifts to new cardholders, so it's possible to sign up for the card and grab the freebie. This is handy if you're travelling as there are loads available, including flights around Europe (excluding taxes), Eurostar returns and more.

The free flights aren't actually doled out on application or acceptance. To trigger the freebie gift, most providers require you to spend on the card. So spend as little as possible, and pay off the balance in full to ensure it's totally free. See the Credit Card Freebies guide for the full technique, plus the top freebies.

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