How on earth can "paying for the flight" or "checking-in" be deemed added extras?

It's worth taking a moment to admire budget airlines' sheer chutzpah.

While the Budget Airline Fee-Beating guide shows you how to avoid these charges, it's an education looking at how they get away with it.

The methods range from sly to virtually unjustifiable. The EU law governing how airlines must display prices is simple.

It states: "The final price paid shall at all times be indicated... including the applicable air fare, taxes, charges, surcharges and fees which are unavoidable." Bear this in mind when reading on.

You pay more just to pay

When you buy the flight, there's no cash option, yet all budget airlines charge extra to pay by credit or debit card. They get away with this sleight of hand by making it free to pay via Visa Electron debit cards.

Don't assume that means it's cheaper to process Electrons than other cards.

My nose tells me this is a bit of marketing genius; there's a mere fraction of the number of these cards than other types as few banks issue them, so saying "it's free on Electrons" means they can list their prices at much lower amounts than most actually pay.

And it gets worse. While some industries charge extra, at least for credit card payments, it's usually done as 1%-2% of the total cost, reflecting what they are charged. But for credit and debit cards, BMI Baby, Aer Lingus, Ryanair, Flybe and SkyEurope charge per person, each way. 

So with Ryanair, your flight may be just £2 return but you then pay a disproportionate £5 each way on top. Yet a recent chink of light's opened up allowing us to volley back this ridiculous pricing policy in the form of a prepay Electron card anyone can get.

Automatic 'opt-in' insurance

As you can buy annual travel insurance policies for £15 (see Travel Insurance guide), budget airlines automatically opting us into their pricey policies, which often happens, is duplicitous.

EU rules clearly state passengers must now actively select insurance. Yet airlines constantly thumb their nose at this: Easyjet and BMI Baby are two of the worst offenders and blatantly breach the rules by having their insurance boxes auto-ticked.

Check-in's unavoidable but optional

Some budget carriers charge big fees for checking-in at the airport rather than online. Yet as most can only be booked on the web anyway, this isn't too arduous. Ensure you print the boarding cards for both legs before you go, though.

Yet curiously the King of fees, Ryanair, charges a staggering £80 return for airport check-in, and £10 return for online.  Yet there's no other option, so how is this an add-on? Admittedly, on its promotional fares, online check-in is included; can its argument really be that the 'option' is to go for a promo fare at a different time and a different place?

While it is listed on the page, surely the £10 should be incorporated into the ticket price and then airport check-in listed as £70 extra?

Sky Europe 'pay, pay, pay' rule

OK, this one has stumped me: do get in touch if you know how it works. This low-budget central European carrier will take you to Bratislava and Prague but charges €5 when you pay by credit and debit and Visa Electron payments. 

How this can be called 'unavoidable' (remember the EU rule stated above). Maybe it's just blatantly breaking the law?

Someone, somewhere needs to grab hold of these companies. The pan-European approach isn't working; the rules may be in place but they're flouted with blarney and panache.

It's time for legislative change. Online check-in and debit card payment charges should always be included in the price shown. All other main charges including baggage, credit card payments and more should (as with mortgage APRs) be listed in the same font size.

Further reading / Key links

MSE News (14.08.09): Budget airline's misleading website
MSE News: (06.07.09): Avoid the £250 holiday booking trap