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Budget Flight Fee-Fighting

Cut costs on Ryanair, Easyjet and more

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Jenny | Edited by Martin

Updated November 2017

Beat budget airline

Budget airlines' prices miss out pricey 'extras' such as 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 20+ 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. For more ways to save, see our Ryanair Tips and Easyjet Tricks guides.

£30 returns are possible - if you do it right

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 £15 each-way return flight.

They're flying in September, taking two 15kg suitcases (not booked in advance) and forgot to check-in online.

Reveal the answer

Fly hand-luggage only

Fly hand luggage only If you want to stow luggage in the hold, you can pay up to £150 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, although there's usually a size limit. It differs from airline to airline, although the dimensions seem to be about 55 x 40 x 25cm for most. Remember to check weight restrictions too. You're usually fine with bags up to 10kg but policies do vary. TUI Airways (formerly Thomson Airways), for example, has a 5kg limit so double check before booking.

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, it could cost you even more.

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 oversized bag fees (one way)
Max hand luggage size Maximum
Cost per bag booked in advance Fee at check-in Fee at gate
Ryanair 55 x 40 x 20cm (+ 1 bag up to 35 x 20 x 20) (1) 10kg From £10 £25-£50 £25-£50
Easyjet 56 x 45 x 25cm No limit From £13 £35 £45
Flybe 55 x 35 x 20cm 10kg From £18.50 £40 £40
Jet2 56 x 45 x 25cm 10kg From £12 £45 £45
TUI Airways 55 x 40 x 20cm 5kg From £38 £44-£75 £44-£75
Wizz Air 55 x 40 x 23 (but fees charged over 42 x 32 x 25) (2) 10kg From £14 £51 £51
(1)From 15 Jan 2018 you can only take the smaller bag into the cabin. You'll have to check in the larger bag for free at the boarding gate. (2) Between 42 x 32 x 25 and 56 x 45 x 25, there are fees from £9 to £17.50 to take on board depending on when you booked online and how full the flight was at the time.

Need to check in luggage? You can include it in your comparison

One of our top pick flight comparison sites, Kayak*, lets you compare flights including luggage fees. So, if you know you'll need to check bags in, Kayak estimates the cost of luggage in the results.

It's a rare feature - other big comparison sites like Skyscanner and Momondo don't include it. The data comes from airlines, distibution systems and other sources. However it is an estimate - you'll need to double check the correct costs before you book.

Wear your baggage

If you’re travelling with hand luggage only, or trying to minimise how many bags you check in – you have another valuable asset – your person! The more you carry on you, the less your luggage weighs. Simply wear all your heavy clothes on the plane, especially a big coat, as you can use it to stuff socks, undies or even shoes into – then stow it under the seat in front of you.

Martin Lewis - Dodge airline baggage costsThen again, you could take it to the extreme. For an ITV Tonight programme, Martin wore a 22-pocket Scottevest special US survivalist jacket on a Ryanair flight.

He managed to squeeze in a laptop, two books, a towel, passports, a T-shirt, socks, magazines and much more. Even though it was heavier than hand luggage, airlines don't have rules to stop it... yet.

But that jacket is costly and huge, as are many of the alternatives out there. Until recently, a less extreme version popular with forumites was the Rufus Roo, but unfortunately it's no longer available. You might want to try looking for a second-hand one, but we couldn't find any when we looked.

Instead, you could try to look out for any jacket with a poacher's pocket - a deep lower pocket at the back where hunters keep game. These are common at outdoor or survivalist stores, but Ebay and Amazon may sell them cheaper so try searching for terms like 'survival vest' to see if there's something suitable for all your travel essentials.

See our eBay Buying Tips and Amazon Discount Finder for tips to help your search.

This trick is one forumites have used to good effect:  

My kids never let me forget I made them wear ski clothes, padded trousers & all on the flight.- Bargainbarrett


My Rufus Roo jacket is an absolute godsend! I put a gym bag that folds up in the pocket, other personal items and my handbag in it (as it's quite big, even my iPad fits!). Then I empty the pockets and put all the items in the gym bag to stow under my seat with my handbag. So far, no problems. - karenj

Watch 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 former MSE team member Rose, who is now studying a PhD (though we don't think it's in luggage packing).

Top packing tips for flying hand-luggage only

with MSE Rose - Filmed on 23 July 2013

Always book hold luggage in advance

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.

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 £10 - £50
£25 - £60
15kg - 20kg £10
Easyjet £9 - £70 £37 - £47 15kg - 32kg £10
Flybe £18.50 - £24 £40 15kg - 23kg(1) £15
Jet2 £16.50 £40 22kg £12
TUI Airways £38 - £70 £44 - £75 20kg £13 - £18
Wizz Air £14 - £57 (2) £56 - £100 20kg - 32kg €10 (£9ish)(3)
(1) You can opt for a small, standard or extra kilos bag if you book luggage online or via the call centre. At the airport, you can only pay for a standard 20kg bag. (2) Depends on season. (3) Health and safety rules do not allow bags heavier than 32kg, however additional pieces of luggage can be purchased.

Beat check-in fees

It's usually free to check in online, but forget and you can be charged a fee of up to £90 per person, per return to do it at the airport.

If you check in online but arrive without your boarding pass, Ryanair charges £15 per flight to issue another. Jet2 and Wizzair also charge different amounts for the same mistake, though it's possible to cut this fee if you select airport check-in when booking.

If you don't have a printer, Easyjet, Flybe, Ryanair and Wizzair have handy apps that let you download your boarding pass to your mobile, but the service is only available at certain airports so check well in advance.

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
RyanairFree (1) £45
Easyjet Free N/A
Jet2Free Free
TUI Airways FreeFree
Wizz Air Free €30 (£27ish)
(1) £15 fee to reprint your boarding pass if you forget it.

Don't assume budget airlines are cheapest

If you've specific dates in mind, are going further afield, or there's no budget airline sale, check for the cheapest flights via comparison websites. Our top picks are Skyscanner* for ease and Kayak* for gizmos. But remember to always check a few sites and compare the prices against going direct.

For traditional resorts such as Majorca or Malaga, charter flights (extra seats on package operators' planes) can be cheaper. Try Flights Direct* in addition to Skyscanner* and Kayak* which also include them.

For far more tips - for example, Orlando packages can be cheaper than flight-only trips - see full Cheap Flights guide. If you're looking to fly with Easyjet, see Easyjet Flight Tricks to cut costs with the UKs biggest airline, and Ryanair Flight Tips for tips to avoid sky-high charges with the Irish carrier.

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.

Think carefully about how you pay

Section 75 protection

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. And since all card charges were banned in January 2018, it won't cost you anything extra to pay by credit card.

Debit card payments get some protection too

Take 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 35,000 feet

Check airline restrictions

Beware budget airline baby fees

budget airlines might not be cheapest if you're flying with babyBaby on board? Budget airlines charge as much as £80 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 £40
Easyjet £44
Flybe 12% of the fare plus taxes
Jet2 £40
TUI Airways £35 short-haul/£79 long-haul
Wizz Air €16-€54 (£14-£48ish)(1)
Charges are for babies under two. (1) If the adult price is less, you pay the lower price.

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.

Flight delayed in last six years? £100s in compensation possible

Whether the flight was last week, or six years ago, EU rules mean if you’re delayed over three hours or your flight is cancelled, you’re often entitled to £110-£520 per person in compensation.

Don't be tempted to use a claims company though, as a Which? study revealed they can take up to a third of the cash you claim back.

Use MSE's free Delayed Flight's Template Letter instead, and see the Flight Delays Compensation guide for full step-by-step help

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.

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* 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.

Avoid a 70-mile trek into town

Budget flights can touch down in airports some distance from the city centre and means you'll have to pay to transfer to your real destination.

"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.

Combine one-way budget flights with Avios

If you are an Avios (formerly Air Miles) collector, our Tricks to Max and Boost Avios Points 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.

Treble-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.

You do have a 24-hour grace period to correct minor errors free - if you enter an incorrect nickname, typo or old maiden name for example. Outside of that, 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 the full fee. Ryanair's press office says this fee's to stop travel agents buying up the lowest priced seats and reselling them.

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 tool 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!). The app (iPhone or Android) also gives a personalised currency calculation to tell you whether it's cheapest to spend cash or on a card wherever you are.

Check 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, plus either a car seat, booster seat or travel cot. Additional pieces of child equipment can be taken at a cost of £10 each (£20 if paid for at the airport).

On Easyjet, for every child you can bring a combination of two of any of the above items for free.

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.

Always book cheap airport parking

Airports often make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave the car without pre-booking 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.

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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