Budget flight fee-fighting

Cut costs on Ryanair, Easyjet and more

Budget airlines' prices miss out costly 'extras' such as taking baggage and even checking in. Learn to get over these hurdles and you can pay £30ish per return. Whether it's Easyjet, Ryanair or others, we've 23 tips to keep flying costs to a minimum.

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  1. £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 20kg suitcases (not booked in advance) and forgot to check-in online.

    • Reveal the answer

      The extras come to £300. That's at least £40 return for each suitcase (£80) and £55 each for checking in at the airport (£220) when they leave. We hope they wouldn't make the same mistake coming back.

  2. Fly hand luggage only

    kid with hand luggage

    If you want to stow luggage in the hold, you can pay up to £150 per case return (or even more occasionally). Plus budget airlines' weight allowances for checked-in cases can be lower than elsewhere at 15kg to 20kg.

    No airlines charge for extremely basic hand luggage, but there's usually a strict size limit. It differs from airline to airline. Remember to check weight restrictions too. 

    Easyjet, Ryanair and Wizz Air have all tightened their baggage policies in recent years – you can now only take one handbag-sized carry-on into the cabin for free. See below for the new rules.

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

    • Stick to carry on rules

      You must carry liquids and gels in individual, 100ml-maximum containers. All containers must be in one transparent, 20cm x 20cm, resealable bag.

      You're allowed to carry more than one 100ml container, so you could, say, decant sunscreen into two 100ml bottles. See the Govt's full regulations.

    • Don't buy posh travel-size toiletries

      Travel-size lotions and potions can be hugely pricey. So collect small transparent empty bottles, wash and dry them carefully, and fill 'em up from your everyday toiletries. Complementary mini toiletry bottles from previous hotel stays are perfect for this.

    • Buy cheap, lightweight cases

      More cases are now specifically built within budget airlines' limits, and buying them is often cheaper than baggage charges. The case doesn't have to be fancy – you can get small, light ones for £10 at local markets.

      However, as some airlines have changed their luggage policies over the years, it's worth double checking the sizing before you buy. See our Cabin luggage sold as 'fitting Ryanair' can't be taken on board for free MSE News story.

    • Weigh to go

      Always weigh your case before you travel. Many pound stores sell natty travel scales that let you weigh your luggage before you fly – handy for the way back.

    • Take a soft case

      You can usually stuff more into these than you can hard cases, as they have a little more give.

    • Take travel laundry wash

      This means you'll be able to take a small 'capsule' wardrobe and wash as you go. Plus you won't have to pay for a laundry service.

    • Leave space for your return

      Many people jet home from a holiday with more than they took. If that's you, ensure you leave space in your luggage for those miniature clogs or that 'I heart Rome' mug.

    Remember, your bag needs to pass the size test to go for free

    It's not just about weight when it comes to free hand luggage – 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 £70 per item per flight (more in extreme cases) to put luggage in the hold at check-in. 

    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.

    Hand luggage: max sizes and fees if over limit (one way)

    Easyjet 45 x 36 x 20cm 15kg From £7 £40 £40
    Jet2 56 x 45 x 25cm 10kg Depends on destination £45 £45
    Norwegian 38 x 30 x 20cm 10kg Cost varies £25 to £70 £25 to £70
    Ryanair 40 x 25 x 20cm  No limit From £12 (for up to 10kg) £6 to £36 for up to 10kg (1) £46
    TUI Airways 55 x 40 x 20cm 10kg From £22 From £45 From £45
    Wizz Air 40 x 30 x 20cm  10kg From £4.50 (for up to 10kg) £54 for up to 20kg

    £27 to £54
    (1) If you purchase 'Priority & two cabin bags' at the airport
    • What about BA, Virgin, etc?

      Long-haul carriers often factor the price of checked bags in to economy fares. If your hand luggage is over the limit and you need to check it in, fees can be steep, eg, £65 each way on Virgin Atlantic. However this may be less of an issue on these airlines as cabin bag allowances are often more generous, eg, 23kg on BA.
  3. Need to check in luggage? You can include it in your comparison

    Two of our top pick flight comparison sites, Kayak* and Momondo*, let you compare flights including luggage fees. So, if you know you'll need to check bags in, they'll estimate the cost of luggage in the results.

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

  4. Checking in luggage? Weigh it before you travel

    While some airlines don't put a weight limit on hand luggage, they all have one for checked luggage. So make sure you weigh yours before you leave for the airport – otherwise you could find yourself facing some chunky extra charges, or even having to ditch some of the contents just to get your bags on board.

    Get this wrong and you'll really pay. For example, Easyjet charges an extra £12 for every 1kg over the pre-booked weight of checked luggage – and that's per item, per flight.

    Weighing a bag is easy enough, even without a set of specialist luggage scales – you can simply use a set of bathroom scales. Don't try and balance your bag on them though, as this can be unreliable. Instead, stand on the scales with your bag, then without, and subtract the second reading from the first to get the true weight of your bag.

    Of course, it can be handy to have luggage scales so you can weigh your bags again before you fly home, especially if you've done a lot of gift shopping or treated yourself. You can get them from pound shops, so you don't need to spend a lot.

  5. 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.

    Photo of Martin Lewis wearing a US survivalist jacket, taken from behind him.

    Then 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. A less extreme version, popular with forumites is the Rufus Roo – when we checked, it was £29.99 on Amazon*.

    You could also 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 Amazon and eBay may sell them cheaper, so try searching for terms like 'survival vest' to see if there's something suitable for your travel essentials.

    See our eBay Buying and Second-Hand Tips for ways to help you 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

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  6. Watch our 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.

    Top packing tips for flying hand luggage only
    Embedded YouTube Video
  7. 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.

    If you decide to put more cases in the hold later, there's often an option to add more cases online or via the call centre for less than at the airport, so check that out first.

    Some key hold luggage rules:

    • More bags doesn't always mean more weight

      No matter how many bags you get, often your total weight allowance (usually 15kg-22kg) is fixed. Above that, you can pay a shocking £10+ per kilo excess.

    • Always use the scales

      Always weigh your baggage, never assume. If you've no scales, a cheeky trick is to nip over to any empty check-in desk and weigh the bag on its built-in scales – they should work whether the desk is open or not. Cram the excess into your hand luggage.

    • Donate or ditch

      Overweight case at the airport? Consider whether it's worth paying the excess or throwing things away. Many things cost less to rebuy than the excess charge, so beach books and towels may be best left behind. Though of course, there's an environmental aspect to bear in mind, so try to donate rather than ditch.

    • You usually can't share weight allowances

      Family members often can't pool allowances, so don't assume one can take, for example, 8kg and another 30kg. Infants often don't have a baggage allowance.

    Hold luggage fees and allowances

    Easyjet From £7 £48 15kg to 23kg  £12 
    Jet2 Varies by destination £45 22kg  £12 
    Norwegian  £12 to £38 £35 to 70 23kg £12
    Ryanair £10 to £50 £24 - £60  10kg to 20kg  £9 to £11
    TUI Airways From £22 From £13 per kg  15kg to 20kg  £13 to £18
    Wizz Air £4.50 to £108 £54 - £108 10kg to 32kg £11.50
    • What about BA, Virgin, etc?

      The price of checked-in bags is often factored in to economy fares. However, if you need to check in extra bags at the airport or exceed the luggage allowance, fees can still be steep, eg, £200 each way on Virgin Atlantic, so always check before flying.
  8. Beat budget airline check-in fees

    It's usually free to check in online, but forget and some budget airlines will charge you to do it at the airport – it can be as much as £110 per person, per return.

    If you check in online but arrive without your boarding pass, Ryanair charges £20 per flight to issue another. 

    If you don't have a printer, Easyjet, Jet2Ryanair and Wizz Air have handy apps that let you download your boarding pass to your mobile. This option's usually only available at certain airports, so check well in advance.

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

    Budget airline check-in charges

    Easyjet Free  N/A
    Jet2 Free Free
    Ryanair Free £110
    TUI Airways Free Free
    Wizz Air Free £23 to £72
  9. 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 Kayak* and Momondo*. But remember to always check a few sites and compare the prices against going direct.

    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 Tricks to cut costs with the UK's biggest airline, and see Ryanair Tips for how to avoid sky-high charges with the Irish carrier.

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

  10. Think carefully about how you pay

    Section 75

    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

      If you're paying by debit card, there's also valuable hidden protection that means you may be able to get your money back if something goes wrong. It's called 'chargeback', and applies to most debit and charge cards, as well as Visa, Mastercard and Amex credit cards – though it isn't a legal requirement. See the Chargeback guide for info.

  11. Take a plane picnic

    sandwich roll

    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

      Packed meals don't need to be drab – you could even theme it around your holiday destination. Canny forumites have compiled a huge list of cheap and delicious packed lunch ideas, from Spanish frittatas to Greek salads.

      On Twitter, MoneySaver @ShedOnBeach recommended taking smaller juice drinks in transparent packs that are under the liquid allowance limit: "Regarding picnicking on the plane, we take these, they are only 85ml so are OK.".

      If you're already at the airport, forumites report Boots meal deals can come in cheaper than buying the equivalent onboard a place. See the What to eat on a flight? discussion for more.

    • Check airline restrictions

      Airlines and airports may have their own restrictions, so check first. Ryanair says passengers can take their own food and drink on board, but not hot drinks.

  12. Beware airline baby fees


    Baby on board? Budget airlines can charge a flat fee of as much as £80 per return to take a tot under two on your lap. Others, particularly long-haul carriers, can charge a percentage of the adult fare before taxes, which can work out as even more.

    If you're affected, it's worth comparing budget airline fees against other carriers to see if they'd be cheaper. See Cheap Flights for our top pick flight comparisons.

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

    Airline baby charges (per return)

    British Airways Varies, but typically 10% of the adult fare, plus taxes
    Easyjet £50
    Jet2 £40
    Norwegian 10% of the adult fare, plus any airport taxes
    Ryanair £50
    TUI Airways Varies by route and flight length
    Virgin Atlantic 10% of the adult fare, plus any taxes
    Wizz Air £56
  13. Watch what you click when booking

    As you go through the booking process, airlines can try to tempt you to book everything from travel insurance to fast-track boarding.

    Accidentally clicking these boxes can be costly, so scroll slowly and watch the total price of your booking doesn't leap up.

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

    flight times

    Whether the flight was last week or six years ago, UK and EU rules mean if you're delayed over three hours or your flight is cancelled, you're often entitled to around £100-£500 per person in compensation.

    Don't be tempted to use a claims company though – a Which? study from 2015 revealed they can take up to a third of the cash you claim back.

    Use our free online reclaim tool instead – see the Flight Delay Compensation guide for full step-by-step help.

  15. How to sit together for free

    They've got sneaky ways of making you pay even if you've got kids flying with you – it can cost a family of four up to £240 to ensure they're together on return flights.

    In fact, research from UK regulator the Civil Aviation Authority found British passengers waste up to £175 million a year on unnecessary seat fees. To help, we've airline-by-airline free seating tricks in our Airline Seating guide.

  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 offer breakfast.

    To check out prices and availability, use Hostelworld*, which gives hostels a 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 a Barcelona flat for £26/night, while a similar hotel was £61/night. See Cheap Hotels for more.

  17. Avoid a 70-mile trek into town

    Budget flights can touch down in airports some distance from the city centre, which mean 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.

  18. 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.

  19. Treble-check details when booking


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

    Ryanair charges £115 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 48-hour grace period to correct minor errors free – if you enter an incorrect nickname, typo or old maiden name for example.

    However, if you want to change a passenger's name, say, from 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.

  20. 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 collection 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!).

  21. 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.

    • Ryanair. You can take one pushchair 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 £15 each, per flight (£20 if paid for at the airport).

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

    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.

    It's also worth considering whether to take your own seat – for more info, see ex-MSE Steve N's blog on Flying with your own child car seat.

  22. Always pre-book airport parking - don't just turn up

    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, on how to grab hidden local discounts and more.

  23. 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.

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