Going on holiday? Follow our expert advice and avoid getting caught out by those ‘surprise’ extra travel fees
Once upon a time, booking a flight simply meant choosing an airport, date and destination. These days it often requires clicking ‘no’ to extras, from seat allocation and speedy boarding to in-flight meals and insurance. The trend arrived with the advent of no-frills airlines, but now even ‘traditional’ airlines are unbundling fares, arguing that it allows for greater ‘personalisation’ and gives consumers more choice.
But if you’re not careful, that enticing £29.99 fare could quickly escalate and your last-minute city break won’t be such a bargain after all.
And it’s not just the flights that might catch you out. Accommodation bills can also spring surprise additional charges, and then there’s holiday car rental…
Fortunately, the UK government is planning a crackdown on this practice, known as drip-pricing, so sellers could be forced to display all mandatory fees and charges to consumers at the start of the buying process. The review is part of the wider efforts to help Brits cope with the higher cost of living, with drip-pricing across all industries meaning UK consumers could be spending up to £3.5 billion in additional costs online each year. A public consultation has already taken place but changes won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, here are the travel extras that are worth paying for and those you should swerve.
This is the most expensive airline ‘extra’, but the most essential. Today, even if you’re flying with the likes of British Airways and other so-called ‘legacy’ airlines, the cheapest fares usually include hand luggage only.
If you want to put a bag into the hold you’ll be paying, on average, around £30-£40 extra, per person, per leg of the journey, or sometimes more. This fee varies by airline, and can also vary depending on the route and date. Ryanair, for example, charges between £11.99 and £29.99 to check in a 10kg bag, or £18.99–£59.99 for a 20kg bag. With Wizz Air the 20kg fee can be as high as £85 in high season. Do do the maths, as it might be better to take one larger suitcase for the whole family.
Whatever you decide to do, weigh your bags carefully. If you exceed a weight limit, you risk paying hefty charges (£9-£12 per kilo) at check-in – BA charges a hefty £65 flat fee, per bag, each way for excess kilos. If you decide to travel light, note that weight and size restrictions on hand luggage are getting smaller and vary by airline, so double check what’s permitted.
Paying extra to sit next to a travel companion is perhaps less essential than taking luggage, particularly on short flights, but not if you’re a nervous flyer or travelling with young children.
Ryanair charges £6-£10 per passenger, per flight for advanced seat selection, and operates a ‘Mandatory Family Seat’ policy where at least one adult travelling with children under 12 (excluding infants) must buy a reserved seat and sit next to them.
Up to four children travelling with one adult will get free reserved seats, usually in rows 18-33.
With easyJet, if you don’t pay for seat allocation up front, you’re not guaranteed to be next to your children, although the airline says its seating system will “always try to seat families together” and advises the earlier you check in the more likely that will be.
This is really only worth paying for if you want to ensure your bag goes into the overhead locker above your seat.
Ryanair offers the option to pay a relatively reasonable £6–£20 for ‘Priority & 2 Cabin Bags’, which means you can board first and take a small bag (40cmx20cmx25cm) that must fit under a seat, plus an additional 10kg carry-on bag (55x40x20cm). However, note that the ‘priority’ queue is sometimes just as long as the regular line, and if there’s a bus shuttle to the aircraft you’ll have to wait until it’s full anyway.
On easyJet, meanwhile, speedy boarding cannot be bought separately. It’s only for customers with higher Standard Plus or FLEXI fares – where you’ve paid to add a large cabin bag to your booking – or have invested in easyJet Plus. If you fly with easyJet regularly, it might be worth investing in an annual easyJet Plus membership (currently £215). You’ll have access to a dedicated easyJet Plus bag drop, can book a seat for free anywhere on the plane, bring a large cabin bag in addition to your small under-seat bag, and use fast-track security at selected airports. However, it won’t apply to those travelling with you. Additional membership costs £185 for partners or £135 for children.
Booking a place to stay can also get complicated, with the initial nightly price not always being what you’ll end up paying.
You’ll need to factor in a number of additional fees, including its ‘service fee’, which can be up to 14% of the total price. Most properties also charge a cleaning fee, set by each host, and this varies wildly and can be over £100 in some cases. Also watch out for additional fees for extra guests and pets.
In response to customer frustrations, this year Airbnb introduced an opt-in toggle where you can choose to have the total price of your stay displayed in the initial search.
If you’re going all-inclusive, always check what’s not included. This might be meals in certain restaurants, premium drinks brands, room service or tips.
In the US, particularly in Las Vegas, also watch out for hefty ‘resort fees’, which are for services and amenities during a stay. Following a consumer backlash (and a high-profile court settlement) Marriott International has become the first major chain to disclose resort fees in initial searches on its website and app. Other chains are expected to follow suit.
8 more top tips for avoiding extra holiday charges
1. Book airport parking in advance
It’s cheaper than paying on arrival. Staying in an airport hotel the night before your flight and leaving your car there might be even cheaper.
2. Don’t cough up to drop off
Many major UK airports charge from £5 for drop-offs and you can be fined if you don’t pay up. Manchester has a free 24-hour drop-off area, and a free bus to the terminal.
3. Double check booking details before making your final payment
Many airlines charge hefty amendment fees.
4. Check in online
And beware, Ryanair recently charged £110 when someone printed the wrong boarding pass.
5. Consider buying airport lounge access
Entry costs around £25-£40 per person often for unlimited buffet-style food, drinks and more.
6. Arrange car rental insurance in advance
Often basic car rental insurance won’t cover things like broken windscreens or tyres and will require paying a large excess (up to £2,500) if you have to claim, so it might be worth topping it up. But never buy over the counter from the rental company – it will be much more expensive and less comprehensive than buying it in advance from a third-party provider.
7. Take your own car accessories
If hiring a car abroad, take your own satnav and check if your airline will let you check in a child’s car seat free. Hiring either will cost a fortune.
8. Book travel insurance when you book your trip
This will cover you if you have to cancel for medical reasons. Annual travel insurance can work out better value – some banks include this in monthly account charges.
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