Budget air travel has made the world a smaller place, bringing previously far-flung destinations within easy reach of Heathrow. The fares are cheaper, but the no-frills airlines are still determined to get their hands on every last penny they can squeeze from your wallet.
The team here at money.co.uk has identified the sneakiest tricks played by the main budget airlines. The flights might look cheap to start with, but here - in order of sneakiness - is how the price can double with the errant click of a mouse.
1. Card fees
EasyJet: charge around £5.25 | $7.10 | €6.20 per person, per flight when you use a debit or credit card to book (they also add a 2.5% credit card loading charge too). If you have a Visa Electron card, however, you won't have to pay this fee.
Ryanair: impose a £5 | $7.10 | €5.60 'administration fee', payable by anybody using a debit or credit card to book online. The charge applies both ways, so it'll add £10 | $16.45 | €11.20 per person to the cost of your flights. They don't charge if you are using a MasterCard pre-paid charge card.
Flybe: charge £4.50 | $7.40 | €5 to pay on plastic unless you're using a Visa Electron card, and it'll be £5 | €5.60 | $8.20per person, per flight if you're using a credit card.
Aer Lingus: charge £5 | $8.20 | €5.60 per person, per flight for using any credit or debit card except Visa Electron.
money.co.uk tip: Get a prepaid card so that you can avoid costly transaction charges. These work like debit cards but aren't linked to your bank account; instead you top them up with the credit you need to make your purchase. Check which type of prepaid card the airline that you plan to travel with lets you use to book fee free & apply for your card online.
Make sure that you choose your prepaid card carefully as many apply costly transaction charges and top up fees. Doing so will mean you save a significant amount by avoiding airline booking fees.
2. Check-in fees
Jet2: will charge £6 | $9.90 | €6.70 for you just to check in at the airport, although this drops to £2 | $3.30 | €2.25 if you do it online.
Ryanair: offers free online check-in on some flights, and charge a small sum on others. If you check in online and forget to bring your printed boarding pass, expect to pay £40 | $65 | €45 per person per way.
money.co.uk tip: Check-in online. Some budget airlines like bmi baby and the Eastern European Whizz Air don't charge at all for online check-in. Just remember to print out the proof!
3. Seat reservation Fees
Jet2: charge a seating fee of £4 | $6.60 | €4.50 per person, and this doesn't even guarantee you seats in the same area as your travel companions.
Flybe: charge a seat reservation fee of £6 | $9.90 | €6.70 per flight or £15 | $24.70 | €16.90 for a more spacious emergency exit seat.
EasyJet: charge around £7.25 | $11.90 | €8.15 for various types of "Speedy Boarding" options to get you onto the plane quicker. We recommend deselecting these options when booking online in order to save money, since it rarely reduces waiting time by more than a few minutes and the plane won't leave any quicker regardless.
money.co.uk tip: Don't bother with these; they're basically a waste of money. Most budget airlines fill their planes up like buses (on a first come, first serve basis for the best seats) so the reserved seats count for very little in reality.
4. Changing the name on your ticket
Easyjet: If the name on your ticket isn't identical to the one on your passport, EasyJet insist you change it for £30 | $49.35 | €33.70 online or £40 | $65 | €45 at the airport.
Jet2: will charge you £27.50 | $45.20 | €30.90 if you miss out your middle name but it appears on your passport.
Ryanair: charge around £125 | $205 | €140 to amend the name on your ticket, so remember to include your full name as it appears on official documents.
money.co.uk tip: Check, check and check again. Just because your friends call you 'Hazza' doesn't mean the person at the check-in desk will.
5. Baggage limits and charges
Flybe: limit you to 10kg for hand luggage, and will charge you £11 | $18.10 | €12.40 for a mere 15kg of hold luggage.
Aer Lingus: you'll pay £12 | $19.70 | €13.50 per item of hold luggage for flights around Europe, this increases to £36 | $59.20 | €40.50 a piece on flights to the USA.
Easyjet: If you try to take more than your allotted amount of luggage (currently 20kg) onto an EasyJet flight, you have to pay £25 | $41.10 | €28.10 at check-in or £40 | $65 | €45 at the boarding gate for them to take it from you and put it in the hold.
money.co.uk tip: For short breaks, consider taking hand luggage only but make sure this meets not only weight but also dimension guidelines (Ryanair are particularly restrictive on the size of hand luggage).
6. Telephone booking premium
Ryanair: charge £20 | $32.90 | €22.50 for over-the-phone bookings.
EasyJet: lets you book by phone for "free", but the call will be charged at an extortionate rate. It is easy to rack up a hefty bill using this method.
money.co.uk tip: Book online. Even if there isn't a specific fee for booking by phone, the cost of the call will be greater than the equivalent internet use.
7. Cost per kilo of overweight bags
Ryanair: will set you back £20 | $32.90 | €22.50 for every kilo your luggage is overweight, and their rules state that 'no pooling of baggage allowance is permitted' so it's not possible to share your unused allowance with others in your party.
EasyJet: will charge you £10 | $16.45 | €11.25 per 1kg your luggage is overweight.
Flybe: charge you £12 | $19.70 | €13.50 for every additional kilo over the meagre 15kg bag limit.
money.co.uk tip: Weigh your bags carefully before you set off for the airport. Put as much in your hand luggage as possible, but remember that liquids over a small amount (usually 50ml) and certain sharp toiletries will need to go in the hold.
8. Sports equipment
Ryanair: will charge £40 | $65 | €45 online or £50 | $82.30 | €56.25 at the airport for any large sports equipment or musical instruments you want to take onto the plane.
EasyJet: will sell you extra weight at a discounted rate for sports equipment and musical instruments. This is £18.50 | $30.40 | €20.80 when you arrange it in advance, or around £30 | $49.34 | €33.70 at the airport itself.
money.co.uk tip: Buy the extra weight online in advance if you absolutely need to take this kind of luggage. Otherwise, consider renting abroad or getting there by other means (train or coach).
9. Final tips and pointers
Jet2: By default Jet2 adds extra hold luggage, a 'sit together' fee of £4 | $6.60 | €4.50 per person included on a booking, insurance for everybody and a premium meal for every leg of the journey. These expensive additions have to be manually deselected during the booking process. Also, be aware when checking out Jet2's prices that they add a 'variable fuel charge' of around £10 | $16.45 | €11.25 per person, depending on the journey.
Ryanair: counts Reus and Girona as 'Barcelona', despite the fact they're both well over an hour away by road. Be sure to factor in airport transfer when calculating the best deals.
money.co.uk tip: Read every part of the terms and conditions, and triple check every amount and detail before pressing the 'ok' button to confirm your booking on the website.
Twelve things to remember when booking cheap flights:
The advertised price will nearly always go up. There's always some sort of unavoidable levy or charge. Some of Ryanair's best prices are genuinely under £5 | $8.20 | €5.60, but most are closer to £20 | $32.90 | €22.50 when everything is taken into account.
Booking and checking-in online saves the airline money and it will also save you money as long as you remember your boarding pass.
If possible, stick to hand luggage. Apart from the savings you'll make, it'll allow you to escape the airport at the other end without delays at the baggage carousel. Remember you won't be able to take sharp items or aerosols - check your airline's website for hand luggage restrictions.
Double check all your details and dates. It is surprisingly easy to get dates muddled (especially if they're in the American mm/dd/yy format) and it'll result in a hefty, opportunist fee to change them. The same goes for names. Include all your middle names and they won't be able to fleece you.
Don't bother buying priority booking or reserving a seat if you're trying to save money. We've found that it doesn't always work and isn't worth the cash, especially if there's a bus transfer to the plane.
Always check the terms and conditions on the airline's website. Their website is the only up-to-date source of information, so don't trust third parties with something as important as your holiday.
Budget airlines normally offer a point-to-point service, which implies no commitment to get you to any onward flights on time. If you end up at a peculiar airport miles from town due to delays, you might be in for a long wait for your next available flight. Ryanair actually discourage people from using their services if they're trying to make a connection.
Remember that cheap flights often end up at remote airports. You might save £30 | $49.35 | €33.70 getting a flight to Reus, but getting over to Barcelona will easily absorb that amount.
Snack before you get on the plane, and drink plenty of water. The average price for a bottle of water on board seems to be around £1.70 | $2.80 | €1.90.
Fly in the early morning or late evening, on a weekday. Aim to travel in the low season and definitely avoid school holidays if you want to get the cheapest deals.
Budget airlines won't wait for late passengers. The gates shut promptly and if you're not on the plane, you may face a lengthy wait for your luggage and you certainly won't get a refund.
Don't ignore the traditional, non-budget carriers. These are less restrictive than the budget airlines, fly to major airports, generally have more comfortable aircraft and might even be as cheap if not cheaper than their budget equivalent.
Photo courtesy of MarinaAvila