Which? warns about extras bumping up cost of budget flights

Budget carriers such as Ryanair and Wizz Air can be more expensive than rivals when extra costs are added the headline fare, according to Which?.

The consumer watchdog analysed three April 2024 routes for return trips from London airports to Malaga, Athens and Naples and returning a week later, flying with British Airways, easyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Wizz Air.

The research included the price of a cabin bag in all cases, which Jet2 and BA already include in their headline fare.

It also added seat selection for Ryanair and Wizz Air, as the two airlines least likely to seat travel companions together, according to previous Which? survey data.

On average, BA, easyJet and Jet2 have a 90% likelihood of doing so.

While the budget airlines often had the cheapest headline fare, once Which? researchers added on the cost of a cabin bag and seat selection, they found Ryanair and Wizz Air failed to return the best price on any occasion.

Overall, baggage and seat selection fees accounted for 49% of the total ticket price with Wizz Air when averaged across the three routes; 27% with easyJet; and 20% with Ryanair.

Wizz Air’s extra fees were among the highest, with the fee to take a cabin bag costing £89 for a return trip.

BA was ultimately cheaper than both Ryanair and Wizz Air on two out of three routes –London to Malaga and London to Naples.

BA had the most competitive price on the London to Naples route once a cabin bag and seat were factored in, costing £120.

That was a £65 saving on Wizz Air, and a £12 saving on Ryanair. It was ultimately £72 cheaper than the most expensive ticket, with Jet2.

On a return flight from London to Malaga, Ryanair’s basic price was £232.19, almost £36 cheaper than BA.

But when researchers added a cabin bag to put in the overhead locker and chose a seat, that initial fare rose to £293, with BA ultimately working out £25 cheaper overall, at £268.

On the same route, WizzAir’s basic price was £252, £16 cheaper than BA.

Once the cost of a seat and cabin luggage was added, that shot up to £364 – £96 more than flying with BA.

EasyJet had the best price on the London to Malaga route at £257, a saving of more than £100 compared to Wizz Air and Jet2.

On a return flight from London to Athens, Jet2 ultimately had the best price.

Ryanair initially appeared to be cheaper with a headline fare £158 but when researchers added a bag and a seat this went up to £217, making Jet2 £29 cheaper at £188.

Wizz Air’s basic fare on that route was £117 – the lowest headline fare, and £71 less than Jet2. But once a bag and seat were added that rose to £230 – £42 more than flying with Jet2.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “It’s easy to assume that budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air are always the cheapest option but if you want to sit next to your kids or take more than a few items of clothes with you, then you’ll increasingly find better prices elsewhere.

“Next time you’re booking a flight, look beyond the headline fare and factor in the cost of extras you need, before you book.”

Which? believes fees for seat selection should be covered by a new law against ‘drip-pricing’, where they are not really optional for passengers such as parents who want to guarantee sitting with their children.

Airlines should be more transparent about the true cost of flights by ensuring extra charges such as luggage fees are clearly set out alongside the headline fare, it argues.

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “This is more fake news from Which?. Ryanair has the lowest fares of any airline in Europe and additional ancillary products, such as extra luggage, are entirely optional for customers.”

A Wizz Air spokesperson said:  “To be clear, we do not charge £90 for any cabin bag. The price referred to in this report is a return flight and therefore the price is £45 per flight for a bundle of a cabin bag with priority boarding, not a single product, while the average price for such a product is much lower.

“As an ultra-low-cost carrier, we allow passengers to choose which services they wish to purchase so that we can offer the most affordable travel opportunities. Optional add-ons are not required to fly, and we believe that customers should be offered the choice and flexibility to choose the right products for them.”

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