Aug 30, 2012

Posted by in Features, Our Opinion, Travel News, Trip Advice | 6 Comments

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Beware the inflight catering rip off

You’ve shopped around for a great deal on a flight with a low-cost airline, packed hand-luggage only to avoid any extra charges, and are on the starting blocks of a well-deserved break. But, before you set off for the airport, there’s one more thing to think about: what you are going to eat during the journey.

Many passengers rely on the food and drink served onboard their flight to keep them going – in fact in a recent MoneySupermarket  poll, 15% of you told us that you usually buy food on a flight that doesn’t include a complimentary meal – but, you could be paying well over the odds if you take this option. Recent research by TravelSupermarket found that the average mark up on airline snacks is a whopping 181% when compared to supermarket prices, while the average mark up on hot food and sandwiches is an even more staggering 257%.

In fact, if you are not careful, you could end up paying as much for your food and drink as you did for your low-cost plane ticket.

What kind of mark-ups should I expect?

Avoid paying over the odds for airline foodMark-ups will vary from airline to airline but TravelSupermarket’s research uncovered some staggeringly high prices on the most popular onboard items. For example, if you buy Pringles on a Ryanair flight, expect to pay 495% more than you would from your local Asda. And if you get thirsty during a flight with Aer Lingus, expect to pay 1,083% more for a 500ml bottle of still water than you would in the supermarket.

If you have a sweet tooth, bear in mind that Cadbury’s Mini Fingers have a 582% mark up on a Jet2 flight compared to in the supermarket while you will pay 740% more on an easyJet flight for a muffin than you would if you bought it before you set off.

The most eye-watering mark-ups, however, are on hot drinks with our research finding an average increase of 2,355% in the air, when compared to supermarket costs.

Do I have to pay for food on all flights?

TravelSupermarket only investigated the prices of food on short-haul low-cost airlines – not long-haul flights during which passengers will typically receive complimentary food and drink. Certain airlines also offer free snacks and drinks on short-haul flights too – such as British Airways, Lufthansa and Air France – so if you are comparing the price of flights, think about the extras you will receive with different companies. An additional £5 or £10 each way might actually save you money once you have factored in all of the extras you will receive.

How do I avoid these charges?

If the above figures have offered some food for thought, there are ways to prevent spending a small fortune on snacks and drinks. It will just take a little forward planning.

For example, a lunch consisting of a sandwich, some crisps and a bar of chocolate for a family of four can cost as much as £31.60 on an Aer Lingus flight whereas the same meal brought from home would be significantly less – and you can choose the family’s favourite sandwich fillings and snacks rather than risking being left with items the kids don’t like.

When planning your packed lunch, don’t forget, however, that the 100ml liquid restrictions will still apply so don’t bring any drinks or liquids such as yoghurts from home. There’s nothing to stop you stocking up when you’ve passed through security, though, so pick up soft drinks for all of the family and look out for offers such as free water with a newspaper or two-for-one deals.

If making a packed lunch to take with you seems like too much hard work pre-holiday, you can still make savings by buying your food and drink in the airport before you board or in a supermarket or shop on the way. Both Boots and WHSmith stores offer meal deals in airports and in Manchester, you can snap up four Boots’ meal deals for just £15.60 – that’s half the price of waiting until you board.

Can I save money after I’ve boarded?

Beware the inflight rip offIf on-flight food is your only option as, realistically you won’t actually make a packed lunch and are unlikely to have time to buy food in the airport, there are still ways to save money once you are on your flight.

For example, look out for airlines’ meal deals if you want to buy a few items together – such as a sandwich and crisps – and consider pre-ordering your meal on flights that offer a pre-bookable menu to take advantage of offers. As well as saving money, pre-ordering food will guarantee that you get the meal you want.

What about items that I can’t take on board?

While you can’t take items such as hot drinks onto a flight with you, you could always be cheeky and take your own cup/tea bags with you and ask for hot water – our travel expert, Bob Atkinson, has been known to try this. You also can’t take alcohol onto a flight with you for consumption onboard, but could have a drink in the airport before you set off or wait for a drink in resort when you arrive as a treat?

Are there any other benefits of bringing my own food?

Certain foods are meant to be better for fliers than others and recent research from Singapore Airlines identified the edibles that were best for everything from jet lag to anxiety. For example, if you get nervous when in the sky, the airline recommends eating foods high in vitamin B such as whole grains, fruit and vegetables while those who are affected by travel sickness should eat food with ginger in.

So, if you bring your own food from home, you can tailor your meal to your needs rather than paying inflated prices for whatever is left. And you can bring something cheap and healthy such as fruit or crudités which will sit better in your stomach when in the air than stodgier foods.

Follow Cathy on Twitter at @CathyToogood

  1. Paul Hansford says:

    We tried asking for hot water on a budget airline (to make a second cup of tea from the one bag, as I like weak tea) and were refused flat-out. I wouldn’t bet on them giving you hot water for your own tea-bag! Flight attendants sometimes even refuse tap water (so you can “take a tablet”) and insist you buy bottled. For the cheapest water to take on board, take empty plastic bottles through security (never a problem) and when you buy coffee in departures, ask if they would kindly fill your bottle with tap water – we’ve never been refused.

  2. Norman Freedman says:

    Another rip off.
    At the airport a bottle of water land-side that can be three or four times the cost in a supermarket can also be 100% more air side but of course you can’t take it through security.

  3. johnnyboy says:

    Why do airlines want to rip us off for pennies ? surely good will to use a carrier as a preference again & again as you have been treated fairly is better than reading about miserly practices, they surely have a negative effect on bookings . Perhaps they think we are all stupid, they should wake up and realise that loyalty is worth more than charging premiums is more profitable. after all the airports have already taken the pi– before we board.

  4. David says:

    Easy jet now do lovely coffee its a coffee bag well worth the £2.50
    As for asking for hot water would you do take your own tea bag into a cafe ? Hope you take your own cup
    If you take your own cheap wine into a resturant you would be charge corkage

    • Good point David

      I drink a lot of fruit teas these days and they don’t often have what I want on board, so I take my own cup and ask for hot water. I’m happy to pay for ‘corkage’ at a moderate fee and airlines should listen to what customers want not what they want to give them/sell them. Still its always fun to see what response you get. What if you want something like a hot cold remedy in a cup and just need the water to dissolve the powders?


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