Jul 23, 2013

Posted by in Features, Money Saving Tips, Travel News, Trip Advice | 6 Comments

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Don’t get caught out by sky-high inflight catering prices

After scouring the internet for the cheapest flight and accommodation prices, packing carefully to avoid any fines for going over your luggage allowance and shopping around for everything from your new flip-flops to your travel money, the last thing you’ll want is to spend a small fortune on food and drink on your flight.

And while it can be tempting to get into the holiday mood on your flight by treating yourself to a snack and a drink, did you know that you could be paying a mark-up of as much as 924% for the privilege?

So, to keep as much of your hard-earned cash in your pocket as possible, here are our tips on how to avoid the inflight catering rip off.

Airline food

How much can I expect to pay for food and drink on a flight?

TravelSupermarket compared the price of food and drink on-board 10 UK and Irish airlines with those available in the supermarket (Asda) and discovered the kind of profits airlines were making.

For example, our research found that savoury snacks are marked up by an average of 372% on-board flights, with one of the worst offenders being a tube of Pringles. When we checked, a 40g tube cost £2.61 on a Wizzair flight representing a 422% mark-up when compared to supermarket prices, £2.09 with Ryanair representing a 302% mark-up, and £1.50 with Monarch representing a 247% mark-up (when compared to buying a 190g tube in the supermarket).

And, if you fancy a soft drink to wash your snack down with, you’re looking at an average mark-up of 386%, with the humble bottle of water coming in at the top of the scale. For example, when we checked, a 330ml bottle of water cost £1.80 on a Jet2.com flight showing a 718% mark-up when compared to the supermarket price, while a 500ml bottle cost £2.61 with Ryanair representing a 690% mark-up.

But the mark-ups on hot drinks were the most eye-watering figures, with an average increase of 2,601% as soon as you board a flight – that’s food for thought before you buy a cup of tea or coffee on a plane this summer. However, airlines know they have a captive market here as, if you really do want a cuppa in the air, you have little choice.

A further selection of the mark-ups we discovered
Item Highest airline price Supermarket price Mark-up
Double chocolate or blueberry muffin £2.00 (easyJet) 25p 900%
Walkers Shortbread  – two-finger pack £1.50 (easyJet) 27p 456%
Kit Kat – four-finger bar £1.30 (Aer Lingus) 33p 294%
Twix – two-finger standard pack £1.20 (easyJet) 25p 380%
Haribo Starmix (160g packet) £2.75 (Monarch) £1.00 175%
Pepperami (25g stick)  £1.74 (Ryanair) 50p 248%
Irn Bru (330ml can) £2.25 (Jet2.com) 31p 626%
Pepsi (330ml can) £1.60 (Flybe.com) 30p 433%
Heineken (330ml can) £4.00 (Norwegian) 92p 335%
Cup of tea £2.61 (Ryanair) 6p 4,250%
Cup of coffee £2.50 (Norwegian) 10p 2,400%

Are these hefty mark-ups on all flights?

In our research, we only looked at the prices of food and drink on 10 low-cost short-haul and holiday carriers and the mark-ups varied between airlines. If you are travelling on a long-haul flight, many airlines will include complimentary food even if you have to pay for certain drinks.

And certain airlines, such as British Airways and Lufthansa, include free drinks and snacks on short-haul flights. So, if you know you’ll end up buying a snack or a drink, it may be worth bearing this in mind when comparing the prices of tickets. Paying an extra £5 to £10 for a ticket with another airline may actually be worth it if you’ll use all of the extras that will be included.

How can I save money on airline food and drink?

If you’ve already booked a flight without complimentary food and drink on-board or it’s your only option, and you want to avoid paying inflated prices, here are our tips. With a little preparation, it’s possible to avoid being ripped off.

At home

The most obvious way to save money on in-flight catering is to take your own packed lunch from home taking everything from sandwiches to snacks. A basic package of a sandwich, crisps, chocolate bar and drink each way with easyJet could set you back as much as £70.40 if you’re travelling as a family of four this summer, so it might be worth the 10 minutes it will take to prepare some sandwiches. You’ll also be able to make sure that your lunch is healthy, which can be a challenge in the air, and that any fussy eaters or family members with special dietary requirements are catered for.

Many airlines have started serving ‘snack boxes’. One aimed at children contains items such as a small bag of Hula Hoops, a two-finger snack Kit Kat, a small box of raisins, two packs of two crackers, a triangle of soft cheese and a small block of pate.  The cost of this on-board is up to £3.70 on Monarch and as little as £3.47 on Ryanair. However, we tried putting together our own version using supermarket-bought ingredients and were able to put everything together for a price of £1.23 – saving up to £2.47. This demonstrates a mark-up of around 200% – plus our version was bigger in terms of quantities.

Packed lunch

However, remember that the 100ml rule on liquids will still apply so you won’t be able to bring drinks or items such as yoghurt from home – although you could bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a water fountain when you’ve passed through security.

In the airport

If making a packed lunch at home isn’t realistic or you’ve simply forgotten, you can still make savings by buying food in the airport before you travel. Costs of food and drink in popular airport shops such as WH Smith and Boots are still significantly less than those on-board flights, especially if you take advantage of meal deals. Again, you’ll also benefit from a better choice of items and are more likely to pick up healthier items such as salads and fruit.

Whether you’re going to eat on-board or not, it’s also a good idea to buy a drink for each member of your group in an airport shop once you’ve passed through security. Not only will this prevent you paying over the odds for a tiny drink, it will also remind you to drink more when you’re flying preventing you feeling dehydrated when you arrive.

On-board

And, even if you’ve not had time to buy anything before you board your flight, all is not lost as you can still make savings.

Firstly, if you’re a fan of airline food and know that you’ll have an in-flight meal, check whether you can pre-order this before you travel. This will not only help guarantee that you get the exact meal you want, but some airlines will have offers on their websites which will help you to keep the cost down.

There may also be meal deals on offer in the in-flight menu when you’re on-board, so consider these too to save money.

Finally, think about what you are buying on a flight – are you really hungry and do you really want that bar of chocolate and packet of crisps? Would you not rather treat yourself to a drink when you arrive at your destination or a dessert on your first meal out?

What about the items I can’t take on-board?

Alcohol was another item with significant price inflation in place by airlines, with the average mark-up being 377%. However, don’t be tempted to pick up Duty Free alcohol to drink on-board as this is forbidden. Instead, ask yourself how much you really want the drink and whether you’d prefer to save the money for holiday spends or a local drink when you arrive.

Similarly, you can’t take your own hot drinks on to a flight with you, but you could be cheeky and take a few teabags or coffee granules on-board with you and ask for hot water – you never know, you could be lucky.

  1. Brushwood says:

    They should replace the counter staff with iPad’s closer to the dream of not having to talk to anyone during the average day.

  2. M.Smith says:

    Ryanair refused to give me hot water and insisted on charging me £3 for the water that they put into the tea. I then poured the hot water into my cup which had a safety lid on and obviously just a huge rip off with unhelpful crew!!!

    • Ellie says:

      My friend used to ask for hot water so she could put Karvol in to breathe with as she suffered badly with sinus and ear problems. The last flight refused, quoting health and safety. She promised she wouldn’t sue them if she burned herself and they gave her the hot water.

      • Recently flew out with Ryan Air and asked for drink of cold water the air steward reached for the bottled water. I said no I want just ordinary tap water. She said she did not have access to this and could only supply me with hot water. I argued the case quoting aviation law she still refused. I accepted the boiling water and asked for ice cubes which she eventfully gave me; so I had cold water in the end. Contrasting with Jet 2 on my return flight who were so helpful and gave me two cups of iced water.

  3. Margaret says:

    If you have hand luggage only on Ryanair or Easyjet they will insist that the packed lunch whether brought with you or bought in the airport is NOT in your hand as that constitutes a second piece of hand luggage. It needs to be tucked into your coat pockets or inside your hand luggage. I always take a small carrier bag to pop it into once I,m on board the plane before the case goes into the overhead locker.

  4. goldbar says:

    We booked with easyjet and it clearly stated on their website that FREE water would be supplied for taking medications. When we were on board the flight the crew were adamant that this was NOT the case and no water could be provided. My mum is disabled and has to take medication every 2 hours so needed to take it twice during the flight. Appalling attitude. Appalling service. We wont ever be travelling with them again

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