Updated February 10, 2022
Published November 9, 2018
By Bob Atkinson
Travelling away from a UK airport should be exciting, but it’s often fraught with unexpected charges and costs. Here we reveal seven you can be stung by – and how to get around them.
Think you’re saving money by avoiding taxis and airport parking charges when getting a lift to the airport? You’ll be surprised how many airports charge just to drop-off outside.
Both Heathrow and Gatwick introduced new £5 charges in 2021. Elsewhere, Belfast International starts at £1 for 10 minutes, and Teesside £2.50 for 15 minutes. Birmingham and Norwich will prise £3 from you; Edinburgh, Manchester, Doncaster Sheffield and Liverpool want £4; while Luton, Bristol and Leeds Bradford all cost £5 for 10 minutes. Fly from Manchester, and you’ll get a 5-minute drop-off window for your fiver. At Stansted, 15 minutes costs £7.
In fact, of the twenty UK airports we checked, only two will let you drop-off outside the terminal for free – London City and Cardiff. You’ll be hurried along to drop and drive though, so there’s no time for long emotional goodbyes.
Be warned, too, that hanging around in any of these ‘drop zones’ can make your parking charges rocket. Stansted’s charge escalates to £25 if you go over 15 minutes while Glasgow and Liverpool will take £10 once you hit 20 minutes.
However, all airports offer free alternatives with specific car parks detailed on their websites. These are usually long stay, with a bus ride or long walk to the terminal, so do your research online before arriving. It’s worth mentioning, though, that anyone who has mobility issues can still drop-off close to the terminal. You’ll find details online for each airport.
Only six of the twenty airports we researched provide free trolleys to load up your bags. Heathrow remains free, along with Belfast International, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Newcastle and Norwich. Luton and Bristol, however, want £2 per trolley, while Manchester, Southend and Birmingham all charge £1.
At Gatwick, Stansted, Cardiff, Doncaster Sheffield and East Midlands, your £1 trolley charge will be refunded when you return it. For many of these airports, you’ll need coins with you on arrival to use, so if you can, avoid the charge and invest in luggage with wheels.
Most airports now provide free plastic liquid bags for your hand luggage toiletries. Four of the airports we checked are still charging for these, however. For £1 at Bristol, you'll get 4 bags; at Belfast International and Liverpool, you'll get 2 bags for £1; and at Newcastle, a bag costs £1.
And, if you’re in a hurry, FastTrack is no longer the preserve of the business class passenger. Many airports now offer this time-saving service for a fee. Stansted charges £7 per person. Gatwick, Luton, Bristol and Edinburgh charge £6, while Glasgow asks for just a penny less at £5.99. Birmingham, Newcastle and Liverpool, meanwhile, want a fiver. The cheapest we found was Norwich at £3.
Tickets are bought from self-service machines next to security. If this is a must for you, several airports offer a discounted rate when booked online such as Birmingham, Gatwick, Liverpool and Newcastle. You can also get packaged rates with lounge access and airport parking in a mega deal. Compare prices here to find the best deal for you.
Unless you bring a packed lunch, you can’t easily avoid the cost of food and drink in the airport. Be prepared to pay up to £5 for a sandwich in WHSmith, with even an egg and cress butty costing £3.10 when we checked. Small packs of Walkers crisps were 99p while a Mars bar was an eye-watering 95p. That’s a lot more than it would cost in your weekly supermarket shop!
Save money by going for the £3.99 meal deals on offer from WHSmith or Boots. If you’re just after single items, Boots is nearly always cheaper. For example, its egg and cress sandwich was just £1 when we checked and chocolate bars were nearly half the cost of those in WHSmith.
If you’ve been prepared with food from home, remember you can’t take liquids through security. Instead, bring an empty bottle or flask and look out for free water fountains.
And, if you’re after a bargain from the duty free and airport shops, do a quick search on your smart phone to check online prices before buying, as great deals might not actually be the best ones available. You’ll soon confirm if you’re getting an airport bargain or not.
There is only one thing to advise you here. Don’t buy your travel money at the airport. Ever. You will pay as much as 10% more for your cash than by organising before you go. That’s the same as throwing £10 away for every £100 you change.
If you can, compare rates for home delivery and pick-up online before your holiday – MoneySavingExpert’s TravelMoneyMax tool will help you find the best deals. And if you’ve left it too late, always pre-book your money to collect at the airport to benefit from better rates than those on the day.
You’ve had a great holiday, you’re ready to get home… don’t let your defences down and think the airports won’t try to get a bit more money out of you. Gatwick, Manchester, East Midlands, Birmingham, Stansted and Edinburgh now offer FastTrack passport control. At £9.99 per person for Gatwick, from £7 at Stansted, £6 at Edinburgh and East Midlands, and £5 for the others you will avoid those frustrating queues that can build up on arrival. But, think, is the charge actually worth it in the long run?
And that trolley you avoided on the way out will still come with a charge for your holiday bags and perhaps that straw donkey souvenir you picked up.
And, of course, being picked up by a loved one is unlikely to be free. Unlike drop off, only a couple of airports will allow free pick-up, with little signposted on websites. Instead, cars are pushed into a variety of car parks where the going rate for up to 30 minutes is around £4. Go over an hour and you can hit charges of over £50 at Luton, £22 at Leeds, and £12 at Bristol.
Some airports do offer free parking of up to two hours in the long-stay car parks such as Gatwick, where you hop on the transfer bus to the arrivals area. Check online for each airport’s arrangements to avoid high charges.
If you are picking someone up, always check the flight’s progress on the airport’s website before you set off to ensure you don’t pay for a flight delay in additional airport parking charges.
Travelling through Norwich airport? You have our pity - expect an additional charge of £10 for each passenger over the age of 15. It's part of an 'Airport Development Fee', and unfortunately, it’s one charge you can’t avoid unless you want to fly from elsewhere. On a brighter note, a similar fee charged at Teesside was abolished in 2021.
Please note: All prices are based on those at 20 of the most popular UK airports in February 2022. All prices were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.