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7 airport rip-offs and how to avoid them

November 9, 2018

Travelling away from a UK airport should be exciting, but it’s often fraught with unexpected charges and costs, writes Bob Atkinson.

Here we reveal seven you can be stung by – and how to get around them.

Rip-off #1: Drop-off charges

Credit: Gordon Shoosmith/Alamy Stock Photo

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.

Of the 20 UK airports we checked, only seven will let you drop-off outside the terminal for free – Heathrow and Gatwick plus five other regional airports. You’ll be hurried along to drop and drive though, so there’s no time for long emotional goodbyes.

‘Drop zones’ at Bristol and Newcastle, for example, start off at £1 for 10 minutes. Birmingham and Glasgow will prise £2 from you, Luton and Liverpool want £3, Stansted and East Midlands £3.50, Manchester £4 for 10 minutes and Edinburgh £4 for 15 minutes.

But be warned. 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 Cardiff 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, 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 with details online for each airport.

Another alternative is to drive yourself to the airport and park up. But do ensure you pre-buy your parking online in advance to get the best deal. Read our article to find out how to save a packet.

Rip-off #2: Trolley charges

Only eight of the 20 airports we researched provide free trolleys to load up your bags. Heathrow remains free, along with all Scottish airports.

Luton and Bristol, however, want £2 per trolley, while Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham, Liverpool, Doncaster, Leeds, Cardiff, Southend, East Midlands and Stansted all charge £1 – plus you’ll need coins with you on arrival to use. Only Gatwick refunds the charge when you return the trolley.

If you can, avoid the charge and invest in luggage with wheels.

Rip off #3: Security costs

Most airports now provide free plastic liquid bags for your hand luggage toiletries. Three of the airports we checked are still charging for these, however. Bristol, Newcastle and Liverpool all charge £1, so bring your own from home.

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. Manchester, Gatwick, Birmingham, Luton, Liverpool and Bristol want a fiver, while Glasgow asks for just a penny less at £4.99. The cheapest we found was Newcastle 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, Bristol, Southampton and Luton. 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.

Rip off #4: Food and drink

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. Find out more about which airports have these on MoneySavingExpert.

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.

Rip-off #5: Last-minute currency

There is only one thing to advise you here. Don’t buy 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.

Rip-off #6: Welcome home charges

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 £7 per person for Gatwick 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, £11.50 at Heathrow, and £8 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.

Rip-off #7: Passenger Facility Charge

Pity the passengers travelling through Norwich and Durham Tees Valley airports. They will be charged £10 and £6 respectively for each adult flying from there as a Passenger Facility Charge to fund airport development.

Unfortunately, that’s one charge you can’t avoid unless you want to fly from elsewhere.

Please note: All prices are based on those at 20 of the most popular UK airports in November 2018. All prices were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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