7 flight rip-offs and how to avoid them

Photo of Joey TysonPhoto of Joey Tyson
By Joey Tyson

6 March 2019 | Updated 28 March 20246 min read

A view from the right side window of an plane showing the aircraft wing during a sunrise over the clouds

Finding cheap flights online should be easy, but with extra fees and sneaky hidden charges, that first price you see isn’t often the one you’ll end up paying.

Between optional add-ons that feel essential in the moment and hard-to-follow booking conditions, scoring a cheap flight is like making your way through a rainforest without a map – it’s easy to get lost.

So, we’re here to help you navigate the airfare jungle – think of us like Bear Grylls without the predetermined scenarios.

Rip-off #1: Eye-watering baggage fees

Need a bag with that? If you’re looking at low-cost airlines, prepare to pay up.

When you’re comparing flights, remember those temptingly cheap airfares can quickly skyrocket if you need more than the free under-seat bag.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to avoid unless you can cram everything into your hand luggage allowance. If you can’t, add your bag at the time you make your booking – it’ll be cheaper than adding it later online or at the airport.

Pay attention to the initial ‘upgrade’ offers airlines give you during the booking process too. Usually, they’ll include extras like priority boarding or specific seats closer to the front in addition to a bigger bag. If you want them, make a note of the price but stick with the base fare to start – you might find that it’s cheaper to add these extras individually compared to the initial package ‘deal’ offered by the airline.

Don’t care where you sit and happy to board last? Stick with the base fare at this point. You’ll get the option to add a bag at a cheaper price later.

Rip-off #2: Paying to check-in at the airport

Some airlines charge you for the privilege of checking in at the airport. For example, Wizz Air charges €40 (£34.21), while Ryanair charges even more at £55.

It’s usually a feature of low-cost carriers and can be avoided easily enough by checking in online. Your airline will usually remind you when check-in opens but to ensure you don’t forget, set your own reminder as to when the online check-in window opens.

And that’s not all. If you don’t bring your printed boarding pass with you, a fee well beyond the price of ink and paper could be waiting for you at the airport. Ryanair, for example, charges £20pp to reissue your boarding card at the airport. Family of five and forget the lot? That could be £100 before you’ve had your first sangria.

The best way to dodge this pricey bullet is to check the policy with your airline and, if you need to, print all boarding passes off early and put them safely with your passports.

Rip-off #3: Booking through third parties

With charter and low-cost flights, it’s almost always cheaper to book direct than through a third-party online travel agent.

Not only that but if something goes wrong, you’re generally better off dealing with the airline directly as many third-party sites charge an extortionate price to access customer service.

To avoid getting ripped off while booking, make sure you compare a wide range of providers using a comparison site, check the reviews of any third-party companies, and go direct where possible. At TravelSupermarket, we aim to show as many direct prices as possible to help you find the cheapest deals.

Rip-off #4: Excessive prices for travel insurance

Once you’ve signed on the dotted line, your airline will selflessly take it upon themselves to solve every other holiday issue they think you have.

Top of the list is usually travel insurance: far less glamorous than the other parts of your holiday, but no less important. It can be tempting to get this boring bit out of the way while you’re booking your flight or following an email from your airline.

But wait, as you’ll probably end up paying more. We checked the cost of a seven-night, single-trip policy for a family of four heading to Spain in May 2024 (5-12) and found that a policy with easyJet would be £42.92. And a similar single-trip family policy through a quick comparison on TravelSupermarket? £27.38.

The moral of the story? Shop around for your insurance as you would for your flight.

Rip-off #5: Silly seat fees

Potentially one of the most annoying rip-offs is the seat selection fee. Ryanair charges between £4.50 and £15.50 per person per flight for a standard seat.

Meanwhile, easyJet’s fees start from 99p for a standard seat or £7.99 for one with extra legroom.

The best way to dodge this? Well, it’s simple if you don’t mind where you sit, but for families it can be an expensive affair. Some airlines, such as British Airways, don’t charge on certain tickets and others prioritise family boarding so check your airline’s policy on seating before you pay.

If it’s important to you, factor it into the overall price when you’re comparing options.

Rip-off #6: Flying into faraway airports

You’ve successfully squashed your clothes into a tiny backpack, conquered the check-in process and managed to make it through your flight without sitting next to your travel partner. Then you’re tripped up by the last hurdle, one you didn’t even see coming – an extortionate fee just to get from the airport into the city. And to rub salt in the wound, it’ll take you another hour to get there.

Flying into smaller airports further from the city centre is common for low-cost carriers like Ryanair and easyJet, so double check which one you’ll arrive at and factor the cost of train, taxi or airport transfers into the price of your airfare. It may work out better to fly into a closer airport.

Rip-off #7: Pointless points

Frequent flyer schemes and rewards can be a great way to earn a little travel treat if you use them properly. However, if you don’t, you can actually end up losing out on what looks like a good deal.

The main rip-off to avoid here is redeeming your points for a deal that isn’t actually worth it. So, before you use your points, always check the real price of your booking. Generally, it’s better to use your points on business class or long-haul flights rather than economy.

Also, don’t buy everything under the sun in the quest for more precious points. They should be a bonus as a result of your usual spending and not something that results in you spending more.

Please note: All facts and prices were correct at the time of writing and are subject to change.

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