7 flight rip-offs and how to avoid them

Updated August 24, 2023
Published March 6, 2019

By Joey Tyson

Finding cheap flights online can sometimes feel like making your way through a rainforest without a map – it’s easy to get lost. Instead of poisonous snakes, hazardous pitfalls and the prospect of starving to death, you’re dodging extra fees and sneaky hidden charges.

But don’t fret. We’re here to help you navigate the airfare jungle – think of us like Bear Grylls without the predetermined scenarios.

Rip-off #1: Being charged for honest mistakes

After hours online searching for the best prices, your mind can easily become mush. That’s when the mistakes happen. And these mistakes can be costly.

Booked for June instead of July? That’ll be £45 each way to change it, please (with Ryanair online). Forgot to add that extra bag? Well, that’s going to cost you, too.

These are the extra costs that really hurt because they can be so easy to make. So, make sure you avoid these ugly fees by checking the details you’ve entered… then checking again.

And, if you do realise you need an extra bag, for example, make sure you book it online beforehand – it always works out cheaper than at the airport.

Rip-off #2: The great boarding pass swindle

With some airlines, if you check in online and don’t bring your printed boarding pass with you, a fee could be waiting for you at the airport.

Mainly a trick of low-cost providers, this dastardly fee goes well beyond the price of ink and paper. 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.

Even if a third party appears to save you a few pounds on the cost of your flight, it may cost you more in the long run. For example, recent Which? research found that a number of third-party websites were charging far more than the airlines themselves for flight extras such as hold baggage and seat selection.

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: 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 (£34.18), 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.

Rip-off #5: 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 October 2023 (22-29) and found that a policy with easyJet would be £44.09. And a similar single-trip family policy through a quick comparison on TravelSupermarket? £23.94.

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

Rip-off #6: Silly seat fees

Potentially one of the most annoying rip-offs is the seat selection fee. Ryanair charges between £2 and £15 per person for a standard seat – although anyone who’s run the seating gauntlet of desperation when boarding a Ryanair flight may argue that it’s actually good value for money.

Meanwhile, easyJet’s fees start between 99p and £12.99 (although this also gives you a small cabin bag).

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 #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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