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The airlines that earn the most from extra charges

Ryanair has long been famous for its extra fees
Ryanair has long been famous for its extra fees - Jakub Porzycki/NurPhoto via Getty

The amount of money collected by Ryanair for optional extras, such as baggage charges and seat selection fees, rose to $4bn last year.

A new study has revealed that the low-cost carrier is aviation’s fifth biggest earner when it comes to “ancillary” revenue – everything not included in the airfare – behind America’s “big four” of Delta, United, American and Southwest. Extra charges now account for 35.7 per cent of Ryanair’s total revenue, up from 31.7 per cent in 2018 and 20 per cent in 2011.

EasyJet isn’t far behind, according to the 2023 CarTrawler Yearbook of Ancillary Revenue by IdeaWorksCompany, with $2.35bn collected via luggage fees and other extras (33.9 per cent of its total revenue). Four more North American airlines – Spirit, JetBlue, Alaska Air and Air Canada – complete the top 10.

The top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue
The top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue

While Ryanair has long been famous for its extra fees, they still occasionally cause a stir. Last month, for example, a Twitter user told the sorry tale of his parents, “in their 70s and 80s”, who “accidentally downloaded the return flight boarding cards instead of the outgoing ones”. Ryanair charged them £110 to print them at the airport.

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Ryanair’s £55 per person airport check-in fee is among the airline’s steepest extra charges, others include its boarding card reissue fee (£20), its flight change fee (£45), its name change fee (£115) and its seat selection fee (up to £30). Its checked baggage charges range from £12 to £25 per bag per flight for a 10kg bag, or £23.99-£35.99 for a 20kg bag, when purchased online.

When it comes to ancillary revenue as a percentage of total revenue, Ryanair is surpassed by relative newcomer Wizz Air, recently named the worst short-haul airline at the 2023 Telegraph Travel Awards, voted for by readers. The Hungarian low-cost carrier earns 48 per cent of its revenue through extra charges, with only Spirit (51.5 per cent), Frontier (50.8 per cent) and Allegiant (48.9 per cent), able to beat it. Wizz Air’s fees include ‎€60 to change the name on a ticket, up to ‎€50 to change a flight, ‎€4–€60 for allocated seating and €5–€95 for checked luggage.

Top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue as a percentage of total revenue
Top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue as a percentage of total revenue

Jet2.com, named the best short-haul airline at the Telegraph Travel Awards, was named the carrier that earns the most from ancillary charges on a per-passenger basis. For each holidaymaker it carries, it collects $84.72, on average, beyond the price of the airfare. A large percentage of its passengers (64.9 per cent) have booked package holidays, and it offers a broader range of extra services than many of its rivals. They include VIBE by Jet2Holidays, which includes special access to entertainment venues in the Mediterranean, and Express Transfers, guaranteeing they are dropped off at their accommodation upon arrival before other passengers.

Top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue per passenger
Top 10 airlines for ancillary revenue per passenger

The report notes that the post-pandemic surge in travel has provided an extra boon for airlines that rely on extra charges. “As airports and aircraft become more crowded, consumers are more inclined to spend money on comfort and conveniences such as extra leg room, assigned seats, early boarding, checked bags, and priority screening,” it suggests.

Why does any of it matter? Airlines insist that their extra fees are entirely optional, and help them keep “headline” fares low. But the use of such fees, and an array of confusing choices, make it almost impossible to compare airlines when booking a flight – something Telegraph Travel has regularly highlighted. Low-cost airlines (and, increasingly, traditional airlines like BA) lure travellers with enticing headline fares – Ryanair is currently offering, for example, flights to Dublin from £9.99 one-way – but unless you’re willing to spend a weekend living out of a handbag this will not be the final bill.

The US Government recently declared war on what it calls “junk fees” which surprise customers at the end of the booking process, while earlier this month a public consultation was announced by the UK Government to look at ways to clamp down on airlines’ hidden fees as part of a wider plan to improve transparency for people shopping online.