The whole point of low-cost airlines is that they save us money when compared to more standard carriers. Yet the opposite is true.
That’s according to a report from comparison site Idealo.co.uk which found that the average cost for a family on a no-frills flight with a budget airline is typically £29 more per seat compared with non-budget carriers.
Low-cost travel that isn't so low cost
The rise of low-cost travel has given many of us the opportunity to experience more of the world on the cheap.
But a backlash has raged for a few years now based on the sneaky surcharges budget airlines heap on, which bump up the price of your bargain holiday.
In general, flights booked by an individual can be cleverly executed to avoid a lot of the hidden costs, but when a family is involved there are just some things you cannot skimp on.
[Related feature: How to beat sneaky budget airline charges]
The research from Idealo was based on a family of four with two parents, one child (between 2 and 11 years old) and one infant (under two).
The cost of a family flight was compared across 10 airlines over four popular short-haul flight routes out of London (Berlin, Barcelona, Palma Majorca & Alicante). The outbound flight was scheduled for Friday, July 13th and the return one on Monday, July 16th.
Of the 10 airlines analysed, four were low-cost carriers (EasyJet, Ryanair, Germanwings and Norwegian) and the other six (British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Air France, Air Berlin and Swiss) were standard carriers.
The reasonable criteria for a family to travel were established to consist of the following:
• The two adults and child could each take one bag of 20kg.
• The infant would be able to check one bag of 10kg.
• The family will check one foldable pushchair and one car seat for the infant.
• The family will guarantee that they can sit together.
• The family will pay for the tickets with a credit card.
These bare minimum requirements (the report does not include things like food and drink or transfers from the airport) meant that a number of surcharges would likely be applied, unless they were already included in the advertised price. They included:
• Baggage charges
• Charges for priority boarding
• Seat reservation charges
• Infant fees
• Credit card fees
• Admin fees per passenger
The average cost is shown in the following table, with the cheapest first. The budget airlines are in bold:
Avg. Total Price
As you can see the six non-budget airlines cost on average £29 a seat less than airlines that claim to save us money. For a family of four with an infant (which qualifies for free travel if under two) this amounts to £87 more than standard priced airlines.
In fact, Lufthansa, one of the largest airlines in Europe, did the best in terms of offering the best value for money whereas low-cost airline Norwegian was on average the most expensive way to travel as a family.
How can airlines that claim to be budget be costing us so much more money?
[Related story: The one budget airline that’s scrapped its charges]
The real cost
Many of us realise through experience that the attractive advertised price is not the ‘real cost’ of flying with budget airlines. By the time you have booked your ticket, the add-ons really add-up.
Idealo's research points the finger at baggage as the main offender. It's not an easy area to cut down on either – in a typical family of four, on holiday for a few days, sticking to hand luggage just won’t cut it. Low-cost airlines charge an added premium whereas most other airlines give you a reasonable allowance of 20-23kg included in the price.
When the advertised cost was compared to the ‘real cost’ per seat, budget airlines did the worst. The difference per seat for non-budget airlines was on average just £18 or 7%.
However, the change was an astronomical £113.92 or 56% for budget airlines.
The worst offenders in the low-cost carrier line-up (surprise, surprise) were easyJet and Ryanair. While Norweigan and Germanwings saw a 24% and 33% mark-up on advertised prices, EasyJet and Ryanair dwarfed their low-cost peers charging a typical 92% and 166% more by the time you reach the ‘real cost’ of the flights at the checkout.
Lufthansa and Air France were the most transparent with hardly any change in the price by the time you came to paying for the flights. Lufthansa had a change on average of 0.2% (when an infant charge and credit card fees were applied) while Air France managed to achieve a decrease of 4% in the cost of the booking.
Avg. Cost / Passenger (Flight Search Engine)
Avg. ‘Real Cost’ / Passenger (including surcharges)
[Related story: Martin Lewis: Time to change your cheap flight tactics]
Despite the increased cost of budget airlines, there's still plenty of appetite for travelling with them. Indeed, easyJet saw an 8.9% increase in passenger numbers over the past 12 months.
Even though we have plenty of things to complain about, from surcharges and regional airports miles away from where we need to be, to bad service and cramped conditions we continue to reward these substandard carriers with our loyalty.
Does this mean that consumers are unaware of the real cost of budget airlines or that comparisons need to be more transparent?
As always not relying solely on comparison websites and shopping around for the best deal is key.
Generally if you are happy to travel lightly, midweek, bring your own refreshments and are able to arrange transport from airports miles out of cities, then budget flights are worth it. But when you travel as a family just checking what the other side of airline travel can offer could surprise you.
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