Have you noticed when you book a flight the price you start off with is nothing like the price you end up paying when all the extras have been added on? You are not alone.

In the last few weeks, additional charges by airlines have come under the spotlight as passengers began to compare notes and share their stories.

So this week, I thought I’d write about some of the common charges that lie in wait for holidaymakers, so you can make the best decision about who to fly with – and if the extras are worth it.

The problem with comparisons

Airlines are masters of add-on charges… and of distraction techniques. While many of these charges are lurking on the airline’s websites, they aren’t exactly easy to find – or clear cut.

It’s also difficult to compare airline charges as they vary depending on route, currency and caveat. Prices for hold luggage can go from £30 to £40 to way over £150 if the bag is ‘overweight’ for example. The Civil Aviation Authority regularly posts comparison tables of the airlines and airport charges on its website if you want to compare and contrast.

The basics

We can argue with the airlines about the fairness of charging for things that should be free and get nowhere. So let’s just assume that we’re stuck with this for now. So what do you need to watch out for? Well let’s say you’re a family of four people going abroad for a week. At the very least, you’re going to need at least two suitcases in the hold and you’re going to want to sit together.

As I mentioned, it’s almost impossible to directly compare costs across airlines. But when you look at the ‘basic’ price for the flight, assume that you’ll pay roughly £35 for each hold bag and £7 for each seat you choose so you can be together. That means you should add on roughly £100 to the final price for your four air tickets before you start booking to get an idea of what the final bill will be. Ouch.


From hold to hand luggage, extra charges lurk everywhere. If your bag is deemed overweight, then you could be charged by the kilo, or in some cases well over £100 or more. So investing in a good quality luggage scale is vital. Don’t buy cheap, as inaccurate measures lead to big costs. Get a digital one and test it out. Most airlines start to charge more when you edge over 23kg. Don’t stuff your suitcase to 22.9kg – allow for 2kg spare for errors. You’ll also pay way more if you pay for luggage at the airport – and you’ll often get sent miles to find a desk to pay too.

Watch out for carry on or hand luggage charges too. You must meet the bag size requirements or you’ll be billed extra. Airlines are getting militant about this so don’t think you’ll be able to negotiate. There have also been some reports lately of ‘smart bags’ – ones with lithium batteries – that are barred by some airlines.

Seat allocation

Deeply unfair, but we are stuck with it for now, seat allocation charges vary depending on whether you go for basic seats, extra legroom or premium (usually the front of the plane). If you want to sit together, you’ll have to fork out for basic at least, but aim for the back of the plane as it is usually cheaper and these seats seem to sell out slower.

Other charges

Watch out for these zingers!

  • You’ll generally pay for changes to a booking including; mistakes (name or passport details), refunds, direct booking and printing out boarding cards.
  • Extra assistance charges if you need help getting on or off the plane.
  • Cancellations and date changes.
  • Wi-Fi, food and drink and onboard extras.
  • Airports will also charge you for everything from fast-track security to dropping off someone for five minutes!

I’d like to hear your stories if you’ve been charged for something that should be free. Get in touch!

Martyn James is a leading consumer rights campaigner, TV and radio broadcaster and journalist.


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