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Unbundled budget seats: Low-priced economy air fares compared

Unbundled budget seats: Low-priced economy air fares compared

Long-haul airlines are starting to compete against the low-cost carriers by introducing ‘Basic Economy’ fares, however; even though these tickets may offer a lower price, some also impose restrictions such as limiting hand luggage and seat selection.

To ensure savvy travelers enjoy a stress-free journey, Airport Parking and Hotels (APH) has put together a guide comparing budget fares across 21 major airlines.

The research compares the lowest priced ticket fare available with major airlines including American Airlines, British Airways and easyJet, highlighting costs and services such as baggage allowance, check-in fees at the airport, costs for allocated seating and in-flight experiences.

With regards to baggage allowance, 19 of the airlines allow cabin luggage on-board and 10 of the airlines researched, including British Airways, Norwegian Air Shuttle and Ryanair, also allow passengers to store one small personal item under the seat in front. For those planning to travel with substantial luggage, nine of the airlines researched, including Emirates, Qantas and transatlantic flights with Aer Lingus, allow passengers to check-in luggage in the hold as part of the budget fare. Travelers should note that two airlines, Wizz Air and American Airlines, were found to not currently allow passengers to store cabin luggage in the overhead lockers as part of their Basic and Basic Economy fares.

When the baggage allowance does not suffice, all the airlines do allow passengers to purchase additional luggage space for a fee, varying from £8 with Wizz Air to £171 with Qantas, depending on the flight route and bag weight. However, travelers should note that it may be best to purchase additional luggage allowance online prior to departure, since many airlines charge more for add-ons purchased offline. For example, Monarch charges an additional £5 surcharge for any extra baggage purchased via the call center and SWISS Air requests an additional surcharge of £12 (€14) when extra luggage is purchased during check-in at the airport.

For travelers looking to pay a little extra to sit by a window or on the exit row, the majority of airlines provide passengers the option to select their own seat for a fee, however, four airlines allow passengers to choose their preferred seat for free, including KLM and Qatar Airways. Passengers travelling in Basic Economy with Delta Air Lines should note that seat selection is not available at any time and that seats will be allocated by staff after check-in.

To avoid unexpected charges once at the airport, passengers travelling with three of the airlines researched – Jet2, Ryanair and Wizz Air – should ensure they check-in online prior to arriving at the airport, since all three charge passengers to check-in at the terminal. Fees for doing so vary from £8 with Wizz Air to £45 with Ryanair.

For those that are eager to board the plane first, seven of the airlines researched provide priority boarding services at a price, varying from £4 with Wizz Air to £19.99 with easyJet. Passengers who purchase an allocated Priority Seat with Ryanair are automatically granted priority when boarding at the gate and similarly, those who purchase Priority Boarding with Wizz Air are also permitted to take an additional small personal item on board.

All 21 airlines researched offer food and drink in-flight with 11, including KLM, Virgin Atlantic and transatlantic flights with Aer Lingus, offering selected food and drink free of charge. Travelers should note that complimentary meals with British Airways are provided on long-haul flights only and likewise, drinks are only offered complimentary if travelling with Icelandair. For those in need of a caffeine boost, Basic Economy passengers travelling with Delta are provided with complimentary Starbucks drinks in-flight.

In terms of additional fees, many of the airlines researched charge all travelers a further booking cost, regardless of the fare purchased. For example, Finnair requests £4.50 per person for online bookings and Icelandair charges £15 per person for bookings made via the call center or at the ticket desk. Similarly, passengers who travel with Virgin Atlantic and prefer to use a physical paper ticket are required to pay an additional £25, while passengers travelling with Jet2 and Ryanair should keep their boarding pass close at all times, since the airlines charge £17.50 and £15, respectively, for reprints.

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