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How to avoid hidden charges on budget airlines

avoid charges on budget airlinesExams are over. Holidays are around the corner. All I can think about though is the hassle of getting away ie the misery of cheap flights. I'm beginning to think I honestly wouldn’t mind paying £20 more to avoid it.

It's a well-trodden road. You booked the cheapest flight you could find and pay using a debit card not a credit card where there’s an extra fee. But you have to turn up at 5:30 am and you’ll probably spend much more to get to the airport at that time because public transport is (not unreasonably) asleep.

Then there’s a round of overpriced coffee and breakfast for everyone air-side while you wait three hours because the flight is delayed. Everyone’s dying of heat exhaustion since they’re wearing all the clothes they couldn’t fit in the single cabin-bag allowed. (Stowing in the hold is stupidly expensive.) Finally you get on board, last in the queue having refused to pay for priority boarding. You find you can’t sit with each other (didn’t pay more for allocated seats) and that’s if you’ve been lucky to get on at all. You settle down, elbow to elbow with your neighbour, knees in the back of the chair in front trying to avoid the used serviette and empty crisp packet in the magazine holder. Meanwhile the stag party at the back has broken into “20 times Man United”. Two for one on paint-stripper wine? Yes please!

Budget airlines are renowned for introducing all kinds of extra charges but we came across a new one the other week. One SMM reader found that she had been charged £299 from her bank account for a flight she thought had cost £265. When she complained, the airline said the difference was a foreign exchange charge: somehow she had pressed the wrong button on the website and paid in euros not sterling.

Even if that was the case, the discrepancy is a pretty hefty fee. But the airline said it was entitled to retroactively charge her account due to a clause buried in their terms and conditions – to which of course she had signed up when buying the ticket.

I had a look at what other airlines have in their Ts & Cs. And pretty much all of them allow themselves to bung extra charges on your ticket should the government suddenly introduce a new tax. That is fair enough, but some companies have written in special considerations. Swiss says it can retroactively charge an optional fee for currency conversion, for example, while Monarch can build in an average margin of 7% if you use a card in a currency other than what was quoted – ie press the euro button by mistake.

The Mail on Sunday took up the story and you can get the whole article here. Worth reading of course to see me quoted in the press but there's also some great tips on dealing with budget airlines. Could at least one airline come up with treating customers honourably as a USP? It might just work. I, for one, would travel them always.

Going away? Check out the SMM guide to travel insurance here.

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Saturday, 20 April 2019