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Budget airlines accused of 'bumping up' prices

Budget airlines accused of 'bumping up' prices
Emma Lunn
Written By:
Emma Lunn

Ryanair and Wizz Air, which both boast of being cheaper than rivals, are often more expensive when extra costs are added, according to analysis by Which?.

However, both airlines have criticised the research, with Ryanair describing it as “fake news” and Wizz Air claiming to offer customers “choice and flexibility”.

Which? carried out a snapshot price analysis of three April 2024 routes for return trips from London airports to Malaga, Athens and Naples and returning a week later, flying with British Airways (BA), EasyJet, Jet2, Ryanair and Wizz Air.

The research included the price of a cabin bag in all cases (Jet2 and BA already include this in their headline fare), and also added seat selection for Ryanair and Wizz Air – the two airlines least likely to seat travelling companions together, according to a previous Which? survey.

For the other airlines, more than 90% of passengers are typically seated with travel companions without paying, so Which? didn’t add seat selection to those fares.

Researchers found that, once the cost of a cabin bag and seat selection were added on to cheap headline fares, Ryanair and Wizz Air were not the cheapest option for any of the trips.

Which? found that baggage and seat selection fees accounted for 49% of the total ticket price with Wizz Air when averaged across the three routes, 27% with EasyJet, and 20% with Ryanair.

Wizz Air’s extra fees were among the highest. Which? said it cost an additional £89 to take a cabin bag on a return trip, although customers also got priority boarding bundled in with the price.

A spokesperson for Wizz Air said: “To be clear, we do not charge £90 for any cabin bag. The price referred to in this report is a return flight, and therefore the price is £45 per flight for a bundle of a cabin bag with priority boarding, not a single product, while the average price for such a product is much lower.

“As an ultra-low-cost carrier, we allow passengers to choose which services they wish to purchase so that we can offer the most affordable travel opportunities. Optional add-ons are not required to fly, and we believe that customers should be offered the choice and flexibility to choose the right products for them.”

BA cheaper than Ryanair and Wizz Air

Which? calculated that BA was ultimately cheaper than both Ryanair and Wizz Air on two out of three routes – London to Malaga and London to Naples.

BA had the most competitive price on the London to Naples route once a cabin bag and seat were factored in, costing £120. That was a £65 saving versus Wizz Air and a £12 saving versus Ryanair. It was £72 cheaper than the most expensive ticket, which was with Jet2.

On a return flight from London to Malaga, Ryanair’s basic price was £232.19, almost £36 cheaper than BA. But when researchers added a cabin bag to put in the overhead locker and chose a seat, the fare rose to £293, with BA working out £25 cheaper overall, at £268.

On the same route, Wizz Air’s basic price was £252, £16 cheaper than BA. But once the cost of a seat and cabin luggage was added, that shot up to £364 – £96 more than flying with BA.

EasyJet had the best price on the London to Malaga route at £257, a saving of more than £100 compared to both Wizz Air and Jet2.

Meanwhile, on a return flight from London to Athens, Jet2 had the best total price. Ryanair initially appeared to be cheaper with a headline fare of £158 – but when researchers added a bag and a seat, this shot up to £217, making Jet2 £29 cheaper at £188. Similarly, Wizz Air’s basic fare on that route was £117 – the lowest headline fare, and £71 less than Jet2. But once a bag and seat were added, that shot up to £230 – £42 more than flying with Jet2.

Calls for ban on hidden fees

Which? has been actively calling for a ban on “sneaky hidden fees”. Earlier this year, the Government unveiled plans to clamp down on “drip pricing” by requiring mandatory fees, such as booking fees, to be added to the headline price rather than being added when consumers reach the checkout. However, optional extras have not been included in the legislation.

But Which? believes fees for seat selection should be covered by the new laws, pointing out that they are not really “optional” for some passengers, such as parents who want to guarantee sitting with their children.

The consumer champion said airlines should be more transparent about the true cost of flights by ensuring extra charges such as luggage fees are clearly set out alongside the headline fare.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “It’s easy to assume that budget airlines like Ryanair and Wizz Air are always the cheapest option – but if you want to sit next to your kids or take more than a few items of clothes with you, then you’ll increasingly find better prices elsewhere.

“Next time you’re booking a flight, look beyond the headline fare and factor in the cost of extras you need before you book.”

A spokesperson for Ryanair said: “This is more fake news from Which?. Ryanair has the lowest fares of any airline in Europe, and additional ancillary products, such as extra luggage, are entirely optional for customers.”

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