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Flexible flights up to 17 times more expensive than standard fares

Emma Lunn
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Emma Lunn

A British Airways flight from the UK to Spain cost £57 on a standard ticket, but an Economy Plus Flex fare cost £966 – 17 times the cost of the standard fare.

Which? compared the prices of standard fares and flexible fares for flights from some of the UK’s biggest airlines, to check if paying extra for flexibility is worth it.

In every example Which? looked at, the difference in cost between a flexible ticket and a standard fare was greater than the cost of the standard fare.

This would suggest passengers could be better off simply paying for a standard fare and making a new booking if they were unable to travel on their original dates.

Alternatively, many passengers could benefit from the flexibility provided through airlines’ ‘book with confidence’ policies, introduced in the wake of the pandemic. These policies allow customers to make changes to their bookings for free if their plans change due to coronavirus.

The biggest increase in price Which? found between a standard and flexible fare was for a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Barcelona in February 2021.

The cheapest standard flight cost £57, but the same route booked with an Economy Plus Flex fare saw the price shoot up to £966 – 17 times the cost of the standard fare.

A BA spokesperson said: “We offer our customers a wide range of options to give greater choice and to best suit their individual travel plans.”

British Airways is currently allowing customers with standard flight bookings to change their flight dates for free, right up until the departure gate closes.

Meanwhile, a Virgin Atlantic flight from London to New York in February 2021 cost £319 if booked with a standard fare, but shot up to £2,031 when booked with a flexible fare. This is a price increase of more than £1,700.

Virgin Atlantic is currently allowing any passengers travelling before 31 August 2021 to make up to two changes of dates and/or one change of names without a fee, right up to departure.

A Virgin Atlantic spokesperson said: “Regardless of the fare or product, our current commercial policy supersedes fare conditions which may appear during the booking journey for a customer.”

Which? also looked at the cost of standard and flexible flights from London to Barcelona in the same month from Easyjet and Ryanair. Easyjet’s flexible fare cost more than two-and-a-half times as much as a standard fare, while Ryanair’s cost more than three times as much.

Which? says that passengers are likely to be better off booking with airlines that have committed to waiving their flight change fee rather than paying extra for a flexible fare.

This means if you are unable to travel, you will be able to change the date or destination of your flight and only have to pay the difference in the cost of the original flight and the new flight.

Rory Boland, editor of Which? Travel, said: “After a year that has shown us all the value of flexibility when booking travel arrangements, airlines should be making their flexible booking options as attractive as possible. But while it’s not unusual to see airlines flogging extras of questionable value to their passengers, these excessive prices for flexible fares – which often aren’t that flexible at all, or charge for flexibility that is already on offer in their standard fares – are simply not worth it.

“Instead, those buying flights should pick airlines with better ‘book with confidence’ policies on standard tickets, like Jet2 and British Airways, so they can easily change their booking if lockdown, travel bans or other disruption mean they can’t travel at short notice. Or better still, book a package holiday, which may provide additional protections.”