The problem with budget airlines in the UK

Posted on: August 5, 2010

I recently went through the headache of booking a flight with a discount airline in the UK. I knew going into the booking that Easyjet would do everything it could to scam me out of extra money, but it was on the final page, when taking my payment, that the other shoe dropped. Actually I had tried to avoid booking with a discount carrier and had wanted to go with bmi, a real airline part of Star Alliance, but I chose EasyJet instead, not over price but flight times strangely enough. The bmi flights were too early or too late—either there was no way to get to the airport that early in the morning without an expensive taxi ride or I would be arriving late in the evening. I had even tried booking a one-way flight to my destination with EasyJet and the return on bmi, but bmi wanted to charge me significantly more for a one-way ticket. So I went with EasyJet.

Before I continue, need an EasyJet promotion code? Try AUGURI2010 (which takes €10 off if you pay in Euros).

Flying on a budget airline is very much akin to riding the bus (or coach), except you pay extra for everything. You don’t get to choose or even get an assigned seat, and you are only allowed one small bag or face paying extra for a checked bag (which is actually the same size as your carry on). Then the airline proceeds to sell you insurance, hotels, car rentals and early check in (the closest to being able to pick your own seat).

At the last possible moment I discovered that I would have to pay extra for using my debit card, which not even the train booking websites dare charge you for. I can understand paying for the privilege to use a credit card, after all credit cards cost the business money (of course it could be assumed this is the cost of doing business). As a matter of fact if you are running an online business you really can only take so many forms of payment. Try accepting cash over the internet (Paypal doesn’t count). I was given one option to avoid a fee, Visa Electron. Good news, all the banks in the UK are abandoning Visa Electron, replacing any expiring cards with debit cards (which again normally avoid fees). You can not even get a Visa Electron card any longer. Soon you will not be able to avoid the extra fee and airlines will need to stop charging for the one payment method no one else charges for (because of it’s extremely low-cost over a credit card purchase).

There are some experts that recommend buying a prepaid Visa Electron card which costs 2% to top-up (minimum of £3) which works out to being more than the debit card booking fee. The recommendation to use prepaid credit cards fails from the same problem. Basically there is no escape from this fee, except not choosing EasyJet. Ryanair doesn’t give you the Visa Electron option, but does allow prepaid Mastercards. Again there are fees to use the card but these fees are less than Ryanair’s £5 per flight charge.

Let’s add this up
Comparing one flight to another is not easy when flying from different airports and with all the extra fees but let’s try. The bmi flight is pretty much the bench mark, so I will add all the extra fees that get these tickets to match feature-for-feature, however flying bmi you can earn frequent flier miles and you get to book your seat (both non-existent with EasyJet. The EasyJet flight includes the basic debit card charge, checked baggage charge and speeding boarding (closest option for getting a guaranteed seat).

Airline Price Getting to airport Extras Total
bmi £173.90 £7 (public transport) £0 £180.90
EasyJet £135.48 £21 (train from station) £37.50 £193.98

The better deal is ultimately with bmi and I’m now annoyed I didn’t do this comparison before booking my flight, except I refused to buy to check my luggage and for speeding boarding, which did lower the cost of my flight. Had I booked further in advance bmi would have been the better option. Even British Airways would be preferable to EasyJet.

Conclusion
I am a penny pincher, but there are some sacrifices I don’t wish to make. Saving a few quid in the end is hard to justify when compared to the level of customer service. Travel is stressful enough, it’s better to choose an airline that gives you a better experience then one that barely saves you enough for a meal at your destination. Next time I’m going to fly bmi.