/ Money, Travel & Leisure

You mean I can’t really fly to Mallorca for £5?

£20 note as a plane

Do you feel duped by flight fares that bare no resemblance to the final cost? Wouldn’t it be better if all those ‘extras’ were included from the get go? Well, our mistrust has forced some airlines to change tack.

Monarch Airlines has announced that by the end of the year they, like British Airways and easyJet, will be moving towards advertising prices with taxes, fees and charges already included.

The Managing Director of Monarch, Tim Jeans, has been quoted as saying that ‘people just don’t trust £5 fares any more, they are now sufficiently well-travelled to know you can’t pay that to travel 1,000 miles on a £40 million aircraft.’

Over the past few years, the travel industry has been stripping away charges from the actual cost of the flight ticket and adding them as extras in the spirit of ‘consumer choice’.

At the end of 2008, we asked 1641 Which? members who had flown in the previous 12 months to think about buying the same ticket again. When we asked them what they’d want included in the upfront ticket price, 92% said the taxes, fees and charges. A further 77% said that they’d want any fuel supplements to also be included.

Flight tickets fuel game of confusion

Travel companies are particularly renowned for ‘dripping’ extra costs into the final price at different stages of the booking. They then rely on the fact that the further we get, the more likely we are to finish booking, regardless of how annoying the process is.

For many of us, by the time we realise that the final cost bears no resemblance to the initial price, we think it’s too late to start the booking process all over again with another company.

Fuelled by consumer annoyance, the Office of Fair Trading has been studying online pricing recently with an aim of coming up with some good practice guidelines for traders. But it’ll be a long time before their recommendations become anything but voluntary.

In the meantime, we need to get savvier and let ourselves cancel a booking when we start to feel cheated and reward the companies that are honest with us from the start. Sure, choice is good, but only when the choices we’re given are genuine and transparent.

How much should we pay for a holiday?

A second point that Jeans’ comments bring up is perhaps a more interesting one. Do people really know how much a holiday or flight is worth? When the tour operator Goldtrail went bust over the summer, many in the industry exclaimed that consumers should have known that any company selling holidays to Turkey for £200 was bound to fail.

Yes, industry folk and the well-travelled may have a better idea about how much a holiday costs, but most of us aren’t frequent flyers and so a £200 Turkey package may seem like a safe bet. Plus, when we book a flight, our focus is on the cost to us, not the cost to the company.

How are we to know what price will keep a company afloat, when everyone pays a different price anyway? The answer, perhaps, is that we’ll probably never know. The only thing we can do is to insure ourselves against the risks of a company charging too little.


One thing that’s part of this outrageous practice is the absurd way that airline taxation works – with a tax levied on passengers rather than flights.

The business model of low-cost airlines seems to be sound – namely that so long as you have empty seats on a flight you might as well sell them for whatever you can get. It costs a marginal amount more to fly a plane full than half-full (or even empty!), so anything you can get from the empty seats is pure profit.

BUT the problem with this equation is that whilst the ticket price can be as low as the airline wants to charge, there are still taxes to be paid – on a per-passenger basis. It’s actually a disincentive for airlines to fill their planes!

If we had flat per-flight taxes, it really would be possible to get pretty cheap flights, and airlines would have to fill their planes rather than fly half-empty ones along with the disastrous environmental consequences of this.

Sophie Gilbert says:
8 October 2010

Yes, I do prefer it when the price advertised is the price I’m going to pay at the end of the day. Several times I haven’t hesitated to abort buying a ticket half way through purchasing it because I thought the company was taking the mickey. It is also very annoying to be told that there is a surcharge of X amount to pay if using a credit card, which we all know is safer to use if something goes wrong.

Akin to this, I also find it annoying when shops/traders advertise price before VAT.

I will go through a booking process until I know the final fare before committing myself and then decide if it’s still worth going ahead. Often, the budget airlines are still cheaper so I don’t know why the likes of Ryanair use this method as it just irritates people. They would actually be better off advertising the final fare because it’s still likely to be cheaper! And, if you’ve got as far as boarding a ‘no-frills’ plane the likelihood of you wanting to part with any more cash for food once on board simply dwindles as you feel you’ve already been ripped off and simply don’t spend on principle! Are you reading, Mr O’Leary?!

I wish more airlines would be more transparent about their ‘taxes’. It used to be the case that all passengers paid the same airport tax at the same airport. Some ‘taxes’ (since 9/11) are a complete mystery and nothing more than an excuse to hike their prices up.

It’s about time this practice was stopped.

Its actually a mis-representation of the package.
Unless one can actually buy the flight at that cost and fly without bothering with the bolt-on charges its outright fraudulent advertising.

Hey! Want a desktop computer for £10?
I’ll sell you one.

No problem – but that’s just the case and the power supply, the extras are well extra!
(I never said fully working and a desktop computer is what you get)

Would that be allowed?

I recently checked prices for an intended flight. Initially it stated £2.12 each way. Next step took this to almost £80 (taxes). The next step really was taking the mickey as I was then charged extra for a seat! I couldn’t find anything that gave me the option of standing on the flight!
Then there was a charge even for one bag.
The total certainly did not resemble the initial £2.12 each way.
I think it’s disgraceful that airlines are able to do this.

I applaud any airline that is going to be upfront about how much it will actually cost you to fly to a destination (and back!). The Which? campaign to stop the card surcharges being out of proportion to the real cost is just part of the whole budget airline scam.

I regularly fly to Cyprus and am endlessly tempted by the budget airline offers, but it always ends the same way, me shouting at the computer (don’t blame the messenger!!) that after 45 minutes of changing dates, airlines, airports and going through the booking procedure to the last page, the final price bears no resemblance to the offers that regularly drop into my inbox.

It’s always the same, the budget airlines are only cheap if you don’t carry baggage, don’t want food, pay by Electron, want the seat but don’t want to book it (yes there are some that charge you for doing this!!) , have some way of avoiding airport taxes (are there ways to do this?!!) and a whole host of other things.

I remember years ago the car industry did the same things, Delivery, number plates, road tax and seat belts were all extra – Can you use the car on a public road without these things? no and eventually the practice was stopped, lets hope the same thing happens here.

Terminal 5 is a joke (last time I flew from there there was a 3rd world style bus journey across the airport to the aircraft, why invest all that money in a new terminal if it ain’t big enough?), so in the end despite living in the north I nearly always wind up flying BA from Gatwick. The food is edible, the check in fairly painless, there is enough leg room for an average height person, the cabin staff are polite and helpful and the aircraft relatively new and well flown. Add to that the fact that the price on the first page of the booking process is the price you pay, I’m left wondering whether the £30 or so I can save on a £245 ticket is worth the hassle, if I factored in the cost of my time as I’m self employed and the answer would be emphatically NO!

So until the next time I’m seduced into a fruitless hour or two by some beguiling offer that drops in my inbox I’ll stick with the ease of a traditional airline!!!

Dave M says:
13 June 2011

I invariably get wound up by web pages that lead us up the garden, and I give up bothering to the point where I would soonergo elsewhere or pay more to avoid the marketing crooks irritating ploys. I recently booked a flight to Jersey using BA because it was straight forward, and I gave up trying with Flybe because of the deceitful and irritating need to go through links to the small print and uncertain costs involved. Anyway the difference was minimal and the service seemed to be better. (Notwithstanding the possibility of another strike by BA staff)
Web designers and marketing people are just a bunch of fools if they think we can tolerate their incompetent presentation of information. It must not be hard work to research for goods and services. WHICH? are not excluded from this remark.