9 Tips for Avoiding Fees on Low-Cost Carriers

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European low-cost carriers are a way of life for many of us in the UK. Whether that’s because they are the only carrier that flies to a particular destination or, more regularly, for the low fares. The notorious fees of Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2 and Wizz Air were previously enough to keep me away altogether, as I found it difficult to follow all of the rules.

But now that I travel during school holidays, the low-cost carriers can’t be avoided — and can be preferable on some routes. I recently flew Ryanair with my kids for the first time. But how do you avoid all those pesky fees?

(Photo by Nicky Kelvin/The Points Guy)

1. Know the Check the Baggage Rules

Our low-cost carrier guide has helpful information on the sizes of each carry-on and checked bag allowance for each of the low-cost carriers. Don’t forget to weigh your bag when you’re packing and leave room for picking up a few things while you’re away. EasyJet charges an extra £12 for every 1kg that you’re over in your hold luggage.

Checked luggage fees increase heavily once you step foot inside the airport, so make sure you pre-book if you know you’ll need it. And, if your bag is overweight, don’t be afraid to layer up on your flight.

Image by Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images
(Image by Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm / Getty Images)

2. Use Your Kid’s Allowance

If you’re travelling with a young child, even Ryanair will cut you a bit of a break. The carrier allows a ‘baby changing bag’ up to 5kg to bring on board. Most of the airlines will also allow you to check baby items for free.

For example, easyJet and Ryanair allow two items of baby equipment for each child, meaning a buggy, car seat, booster or travel cot. While we do not advocate taking advantage of this policy, it’s a frequent practice to put a few larger liquid items like suncream or shampoo in a side pocket of a buggy or car seat to avoid having to check the items.

3. Buy Duty-free

Low-cost carriers normally allow duty-free purchases as an exception to their onboard luggage allowances. Because of that, one of my favourite tips is to buy your water, snacks, suncream and onboard entertainment such as books or magazines in the duty-free area to save that precious carry-on space.

4. Know Seat Fee Policies

When it comes to seating, the top tip is to avoid paying the high seat fees and just check-in once the period opens. The low-cost carriers assign seats upon check-in and try to group families together. Ryanair opens check-in 48 hours before departure and claims to allocate seats randomly (not by booking). On Ryanair, however, you can book a child’s seat for free when the adults on the booking pay for a standard seat. If you chose a different seat category, then you also have to pay for children’s seats. Wizz Air states that it will not seat people on the same booking together other than guaranteeing that a child under the age of 14 will sit with an adult.

For EasyJet, check-in opens 30 days before departure, and Jet2 opens 28 days before, so set reminders and both will likely seat your family together if you check in as early as possible. Therefore, you could avoid seat fees altogether. Norwegian opens check-in 24 hours before departure and will seat groups together if space allows.

A Ryanair flight flight between London STN and Madrid MAD. Photo by Lori Zaino for The Points Guy.
A Ryanair flight between London STN and Madrid MAD. (Photo by Lori Zaino/The Points Guy.)

5. Don’t Fall Victim to Check-in Fees

Another reason to plan ahead and check-in early is to avoid the check-in fees. Ryanair notoriously has a £55 per person fee if you forget to check in at least two hours before your flight. The check-in window for Ryanair starts 48 hours before your flight, though there are some exceptions depending on your fare. Failing to check-in ahead with Wizz Air comes with a charge of £18.

6. Download the Apps

Having your low-cost carrier’s app on your phone can make a lot of this process less painful. It can help to ensure you’re checked in during the correct window, check your seat assignment, status of your flight and more.

7. Bring Printed Tickets With You

On a recent trip to Spain my phone broke, taking my Ryanair app and reservation with it. I luckily had a print out of the tickets, and for that reason, I suggest that everyone does with a low-cost carrier. You never know when your trusty phone could break down and leave you with the additional hassle on a low-cost carrier. If I had arrived at Alicante without my phone or a printed boarding pass, I would have been required to pay a ‘Boarding Card Reissue Fee’ of €/£20.

8. Double Check the Add-ons for Value

Many argue that Ryanair’s priority boarding does not work and isn’t worth the £5 per person fee. Also, don’t assume that Ryanair’s Family Plus is going to be a good value just because you have a family.

However, EasyJet’s priority boarding is known to be efficient. EasyJet has bundles, such as its £16 family hands-free bundle, where up to six people on the same reservation can check one carry-on bag at the Easyjet Plus bag drop and just bring on a personal item. If not carrying excessive bags on a flight is important to you and you have small suitcases, this option could be great value.

In short, do your research to find out if the savings with a particular package add up for you.

9. Avoid Food Fees

You can buy water at duty-free to avoid paying high prices for water on board. Check Boots for a meal deal at the airport before boarding. For most savings, obviously make something at home, but beware of what you bring and avoid liquids — I’ve had peanut butter, jam, tuna (in a can) and yoghurt confiscated by security on different flights over the years.

Bottom Line

The world of low-cost carriers is constantly evolving with fees and factoring them all in can be a minefield when doing the comparisons. That said, by doing your research and knowing what you’re getting into, you can maximise your savings.

Featured photo by _jure / Getty Images.

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