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Travel & Holidays in later life

Air Travel Bargains –  Do Budget Airlines Provide The Best Deals?


The market for air travel is infinitely varied and complicated so how can you tell if a special offer is really that.   Hugh Taylor investigates.



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As a professional travel writer it’s not surprising that I fly rather a lot and when I’m paying my own way it’s important that I get the best possible deal. At first glance Budget airlines appear to offer the cheapest flights but that’s not always the case.

When I’m planning a trip my first port of call is usually the Ryanair website. Say what you like about Michael O’Leary there are thousands of people out there making journeys they could only have dreamed of a few years ago thanks to his airline.  As far as I’m concerned he is the patron saint of modern travellers. I’m also attracted to Ryanair because they fly from my nearest airport, Glasgow Prestwick. For a combination of nearby airport and cheap flights they mostly hit the spot. And I also try to plan my trips during the times they have special offers on, I only ever carry hand baggage, don’t go for priority boarding or book travel insurance. All of these keep the prices down.

However when planning a winter trip to Italy I found Ryanair could not compete and have booked with British Airways because they are about £200 cheaper. So it does pay to shop around.  This trip is different. We are away for two months to live in a small Italian village. That means more bags and two guitars.  When you add hold baggage to a Ryanair flight the price is often greater than the ticket. Click on the box that declares that you are taking a musical instrument and the International Monetary Fund would have problems paying for it.

And this being a winter journey none of the direct flights from Prestwick to Italy are operating which means I need to fly via Dublin. Not that I find that unpleasant but it adds and extra flight each way which means more taxes to pay and a further £48 on fees for paying with my debit card.

With British Airways hold baggage is included in the price including our guitars. And in addition to the one cabin bag we can take with Ryanair there is a laptop or briefcase allowed with BA.

We fly from Glasgow, via London, but at a more civilized time and hopefully getting to the flight gate will be a lot less like the cattle pen approach when flying with Ryanair.  We can check our baggage in and not worry about it again until Rome. And we won’t have to pay £12 per person, per flight by paying with debit card. All told it worked out about £200 cheaper.   

The point I’m making is that for every journey it’s worth checking out a few alternatives and comparing the costs.  

Here’s a check list for finding the best flight for your journey:


  1. Check for special flight deals through the excellent moneysavingexpert website.
  2. Check on one of the many screenscraper sites, like travelsupermarket, for a comparison of flight costs.
  3. Check the budget airlines websites, enter flight details and process all the way through to the end to get the REAL total price you are going to pay.
  4. Check a few of the scheduled airline websites to compare prices with the budget carriers.


And a few more travel tips:

Avoid Credit Card Fees.

Most budget airlines charge for paying by credit card and debit card. Ryanair whack a ridiculous £12 onto each return trip, per person. But this can be avoided by paying using a pre-paid Mastercard. They are just like credit cards but are pre-loaded with cash. They can also be obtained in different currencies and are useful for avoiding bank charges and withdrawal fees when withdrawing money abroad. I use the CaxtonFX card and have them in US Dollars, Euros and Sterling. Most of the other budget airlines have no charge if paid by Visa Electron and you can get one of these by opening a basic bank account online with Halifax EasyCash Account.


Avoid Luggage Costs

Avoid paying to take luggage by just taking cabin baggage. Ryanair are particularly strict with this and seem to have smaller maximum bag sizes. So make sure yours don’t exceed the limit. And weigh it carefully. I’ve been in the queue to board and seen people frantically trying to take things out of their cases to get under the limit or having to fork out £20 per extra kg for excess baggage. I’ve used the Relic small trolley bag which I got from Tesco online for a couple of years now. They cost about £15. While they fit Ryanair requirements they are expandable so can open up when flying with another, more tolerant, carrier.

Wear heavy items of clothing or extra jackets. You can always take them off after you board. And if you have a jacket with big pockets it’s amazing how much extra stuff you can carry. I’ve managed a netbook computer in my inside pocket, SLR Camera and lens, small hard drive and a couple of paperbacks books. The Amazon Kindle is the best bet for holiday reading and will fit in an inside pocket.

Don’t Pay for Priority Boarding

You’ll get a seat and most budget flights are not terribly long so why fork out just to be amongst the first on the plane.


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