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Are budget airlines worth the savings?

Budget airlines started in the early 1990s, offering lower fares for no-frills travel. The likes of EasyJet, Ryanair and Flybe have increasingly offered cheaper and cheaper flights to destinations (generally speaking) all over Europe, saving money by getting rid of those in flight ‘extras’ such as movies, food and peanuts. But are the budget airlines taking us for a pricey ride? And is no frills travel really worth the saving?

The low cost airlines’ practice of ‘unbundling’ has come under severe criticism over the years, attracting the attention of the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) whilst frustrating customers and gaining the companies plenty of negative press too. Because of this unbundling airlines have been able to advertise their lowest fares without representing the true cost of travel. For example those famous Ryanair 1p travel deals do not cover airport fees, taxes, baggage handling charges, credit card fees or the many other additional charges you may be subject too. And that’s not even to mention the return flight which is inevitably more expensive.

The OFT has recently demanded more transparency from airlines in their costings and in 2007 ruled that full prices should be advertised, representing the total necessary spend on the journey promoted. Despite this low cost airlines have repeatedly flouted the rule, opening themselves up to legal action and leaving consumers confused.

If the pricing of flights isn’t enough to bamboozle you in to flying BA the confusing websites might. Ryanair has recently been the subject of publicity for producing a badly designed website which is near impossible to navigate. Perhaps a cunning ploy for a company who charge £1 a minute to call their support desk. Equally the policies regarding cancellations doled out to the buyers of low cost flights are just as inflexible. When travelling with children or the elderly in particular if something can go wrong it usually will. So with this in mind the added protection afforded to the customers of more expensive airlines in the event of a cancellation could well be worth the spend.

It’s not just the lead up to a flight which makes travellers wonder why they got sucked in by a low cost airline. Once at the airport the lack of allocated seats cause bunfights amongst normally civilised people and priority boarding is offered at a price. The strict rules on baggage allowances lead to added costs and long waits as fellow travellers argue with staff.

Then, once on the plane, you’ll often find yourself in a dirty, torn and sticky plastic seat with the very minimum of legroom and no ability to recline. Food is unpleasant and wildly overpriced, adding to the overall spend on your flight. Safety demonstrations are often difficult to see, carried out by staff rather than on a television.

With recent announcements that Ryanair intend to start charging £1 each time you use the toilet on their flights could the literal penny spending be the final straw for low cost travellers?

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