Beware of hidden 'budget' fees

Les is tossing up between buying airfare with a budget carrier or spending double on a premium airline. He wants to know what he’ll miss out on and how much he’ll save if he goes with the low-cost option.

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Q. Les
I’m going to go to Southeast Asia later this year and I want to do it on the cheap. I’m leaning towards the budget airlines, but a friend told me that sometimes it’s just as cheap to go with someone like Qantas. I don’t need to be pampered, I just need to get there as cheaply as possible. So, how do I keep the cost of my flight down? Should I watch out for extra charges that’ll make the airfare more expensive?

A. The whole idea of budget airfares is to keep down the cost of flying. Yet, airlines will often ask you if you need an extra here and there that quickly inflates the price of your once-cheap flight.

This is especially pertinent to online flight bookers, who’ll hit purchase on a cheap ticket, then be taken through screens of suggested extras or unnecessary inclusions in the fine print. It makes you wonder why you didn’t just go with the premium carrier in the first place.

Obviously, budget airlines include fewer services and features. So things such as food, free drinks and checked baggage may not be included in the airfare.

Here’s a quick list of the items or services that may not be included in the initial cost of your budget airfare, which an airline will try to ‘push’ onto you.

Baggage fees
Most budget airlines don’t like checked baggage. Scratch that, they like it when you pay extra for it. If you can get away with carry-on, then your ticket price will stay lower.

Some budget airlines will try to include checked baggage in the ticket price, so check the fine print and automatically checked boxes on the website carefully and uncheck those boxes if you don’t need your bags stowed in the belly of the plane.

Seat fees
If you’re happy being seated randomly on the plane, then you’ll save money. Being able to choose your seat usually incurs an extra fee, as do window or aisle seats.

Check connecting flights
Direct, non-stop flights can cost extra, so flights that have a stopover are usually a bit cheaper. Just ensure that you can actually make that connecting flight, or you’ll be up for the cost of another ticket.

Check the airport
Some major cities have more than one airport, and many budget airlines depart from the ‘lesser’ airports in these cities. You may be getting a cheap ticket, but the cost of the cab or transport to get to these airports can quickly blow out your budget ticket.

Cancellation policy or change of details
If you think you may need to change your flight details, such as passenger name, flight times, your seat, or adding food to your fare, you’ll probably cop a premium fee. So read your ticket details carefully before hitting ‘buy’.

Travel insurance
Some cheeky airlines may even try to get you to add travel insurance to your airfare. While some insurance is quite competitively priced, you may be better off doing more research before adding a budget carrier’s suggestion.

How do you keep the cost of travel down?

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The ups and downs of basic economy
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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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