The rapidly changing landscape of budget airline fees

Since the idea of a budget airline was born there has been countless ways these “low-cost carriers” have experimented to bring in more money from each passenger. From a business perspective, it might make sense that you would want to squeeze as much money from each passenger as they fly on your airline, but as a passenger, it can really add up and end up costing you way more than you thought for that leg of your trip. In this article, I will talk about some of the new-fangled ways, and some of the old, that these airlines are using to try and squeeze every penny out of you on each flight.

Not all airlines are budget airlines, the airlines I will be addressing in this article are low-cost carriers you may know the names of like Ryanair, Southwest, Air Asia, Norwegian, Frontier, Lion Air, or EasyJet. Those are just a few of the largest budget airlines in the world, but there are now hundreds of these types of airlines spread all over the world. Of these hundreds of airlines, they all range in how hard they try to rip you off. I’ve flown hundreds of times now, and many times on budget airlines.

Source: Wikipedia 

In this list Southwest and Air Asia are two airlines that stand out as particularly honest and straightforward with their fees in my experience. On the other end of the spectrum are airlines like Lion Air and Norwegian who try their best to trick you into paying more fees rather than being up front with what baggage fees etc. you should expect.

When budget airlines first came around, they were really just focused on providing cheaper flights while limiting the amount of baggage and space per passenger. This meant they could fill a plane up with more people and less baggage and make a profit with lower average ticket prices. But as more and more low-cost carriers came on the scene, the landscape became more competitive and these airlines had to find new ways to keep ticket prices down, while still turning a profit.

Now, many years down the road, we are starting to see some very questionable tactics used by airlines especially in parts of the world with less consumer protections and government regulation. This is especially true in Thailand where Thai Lion Air is gouging their customers with baggage fees up to $400 per checked bag when they arrive at the airport. Many times, a ticket on this airline is under $100 so this can be up to 400% your original ticket price just in baggage fees. I’ve seen countless reviews of extremely frustrated passengers who have run into this issue, the best way to avoid those fees is to buy Thai Lion Air baggage in advance at least one day before your flight. If you do that the fees can be quite reasonable.

Another huge source of fees on these airlines is for changing your reservation. If you book a flight and then you want to change the dates you will fly in or out, many times you’ll have to pay a very large fee. These fees are actually more expensive on many budget airlines because it’s another way to make a bit more revenue. In fact, change and cancellation fees account for billions of dollars per year in revenue for airlines around the world. If you are booking with a budget airline and you’re unsure if you’ll need to change the dates at some point, you might want to buy cancellation insurance when you book.

Upgrades is another big way that airlines will try to get you to spend more. More leg room, faster boarding, reserved seats, in-flight drinks, snacks, and meals. All of these things are laid out along the way in order to try and entice you to spend just a bit more for comfort. I’ve been caught on a budget flight very hungry and had to purchase a meal before. It’s best if you plan ahead and pack a bit of food for yourself so you don’t get stuck paying for really awful food that costs $15 per meal many times. A little bit of planning can go a long way there.

Some airlines like Blue Panorama in Italy are doing crazy things like charging crazy fees for making changes to your booking. When you book a flight on their website they make it very difficult to add your middle name, but when you arrive at the airport they will tell you your middle name needs to be on your booking and it will cost 50 Euros to make that change. Many passengers have run into this scam and it really is awful to have to pay stupid fees like that.

It’s always a good idea to do a bit of research before-hand on the airline you are going to book with to make sure they are not doing things like this. If you do put in a bit of work before hand, most of the fees that budget airlines charge can be avoided and you can fly around the world on a very small budget. It’s all about being informed and planning in advance so you can take advantage of the very cheap fares these airlines offer without getting caught paying big fees at the airport or on your flight. Thanks for reading!