Figures Updated October 19, 2015
Are budget airlines the best choice for adding Europe to your UK vacation? We compared BA to Easy Jet and discovered "budget" may not always be the best deal.
With so many flight deals and packages to London available today, combining a UK vacation with a short hop over to Europe can often be cheaper to arrange than flying direct to a European destination from a trans-Atlantic, Pacific Rim or Asian point of origin.
It's tempting to choose a budget airline instead of one of the large, established European or American carriers and sometimes that can save you a bundle.
But not always.
When is a cheap ticket a false economy?
- If you are traveling on vacation, with sports equipment or gifts, the extra charges incurred for baggage on budget airlines could more than eat up any savings.
- If your flight takes off or lands far from your chosen destination, local transportation costs can be hefty.
- If your airline runs its food services like a 7-11 of the skies - you can have anything you like as long as it's in a package and you pay for it - don't plan on getting hungry or thirsty.
Recently, together with a colleague, I was able to put like for like to the test, by comparing two flights between London and Barcelona. I flew British Airways' Barcelona service through London Heathrow. My colleague flew EasyJet's Barcelona service through Gatwick.
Here's how they stacked up:
- Fare Price The EasyJet fare of £86.98 plus £1.74 for an online credit card booking when purchased through the airline website, was substantially lower than BA, at £208.16 for a flight at a comparable hour and on the same day. But airfare pricing structures are so complicated that, depending upon when and how we booked our tickets - and from whom - the price difference between our tickets could have been quite different.
In the end, I found a special offer fare for my flight from an online airline booking website of £121.86 plus £30 for a checked bag - a total of £151.86 - that compared favorably with her budget flight once all the extras had been added up. And they do add up.
- British Airways free baggage allowance for my special offer fare included two pieces of cabin baggage - a carry-on bag measuring no more than 22 inches by 18 inches by 9 3/4 inches as well as a handbag or laptop bag measuring a generous 18 inches by 14 inches by 7 3/4 inches. I chose a reduced fare which meant I had to pay for my one checked bag which could weigh up to 23 kilos - that's a hefty 50.7 pounds.
- EasyJet's free baggage allowance included only one piece of cabin baggage - a carry-on bag measuring no more than 22 inches by 18 inches by 9 3/4 inches. And there is no guarantee that your bag will actually make it onto the plane. Cabin space is limited and if you don't board early there may not be space for yours. That means valuables you like having with you - camera equipment, jewelry, important papers, laptops or tablets - may end up in the hold in luggage that, given current security regulations, cannot really be locked.
A fee is charged for all checked baggage on EasyJet and the charges can mount up quickly. The cost for each checked bag on this flight was £22. Passengers are allowed to check up to 8 pieces of luggage, each weighing no more than 20 kilos - that's 44 pounds, or six pounds less than BA. If you check more than one bag, there is a charge for each bag. And that is only for baggage checked in advance online or on the phone. If you check luggage at the airport bag drop it costs £32 per bag. Not all flights have bag drop facilities. If you have to check your bag at the gate, the cost is £45.
The reality My colleague, a photographer traveling with her equipment, had already paid for extra luggage enroute. During our stay she had collected extra publicity materials plus gifts to bring home. She hoped that she could simply buy another ticket (for an empty seat) and thereby gain an extra luggage allowance. But that was not permitted. By the time all her extra baggage charges were toted up, she decided it would be cheaper to leave some of her things at left luggage, buy another London to Barcelona round trip ticket and return to collect them later.
- Food and Drink EasyJet charged for all food and drink on board. Prices were competitive but nothing, not even coffee, was free. Food and drink was free on British Airways. We were served coffee, tea, soft drinks and snacks appropriate to the hour. If we had flown at a meal time, the meal would have been free as well. My colleague had a coffee, a beer, a sandwich with potato chips and a bottle of water. It cost her £14.60
- Booking a Seat Easy Jet charged my colleague £4.49 each way to select her seat. Depending upon where in the plane she chose to sit, the seat booking fee could have been as high as £13.99 each way. I booked my seat for free, 24 hours before my flight. I will admit the choices were limited by then and, if it were a longer flight, I might have been willing to pay a fee to pick a seat earlier.
- Hidden Fees: EasyJet levies a booking fee of £13 (or $20) for all new bookings. In addition, EasyJet charges 2% of the total transaction for customers using Visa Credit Card, MasterCard, Diners Club, American Express or UATP/Airplus. Because I used a debit card, there were no extra charges for my British Airways flight. If I had used a credit card or Paypal the airline would have charged a flat fee of £5 regardless of the total paid.
- Convenience: Even though British Airways was in the midst of a labor dispute when I flew, the flight was comfortable and without incident. Staff were attentive, pleasant and professional. I was delivered to Heathrow, one of London's closest airports, on a London Underground line into the center of the city - the cost, £5.80 for a single ticket each way or a total of £11.60 for both journeys. If you've purchased an Oyster card during your stay in London, the cost would be about half that. The Underground takes between half an hour to 40 minutes to the city center. Once on it, you are connected to the whole system and can choose a station close to your accommodation.
My colleague landed at Gatwick and took the Gatwick Express to London Victoria station. The cost is £34.90 for a round trip (£31.05 online) and the trip takes half an hour. Then she took local transportation to her home.
London to Barcelona - BA vs EasyJet
|One checked bag||BA=£30 for 23kilo||EasyJet=£32 for 20 kilo|
|Booking a Seat||BA=0||EasyJet=£8.98|
|Food and Drink||BA=0||EasyJet=£14.90|
|Local Transportation||BA=£11.60||Easy Jet=£34.90|
As the comparison table shows, when including local transportation to and from the airport, the budget flight turns out to be much more expensive. Without the local transportation cost, the difference in cost between the two airlines is negligible.The facts seem to speak for themselves. If you are traveling on business, for a same day return or overnight stay and can pack everything you need - including handbag and laptop - into your carry on bag, some of the so-called budget options may make sense. But, if you are on vacation, traveling with significant luggage or with children in tow, think long and hard, considering all the real and hidden costs, before you book a budget airline for a quick hop over to Europe.