Sunday, 3 Mar 2024

‘Drop the drip’: Airlines urged to axe hidden travel charges

Airline bosses have been urged to “drop the drip” and end the practice of landing bargain-hunting fliers with additional fees at the last moment.

Attractive initial prices for flights can often be inflated at a late stage of the booking process with extra costs for checked baggage, seat choices and access to fast-track services.

The final cost when payment is taken can be much higher than first advertised – known as “drip pricing”.

Government research found some 72 percent of transport sector firms, including air and rail operators, have hidden fees in products, “highlighting the need for a clearer and fairer customer journey”.

London management consultants Alma Economics estimates extra charges can add an average 6 percent to the advertised base price.

Katy Maclure, editor of The Detour weekly newsletter from travel deals website Jack’s Flight Club, claimed that many customers who are lured in by cheap advertised prices for airline tickets end up being “tricked” into paying much more. She added: “Drip pricing is fairly common among budget airlines these days and most of us have come to expect that the price we see really is for getting on the plane and little else.

“Unfortunately, we have few alternatives in the UK as train prices tend to be high especially if you want to leave the country.

“When you’re a family of four, a £30 per person return flight to Spain is much more appealing than an £80-odd train fare just to get from St Pancras to Paris. And that’s assuming you live in London.

“The situation becomes even more dire when we consider the relentless rise in petrol prices.”

Her criticism comes as UK train fares are revealed to be on average twice the price of flights over the same routes, according to analysis from eco-campaigners Greenpeace.

They compared tickets on 112 routes on nine days and found, for example, that taking trains from London to Barcelona would cost up to 30 times the price of flying there.

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With petrol prices rising for the fourth month in a row, by 4.5p a litre on average last month according to the RAC, it is no surprise some travellers are avoiding roads and trains.

Ms Maclure added: “Most of us have adapted the way that we travel to avoid paying these fees as much as possible.

“We are becoming ex­perts in fitting a week’s clothing into a rucksack that will fit under the seat in
front. But we shouldn’t have to.

“There is some hope on the horizon, as a European court recently ruled that airlines would have to put an end to – or at least standardise – extra fees for hand luggage.

“Hopefully, this will have an impact across all budget flights operating in and out of Europe.”

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The Department for Business and Trade, where officials are keen to crack down on the causes of inflation, this year launched a consultation exercise about how best to slow the drip of unfair pricing.

Citizens Advice, the independent consumers organisation, has said that it wants to see “new fit-for-purpose regulations and clear obligations” for airlines to follow when it comes to website and app design.

Andrew McConnell, spokesman for the UK Civil Aviation Authority, said: “We believe consumers deserve price transparency when booking their journey and flying.”

He went on: “This is why airlines are obligated to clearly display prices for additional options and services, allowing consumers to compare fees and make an informed decision.”

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