Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Booking a budget flight? Read the small print!

MY son is off to visit his Grandma in Cyprus in a couple of weeks - he booked a bargain flight with one of the better known budget airlines, (not the orange one, the Irish one) and is very much looking forward to a week in the sun to celebrate the end of his AS level exams.
DS is off to Cyprus!
He is quite capable of spending his own money on the internet using his debit card but since we stumbled upon a 24 hour flight sale on a Sunday and his wages from recent babysitting, gardening and cat sitting had been paid in cash and not yet paid into his bank, he handed over a handful of grubby notes to me and I booked his flight using my debit card.
So, I went through the process for him. It was more complicated than I am used to - I travel scheduled normally with a slightly more upmarket airline and so the page after page of possible additions was new to me.
Did he want to pay extra to actually take a suitcase in a variety of weights? Well probably he would have but not at that price thanks. Did he want to pay extra to get on the plane first, or reserve a seat? Nope. Did he want a coach transfer, car-park or hire car? Nope. Did he want phone credit, a suitcase or an open-topped bus tour of his destination? Er... Nope. The extra cost of all of the above would have cost as much as travelling to Barbados first class I reckon.
I ploughed through, selecting drop down lists and highlighting options and saying "No thanks" to a variety of offers. A five minute job of booking a short return flight for one person took a long time and I worried more and more that I had missed something or clicked the wrong option somewhere.
I checked and double checked. I even read it out loud to DH to make sure I wasn't mis-reading something. Confirmation email looked fine. Phew!
Luckily I am that person who researches everything to death so I checked out the many forums and blogs which name the airline we had booked his flight with for top travel tips. The one thing I concluded was that the most important thing to do was read the small print.
In the case of this airline, a lot of it is about the case!
Ryanair-Cork4
Ryanair-Cork4 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
 Stick exactly to the size of cabin bag they tell you and you should be OK- even a cm over, sticking out wheels or handles or an overstuffed bag and you are likely to get stung with an extra charge. Check online for approved bags - I found an ultra light one on offer online at £29 with two wheels and a handle to pull it. Perfect! But you could just do what DS opted for (despite my offer of the lovely suitcase) and cram the whole lot into a light holdall or rucksack which leaves you 99% of your 10kg for actual luggage!
One bag means one bag - unlike every other airline I have ever travelled with, this one won't let you take your hand luggage and a duty free bag. Any purchases you make, even after security, have to fit into your tiny cabin bag. Along with your handbag, electronic devices, newspapers.....
Most important of all, I realised was to take close notice of the rules of travel, which to be fair I think the airline's website quite clearly points out at various points during the booking process.
You have to check in online between 15 days and 4 hours before the flight and you have to print off your own boarding card, using a separate piece of A4 paper for each leg of the journey. Oh, and be at the gate in plenty of time!
The forums and chat rooms were overloaded with travellers complaining they had been charged extortionate rates because they hadn't followed one or more of these guidelines.
Hearing these anecdotes previously on the news I had thought maybe the rules were hidden in jargon or smaller than small print. But I have to say now having actually booked with the airline I thought the warnings were clearly stated. And when I subsequently checked DS in online the regulations were highlighted again along with boxes for you to click to say you had read and understood the rules.
Yes, the process was slow and required my full attention - but the cost of the flight is  almost half the normal price of other airlines so worth the extra effort. He has yet to actually fly with them but I'm hoping that by reading the small print and following the rules he will have a smooth and trouble-free flight with no unexpected charges at the gate.
Polis beach in Cyprus
He'll have to queue to get on and sit where he can, pay a fortune for a drink on board if he can't cram one in the tiny cabin bag they allow and hope that Grandma will show him how to use the washing machine since you can only get two days worth of clothes into his rucksack at best.
But at the end of the day you have to accept that usually in life you get what you pay for and if you are paying peanuts you can't expect frills -  it is worth 5 hours of travelling cattle class and travelling lighter than light for a cheap week in the sun!
Now, I'm off to practice my contortionist skills to see if I can work out how to squeeze myself into his rucksack....

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