Flying has changed. In days gone by, modern-day flight extras like luggage, meals, and sitting together would just be regular flight services. Long gone are the simple choices of economy, business class, or first class. We are now in a world where almost all airlines try to upsell additional services to get extra money from you. But we want to save you money on these flight extras!
For readers of Flynous, where we primarily hunt for deals from Western Europe, it’s particularly bad. 42% of global ‘extra’ revenue from baggage, fees, meals, and priority boarding is from European & Russian travel! While some of these charges can’t be avoided entirely, here are some tips to help you keep baggage, seating and meal costs as low as possible.
Save Money on Baggage
When looking to save money on flight extras, luggage is the biggie. Paying for baggage is one of the biggest sore points for frequent travellers. You can find a great bargain fare and get excited to visit that place you’ve always wanted to go. Then you click on the full details and only hand luggage is included. Or worse, a single under the seat item. With many airlines offering checked bags at £/€35 each way, that can turn into £/€140 extra for a couple, or an eye-watering £/€280 extra for a family of four.
Double-check your airline allowance
It might sound obvious, but it’s an important note even for a frequent traveller. Every airline has their own allowances for both checked and hand luggage. These days, most allow a smaller item to be placed under the seat in front of you, plus one in overhead storage. The weights and dimensions for these vary, however. Even worse; the allowances an airline has can change too. Be sure to check before you travel that the airline hasn’t changed their hand luggage rules.
Weigh before you pay
Though we want to save you money on flight extras, spending some on handheld luggage scales will be an excellent investment if you regularly fly. Finding out your bag is 2kg overweight hours before getting to the bag drop counter can save a lot of stress. Make use of your at-home scales if not. Weigh yourself once holding the bag, and once without holding it. Calculate the difference between the two values, and you’re left with the weight of the bag.
If you’re in a real pinch at the airport already, you can head to any unstaffed counter and place your luggage on the conveyor. The scales will usually be powered, so you can check to see if your bag is under the limit.
Pool your baggage allowance
A sometimes overlooked or unknown benefit of travelling in a group under the same booking is that baggage allowances can be shared. If travelling as a couple, your ticket may allow you to have a 23kg checked item for each passenger, for example. However, the actual booking allows for 46kg of luggage. As long as a single bag doesn’t go over a maximum limit (often 32kg, but check with your airline) you can split the weight however you’d like. In this example, you could put 28kg in bag one, leaving bag two with up to 18kg.
Note that this doesn’t ordinarily get shared when travelling with infants, so check the booking conditions if travelling as a family.
Depending on the reason you’re flying, travelling light might be easier said than done. If your checked bags are on the heavy side, reconsider some items and save yourself excess baggage charges. Toiletries can be bought anywhere in the world, so taking big bottles of shampoo, shower gel, and suncream with you isn’t necessary. Hotels always have towels, so don’t pack your own. Modern-day smartphones can take great photos so if you’re not printing them out, reconsider taking that bulky DSLR. If you’re lucky enough to be heading somewhere where a beach towel is needed, there will be a souvenir shop selling a £/€3 towel nearby.
Hands down one of the best ways to get more items into both your checked or hand luggage are packing cubes. In particular, compression packing cubes. The basic idea of them is to compartmentalise your items into separate sections. Instead of pulling out your spare underwear to find something when you go through security, all your clothes would be held together and compressed in one of these storage solutions! These don’t reduce the weight of your luggage, but you might get away with one cabin bag thanks to these. They really can work magic in your bags!
Put some weight on, temporarily
Airlines will weigh your bags, but they thankfully don’t ask you to jump on the scales. Therefore take advantage of this by lumbering yourself with your bulkiest clothes. Hiking boots may seem overkill for a moving walkway in an airport, but they tend to weigh a lot more than trainers. Jeans are usually heavier than shorts or skirts too. And you can layer up t-shirts, shirts, jumpers and jackets on your torso for additional savings. Simply take them off when you get on board and place them in the overhead lockers.
If you’re a super-thrifty traveller, you can even invest in wearable luggage! A vest-like item of clothing with over a dozen pockets to house digital cameras, books, laptops, battery packs, hair straighteners, and drink bottles. Pack the pockets full whenever you see scales!
Soft bags carry more, can weigh less
Wheeled cases are unbeatable for gliding through the airport, there is no doubt about it. Yet those wheels and retractable handles do add weight and take up precious space. The trusty backpack or holdall can fulfil the essential requirement for a bag; to hold your stuff. They’re also usually lighter. A bonus with these ‘soft’ shells is also that they have a little more flexibility for an extra pair of socks or underwear to get stuffed in. If you want to go ultra-lightweight, there are no rules against you using a supermarket carrier bag for your carry on item!
Mail your bags
This one requires some additional preparation but can be a financial saver. There are numerous services available which allow you to mail your luggage before you travel. You will be able to send the item(s) to your accommodation. The rates can come in cheaper than the airline, though depending on the weight, it’s not a guarantee. It’s best to check with your hotel/hostel/bed & breakfast beforehand though to make sure they are expecting your luggage. Your standard couriers such as DHL, UPS, FedEx, and so on could also be considered.
Risky tricks for hand luggage only trips
When you want to save money on flight extras, hand luggage can be like magic. Make use of these ideas at your own risk!
- In many cases, the hand luggage bags that get weighed before boarding are the wheeled items while backpacks and holdalls can get a ‘free pass’. If you’re strong enough to walk through the airport with 10-15kg on your back, you could sneak in additional weight allowance on board.
- If you can see the check-in counter weighing hand luggage, see if you can take a heavy item out (a DSLR camera, laptop, etc.) before you get there. Or do so while ‘getting your passport’ and place it out of sight. When the staff weigh your bag, you can get the appropriate ‘bag weighed’ label and re-place your heavier object.
- If you know that you’re going to be 1kg overweight and you can’t stuff your pockets or wear another layer of clothes, prepare an Oscar-worthy speech. ‘I weighed it three times at home! It was precisely 7/10kg’ with a sad-looking face might just work on the airline staff. Best not to try this if your bag is 5kg overweight though.
Save Money on Seating
There is no other industry where booking tickets wouldn’t guarantee seats together. Imagine a music concert, or sports event, or even a train where you would have to pay extra to make sure you sat next to your friends or family. Somehow airlines seem to have got away with this unfair profiteering exercise. You can beat the unfair charges though with these tips.
Buy your tickets together.
One surefire way to make sure you don’t sit together is by buying tickets separately. If your travelling companions would like to sit together, it’s a generally good idea to have one person book, so the airline knows it is one group. This doesn’t guarantee everyone will sit together but increases your chances.
When the airline has taken advantage of those who paid for seat selection, it will then allocate everyone else’s seats. More often than not, groups will be seated together. You can increase your likelihood by checking in as early as the airline allows. For some carriers, this can be as much 28 days before departure.
Ryanair is an exception to this rule, however. You will have no guarantee to sit next to your friends or family unless you pay for the privilege. But this leads us onto…
Sit wherever the airline places you
If cost is a primary consideration when booking flights, you’ll know you have to forego some comforts. Seating can be an easy one to let go. You will spend your time with your travel companions when you get to your destination anyway. A few hours apart isn’t too significant on a week-long holiday.
Kids will sit next to an adult
Though there are oddly no regulations for this, nearly all airlines will guarantee to seat children under 12 next to at least one adult in the party. Other adults may be split up, but you can avoid paying for two allocated seats if you know it’s unlikely your child(ren) will be separated. As with many tips to save money on flight extras, Ryanair is an exception to this rule though.
Going to pay for a seat? Pay for a good one
A good position on a plane isn’t necessarily in premium economy or an extra legroom seat. There are other considerations. Does the seat recline? Is there slightly more legroom than usual? Is your seat near the toilet (and the toilet smell)? Thankfully the website SeatGuru can let you enter your flight number and give all the information you’d ever need for seating on your flight.
Ask about seating
When you are checking in, or at the boarding gate, you can ask if your plane is at full capacity. If not, then there will be unassigned seats available that you can move to or sit in depending when you board. If you are feeling particularly charming, there’s no harm in asking the staff if there are any better seats you can be moved to. These don’t have to be premium seats. A row to yourself or an aisle/window seat can make your journey more comfortable. If they say no, you are in no worse position than if you hadn’t asked.
Be the last to board.
Perhaps the most baffling thing airlines have learned people will pay for is priority boarding. An aeroplane is an uncomfortable place to be, so paying to be on one for longer than necessary is illogical. The only benefit of boarding early is that your hand luggage will be nearby and they won’t be checked at the gate. Packing your under-seat bag wisely should avoid the need to have your overhead luggage nearby in any case. Instead, boarding last can be the best move. Less time on the plane, plus if you combine it with our previous tip, you can sit in any seat/seats you see knowing you aren’t going to be asked to move.
Save Money on Food
Many airlines have made seat selection and baggage optional extras. Thankfully food is still included on most long-haul services, for now at least. Not so for budget airlines, and mid/short-haul travelling. There are still ways to enjoy your meals when flying while saving money!
Eat what you like
Plane food doesn’t have to be plain food! Though airline food isn’t always as bad as its reputation, you can make sure you are going to eat well by choosing your own food. Yes, liquids are restricted to 100ml when going through security, but you are free to take food on board. Make a lunch wrap at home, or buy snacks at a supermarket before you fly. For example, a doughnut purchased on the plane could cost you £/€2. Buy a 5-pack in a bakery for half the price before you depart for the airport!
When on a service which does include meals, you may be surprised to find that extra free food might be available. Once the crew have finished serving the meals, don’t be shy to ask if there are any unclaimed meals. Sometimes there is a surplus of food from people not making the flight. Also, not everyone will want a meal, or perhaps they preferred to catch up on sleep rather than eat. Either way, you could find yourself with a free second helping of food.
Okay, this isn’t a way to save money on flight extras, but it is a sneaky trick, and it does work. When making your booking, or managing your booking afterwards, enter dietary restrictions. Passengers with special requirements for meals will get their food before the regular service is distributed. If you can be happy with a vegetarian, gluten-free, or dairy-free food option, you can enjoy your meal while everyone else waits.
Save money before you fly
All of these cost-cutting suggestions are pointless if the price of your flight is already high. The easiest way to save money is to buy tickets at the lowest possible price. Check out our Skyscanner Ultimate Guide if you are looking for a specific location or dates. Or for the best deals from your country, sign up to the Flynous mailing list, or follow us on Twitter and Facebook!