Flying on the cheap

Summer's here and lots of us are looking to take a well-earned break in the sun.

Millions of sunseekers will use low-cost carriers to get them to their destinations. If you're one of them, here are some tips for making sure your budget airfare stays budget.

Hold luggage

Spencer Ireland, sales director at flight comparison site, says the biggest problem passengers face when trying to keep the cost down is baggage.

"It remains the key issue and prices can fluctuate for a 20 kilogram case. The airlines use baggage as a way to get in a few more pennies," he says. "Always be prepared to travel light."

If you can't, you have to pay. For example, easyJet will charge you between £11 and £21 each way to put a 20 kilogram bag in the hold. And Ryanair will charge you between £25 and £45 each way – assuming you pre-book online – depending on when and where you fly.

Do it at the airport and the price rises to between £40 to £75 each way. So you could have to fork out an extra £150 just for the privilege of taking a decent-size suitcase on your trip.

But the price will vary by carrier even when you're at the airport. Easyjet will charge you £30 at the bag-drop desk, or £45 if you leave it until you reach the boarding gate – perhaps because you didn't realise how small your hand luggage had to be or that your handbag was meant to fit in your carry-on case.

With Monarch, the £25 cost at check-in becomes £50 at the gate.

Weight allowances

Make sure your bags are within your airline's weight restrictions, too. With Ryanair, you will have to pay £10 for each kilo you exceed the limit, while with Flybe it's £15. Monarch will charge £10 for short-haul flights and £15 for long-haul. So try to weigh your bags before you set off.

Bob Atkinson, travel expert at Travel Supermarket, says: "Don't fall foul of the strict luggage rules as it will cost you dear at the airport if your bags are oversize or weight."

Allocated seating

In a bid to avoid the scrum at the gate in the minutes before take-off, some low-cost carriers, including easyJet and most recently Ryanair, have introduced allocated seating so you can ensure you sit with family and friends.

EasyJet's charges fluctuate but expect to pay up to £15.99 for extra legroom, between £4.99 and £10.99 for a seat near the front of the plane (to allow for a quick exit) and between 99p and £4.99 for anywhere else.

If you are flying with Monarch, you will pay between £6.99 and £19.99 for extra legroom and between £2.99 and £8.99 for a standard seat.

Ryanair's seating plan comes with a premium option from £10, while standard seats start at £5.

How budget airlines compare on allocated seating and booking errors

Ryanair Premium seat from £10, regular seat from £5 24-hour grace period for minor booking errors. £110 to change a name online, £160 at the airport. To change a flight, fees range between £30 and £90
easyJet First row (extra legroom) £8.99 to £15.99, over-wing (extra legroom) £5.99 to £12.99, standard seats 99p to £4.99 Name and flight change £35 online or £40 over the phone or at the airport. Passengers will also have to pay the difference between the cost of the original flight booked and the cost of the flight when the change is made
Monarch £2.99 to £8.99 For flight and time changes online £35 or £40 via its contact centre. Name change £100 online or £120 over the phone
Norwegian £7 to £25 (dependent on route) Call contact centre within 24 hours of original booking, new ticket will be booked and original ticket refunded. Date, time, destination, name change, £36
Flybe Standard seat from £6.50, extra legroom seat from £15 Date, time and route changes to bookings made online, £35 and £40 if made over the phone. Changes made at the airport, £50

Correcting mistakes

Check and double-check your details before hitting the confirm button when booking online because airlines will charge you through the nose to correct any mistakes.

While Ryanair introduced a 24-hour grace period for passengers who make minor booking errors such as spelling a name wrong, it has hefty charges for corrections after this time. If you change the name of a passenger completely, it will cost £110 online, or £160 at the airport.

Meanwhile, easyJet will charge you £35 to change a name online or £40 over the phone or at the airport. And in a further blow, you'll also have to pay the difference between the cost of the original flight and the cost of it at the time the change is made.

And with Monarch, you'll be looking at a bill of £100 online or £120 over the phone to make a name change.

Are they worth it?

Atkinson says: "In recent years, there has been a blurring of how low-cost holiday airlines and traditional full- service airlines operate." So is it still worth choosing a 'budget' airline?

Ryanair flights for two people to Palma in Mallorca departing Stansted on 1 August and returning a week later costs £317.96 (at the time of writing). If you check in a bag weighing 20kg, that'll cost you another £70 (£35 each way), and booking two premium seats together is available for another £40.

So the cost of your flight in total will be £427.96, still pretty reasonable at a busy time of year but that's an increase of more than a third on the advertised price.

That said, cheaper carriers still provide a good deal. The same journey with BA costs a whopping £732.06 - although it will chuck your bag in the hold for free.