Everyone knows that travel booking has become an industry of fake-outs and skullduggery, a netherworld of mounting hidden fees that only reveal themselves after you're deep into the reservations process. Buying travel is now a spendy striptease that bleeds accounts by a thousand cuts.
The big airlines love to claim they "unbundled" core services like seat selection, checked baggage, and printing boarding passes, transforming those things into extra charges because customers adore the ability to choose.
If that's true, why can't companies quote the prices of flights and hotels in reverse? Why not show us the actual price we'd pay for full service, and, since vendors claim to believe customers love options so much, let us then choose to reduce the price, bit by bit, by removing options instead of having to add them?
Because airlines obtain competitive advantages by pretending flights are cheaper than they actually are, that's why.
Hating the industry-wide duplicity of "drip pricing" is kind of a big thing. Everyone from U.S. President Joe Biden to British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has launched national inspections of the practice, although to little avail so far. Most of the hubbub is about disclosing the extra fees, not banning them.
While our national leaders do very little, this summer a British website called NetVoucherCodes—which compiles current promotional codes for shoppers in the U.K. and therefore knows a thing or two about saving money—decided to calculate which European airlines are the worst offenders in the added-fee department.
First, NetVoucherCodes' researchers (or interns maybe) "selected a sample short-haul flight for each airline on their respective websites which had the same date, a similar flight route and a similar number of miles travelled."
Then researchers proceeded through the booking steps and "calculated the total hidden costs by summing up the additional charges." That helped determine "how much the hidden fee is as a percentage of the original fare." The website "also recorded the number of times airlines attempted to upsell customers." Some 89% of airlines now indulge in the practice, the analysis found.
The first finding from all that work: U.S.-based airlines charge an average of $78.04 per ticket in added fees, which is the surest proof that America-based flights simply do not actually cost what the airlines like to claim in search results.
Thanks to more protective regulations, European airlines charge an average of $57.79 in extras, while carriers outside of Europe and the U.S. charge an average of $33.27.
The researchers also found that in the United States, eight airlines levied fees that more than doubled the cost of the base flight. Alaska Airlines (105%) and Allegiant Air (107%) more or less doubled the prices with fees, but other airlines did much more damage than that. The three main legacy carriers added even more: United Airlines fees added 122% to the flight cost, JetBlue added 147%, and Delta Air Lines added 158%.
But the worst offenders, NetVoucherCodes said, pester flyers with extra fees that are pretty much out of control. Sun Country Airlines' fees added 201%, Frontier Airlines added 376%, and Spirit Airlines, which often dominates the lowest quotes at the top of search results, pads those lowball base fares so much that compliant customers will wind up paying an average of 736% over that original quote.
That discovery qualified Spirit Airlines as far and away the worst airline on the planet for extra fees.
In Europe, the worst offenders were, in order, Ryanair (344%), Wizz Air (pictured above; 273%), EasyJet (170%), Air Europa (160%), Vueling (101%), Jet2.com (97%), Finnair (91%), Norwegian (86%), British Airways (74%), and Lufthansa (64%).
But even the worst of those European airlines still charges less than half of what Spirit Airlines does, and six of Europe's 10 worst offenders charge less than all the carriers on the U.S. list.
Quibble if you want about the anecdotal methodology, but the patterns are clear and provide a valuable message about which airlines try to keep a cap on the extras and which ones see passengers as cows ripe for milking with upcharges.
To read the full report by NetVoucherCodes, click here.