Budget airlines: Not so cheap when the add-ons add up

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POTSDAM, GERMANY and PALO ALTO, CALIF. – Low-cost airlines have attention-grabbing headline prices that seem an obvious money-saving choice. What budget airlines don’t always show is how these prices are not always what they seem due to “price deconstructing” to appear lower.

With this model, budget airlines show a base price that usually does not include basic add-ons, such as in-flight meals, seats, and luggage allowances. 

refund.me, the passenger rights service provider, broke down the costs to offer a side-by-side comparison and Infographic highlighting how budget airline ‘hidden’ charges boost ticket prices.

Case Study – Flights to London
With the British pound now more affordable due to Brexit, refund.me researched the cost for a family (two adults and two children aged 2-11) to vacation in London, travelling from New York to London August 11-18. The price for the family to fly British Airways (BA) economy class totals $4099.10 including taxes and service charges.


  • Airport, online, and mobile check-in
  • Seat selection free at airport and from 24 hours before departure.
  • Three-course meal and drinks in-flight, including alcohol
  • Pre-bookable children’s meals
  • Baggage 1 per person at 23 kg

The base fare for same date flights with Norwegian, the third largest low-cost carrier in Europe, including tax is USD $3651.20

Then the add-ons:

  • Seat reservation $45 per person, per direction
  • 1 checked bag 20 kg per person, $45 per direction
  • In-flight meals $45 per person per direction

Add-ons boost the ticket price to $4731.20 – $632.10 more than BA. Norwegian does offer a discount when booking seats, baggage and meals online simultaneously. With discount the final price is $4371.20 – still $272.10 more expensive than BA.

Delays and Cancellations
Lengthy delays are the primary reasons passengers seek redress under EU 261, accounting for 75 percent of all refund.me claims, followed by cancelled flights at 21 percent.

The majority of passenger complaints we handle are directed against low-cost airlines and some of them really do not respect the EU passenger rights legislation, making it overly hard and complex to settle rightful cases,” said Eve Buechner, refund.me Founder and CEO.

Passenger Rights
Under EU 261/2004 regulations, passengers whose flights are more than three hours late or canceled can claim up to €600 ($669). These rules apply to all worldwide airlines departing from an airport located in the territory of a European Union Member State regardless of whether the airline is or is not an EU Community carrier airline. For flights from outside the EU to a destination within the EU, passengers are protected if flying with an EU-based airline. 

If a flight entering the EU is operated by a ‘code-share’, for example a passenger books an American Airlines code-share flight that is operated by an EU airline, that flight is also covered under EU 261.

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