Belfast Telegraph

Friday 31 October 2014

Operators defend cost of flights from Belfast to London

The Belfast Telegraph asked BMI, Ryanair, easyJet, Aer Lingus and Flybe for a response to the results of our investigation into Belfast to London flights.

We told a Ryanair spokesman its flights were cheapest in four out of six categories despite its reputation for the actual price of flights being much higher than advertised fares due to unexpected charges.

The spokesman said: “Only journalists say that we have that reputation.”

He defended the airline’s £10 charge for hold baggage weighing up to 15kg, pointing out that Ryanair permitted one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 10kg. He also asked the Belfast Telegraph to send details of flight categories where Ryanair was not the cheapest. “If we see a fare that’s lower than ours, we’ll move to lower ours,” he said.

We tackled him about the £40 charge where passengers fail to print off their boarding card at home. “That’s to ensure people don’t rely on getting their boarding passes at the airport, and it also avoids long queues.”

Indeed, Ryanair is reported to be removing all check-in desks by October. EasyJet is also considering mobile check-in using hand-held devices to remove reliance on check-in desks, expensive to hire from airports.

A spokeswoman for Aer Lingus said many of the prices quoted were for busy times of year.

She said Aer Lingus offered one-way flights including taxes and charges for £19.99 and said early booking was always crucial to secure the best deals.

She also said the airline was compliant with demands for transparency in advertising prices

A spokesman for BMI defended its steeper fares saying it was a “full service” airline with a different business model to the low-cost airlines like easyJet and Ryanair.

But he said the airline still promised “great low fares” and advocated avoiding peak items and booking far in advance. Other benefits of BMI included no charge for baggage, he said.

A spokeswoman for Flybe’s operations in Northern Ireland said its lowest fare from Belfast to London Gatwick was £24.99 one-way, including all taxes and charges.

“Flybe’s lowest fares sell very quickly, especially on popular routes and during peak travel times such as school and bank holidays.”

She also advised booking far in advance to take advantage of low fares.

A spokeswoman for easyJet said the airline “has been working steadily to provide simple, common-sense, cost-saving solutions for customers who place a value on getting to and from their destination as quickly and effectively as possible”.

Related: Airlines urged to be upfront on fares for Belfast to London route

What we found when we booked our seats

Our study was based on economy class travel checking in one bag with Aer Lingus, BMI, Flybe, easyJet and Ryanair to London’s Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted airports. The passenger travelled without travel insurance packages offered by airlines and booked on the airlines’ websites, the most economical way to book.

We surveyed prices on August 18 — though three Ryanair flights were priced on August 20.

We sampled the cost of a one-way flight first thing in the morning on August 31, return next-day travel on August 19 (leaving around 7am and returning around 7pm), an August weekend on afternoon flights there and back, a mid-week trip in September leaving on a lunchtime flight and returning around 7pm, and weekend trips at Halloween (a long weekend, leaving around 7am on Friday and returning around 9am Monday), and just before Christmas (leaving around lunchtime on Friday and returning around 7pm on Sunday).

Ryanair was cheapest in the one-way category — a trip leaving at 7am on August 31 costing £55.37. The most expensive one-way trip was with Flybe to Gatwick at £114.

Deals for travelling the first weekend after booking were expensive. Flybe was dearest at £248 return, Ryanair cheapest at £91.

Deals for Halloween weekend were well under the £100 mark.

EasyJet was cheapest at £64, Ryanair was second dearest at £81. At £88, Aer Lingus was the most |expensive — £12 dearer than BMI flying to the same airport.

The costs we quoted include handling fees, taxes and charges, online check-in, for which Ryanair charge £5, and the cost of checking in baggage in advance. But we do not include credit card or debit card charges. It was only on BMI and easyJets’ websites that the first sight of fares included taxes and charges.

All airlines except BMI charged for carrying baggage onto flights.

Margaret Canning

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