- Make sure the price quoted includes "taxes and surcharges" − on shorter trips these can amount to half the cost of the ticket.
- Check the ticket has the flexibility you need. The cheapest tickets do not allow any changes in departure date or time.
- Check the baggage allowance. This can be limited − anything more and you pay extra.
- Check the other booking terms and conditions. The budget airlines may not offer allocated seating (possibly a problem if you are family trying to sit together).
- Check which airport the airline flies into. It is worth paying a bit more to fly into a more central destination.
Web-Based Search engines: Rather than searching several individual airlines you can book with web based services. Our favourites are Expedia and Travelocity. These sights have deals with most, but not all, airlines (most of the budget airlines do not use them). On our random tests, the prices available were similar on each site, and also about the same as you could get by booking direct with the airlines themselves. Without a major price difference, we would tend to opt for booking direct.
Major Airlines: The main national airline is British Airways (BA), which cover most destinations. BA flies mostly into terminal 5 in Heathrow (which after early problems is now working smoothly and is much better than the other terminals), Gatwick, and London City (European destinations only). Virgin is a competing UK-based group, which flies a number of routes to the UK; they have a good reputation for service, particularly in business class). Virtually all other major airlines, including the national carriers of other countries, also fly into London, arriving at either Heathrow or Gatwick.
Discount Airlines: Discount airlines are only really established on European routes to the UK.
The main UK based discount airlines are easyJet and Ryanair (actually Irish owned). Ryanair flies mostly from Stansted and Luton. EasyJet also has routes from Gatwick. Both only fly on European routes.
If you book well in advance, and are willing to rigidly respect their conditions − which in fairness are clearly displayed − you can get some great deals. If you book closer to the date of travel, they can be surprisingly expensive: click to check on easyJet website and on ryanair website.
Probably your biggest risk with the budget airlines is flight cancellation − they are only liable to refund your money, not to get you an alternative flight, and in any case won't have many alternative flight options to get you home. It rarely happens but if it does it can leave you with a real problem. This policy differs from that of regular carriers like BA whose terms and conditions oblige them to make an effort to get you on an alternative flight.