Airlines & Drip Pricing: What is it and What’s Being Done About it?
The government used the recent King’s Speech to announce that they would be cracking down on the “drip pricing” model used throughout the aviation sector. It has been a cause of great frustration for passengers over the years and it could become a thing of the past, but the airlines aren’t taking it lying down.
Drip pricing is a model that many airlines use to provide a basic, low-cost service and then offer add-ons for a cost. So, you can get a basic ticket for £50, but will pay more if you want checked baggage, faster boarding, reserved seating, and even an airport check-in.
It’s the airline’s way of stripping everything back to the basics, offering only essentials, and then charging you more if you need those optional extras.
The Independent quoted a senior aviation figure as saying that drip pricing was just like pizza—you order the basics and then add toppings as needed. But some would argue that this comparison only works if the basic pizza is just a circle of cooked dough and you have to pay extra for the tomato sauce, cheese, toppings, and delivery, as well as the pleasure of eating it in your favourite seat.
The problem is that customers aren’t always aware of these charges at the time they book, as many of them are offered as standard elsewhere. For instance, while you can still check-in online with easyJet and British Airways, it’s also possible to check-in at the airport free of charge. Do with this Ryanair, however, and you’ll be charged £55 per person.
You could also be hit with a fee simply for using your credit card to book.
Examples of Drip Pricing
At the time of writing, you can book a Ryanair flight from London Gatwick to Alicante for just £35.69 on October 3. The return trip is equally eye-catching at £38.27 for a total 1-week return of £73.96. It’s almost hard to refuse, especially when the same trip is £124.98 with easyJet. But you’ll notice that both of these prices are listed as “Basic Fare”, and that’s where
drip pricing comes in.
If you want to travel with the absolute basics, you can pay these prices. But let’s say that we want to take a bag of up to 20 kg (it is a week’s holiday, after all) as opposed to a small backpack. We also want a seat near the front of the plane that gives us more legroom and an additional cabin bag. Those tickets now cost £213.94.
And that’s not all. Assuming you skip the fast track option (£5 one way and £8.93 the other in this example) and don’t have any equipment (£15 for baby equipment; £65 for a musical instrument, and a minimum of £30 for sports equipment), you may still be charged to check in at the airport if you don’t do so online. For Ryanair UK flights, this carries a cost of £55.
You will also be charged if you exceed the baggage allowance or need to make changes to your ticket.
Before you know it, those bargain flight tickets have doubled, tripled, and even quadrupled.
We’re picking on Ryanair as the Irish airline is often said to be the worst offender when it comes to drip pricing, but this budget airline is far from the only one. Drip pricing is very common on Wizz Air and easyJet flights, as well.
What are the Airlines Saying?
Obviously, airlines aren’t too happy with this proposed rule change, as it is a big part of their business model and accounts for a significant chunk of their sales. In its last financial year, nearly a third of Ryanair’s profits came from these extras, also known as “ancillaries”.
Their argument is that the prices are clearly listed and it’s still possible for customers to fly with the basic fare option. Detractors argue that many of the fees are confusing and are only revealed during the booking process.
How do I avoid airline fees?
There are a few ways you can avoid drip pricing and stay as close to that initial “basic fare” as possible:
- Travel light, with no checked baggage. Confirm the airline’s size/weight requirements before you travel.
- Don’t reserve a seat.
- Check-in online.
- Don’t get your insurance through the airline.
- Skip priority boarding. You might get on the plane quicker, but does it really matter? You’ll all arrive at the same time and get stuck in the same passport queue at your destination.
Why are airline add-ons so expensive?
Because that’s the model that keeps budget airlines profitable. What’s more, many of those add-ons, including checked bags, cost the airline money. If you find that the fees have increased exponentially from the basic fare and you don’t know why, it’s worth remembering that many add-ons apply to a single flight and a single passenger. So, if you’re booking a return, you’ll pay double.
Can I travel without a checked bag?
Yes, of course. In some cases, you will be allowed to take a sizeable cabin bag, but in others, you’ll be limited to a very small bag that fits under the seat. Pack only the essentials, wear your bulkiest clothes, and take advantage of laundry facilities at your destination to avoid needing an outfit for every day of your trip.
Summary: The Future of Drip Fees
Dripped fees can include any extra fee added to the base price. It’s a tactic employed across many industries, from the cash-grab triple-A video games that offer a barebones product and charge extra for levels, skins, storylines, and items to hotels/resorts that don’t mention the additional service charges or taxes. But they have become synonymous with the airline sector, where a seemingly basic option such as a checked bag can double the ticket price.
It remains to be seen just how the government will clamp down on these fees and whether they will be reduced, eradicated, or simply given more regulation. Whatever happens, it should provide passengers with a simpler and more transparent booking process.