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Budget your baggage

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IF YOU pack everything including the kitchen sink when you go on holiday, you might be in for a surprise when you reach check-in at the airport. Here is a guide to airline luggage charges and how to avoid them.

Your flight may have been a bargain with a low cost airline, but the latest wave of baggage and booking charges could add up to more than you think. Now travel associations are warning passengers to be sure to read the small print about extra charges before they arrive at the airport.

What will it cost me?

Ryanair introduced baggage charges in March 2006 and most budget operators followed suit soon after. Ryanair allows passengers to take one piece of hand luggage for free if it weighs less than 10kg.

Anyone who wants to put luggage in the hold pays five pounds sterling for a bag weighing less than 15kg, with an excess rate of 5.50 pounds sterling per kilo on anything heavier, each way.

Flybe allows free hand luggage weighing up to 10kg on its economy flights, then charges four pounds sterling per bag in the hold, with excess charges of 5.50 pounds sterling per kilo over 23kg. EasyJet is more generous, allowing free hand luggage without a weight restriction plus one free item in the hold weighing up to 20kg. It then charges six pounds sterling per kilo for any excess.

Read the small print

The problem is that many passengers are still not aware that they will be paying for their luggage. Travellers have frequently not read the small print and many families are unaware that baggage allowances cannot be combined. So, if five of you turn up with one huge suitcase, you will pay more than if you each took your own suitcase.

Ryanair, however, says its baggage regime is consistent with its overall charging policy. “Passengers pay for the services they use”, says spokesperson Lorna Farren. “Before, there was a cross-subsidy for passengers with lots of baggage by those without. This change has removed that inequity.”

The Air Transport Users Council (AUC) says baggage-related complaints have doubled over the past year. In its annual report, it is stated that “the introduction of charges for checked-in luggage are legitimate commercial decisions. But passengers have been caught unawares and this appears to lie behind the significant increase in complaints”.

The solution? Pack light

The simplest solution to avoid luggage expense is to travel light. If you can pack so ruthlessly that you carry only hand baggage, you will not only save money and time at check-in, you might also avoid the increasing risk of losing your luggage.

But how realistic is it to travel in this way? It depends to a certain extent on the airline you are flying with. Here are the restrictions for economy class ticket-holders, as specified on the airlines’ websites. Some airlines do not give a weight limit, but all require that you are able to lift the bag safely into an overhead locker. Be sure to include any protruding wheels, handles and side pockets when measuring the bag.

BMIbaby – Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.

British Airways – Size: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm (some airlines operating franchises for British Airways, such as Loganair, have different limits).

EasyJet – Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm.

Exel Airways – Size: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm; weight: 5kg.

First Choice Airways – Size: 45cm x 35cm x 20cm; weight: 5kg.

Flybe – Size: 50cm x 35cm x 23cm; weight: 10kg.

Monarch Airlines – Size: 56cm x 45cm x 25cm; weight: 10kg (5kg for charter flights sold through a tour operator).

MyTravel – Size: 45cm x 35cm x 20cm.

Ryanair – Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm; weight: 10kg.

Thomas Cook – Size: 43cm x 28cm x 23cm; weight: 5kg.

Thomsonfly – Size: 55cm x 40cm x 20cm; weight: 10kg.

What not to pack

Remember that if you do travel with hand luggage only, you have no way around the restrictions on what you can carry so make sure you know the current rules. You won’t be able to carry sharp objects such as penknives or scissors and you will only be able to take liquids, gels and aerosols in individual containers of 100ml. All containers must fit comfortably in one transparent, re-sealable bag no larger than 20cm x 20cm. For full details, see www.dft.gov.uk

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