AA Legal Documents
Law guide

Holiday tickets and fares


Tickets and fares

The price of any journey by air is based on a range of factors. Different airlines charge different prices for the same trip, and an individual airline will charge different amounts for what appears to be an identical product. For example, the price will usually be different according to how far in advance you book, and you will usually pay more if you want to be able to change your reservation should you need to. Peak hour flights are always more expensive; many routes are also seasonal, with fares varying considerably at different times of the year.

However, whatever the time of year or day, or the conditions of a ticket, airlines are, for the most part, free to decide for themselves how much they charge. The UK government does not generally regulate prices.

Fare restrictions

Many airfares are sold on a use-it-or-lose-it basis. You cannot get your money back if you do not fly, and you may not be able to change to a different flight, even for a fee. However, many airlines do allow changes to a new flight, subject to an administration charge and payment of any increase in the price of fare since the original booking. (Note that if the fare has gone down, you do not get any money back.) Most airlines won't let you transfer your reservation to another person, though some will (again, for a fee); check with your airline.

Full flexibility (the ability to change to different flights or get a refund) comes at a price that is considerably higher than the low fares that airlines tend to feature in their advertising. Many airlines offer a range of fares with varying degrees of flexibility, or penalties for changing the reservation. Some airlines, however, charge an administration fee to refund even fully flexible tickets.

Taxes, fees and charges

Most airlines list certain taxes and other charges separately from the basic fare on their website booking pages, confirmations and tickets. The taxes, fees and charges (TFCs) quoted by airlines on their websites during the booking process, include items such as Air Passenger Duty (this is a tax on flights taken from a UK airport), local airport or ticket taxes, passenger service charges (paid to the airport operator), as well as fuel, security, insurance, and even wheelchair surcharges.

TFCs are usually quoted separately from the base fare, and often in the later stages of the booking process – though you should be told the total price before you are asked to confirm the booking. There can be considerable discrepancies in the level of taxes, fees and charges imposed by airlines operating similar or identical routes.

Many airlines will refund TFCs if you do not use your ticket – even if your ticket is otherwise non-refundable. However, there is no law under which they are required to refund these charges (for example, the law that brought in the UK's Air Passenger Duty does not deal with the issue of refunds when a passenger does not use their ticket). Nor is there any law that prevents an airline from charging an administration charge for processing the refund. In any event, airlines rarely voluntarily refund taxes, fees and charges to passengers who do not travel. You have to ask.

Credit and debit card fees

Many airlines now charge credit and debit card fees on bookings. These can vary between airlines. They can be a percentage of the transaction or a set amount per passenger or per flight. Credit card fees are significantly higher than debit card fees, and some airlines that charge for using a credit card do not charge for using a debit card. However, it is worth remembering that using your credit card may provide you with protection against airline bankruptcy, that you would not get with a debit card (see our 'Paying for your holiday: cash or credit?' section for more information).

Supplemental charges

Avoidable charges

Many airlines now charge for services that were previously included as part of the fare. These are mostly avoidable charges, and it is a good idea to be aware of them, as it may help you to save money. Charges may include:

Baggage charges

Many airlines have introduced charges to carry checked-in baggage. You will probably pay less if you pay at the time you book.

Special types of baggage

You will often be charged to carry special types of checked-in baggage, such as sports equipment or musical instruments (please read the advice on Limited Release Tags on our Baggage Problems advice page).

Priority boarding

Airlines that do not allocate seat reservations may give you the option, for a fee, of boarding sooner than other passengers, although they may not specify how much sooner you will be able to board. You may find that this service has already been selected for you, so if you don't want it, you might have to remove it yourself.

Hidden charges

Airlines also increasingly apply "hidden" charges, which passengers are unaware of until after they have made a booking. This is often because notices about the charges are hidden in the small print. Examples of such charges are:

Charges to use gift vouchers

Airlines are increasingly offering gift vouchers to be given as presents. But the recipients of these gifts often end up paying a charge to use the vouchers. For example, vouchers may only be redeemable by telephone, where passengers often have to pay a booking fee.

Administration fees

Most airlines ask passengers to pay charges to carry out various administrative processes. These can include fees for changing reservations (often in addition to any increase in fare), and for refunding tickets.

Phone charges

Airline telephone numbers are often national rate or premium rate. It may therefore cost you extra to make a telephone reservation, to sort out a problem with an internet booking, or to call customer relations if you have a complaint. You can instead write to airlines or contact them via their website for free.

Top Tips

  • To get the best fares, book early (but be aware that, if an airline holds a seat sale after you have booked, you will not be able to claim a refund)
  • Travel off-peak or out of season
  • Buy a restricted ticket
  • Shop around, as not all taxes, fees and charges (TFCs) are the same for each airline operating on a particular route
  • Make sure you know the total price, including TFCs, before committing to the booking
  • Be sure you know how much you will be charged for using a credit or debit card before deciding how to pay (or even whether to fly with the airline). But remember that using a credit card may give you protection against airline bankruptcy, that you would not get with a debit card
  • Read the airline's conditions before committing to the booking. There is a reason why the airlines insist you tick a box confirming that you've read the Terms and Conditions!
  • Make sure you have entered the correct details – check the names are spelt correctly and the travel dates are right. If they are wrong, the airline is likely to ask you to buy another ticket or charge you a fee plus any increase in fare since you booked, in order to change your reservation.