- Over the last year, I have travelled the world for Business Insider, visiting more than 20 countries by way of more than 30 flights.
- In that time, I’ve flown economy with dozens of different airlines, including major US airlines like United, flag carriers like Egypt Air and Air Astana, and budget airlines like Vueling, RyanAir, and Scoot.
- After a year of flying, I’ve found that my least favourite airline has been WizzAir. Though I got a cheap $US89 ticket, I ended up spending over $US125 in fees. Check-in and customer service were both frustrating experiences.
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In just the last year, I’ve flown United Airlines, Emirates Airlines, China Southern Airlines, AirAsia, Scoot Airlines, Air Astana, Vueling, XL Airlines, Egypt Air, Kenya Airways, and WizzAir, to name a new.
My least favourite of the bunch, without a doubt, was WizzAir. It’s a low-cost budget airline in the vein of RyanAir or Spirit Airlines.
Travelling on a budget last summer, I booked an $US89 ticket from Sofia, Bulgaria to Lisbon, Portugal. That was, by far, the cheapest airfare price for the timeframe I was looking to travel.
When it comes to airlines like WizzAir, I find that I – and, in all likelihood, many of my fellow passengers – tend to know what I’m getting myself into. On some level, I expect to be nickel-and-dimed.
But WizzAir takes it a step further. It has more than half a dozen hidden fees, some of which are impossible to avoid. There’s the seat selection fee (up to $US56, depending on the seat); its call center fee ($US68 just to call customer service); its priority boarding fee ($US5-$US28 to board first and guarantee your carry-on luggage a spot); and its “Fare Lock” fee ($US3.40 to “lock in” the airfare price you see online). Then there’s a checked bag fee (unfortunately standard for many airlines these days) that cost me $US63 for a 23-kilogram bag.
There’s also no avoiding the “administration fee” of $US18.50.
I made a rookie mistake flying WizzAir: attempting to check-in at the airport. WizzAir hit me with a $US34 fee to print my boarding pass.
In my mind, this was the most egregious of fees. I understand that many budget airlines do this to cut down on the number of employees they have to have at the airport to check in passengers. In some ways, it makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is charging the fee to a passenger who has already paid for a checked bag and, thus, has to go to the check-in counter regardless.
On top of that, after waiting in a 30-minute line to get to the check-in counter, customer service reps had me pay the boarding pass fee at another counter, which required waiting on another line. Then I had to return to the check-in line. I nearly missed my flight.
Even if you do remember to check-in online, if the WizzAir app malfunctions, as happened to a luxury travel blogger at Jet-Settera, along with six other passengers on her flight, you will be forced to pay the fee.
When I was on the flight two hours later, I was unsurprised to find that snacks and meals cost extra – but WizzAir wouldn’t even provide a cup of water for free. I bought a $US3 bottle of water.
By the end of the flight, I had spent $US126.50 on fees and extras for an $US89 flight. It wasn’t so cheap after all.
Having gone through that experience, I would rather have booked a flight on a mainstream airline for $US250 or even $US300 to avoid the aggravating experience of flying through WizzAir.
As I wrote back in August when I took the flight, those extra fees that WizzAir racked up are the entire point of their business model.
“Ancillary revenue” – how budget airlines refer to all the charges on top of the base fare – made up 39% of WizzAir’s revenue in 2016. For Ryanair and Jet2.com, it was 27% and 26% respectively, according to IdeaWorksCompany.
On the bright side, the flight was safe and I got there on time.
Business Insider reached out to WizzAir for comment but did not hear back by the time of publication.