The King’s Speech today outlined UK government plans to ban drip pricing. It will be interested to see how serious they are about this issue – and whether the legislation extends to cruise lines.

What is drip pricing?

Drip pricing describes the way an operator offers a very low starting fare – and then keeps adding ‘extras’ during the checkout process. Budget airlines, like Ryanair, are famous for using this technique to turn a £15 headline price into a £60 (or more) bill by the time you complete the purchase.

A picture of a water drop demonstrating the principle of drip pricing
Drip, drip, drip

It works like this:

You see a bargain fare and select your tickets. Yay, £15 flights!

Next, you’re asked whether you want to take luggage – and you’re presented with various options on a sliding price scale depending on how heavy your bags are and whether they are going in the cabin or the hold (add £7.50 per person, per flight). Your flight just doubled in price.

Then, you get to choose your seat – again, more desirable seats are more expensive (add another £7.00 per person per leg). The flight is now three times more expensive.

Finally, you get a load of additional add-ons, such as insurance, airport transfers, parking, fast track security etc etc etc.

Suddenly your flights cost 4x the headline price. At least.

Ryanair is held up as the poster boy for bad behaviour when it comes to drip pricing, but EasyJet and Wizz Air tend to be way more expensive, particularly when it comes to the luggage uplift.

Sounds familiar?

The truth is, cruise operators behave in a very similar manner. Ever seen a 7-night cruise advertised for £399? I have.

But you want a window? The price just doubled. Want a balcony? Triple the price.

Specific cabin? Add $150.

WiFi? $15 per day per device.

Drinks? $50 for each person in the cabin. Per day.

Port transfers? $80 each.

Gratuities? $16 per person per night.

Suddenly your bargain cruise is 3 or 4 times the advertised price.

If that isn’t drip pricing, I don’t know what is.

Will the government act?

So will the drip-pricing ban be applied across the travel sector as a whole? Highly unlikely.

Why? Because this measure is really only being used as a stick to beat the budget airlines. Cruise pricing isn’t even a speck on the government’s radar, let alone a part of their discussion.

A ban on drip pricing is likely to be used as an excuse to raise airfares across the board – media outlets estimate tickets will rise by as much as £80 each. And a cynic may suggest that this plan is just an excuse to price more people out of flying rather than improving the consumer experience.

The irony is that even the national flag carrier British Airways charges extra for seat selection and luggage these days too.

Are we in favour of a drip-pricing ban? Not really. It would be far more effective to educate people in how airlines and cruise operators use this system – and how it is possible to travel quite cheaply if you know what you are doing.

This is not to say we would not welcome a ban on ‘resort fees’ charged by many US hotels. Resort fees are completely unavoidable add-ons charged at checkout – whereas airline drip pricing uplifts can be dodged. And that’s just plain naughty.