DO you remember a dozen or so years ago when flying out to Andalucía involved trawling through the small ads at the back of the travel section of your Sunday newspaper and ringing up so-called ‘bucket shops’ for the best deal? Or booking a charter flight with accommodation included? Do you remember how expensive it was in those days?

Then, of course, everything changed, with the arrival of the low-cost airlines and the widespread use of the world wide web. Two of the original low-cost airlines, Ryanair and easyJet, have pioneered cheap flights which are bookable on the Internet. These two companies were quickly joined by a number of others, many of which were either swallowed up by the giants or went bust. But until recently, the choice had never been greater. It was great for Spanish property-owners and tourists alike.

The situation in 2010 was that you could fly from airports all over the UK and Ireland to Málaga on the Costa del Sol, from such unlikely places as Exeter, Southampton, Norwich, Leeds/Bradford and Teeside, as well as all four London airports, Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow and Edinburgh. There were also flights in the summer from some airports to Granada, Sevilla, Jerez de la Frontera and Gibraltar, all of which increased the options for travellers.

That picture has changed somewhat, lately, however, with Ryanair having cut its routes from the UK to Granada completely and to and from Jerez until March 2011. On a brighter note, however, easyJet has announced a new route from Liverpool John Lennon Airport to Gibraltar, due to commence next Spring.

But just how cheap are these flights? We’ve all seen the ads for flights costing £5 or €5, plus taxes. They do exist, but not when most people want to or are able to travel. At the other end of the scale return flights on the Saturday and Sunday at the end of the school holidays are incredibly dear. Also, try turning up at the airport and booking a flight at the last minute! It will cost you a small fortune.

And don’t forget the taxes and charges! Ryanair adds a whopping £31 from Stansted to Málaga and £28 for the return flight, while easyJet’s taxes and charges are now “hidden” within the fare. All now charge a supplement for “optional” online check-in, plus a fee per person per flight for paying with a credit or debit card! How else are you supposed to check in and pay, I would like to know?

You can usually change your flight or passenger name, but you will be charged handsomely for the privilege! If you have to cancel your flight or you miss it, hard luck, although I did once manage to get a credit from easyJet for an unused flight on medical grounds. EasyJet also pay out for lost luggage, but some others don’t, despite recent changes in airline legislation.

Talking of luggage, Ryanair now charge £15 per flight just to check a bag in! But if your checked-in case weighs more than the meagre baggage allowance of 15 kilos you pay £20 per kilo for the excess! If your one piece of hand luggage exceeds the 10 kilos limit or is too big, you will be charged a penalty of £35!

And how comfortable are the flights? Well, the airlines that do not allocate seat numbers cause unwanted hassle for a lot of travellers, with queue jumping, pushing, running to the plane to get the seats with most legroom, and bad tempers. Some, like, do allocate seat numbers and offer the seats with most legroom for a supplement of  between £8 and £25 per flight depending on the duration. On the other hand, Ryanair’s entire fleet is fitted with uncomfortable non-reclining seats. Hmmm!

And what about the catering offer? You can purchase food and drink on the plane, but it’s exhorbitantly priced, so lots of flyers prefer to bring their own.

So, all in all, you pays yer money and you takes yer choice. There are bargains to be had, it’s true, but there are sacrifices too and sometimes problems! Nevertheless, according to data from Turespaña, the Spanish Tourism Institute, the number of British tourists visiting Andalucia increased by a massive 43.8 per cent between 2000 and 2004. And despite the recession, the numbers of Britons flying into the new Terminal 3 at Málaga are higher than ever before.

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