We negotiate the major UK airlines' minefield of rules, weight limits, and hidden charges so you can just enjoy the cycling
Packing a bike for travel. Photograph: Philip Gatward/Getty Images
I recently booked return flights for myself and my bike from Edinburgh to Malaga. The experience – which began online but had to be completed via premium rate phone calls to a "customer service" centre in South Africa and a mysterious additional fee of £12 – left me wishing I'd taken the train and ferry instead.
Negotiating the minefield of rules, weight limits, and "additional" or even hidden charges imposed by airlines can be as exhausting as the cycling itself. Having endured the suffering on your behalf, here is what you can currently expect when booking your bike via the websites of the major UK airlines:
This airline actually offers the most generous weight allowance for bikes, but then goes and spoils it all by stating in its rules: "No other item can be carried in the bike box/bag, ie clothing."
Charges before you even get to the bike: £9 "admin fee" per booking, plus "2.5 % surcharge (min £4.95) on credit card bookings."
Cost per bike per one-way flight: £25
Weight allowance: 32kg
Rules: Must be packed in a "bike box or bag. No other items can be carried, ie clothing." When I asked EasyJet the reason for this, they replied: "This meets handling health and safety requirements."
By far the most expensive, though its website is the only one that lets you know if and how many spaces are available for bikes on your flight.
Charges before you even get to the bike: "Admin fee" of £6 per passenger, per one-way flight, unless you pay with a pre-paid Mastercard or Ryanair cash passport.
Cost per bike per one way flight: £50
Weight allowance: 30kg.
Rules: Must be "contained in protective box or bag."
Britain's largest independent charter airline also operates an extensive network of scheduled flights, mainly to holiday destinations. Though the number of UK airports it operates from is limited, it charges the lowest of all "no-frills" airlines for bikes. If you can't find the right section on their website, bikes are lumped together with "carpet bowls and surfboards". The following applies to its scheduled flights:
Charges before you even get to the bike: 4% surcharge (minimum £5) on credit card bookings.
Cost per bike per one way flight: £19.99
Weight allowance: 20kg.
Rules: Very polite: "Please make every effort to protect your bicycle – we recommend the use of a bicycle bag." Tyres should be deflated.
Bikes go free as part of your normal checked-in allowance. You don't even have to inform the airline in advance. The problem for me was it would have meant a two-hour stopover in Gatwick.
Charges before you even get to the bike: Credit card surcharge of £4.50 per passenger.
Cost per bike per one way flight: Free
Weight allowance: 23kg.
Rules: Must be packed in "a recognised bicycle bag" and tyres deflated.
Unfortunately, by the time I reached the part of the Jet2.com booking process that resembles the ninth circle of hell, I'd already had my credit card relieved of nearly £200. Otherwise I would have happily taken my business elsewhere. You can only book your bike by telephoning a number that costs 10p per minute.
Charges before you even get to the bike: Booking fee of 3.6% (minimum £4.99) on all bookings except those made with Visa Electron. Additional credit card surcharge of another 3.6 %.
Cost per bike per one way flight: £30. Plus £6 each way "drop off" fee, even though this is not mentioned on the website under "Outsize Items and Their Associated Charges".