BA vs easyJet vs Ryanair – who is really the cheapest?

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The BBC News website ran an interesting piece of research recently into airline pricing – in particular, how it jumps around.  This was linked to a BBC programme “Flights and Fights: Inside the Low Cost Airlines”.

The link to the original story is here.  The research compared British Airways, easyJet and Ryanair pricing on typical flights from London to Berlin, Barcelona and Rome, tracked over six weeks.

You can see the results in pictures here:

Price graph

Whilst this won’t come as a surprise to many Head for Points readers, what you see is:

Prices do not just go upwards, they move around.  However, British Airways pricing was more stable that easyJet or Ryanair.

British Airways is not necessarily more expensive than easyJet or Ryanair

BA actually looks worse than it should be for the Rome and Berlin examples, because the experiment was done assuming ‘hand baggage only’.  British Airways would have allowed a free suitcase, which the easyJet and Ryanair flights would not.  (BA is also more generous in its hand baggage allowance.)

For Barcelona, the BBC has compared BA’s experimental ‘hand baggage only’ fare from Gatwick.

You also need to factor in the cost of getting to different airports.  Assuming that you aren’t prepared to take a bus, it is cheaper to get to Heathrow on the tube than it is to get to Gatwick or Stansted via National Rail.  That would have worked in BA’s favour on the Berlin comparison, which compared the Heathrow service to competition from Stansted.

At the end of the day, the low cost carriers have been hugely successful in convincing people – often wrongly – that they are actually ‘low fare’ airlines.  As the example above shows, this is not necessarily true.  Why British Airways has failed to tell the other side of the story is a different matter.

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  1. What would be really useful is seeing the load factors on each of the above examples.

    BA problem is not just that it is a legacy carrier but its legacy failings. Neither Ryan air nor easy jet have required tents outside their home hubs nor have they suffered the images of thousands sleeping on floors. BA tend to over promise then under deliver not just on short haul but long haul also.

    I think people are now much more canny about flying and do take into account the costs referred too such as getting to the airport. I use LHR and BA ( though increasingly less so ) as any other departure point would require me to drive past LHR first.

    I have used easy jet as it flys to cities not served by BA or others from LHR but on principle I would rather walk than fly Ryanair.

    I think that what we have is a lack of competition especially at LHR where capacity restraints and BA acquisitions have all but removed genuine competition. The results are clear, degradation in product, lack of innovative new products and fare hikes so high they affect monthly inflation results.

    There is a desperate need for a new superhub to redress this imbalance.

  2. erico1875 says:

    First off, what a brilliant advert for Ryanair, who were consistently cheaper for all 3 destinations for flights departing 12 April over the 6 week period.
    Why 12 April? Surely a proper survey would have more flight days. 1 flight day just isn’t really enough other than to produce a “Sun” type headline.

    • Lakin says:

      To be fair, the bbc do explain (though in a footnote) that the aim was not to actually compare prices of the three airlines:
      “We picked one flight per airline per destination. Every day for six weeks prior to departure, we recorded the lowest price available for that flight on the airline’s website
      The aim was to track how fares moved, rather than to compare prices”

  3. whiskerxx says:

    “You also need to factor in the cost of getting to different airports. Assuming that you aren’t prepared to take a bus, it is cheaper to get to Heathrow on the tube than it is to get to Gatwick or Stansted via National Rail.”

    ermmmm………. just as a reminder……not everyone lives in central London!

    • True, but the same principle applies!

      • trickster says:

        Indeed it does.

        Several years ago, before they started tacking on lots of extra charges, we flew from Liverpool to Oslo (Torp) for a few pounds with Ryanair. If I recall correctly it cost over £25 each (return) for the 2 and a half hour coach journey from the airport to the city center.

  4. When will people realise – Ryanair is cheaper because the quality of the experience is significantly less! I had to take Ryanair for business to Eastern Europe recently – the flight was almost £300 (booked 3 weeks before departure) and the experience was awful. You cannot compare like to like on price as it’s not the same product. Also Ryanair have a lot of very bad flight times, so for me living just inside zone 2 in relatively central London to get home from Stanstead on train and tube after landing at 11PM is a nightmare, and your only other option is a £110 taxi… So sometimes any price savings you think you may have are wiped out in other ways. Ryanair has been a great marketing success but unless I can get a flight for £10 return then I’m not going to bother, and I think due to the UK APD those kind of fares are long gone now!

  5. Susan says:

    An interesting if flawed comparison.

    Using hand-baggage only fares will massively skew the price benefit towards Ryanair – it’s possibly fairer for BA v Easyjet as the latter at least has a hand baggage allowance which allows more than a toothbrush and pair of socks. However for the comparison it would have been more reasonable to include a checked-baggage item in every fare.

    There’s also no mention of whether these are return flights – legacy carrier one-way fares are notoriously expensive to the extent that a return can work out cheaper than a single whereas the LCCs tend to do a straight return=2 x o/w. But most of us need a return so comparing just the o/w fare is again going to skew the results.

    Flying from “the provinces” can means a direct flight with a LCC but connection with BA (don’t get me started;-()BUT for those of us needing to connect because of destination then the security of a single ticket on BA (or in my case KLM) is much preferable to the discrete ticketing of Easyjet or Ryanair.

    Still an interesting exercise.

  6. Howard says:

    I just used the E90 in economy with BA and what a good economy seat this is. My hand luggage looked large and I was asked almost apologetically could I please place in the tray to see if it fits and it just did. With Ryanair my daughter had the same experience just prior to boarding and they rushed her to the extent that she panicked and placed at an angle and it did not fit. The guy would not let her try again and said £50 or you are not flying!!! She paid by debit card as she had no choice. When she got home we went for a charge back. Did a letter to the bank explaining duress. Bank investigated and put the £50 back into her bank account.

    Moral of the story is that its not just about price. If its a little dearer on BA I wold rather always travel BA than Ryanair. Having said that using points for travel in Europe with BA is still good value.

  7. Although not at all fair to compare Ryanair/Easyjet to an airline that gives you assigned seating, drinks/food, and will generally look after you better if something goes wrong, I don’t think comparing handbag only flights is a MAJOR issue.

    The 3 destinations used are very popular weekend break flights, where people are more than happy (and prehaps perfer) to travel with hand luggage only. So for a good proportion of the sample, it is probably relevant.

    I didn’t read the article so don’t know if they included all the admin fees/handling charges etc that are common with Ryan/Easy

    • Susan says:

      For Easyjet I’d agree with you as the hand luggage allowance is reasonable but Ryanair allows no more than 10kg including handbag/laptop etc which is barely a week-end’s shoe allowance for some of us.

  8. sdfbailey says:

    It would also be interesting to see more airlines in the comparison. What about Lufthansa / Germanwings / Iberia / Alitalia / KLM / Air France / Flybe – even if you have to connect via a European hub to get there?

  9. Jane Easthope says:

    I live half an hour north of Stansted. When I go on a plane I have some downloaded Radio 4 programmes on my phone and have a doze. I don’t care where I sit and I’m not particularly fussed about getting a free biscuit with my cup of tea or bag of crisps with my coke (the offer last time I flew BA to BCN). Sure, BA were very accommodating when I cocked up with timings one time and arrived for a flight home after bag drop had closed, but it was my own stupid fault and I wouldn’t have blamed any carrier who’d penalise me for it.

  10. Gordon says:

    Easyjet is about to get much worse when you look at the percentage deline in the size of the hand baggage they will allow. No change if you have easyjet plus.

  11. callum says:

    What many frequent fliers on here and similar websites is that most people don’t care about assigned seating. Most don’t care about 1″ less legroom. Most don’t care about a free drink and a biscuit etc etc.

    Its no mystery why the budget airlines do so well. And although someone above was complaining that the hand luggage allowance is barely enough just for shoes, I’ve regularly gone away for up to 3 weeks with hand luggage only. Its people like me who hugely benefit from the budget airlines, not generally people who want to take their whole wardrobe or are fussy about service (not that I’ve ever found Ryanair etc to have bad service if you follow the simple rules).

  12. Squire says:

    I have no idea what callum is on but I’d like some too. Ryanair’s simple rules? Must have missed those…

    As someone living in Northern Ireland I’m often forced to use budget/sh*t airlines at some point in a journey. I’ve used Ryanair quite a few times from Dublin, and thankfully have never been stung by extra fees. The reason for this, is that I view Ryanair flights as a kind of game. I must jump through several hoops and pass several obstacle courses and as a reward I get a cheap flight.

  13. Sideysid says:

    Also worth noting that Tesco run a clubcard promotion (no points required) that nets you a discount of £15pp (when spending over £100pp on European BA flights).

    With some of the cheaper destinations, checked luggage fares can nudge you over the £100pp threshold (discount counts for infants too under the threshold regardless) so it actually works out cheaper to fly BA.

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