Maximise your Avios, air miles and hotel points

Can you really fly Ryanair for £5 all-in? And would you want to? I try it out. (Part 1)

Links on Head for Points may pay us an affiliate commission. A list of partners is here.

This is, rather unlikely I admit, our review of Ryanair.

Back in December, Ryanair launched a huge ‘£5 one-way’ flight sale.  This was flagged in our comments section and there was some discussion over whether we should give it a go, with a view that we should make Rhys do it.

It didn’t seem such a bad idea on reflection. I literally had not flown out of Stansted for 15 years (I flew into it, in Emirates First Class, last year.)  We could do some lounge and hotel reviews.  Long-term readers know that I am desperate for an excuse to escape the British Winter for a few days by late January, but as I was in Doha recently another Middle East jaunt didn’t appeal.

A quick scan at the £5 destinations list quickly threw up Porto:

  • somewhere I’d never been but which is having a tourism surge at the moment
  • …. where the flight is long enough for the full Ryanair experience
  • …. with a new and well-regarded InterContinental hotel (review to follow)
  • …. and where my mate Tim lives

The pieces all seemed to be falling into place.  I set myself a rule that I would do the entire flight for £5, refusing all extras including baggage and seating fees. And scratch cards.

Ryanair flight review

How easily can you refuse Ryanair’s extra charges?

You need to remember that Ryanair was taking a substantial loss if I only spent £5.

Air Passenger Duty on my flight was £13

The Stansted Passenger Service Charge is £13, although Ryanair may well have negotiated a partial rebate

….. plus whatever fuel cost was associated to the 90kg of body weight and baggage I brought with me

£5 was not even exceptionally cheap by Ryanair standards.  If I had booked yesterday for the same flight on Tuesday 18th March, I would have paid just £12.99.  This doesn’t even cover the Air Passenger Duty.

Let’s take a look at how Ryanair planned to make that money back:

£20.85 extra one-way would get you seat selection (from a limited choice of rows), one overhead locker bag and priority boarding

£33 extra one-way would get you seat selection (from a limited choice of rows), a 20kg checked suitcase and priority boarding

£74.85 extra one-way would get you one overhead locker bag, fast-track security, the option to select the exit and bulkhead rows and an exchangeable ticket (but no checked luggage)

Ryanair seat pricing

You can also ‘pick and mix’ your benefits.  If I wanted an emergency exit row, for example, but was happy to just take underseat hand baggage, it would cost me £14 one-way for the seat alone.  A bulkhead seat was £20.  The cheapest pre-paid seat was £4.

Ryanair seat pricing

Note that these prices all relate to Porto and will vary on other routes.

Seat selection was the easy one to refuse

When I take an easyJet flight, I tend to pay for a front row seat.  On shorter routes no-one else will bother, meaning you can get a row and occasionally two full rows to yourself.

Ryanair seat selection fees on a one-way flight to Porto run from £4 to £20 each-way as I mentioned above.

Ryanair just reported a 96% load factor for December 2019.  They price their flights to fill their planes.  It is a mistake to assume that your flight will be empty.  The only bit of leeway is that the 96% number includes people who decided not to bother turning up.  A £5 flight is an easy one to abandon.

The pressure is always put on you, via the Ryanair app or emails, to pay for a seat.  You are constantly threatended with being given a middle seat.

The seat map looked light, however, so I was relatively confident.

When I came to check myself in, I was given 22C.  Result.

Ryanair boarding pass

I couldn’t really have asked for more.  As a tall guy, I far prefer an aisle seat to a window seat.  I got what I wanted and didn’t need to pay a penny for it.

I’m not sure why Ryanair DIDN’T give me a middle seat.  The general belief is that you get the worst possible remaining seat on the aircraft and that families are deliberately separated to the extent allowed under the regulations, in order to ensure you pay next time.  (I saw a similar comment re British Airways recently, where an economy flyer was randomly allocated a middle seat and turned up to find the window and aisle both empty).  Perhaps the ‘general belief’ is wrong …. I was the 51st person to check-in so perhaps they give the best remaining seats out first.

I should add at this point that Ryanair has a decent mobile app.   I could check in and generate a mobile boarding pass as easily as I can when flying with British Airways.

Avoiding Ryanair cabin baggage charges

This was trickier.

If you’re not familiar with the current Ryanair policy, it is that you are not allowed to put cabin baggage in the overhead lockers unless you pay for the privilege.

The only way of paying for it is to buy a ‘Priority’ package which also includes priority boarding:

What is it like to fly Ryanair?

This lets you use this line and take onboard ONE overhead locker bag plus a small bag to go under the seat in front:

What is it like to fly Ryanair?

Everyone is allowed to bring on a personal item for free as long as it goes under the seat in front.

When I orginally booked, getting away with just a ‘personal item’ looked manageable.  You are shown examples of what is permitted, and one picture showed a laptop bag, see below.

That was fine by me – I often just travel with a (fat) laptop bag for a short trip and squeeze clothing around my computer.  It ensures the laptop remains protected.

It was only in the week before travel that I started to look at the small print.  Yes, you are allowed a laptop bag, but the maximum height allowed is 25cm.

Ryanair small bag size rules

All of the laptop bags in our house are 30cm high.  My 13 inch travel laptop is 23cm high so there is zero chance of anyone with a 15 inch laptop getting it into a bag under 30cm tall.

I hit the kids bedrooms.  Luckily my daughter’s fairy mini-suitcase was also too high.  However, I got lucky – my son’s Scooby-Doo rucksack made the grade.  It was the only bag any of us owned which did.

Ryanair WAS picky at boarding.  They refused to scan the boarding pass of the woman in front of me and sent her off to get her bag measured in the sizer:

Ryanair bag sizer

….. even though she claimed she had travelled from Porto with the same bag on the outbound.

Once I was on the aircraft, however, no-one cared.  Ryanair does not tag the hand baggage of people who paid for Priority.  This meant that I could pop Scooby-Doo into an overhead locker without any problems:

Ryanair cabin baggage

Another good result.  I didn’t need to take up the space under my seat with my bag.  

Despite all the scaremongering emails from Ryanair, everything had worked out perfectly:

  • I had the seat type I wanted (an aisle) – and remember that Ryanair has a bigger seat pitch in Economy than British Airways has in the back half of its new A321neo short haul planes at 30 inches vs 29 inches
  • I got to put my luggage in the overhead locker

….. and all without paying any extra.  My trip was just going to cost me £5.

To see how my Ryanair flight turned out, you need to click here to read Part 2.

Comments (111)

  • riku2 says:

    [The only bit of leeway is that the 96% number includes people who decided not to bother turning up. A £5 flight is an easy one to abandon.}
    I thought airlines take the no-show factor into account and sell more tickets than there are seats, this concept is known as “overbooking” and if Ryanair know that people on 5 pound tickets often don’t turn up they’ll take that into account and sell more than 100% of the seats on each flight. or does Ryanair never overbook?

    • Chrisasaurus says:

      From the article I gather they sell approx 96% of seats

    • Ken says:

      Ryanair doesn’t overbook

    • Froggee says:

      Ryanair don’t overbook flights. EasyJet do. Ryanair even market that they don’t do this!

      • Lady London says:

        Ryanair do overbook. I would say easyJet overbook less than Ryanair. I’ve been told Ryanair are known as the best in the industry for maximising the yield of every seat they have and I do believe it. Just such a horrible airline to travel on.

        • ken says:

          “Ryanair do overbook. I would say easyJet overbook less than Ryanair.”

          This is simply not true.
          What would be these sense in doing so when you are selling the seat for as little as £5

          That’s not to say on a very rare occasion you could not get bumped off a Ryanair, but it would be for another reason (like moving a pilot or engineer).

          Easyjet certainly overbook

          • Lady London says:

            My info has come from chats at Ryanair gates with the gate agents.

          • Lady London says:

            And the comment about Ryanair being known in the industry for expertise in yield management I got from a yield manager for another airline that I sat next to on a flight. Who unfortunately was not sharing the secrets of how exactly they do it.

          • Shoestring says:

            @ken – the point would be filling empty seats with passengers who are paying a lot more than £5!

          • Rob says:

            Selling £5 seats is risky as you are on the hook for €200 EU261 if there are delays.

          • Shoestring says:

            but it does look as if they generally don’t overbook, not that it can’t happen
            [DENIED BOARDING
            Ryanair, as a policy, does not overbook its flights. However, in
            the unlikely event that a seat is not available for a passenger
            with a confirmed reservation, we will seek volunteers to
            surrender their seats in exchange for benefits that we and the
            volunteer may agree upon before involuntarily denying
            boarding to other passengers. If there are insufficient
            volunteers and we deny you boarding involuntarily, you are
            entitled to the rights set out below. ]

  • Frenske says:

    Flying with Wizz-air on Friday to see the Northern Lights. They have similar hand luggage rules. For 3 nights normally I would only take a small roll case to take on board but we are 4 and it made sense to take only under-seat bags and pay for one large suitcase rather paying for cabin bags. Result £50pp return flights with decent luggage space.

    • Alex Sm says:

      This policy is a bit of a see-saw, they had strict rules for luggage and made you pay even for large cabin bags until ~2014-2015, then they relaxed this to a free large cabin bag, one after another (FR first, then W6, then U2), but last year they swinged back and re-introduced paid bags again. Not sure why

  • Polly says:

    Yep, my last LGW DUB LGW was just 12.99 each way. Wasn’t worth my OH time to drop and pick up. Parking cost £18, for 3 days, literally went bk with my sisters to share an anniversary dinner with my family. Car hire ended up being £4 a day, yes! Total hoot, the whole trip.
    Of course could have done it BA, still needed dropping to lhr, plus using avios. Weighed it up, FR won out big time. Like Rob, stuck to basic fare. Smallest rucksack in the house. Was deluged all week warning me about luggage rules, middle seat etc etc but deleted them fast.
    Always check both BA and FR anyway, as sometimes, as above not worth using avios.
    Best thing was bringing them into grain store and enjoying lunch there too…multiple entries!
    Guys know their stuff in there when doing the bill.

  • Anna says:

    Rob, you made me chuckle out loud with the Scooby Doo bag!
    Slightly OT, but does anyone know when Ryanair will release their winter schedule for 2020? I want to go to France at October half term and would love to visit Carcassonne but the Ryanair flight from MAN is only showing up to October 23rd at the moment. Routes like Malaga already seem to be available but I’m assuming this is because it’s such a huge holiday destination they know people will book early?

    • The Original Nick says:

      Anna, look at flying into Toulouse (BA), Perpignan, Beziers with Ryanair as they are all an easy drive to Carcassonne. Or Girona.

      • Anna says:

        Thanks – it has to be direct from MAN or LPL though, I really don’t want to be going via LHR when I can get a cheap and quick LCC flight from up here.

    • Shoestring says:

      Any time now though it often releases them in chunks, eg LY [Over 150 Routes On Sale Now
      Ryanair, Europe’s No. 1 airline, today (24 Jan 2019) launched over 150 of its most popular routes for Winter 2019, with flights from the UK to destinations in Germany, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal and Spain now on sale on the website, bookable as far out as March 2020.]

    • Nate1309 says:

      I flew to Toulouse when I visited Carcasonne. Also one of my favourite board games.

    • Lady London says:

      Hum. 6ft 2in tall with a Scooby Doo bag. I don’t think I’ll mess with him 🙂

      • Catalan says:

        Hmmm. That 6ft 2in tall man with a Scooby Doo bag is usually called Shaggy.
        I’ll get my coat.

        • Lady London says:


          • Lady London says:

            I can’t wait to read what the Intercontinental Hotel in Porto thought when Rob checked in with only a small Scooby Doo backpack!

            Probably they wondered if he was Jack Reacher – never washes clothes just bins them and buys new ones 🙂

          • Harry T says:

            @Lady London
            I had a good chuckle at the Reacher reference!

  • James says:

    Scooby Doo looking out of the overhead bin is fantastic! A nice chuckle for a Monday morning!

  • r* says:

    Try flying ryanair non-solo and see what you think of their automatic seat selection on checkin!

    I pay more to fly with easyjet for that reason alone as ryanair are guaranteed to split ppl on the same booking all over the plane.

    • Anna says:

      But (unless you’re flying with children), if people keep making a big deal about it, Ryanair will just realise it’s important and keep hiking the fees. We had this with AA last year, refused to pay for allocated seating and just asked someone if they would mind moving (to a better seat than they were in anyway, so no issue with that).

    • Lady London says:

      I think their automatic seating algorithm goes ‘forward, back’ over a range of seats.

  • Eli gold says:

    Being a HUGE hater of Ryanair for some really disgusting treatment many years ago, I would blame all the successes you mention to be the result of the fact that they knew they had Rob Burgees on the flight and that he would send thousands of followers a full write up of his experience
    (Just me being cynical)

    • Shoestring says:

      go on, humour us with why you experienced disgusting treatment

      probably you got a genuine rude agent or something – BUT, nearly all the other stories I’ve heard relate to passengers not observing the rules and getting fined in some way, eg oversize baggage, forgot to check in or BP didn’t print properly, couples getting split up etc

    • Rob says:

      Virtually impossible. I don’t even have an FR account and no-one outside our office knew I was doing this.

      • David says:

        My experience is that Ryanair treat everyone the same anyway. One nice thing about there flights is that there are no DYKWIAs.

        Want priority boarding? Pay a tenner – it doesn’t make you special.

        No special hellos from the crew, no freebies, not many self-important people. It can be a refreshing change from “status “.

    • Anna says:

      I expect disgusting treatment and anything better is a bonus! I’m usually pleasantly surprised – e.g VIE-MAN in December went 100% smoothly and cost me under £50 for allocated seat and checked bag.

  • mike says:

    They used to regularly do 99p or penny lead in fares on most flights but that adds a different risk for FR. People were booking returns to see family every weekend and then dumping most of them.
    At least at 12.99 that’s £52 a couple people aren’t likely to book the whole year months in advance then never show.

    • Scott says:

      A lot of people out of DUB and SNN do that into MAN to take advantage of football schedules. They come over to see Man United etc., and if the fixtures change, you might end up with anything from 20 upwards not showing up for a full flight.

      Ryanair is pretty clear rule wise.
      A lot of people are their own worst enemies and tend not to read anything; assume another airline’s policies are the same; use third party booking sites that don’t send them anything about having to check in online etc; don’t get charged for a non-priority trolley case from Dublin and then get charged elsewhere, causing them to kick off and so on.

      Ryanair are out to make money. They provide a basic A to B service at a price that draws people in.
      It’s a case of buying a cheap (though not always as prices can be eye watering) seat and then adding on everything else for £.
      Read things and things stay cheap.
      Don’t read things and understand them, and that 10kg check in bag you bought, that you then brought to the gate instead of checking in, has now cost you £25 extra.

      Seat wise, I’ve no issue with that.
      Ryanair know that the average person will want an aisle or window and avoid the middle.
      Someone has to sit there to fill the planes, so if you want to save £4-£16, you’ve a chance of sitting in one. Easily survivable for 30 mins to 3 hours.

      The crews will probably seat families together if possible, but if they’re that eager to sit together / small children need to sit with an adult, then they should have accounted for that in the first place

    • Lady London says:

      Ryanair algorithms calculate that. They can predict very, very accurately the number of people who will show up to board the flight.

      • Rob says:

        It’s not tricky. After 7 years I can usually predict our daily page views based on day of the week and the companies covered.

      • Lady London says:

        I think this is why Ryanair can take the risk of selling £5 flights. Because their yield management is worldbeatingly good. Mathematically, scale is probably an element in making that work.

        Flybe, not so much.

        • Lady London says:

          And £5 ‘breakage’ on a predictable number of tickets for people that don’t show up goes straight to the bottom line as profit.

The UK's biggest frequent flyer website uses cookies, which you can block via your browser settings. Continuing implies your consent to this policy. Our privacy policy is here.