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

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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)

  • Lumma says:

    The seat allocation on Ryanair, if travelling alone, the trick is always to check in as late as you dare. They’ve already allocated the crap middle seats to everyone who check in when it opens. I keep checking until all the middle seats have gone, then see what I end up with, I’ve gotten exit or first few rows quite often

    • Alex Sm says:

      Was about to say the same. It works pretty well on Wizz too

    • Polly says:

      Yes, last few we got exit seats. Result.. literally checked in on the way to the airport.

      • Shoestring says:

        yep but note the T&C
        6.2.4 Unless you have a Flexi Plus ticket (or purchased a Plus ticket after 11 December 2019), if you do not check in online more than two hours before the scheduled departure time, you will be charged the airport check-in fee set out in our table of fees.

        caught me out but luckily not badly – I had 3 spare tickets bought for my wife & kids in the summer when they were worried about the BA strike – as it happens they got the BA seats so I thought I’d check them in at the last minute for the Ryanair flights in case it was oversold (& get the compo) – but I didn’t register about the 2 hrs latest bit so was ultimately unable to carry out my plan

        • Polly says:

          That’s a shame. When l mean on route, we have to leave 4 hrs before flight time, to get round the M25 from Surrey. So am def outside their 2 hr rule. Am VERY surprised you missed that rule H. It’s pretty much shouted out on their website, like everything else is…FR is a success story despite the deniers, not the tights!

  • Phil says:

    “Ryanair has more legroom in Economy than British Airways has in the back half of its new neo short haul planes”
    OMG I didn’t know that. I’m flying a BA flight to Barcelona tomorrow and it’s the new plane with narrow toilets at the back and not side. I assume that’s the neo?

    So what row does it get shorter legroom?

    • Andrew says:

      What’s the aircraft type code showing on MMB? (For the A320 IIRC “320” is your standard A320 and “32N” is the A320neo.).

      That said, so close to flying they’ll have allocated an actual aircraft so the code may have changed to something more specific. FT is your friend here in finding out which specific configuration you have.

      • Phil says:

        I looked at the seat map yesterday and there were 30 rows and toilets at back, back, not sideways on at back. Coming home there are 28 rows.

    • Phil says:

      I just found the answer! “The first twelve rows of seating (A320) or fourteen rows (A321) will retain the current seats.”

    • Rob says:

      Rows 1-14 have the standard seats. Rows 15-37 have the super-slim seats with less pitch and no recline. If you have a refurbished plane rather than a new one then all seats are the old-style.

      SeatGuru will confirm that BA has a 29 inch pitch on the neo vs Ryanair’s 30 inch pitch on a 737.

      • Phil says:

        This is weird… at the 24 hour check in time, it let me select a seat in row 5…. isn’t that business class? I’ve got an economy ticket. Lucky me!

        • Jonathan says:

          Don’t count your chickens! Row 5 would often be in business but as BA vary the size of business cabin from flight to flight to account for loads then you’re almost certainly in economy. I’ve seen business be anything from 2 to 14 rows depending on destination.

        • Rob says:

          No, they adjust business based on demand.

        • Lady London says:

          And you can easily find yourself moved back when you go to the flight if BA gets a few more Business Class bookings meanwhile.

          A high risk of you being in some awful seat way down back if this happens. That, and the filthy curtain flapping in my face if I’m in the first row of Economy, is why I always book a few rows back. For same reason avoid bulkhead seats (you’ll be turfed out if a baby books by which time only evil seats will be left).

          • Phil says:

            Oh no! Wish me luck!!

          • Bagoly says:

            That’s only for long-haul.
            No under-18s allowed in emergency row seats on shorthaul.

          • Shoestring says:

            @Bagoly – 12 and over is fine in BA emergency exit seats, my kids have sat there plenty of times and were obvs their age (ie didn’t look like an 18YO)

  • N says:

    Back in my student days a bunch of us did a day trip to Dublin from EMA for 1p each each way.

    A strong day of drinking rounded off by sneaking a bottle of vodka down us on the return flight!

  • Anna says:

    People have commented on here that HFP readers aren’t interested in LCC’s and cheaper-end travel. This clearly isn’t the case – it’s obvious that most regular readers are primarily concerned with value for money and getting the best deal, regardless of whether it’s a £5 Ryanair flight or F in Lufthansa!

    • Rob says:

      If I lived in Colchester I’d use FR. If they were the only airline flying direct to where I was going, I’d use them.

    • Lady London says:

      To paraphrase what Rob has said about his readership : specifically about there being only about 200 regular commenters with a huge base of lurkers/ readers heavily in the City, and probably more AB than ABC1 : about 200 of us need to be cheap, and the rest just rattle their jewellery and hoover up the tips that they have far greater leverage to use.

      • Anna says:

        Though Rob has also pointed out on occasion something I agree wholeheartedly with, which is that people with money are often the ones who want to squeeze the most value out of it!

    • Alex Sm says:

      The problem (or rather an advantage) is that LCC often fly DIRECT to places where legacy carriers don’t even dare to touch down (like Eastern Europe for example, or regional airports in Western Europe), or offer cheap direct flights to the sun (Morocco, Israel, Canaries). This where you have to use them unless you are a fool

      • The Savage Squirrel says:

        And those positioning flights to Scandinavia…. 😀

        • Alex Sm says:

          Norwegian is best for these – and also if you do a few surveys on their dedicated website, you can get enough points for a free ticket after 8-10 surveys (+ sign up bonus). SERIOUSLY! I have done it already

  • Princess says:

    Stick with basic and read the small print and you are all good!
    On top of the holiday flights we take usually 7 extra return flights a year to visit family in Rome and Ireland (4 people 56 flights) I’m not Avios rich so I usually book in advance and a return to Belfast is often only£80 for the 4 of us.
    From when we have had the twins I learn to pack small and light to move around faster.
    I also have to say that from when we have the kids they have always been amazing with us (especially when they were babies). At the point that at the very beginning When we missed an early flight (one of the baby was unwell while going to the airport and we lost a lot of time) they asked me the reason and then they rebooked us for FREE on the following flight available (in the evening) and put us on a waitlist for the lunch time flight (the one we got)!
    People sometimes complain for things they don’t read/check
    The only real fact is that they seem to intentionally split family. Twice I made the test: booked seat for me and the kids and no for my husband. He was allocated a seat far away even if the seat on the row beside was free. No problem for me for 1 or 2 h flight!

  • Doug says:

    You might have to explain this or rewrite it;
    ‘£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. ‘
    The way this is written, you are saying that £5 is expensive! You go on to say that you could have paid 12.99, which contradicts what you say in the opening sentence.
    Could you have bought a flight for less than £5 on Ryanair?

    • Rui N. says:

      £5 was during a sales event. £12.99 was regular pricing.
      So, £5 was super cheap, but even if the flight was booked outside the sales event, it would still be cheap.

    • Rob says:

      What I mean is that £5 is not actually an ‘unbelievable sale deal’ because you can book the same flight today, not in a sale, with shorter notice that when I booked, for a date with better weather, for £13.

  • mutley says:

    £5 flight without a baggage fee? She would have got away with it , if it wasn’t for those meddling check in agents!……..I’ll get me coat.

  • Tony says:

    I fly Ryanair at least once a month and so long as you stick to the rules it is fine.
    Trouble is many travellers don’t and then wonder why they get caught out.

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