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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)

  • Doug M says:

    The thing about seat measurement is that you can’t take it at face value. How you measure is all important. Ryanair use B737 which are narrower than A320. So the only way to have equally wide seats is by narrowing the aisle. This will change your perceived space. In terms of seat pitch there are so many things you can measure or factor. If the floor brackets are 29” apart, and the seat is 1” thick, will you have more or less space than seats 30” apart with 3” padding.
    Ryanair may have more legroom, but throwing the airlines stated seat pitch as an indication of that is just spouting airline propaganda.
    I’m still waiting for someone to explain how Virgin’s Premium seats are 2.5” wider than BA ones in the same fuselage.
    I’m not a BA apologist, I just like truth over PR.

  • Andrew says:

    There’s an incredible amount of suburban net-twitching snobbishness surrounding Ryanair. Flown them more than a few times to the more obscure parts of France, Germany and Poland for both work and leisure. They have been without fail perfect flights – always on time and the crews far more affable and pleasant than some of the old BA matriarchs and colonels who have more than a whiff of BOAC or BEA about them.

    Yes the entire business model is about trying to extract money from you, but play by the rules and you don’t have to pay any more – and not paying for a seat reservation was a blessing when it kept a particularly irritating work colleague away from me for a couple of hours a few months ago!

    • Anna says:

      I know plenty of people who fly LCC to their very expensive holiday villas in France and Spain in the school holidays.

      • Lady London says:

        easyJet flights defo.have a higher rate of very wealthy people on quite a few of them than
        BA does on same route. Have managed to avoid Ryanair recently , but am sure as you say @Anna the same is true for Ryanair and probably Jet2.

      • Rob says:

        My old boss on £5m pa used to fly EasyJet. Lives in Hampstead so fairly equally spread between airports.

    • Bagoly says:

      My distate is less about the Ryanair offering per se (although I do find the frequent loud announcements really annoying) than the other passengers it seems to attract!
      On some routes/times they do attract badly-behaved people, or perhaps something about the service encourages normal people to be behave badly.
      And as for what happens on Irregular Operations…
      I find Easyjet far less stressful.

  • Jill (Kinkell) says:

    I’ve flown Ryanair once, from EastMidlands to Inverness….it was a long time ago and they no longer fly this route. Absolutely fine. One of my sons flew the route regularly, heading to/ from Uni and check in staff and flight crew were always brilliant at helping him out over his luggage! As many have said, play by the rules and all will be well.

  • AlexT says:

    I’ve always wondered, how does Ryanair handle APD on such cheap flights? If the cost of the ticket is less than APD owed, does Ryanair cover the remainder through what is essentially their marketing budget?

  • memesweeper says:

    I don’t agree that ‘it’s all fine with Ryanair if you play by the rules’. This ignores the effect Ryanair has on the wider market, forcing competitors to remove previously built-in costs to have a competitive offering. Selling tickets at a loss is a horrible market distortion. And it’s not just pricing — for example Ryanair’s refusal to use jetbridges means a large chunk of Stansted doesn’t even *have* jetbridges. Before long I’m sure other airlines will start routinely ignoring jetbridges because it’s five minutes faster on the turn. Ryanair is leading a race to the bottom on standards across the industry — and I don’t like it at all.

    Having said that — if the timing is right and there’s no alternative — I will fly with them. So far that’s meant one one-way flight on FR in the last decade. I hope I don’t need to do it again in the next ten years and line ghastly O’Leary’s pocket with another shilling.

  • Fritz the traveler says:

    I flew Ryanair and Wizzair for 85 Euros total from VIE-LIS-LTN-KEF-WAW-EILAT-BTS
    Now i am terminating my 3 day Wizzair journey ftom VIE-LTN-LED-LTN-OSL-VIE for 56 Euros.

    YES YOU CAN, I make a 7 week round the world trip with only a small backback 8kgs weight.

  • Dr Doo says:

    Last time I flew Ryan Air, my seat was meant to be allocated on boarding but they had no clue so I just chose any seat

  • Richard says:

    Great article and shows why so many people use Ryanair despite the numerous bad comments you hear. We used to own a house in Spain and have flown to/from Spain and Portugal with Ryanair at least 100 times over a 10 year period and I can honestly say that we never once had a problem and very few minor delays. OK check in and boarding can be a bit chaotic but if you follow the rules about baggage etc it’s great value for money. We used to take our own food and just get a coffee on board so minimal spending. I wouldn’t hesitate to use them again if the need arose.