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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.

OZ / NZ FROM £1410, SA FROM £990: Excellent 2-4-1 First and Business deals from Amsterdam with SWISS & Lufthansa
Can you really fly Ryanair for £5 all-in? And would you want to? I try it out! (Part 2)

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Comments

  1. 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

  2. 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.

  3. When I traveled with them last year I delayed checking in on the app until all the middle seats had been taken (forced onto people who had not paid for seat choice). At this point they had to give me either a window or aisle seat. There is a risk as they charge £55 if you fail to check in online (closes 2 hours before boarding).

    • That’s not the only risk you face. FR routinely oversells flights and that 96% average load factor means passengers often end up being denied boarding, I assume partially on the basis of check-in time.

      • Absolute rubbish, not true. Ryanair are one of the only airlines to not oversell flights. Overbooking is more common with legacy airlines with flexible ticket options and connections/missed connecting flights due to delays which can make overbooking unavoidable.

      • If you are checking the seat map regularly then it is possible to check in when there are no middle seats remaining but still a number of window/aisle seats. There is no need to wait until the last minute. If the seats are not taken as quickly then the flight is probably not full and there is so overbooking will not be an issue.

    • I had been allocated a seat at checkin then the ticket said allocated on boarding but nobody knew what to do

  4. Mr William Kerr says:

    re. Hand baggage requirements (underseat) possible to put into search field in Amazon “Ryan Air Underseat bag 40x20x25” and obligingly precise options are listed … same applies if you input “Virgin 23x36x56 Underseat bag” and “British Aiways underseat bag 40x30x15” – get all three stored under the bed nicely labelled and you are ready to go with no upsets until the airline next revises its criteria !
    Good options from circa £15 ea. so you can get away for under £50… !!

  5. The first and last time I flew Ryanair their computer system was down, people couldn’t check in. They tried to charge people £60 until there was a rebellion of the great unwashed. They ended up issuing handwritten boarding cards. There was then a scrimmage to try and get good seats as the seats had not been issued. Never again. There are some things more important than money.

    • Shoestring says:

      @Joe – tick all those that apply:

      1. AMAZINGLY BAD ANALOGY
      Example: You can train a dog to fetch a stick. Therefore, you can train a potato to dance.
      2. FAULTY CAUSE AND EFFECT
      Example: On the basis of my observations, wearing huge pants makes you fat.
      3. I AM THE WORLD
      Example: I don’t listen to country music. Therefore, country music is not popular.
      4. IGNORING EVERYTHING SCIENCE KNOWS ABOUT THE BRAIN
      Example: People choose to be obese/gay/alcoholic because they prefer the lifestyle.
      5. THE FEW ARE THE SAME AS THE WHOLE
      Example: Some Elbonians are animal rights activists. Some Elbonians wear fur coats. Therefore, Elbonians are hypocrites.
      6. GENERALIZING FROM SELF
      Example: I’m a liar. Therefore, I don’t believe what you’re saying.
      7. ARGUMENT BY BIZARRE DEFINITION
      Example: He’s not a criminal. He just does things that are against the law.
      8. TOTAL LOGICAL DISCONNECT
      Example: I enjoy pasta because my house is made of bricks.
      9. JUDGING THINGS WITHOUT COMPARISON TO ALTERNATIVES
      Example: I don’t invest in U.S. Treasury bills. There’s too much risk.
      10. ANYTHING YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND IS EASY TO DO
      ExampIe: If you have the right tools, how hard could it be to generate nuclear fission at home?
      11. IGNORANCE OF STATISTICS
      Example: I’m putting ALL of my money on the lottery this week because the jackpot is so big.
      12. IGNORING THE DOWNSIDE RISK
      Example: I know that bungee jumping could kill me, but it’s three seconds of great fun!
      13. SUBSTITUTING FAMOUS QUOTES FOR COMMON SENSE
      Example: Remember, “All things come to those who wait.” So don’t bother looking for a job.
      14. IRRELEVANT COMPARISONS
      Example: A hundred dollars is a good price for a toaster, compared to buying a Ferrari.
      15. CIRCULAR REASONING
      Example: I’m correct because I’m smarter than you. And I must be smarter than you because I’m correct.
      16. INCOMPLETENESS AS PROOF OF DEFECT
      Example: Your theory of gravity doesn’t address the question of why there are no unicorns, so it must be wrong.
      17. IGNORING THE ADVICE OF EXPERTS WITHOUT A GOOD REASON
      Example: Sure, the experts think you shouldn’t ride a bicycle into the eye of a hurricane, but I have my own theory.
      18. FOLLOWING THE ADVICE OF KNOWN IDIOTS
      Example: Uncle Billy says pork makes you smarter. That’s good enough for me!
      19. REACHING BIZARRE CONCLUSIONS WITHOUT ANY INFORMATION
      Example: The car won’t start. I’m certain the spark plugs have been stolen by rogue clowns.
      20. FAULTY PATTERN RECOGNITION
      Example: His lust six wives were murdered mysteriously. I hope to be wife number seven.
      21. FAILURE TO RECOGNIZE WHAT’S IMPORTANT
      Example: My house is on fire! Quick, call the post office and tell them to hold my mail!
      22. UNCLEAR ON THE CONCEPT OF SUNK COSTS
      Example: We’ve spent millions developing a water-powered pogo stick. We can’t stop investing now or it will all be wasted.
      23. OVERAPPLICATION OF OCCAM’S RAZOR (WHICH SAYS THE SIMPLEST EXPLANATION IS USUALLY RIGHT)
      Example: The simplest explanation for the moon landings is that they were hoaxes.
      24. IGNORING ALL ANECDOTAL EVIDENCE
      Example: I always get hives immediately after eating strawberries. But without a scientifically controlled experiment, it’s not reliable data. So I continue to eat strawberries every day, since I can’t tell if they cause hives.
      25. INABILITY TO UNDERSTAND THAT SOME THINGS HAVE MULTIPLE CAUSES
      Example: The Beatles were popular for one reason only: They were good singers.
      26. JUDGING THE WHOLE BY ONE OF ITS CHARACTERISTICS
      Example: The sun causes sunburns. Therefore, the planet would be better off without the sun.
      27. BLINDING FLASHES OF THE OBVIOUS
      Example: If everyone had more money, we could eliminate poverty.
      28. BLAMING THE TOOL
      Example: I bought an encyclopedia but I’m still stupid. This encyclopedia must be defective.
      29. HALLUCINATIONS OF REALITY
      Example: I got my facts from a talking tree.
      30. TAKING THINGS TO THEIR ILLOGICAL CONCLUSION
      ExampIe: If you let your barber cut your hair, the next thing you know he’ll be lopping off your limbs!
      31. FAILURE TO UNDERSTAND WHY RULES DON’T HAVE EXCEPTIONS
      Example: It should be legal to shoplift, as long as you don’t take enough to hurt the company’s earnings.
      32. PROOF BY LACK OF EVIDENCE
      Example: I’ve never seen you drunk, so you must be one of those Amish people.

      • Lady London says:

        Guilty as charged. On the whole lot.

        My only excuse is that I’m female.

      • Charlieface says:

        There are two type of people in the world:
        1. Those who jump to premature conclusions
        2. ….

        • 2) And those in coma??

          • Shoestring says:

            heh heh!

            you can’t judge an airline on the basis of 1 interaction

            apart from anything else, you seriously risk cutting off nose to spite face, ie you’re the loser, not Ryanair

            look at the stats: passenger numbers
            25m 2004
            70m 2010
            90m 2015
            140m 2019

            Ryanair are seriously successful and popular for some very good reasons

            it’s like the Lidl and Aldi snobs who have denied that these 2 have some very good points, such as great value for money & great quality, fresh products

      • Wow…how long have you been saving this little nugget;). Harry – you have peaked!

    • And I imagine you eagerly paid the £60 to prove you had washed?

  6. Great post! Wow £5 seats, will need to keep an eye out for those in the future.

    We recently travelled with Ryan Air for the first time and travelled hand luggage only too (although didn’t dare to put our luggage in the overhead locker). We didn’t pay to reserve seats and both checked in as soon as we could. Surprisingly, we were both allocated aisle seats – but we did end up at opposite ends of the plane.

    We just wrote a post reviewing Ryan Air last week on our travel blog.

  7. Great article! Did something similar by myself back in May, 24 hours in London (I’m from Italy) with only the small cabin bag (my son’s rucksack, fortunately not Scooby Doo’s) for an astonishing 2.99 Euros return 😉
    Cheaper than staying at home!

  8. Could you take your own hot drink onboard?
    I found the hard way that Jet2 doesn’t “for security reasons”.

  9. I snagged tickets in this promotion at the start of December (think it was an extension of their black Friday sale) for myself and my girlfriend. We flew Manchester to Palma return for £10 each (£5 each way) on a weekend in January. Surprisingly good flight times; out on Saturday at 6.45am and return on Sunday night at 7.30pm.

    We too resisted the “extras”, which meant we were seated apart and had to minimize our hand luggage into a 40x25x20cm bag. We both had ruck sacks that were slightly over those dimensions but as they were soft we knew could be squeezed unit the testing unit (if necessary). It wasn’t necessary and also, once onboard, no-one cared we used the overhead lockers.

    Both flights landed 20 mins ahead of schedule with no issues, great weekend in Palma with some nice winter sunshine, for an absolute steal. Will definitely do the same next year.

    • I wouldn’t consider a 6:45am flight time “surprisingly good”. I can see how you maximize your time away but even so…

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