To many, Ryanair is the epitome of a budget airline. They pride themselves as being a low-cost airline. But how does Ryanair achieve that? And does that mean Ryanair is cheap? Or good value for money? Well, let’s find out.
Anyone who knows me (or has been following Travel for a Living for a while) might have a pretty good idea how I feel about Ryanair and their approach to flying on a budget. But it wasn’t always like that. In fact, I used to love flying Ryanair. So, what has changed? And does my personal dislike for Ryanair mean you shouldn’t fly it?
Is Ryanair cheap? How it all started.
Ryanair was one of the very first airlines (if not the first) to come up with a low-cost flight option in the early 2000s. They started out as a regional airline from Ireland in the 80s. But it wasn’t until EU regulations changed in the late 90s that they were able to build a network of European flights at low cost. And it was revolutionary at the time. Ryanair was dead cheap. Yes, it offered no service whatsoever, but that didn’t matter. I remember how chuffed I was booking a return flight from Germany to London for 20 Euros. And I mean 20 Euros. Back then, there weren’t any additional charges.
Not for your hand luggage. Or to check in. Priority boarding? Never heard of. There wasn’t even allocated seating on my first Ryanair flight. It was first come first serve, take whichever seat is free (like you would on a train). Hell, there weren’t even any parking charges at Hahn Airport (they didn’t pretend yet that Hahn was anywhere near Frankfurt). You could just leave your car at the long stay car park for free.
Those truly were the good old days of low-cost flying. And Ryanair was proper cheap. Until then, the only options to fly from Germany to London was British Airways and Lufthansa. Which were all rather luxurious at the time. Every ticket came with checked luggage allowance and with full board service. You would get a full English breakfast on a 55-minute flight from Frankfurt to Heathrow.
The contrast could not have been any bigger between the ‚proper‘ airlines and the budget airline Ryanair. Who offered no service whatsoever. Not just no free service, but no service. The crew was only on board for passenger safety. Not to flock duty free, overpriced drinks and nibbles, raffle tickets, train tickets and whatever else it is they cram into the 1-hour flight nowadays. Once the flight was airborne, they would just sit in the back chatting until it was time to start landing procedures.
Obviously, time has moved on and airlines have adjusted. Ryanair has expanded its offerings. Simultaneously, other airlines have decreased their freebies.
So, why is Ryanair so cheap?
Over the years, Ryanair have streamlined their processes as best they can. With the aim to minimise turnaround times between flights. After all, an aircraft sitting on the ground isn’t earning any money. The quicker they can get airborne again, the better. But how does one achieve this?
For Ryanair it is a long list of little things. Some you might not even notice if you aren’t a frequent flyer.
Most Ryanair aircrafts have their own built-in foldable stairs at the front and back door. Enabling Ryanair full control of the boarding and de-boarding process. No need to wait around for the jetty to attach or for someone to bring mobile stairs. And it allows access through both exits, which is quicker than having everyone access through just one door. As you usually would when boarding via jetty.
When you sit down, you might notice that there is no storage compartment in front of you for your personal belongings. Let’s be honest, most people won’t need it anyway, so it is not as if that means less comfort (well unless you are desperate for that sick bag, none of those in reach on a Ryanair flight). The simple truth is that no storage means no space to dump your rubbish. And therefore, less cleaning up in between flights.
Ryanair also manages to add more seat rows into their aircrafts, compared to other airlines. Their standard Boeing 737-800 has 33 rows. Whereas the same aircraft type with for example KLM only has 31 rows. Those two extra rows mean a difference of 12 seats on every flight. And considerably less leg room on a Ryanair flight.
As another cost saving measure, Ryanair doesn’t usually fly to the big airports, but goes for smaller airports, i.e. cheaper alternatives. In lieu of Heathrow, Ryanair flies to Stansted for example. Instead of Hamburg to Bremen and so on. Sometimes that can be a good thing. If you need to actually get to the middle of nowhere, Ryanair might be the perfect solution for you.
Like on one of my recent work trips. I had a meeting in Leipzig and getting to East Germany can often be tricky. Leipzig does have an international airport, but none of the bigger airlines offer direct flights from London. Instead, I would have needed to fly to Berlin and then travel to Leipzig. However, every other day there is one Ryanair flight between London and Leipzig. And as I was able to arrange my meeting to align with the flight times, Ryanair became my most convenient option.
What extras do I have to pay with Ryanair?
When booking the cheapest flight category with Ryanair, you get exactly what is says on the box. A flight from A to B. With a tiny piece of hand luggage. And in a randomly allocated seat. Over the years news broke occasionally about Ryanair looking to introduce standing only rows, to enable more passengers on their flights. I don’t know if there was ever any truth in this or whether it was just an April fool’s joke. But to me it sums up Ryanair’s approach to cheap flying perfectly.
When booking a flight with Ryanair, you will be given plenty of options for luggage.
The value fare ticket (which is the cheap ticket Ryanair advertises) includes next to no luggage allowance at all. Definitely no checked luggage. And only one small piece of hand luggage. Small enough to fit under the seat in front of you. With this basic ticket, there is no allocated space for you in the overhead lockers. If you are someone that only travels for a night or two and doesn’t really need anything other than a toothbrush and a pair of knickers, that might well be perfect option for you. Keeping your travel costs low. When travelling on business, one small bag rarely is enough for me. Not whilst schlepping around a laptop, two phones, laser, tape measure, samples, pens and paper and various chargers in addition to my clothes and stuff.
For me, the best option usually is the regular ticket. Which includes priority access onto the aircraft (just the aircraft, don’t confuse this with priority in terms of fast-track security or lounge access). It also includes a seat selection. Well, free seat selection for rows 18 to 33 at least. Anything further to the front comes at yet another extra cost. The regular fare ticket also includes a second 10kg hand luggage item, that can be stored in the overhead compartment.
Booking the regular fare easily doubles the price of your ticket, compared to the value fare. For my recent flight to Leipzig, the ticket itself was 16.85 GBP. Adding the regular fare of 24GBP more than doubled the cost.
For the flight back from Vienna the other day, the value ticket was already higher with 45.61 EUR. Therefore, adding the 32 EUR for the regular fare didn’t quite double it.
Neither of those two recent flights were really that bad in terms of cost, even after adding the regular fare. But this was because I booked both early to get a cheap value fare to start with. As with so many airlines, the more tickets are sold for a flight, the higher the base price. I remember booking Ryanair flights before that easily were in the 200+ GBP region for a return flight. At which point I really struggle to see any benefit in booking Ryanair as the cheap lowe-budget option.
I just checked flight prices for a return trip from London to Vienna for next month. Just the value fare would come to 180GBP. Add the regular fare and you are looking at 240GBP for the return flight.
If you need even more luggage, you could book the plus option instead of the regular fare. This gives you a 20kg checked luggage allowance, in addition to the two pieces of hand luggage.
As mentioned before, if you go for the regular fare, you have a free seat selection included for rows 18 to 33. Should you want to sit further in the front, you will have to pay extra. Unless you’ve booked the Flexi Plus option, which is kind of Ryanair’s version of business class. This would allow you to pick any seat you fancy.
Yes, you’ve read right. You might be charged to check in for your Ryanair flight. But no worries, there are free options to do so, you just need to be aware.
If you have a value ticket or regular ticket, the only free check-in option is online.
Value tickets can check in online 24 hours before the flight. With the regular ticket, you can check in up to 60 days before your flight.
When booking online, you will be expected to print your boarding pass (or have it on your mobile). If you require Ryanair to print your boarding pass at the check-in counter or the gate, they will charge you 20 GBP / EUR for that privilege.
However, should you book the Plus or Flexi Plus option, you can actually check-in for free at the airport.
In all fairness, this isn’t unique to Ryanair. These days, a lot of airlines have changed accordingly. Ryanair is cheap, because it does not offer any free service on board their aircrafts. If you want anything, you will have to pay. But as we are talking one-to-two-hour flights, it isn’t really the end of the world, if you don’t get onboard service, is it? Bring a bottle of water and a snack and save yourself the money.
If Ryanair is cheap, does that mean it is less safe to fly?
No, of course Ryanair doesn’t skimp on safety. Just on comfort.
Low-cost airlines like Ryanair must adhere to the same European safety standards as the ‘proper’ airlines. Absolutely nothing to worry about. The aircrafts might be slightly older than the ones from British Airways and Lufthansa, but they are not the oldest out there.
To this day, Ryanair has not had a serious crash. They had two emergency landings. But that is it.
What can I expect flying Ryanair?
As I mentioned at the start, you get what you pay for. A flight from A to B with a budget airline. Nothing fancy, nothing special. On short-haul flights this sometimes is enough. So, if you find a cheap Ryanair flight, go for it. As long as you don’t book budget but expect first class, you will be fine.
I have flown Ryanair plenty times and honestly, there isn’t really anything wrong with them. It is just me. I don’t like the rush and hectic that always seem to go along with these kind of budget flights. Overcrowded airports (Stansted Airport early Monday morning is an absolute nightmare for me), long queues at boarding, slightly disorganised travellers. This all isn’t really for me. But if you don’t mind that, Ryanair might well be the perfect low-cost option for you.
Tell me, have you flown Ryanair before? Do you like them? Or loath them?