You may have heard of the infamous RyanAir airlines. If not, let me introduce you. RyanAir is an Irish budget airline, zipping around destinations in Europe, North Africa, and even the Middle East for sometimes as low as $10 a ticket. Yep, you read that right – no typo. I have literally seen tickets for $10 one way and have personally purchased tickets on multiple occasions for under $20.
Does this sound too good to be true? Talk to enough people, and some will tell you it IS too good to be true. They’ll tell you to avoid RyanAir like the plague, before engaging you in their personal story of RyanAir disaster. But then, someone else will overhear your discussion and chime in, claiming that they love RyanAir and this other person must just not have followed the rules.
Well, between studying abroad in London, working abroad full time in Germany, and visiting European family over holidays, I have used RyanAir (as well as other budget airlines) a lot, and I’ve seen it all – the good, the bad, and the ugly. And, because I love you all so much, I’ve condensed all my knowledge into this nifty little complete guide on everything you should know about RyanAir before deciding to fly with them.
1. BOOK YOUR FLIGHT AS FAR IN ADVANCE AS POSSIBLE
In general, RyanAir is very cheap. Especially if you are not dead-set on your destination, you will not have a problem finding a cheap flight at any time. But it becomes really, really cheap the further out from your date you buy. RyanAir sells a set amount of tickets at a certain price, and you’ll often see “xx amount of tickets left at this price” when a flight is about to sell out of the current price level.
Also booking in advance can mean a more convenient flight date and flight time. As the travel date nears, the difference in price between flights on Mondays – Thursdays versus Fridays and Sundays grows. So if you are not flexible with your dates (maybe you are a student or expat in Europe who can only leave Friday night and be back by Sunday night), book ahead to avoid weekend price spikes. For less popular destinations, though, be aware that RyanAir flies less frequently, only on certain days a week or certain months a year, so you might need to arrange your schedule around the flight.
2. NO FOOD OR DRINK INCLUDED IN TICKET
I did mention it is a budget airline, right? This is one way RyanAir keeps their prices low. No pretzels, no peanuts, not even water is included in the ticket price. Snacks, simple meals (think wraps and chips, cheese and fruit platters) and drinks are, however, available for purchase in flight. You can also buy meals and drinks at the airport before take off, and bring them on the plane with you. Many of RyanAir’s routes are short hops between bordering European countries, so you might not even need food and snacks anyways. But I do recommend bringing an empty refillable water bottle to fill up after passing security in case you get thirsty. I do this for all flights to save money and stay hydrated, not just RyanAir.
3. ONLY ONE SMALL PERSONAL ITEM INCLUDED IN TICKET
RyanAir used to include one small personal item and one check-in bag in each ticket, but in recent years have made check-in bags an extra. Current flight + carry-on add-on prices seem to match previous flight prices, though, so do not think of this as an additional cost, but rather just as an additional step to take at check out: make sure you add a carry-on bag to your flight purchase. You can also add a check-in bag to your ticket if you need. While so many add-ons may be inconvenient, the sum of all these costs is often still much, much lower than flying with a non-budget airline. But this is not always the case – so do compare your total round-trip cost to other airlines’ prices before buying.
4. THE AIRPORT MIGHT BE OUT OF THE WAY
This will depend on your location. Some cities have 2 airports (Berlin, Rome, Paris), one being the main international airport for big airlines, and the other being for budget airlines. Other cities (Barcelona, Marrakech, Dublin) have only one airport for both big and small airlines. Before purchasing your ticket, look up on Google Maps where your airport is located. Can it be reached by public transport? If not, is there a bus or shuttle service to the main city? If yes, how much does this cost – does it still keep your flight cheap enough? Do a quick Google or TripAdvisor search of how to get to and from your airports before purchasing your ticket.
Two great examples of this are London and Dusseldorf.
- London has four popular airports. Heathrow is the main one, used by large airlines. It is directly connected to the subway system and is very easy to get to and from. Budget airlines fly into and from Gatwick, Stansted, and Lutton. Gatwick has an affordable coach bus service departing from a popular subway station, and Stansted and Lutton have affordable shuttle options that stop and drop off at a few different locations around London. My point is – even though the budget airports are not as simple to reach as the main airport, they are still reasonably and affordably reachable.
- Dusseldorf, in Germany, also has a large international airport. But when RyanAir says it flies from Dusseldorf, it actually means Weeze, which is practically in the Netherlands. It is very hard to reach Weeze from Dusseldorf, as driving takes 1.5 hours, and shuttles and trains are infrequent, expensive, and require transfers. In this case, it is probably best to use a different airline that flies into Dusseldorf’s real airport, and not Weeze.
5. MAKE SURE YOUR BAGS ARE NOT OVERSIZED OR OVERWEIGHT
This is technically the case with any airline, but especially true of all budget airlines. They are real sticklers on bag size and weight because they can then charge obscene oversize and overweight fees – another strategy on how they keep prices low. Almost always, there is a box to measure suitcases right before the gate. If your bag looks like it might be too large, the attendant might ask you to fit it in the box to make sure the dimensions are within policy before you can board. They also have a scale at the gate and at the check-in desk, and might have you weigh your bag. In my experience, they skip weighing the bag a decent amount of the time, but I always still make sure I am not over the weight limit, just in case.
6. YOU MUST CHECK IN & PRINT YOUR OWN BOARDING PASS
This is definitely my least favorite thing about RyanAir. You must have your boarding pass printed before arriving at the airport. If not, they will charge a hefty fee to print it for you – another strategy of how they keep prices low. You can check into your flight 48 hours ahead, so this gives you 2 days to find a place to print (this used to be 10 days ahead, which was a lot more fair, but unfortunately you now need to pay to check-in earlier than 48 hours before the flight). This can be very inconvenient to do for your return flight, because you are not at home. You will need to either ask your accommodation to print it for you, or find an Internet café or print shop in your city. This is truly the single most inconvenient part of flying RyanAir, especially depending on your location. If you are an EU national, you can often use a mobile boarding pass most of the time and avoid all this trouble (so jealous). Check the list of airports where you cannot use a mobile boarding pass here.
7. YOU MUST STOP BY THE CHECK-IN DESK BEFORE SECURITY
This may not apply to those eligible for mobile boarding passes, but if you require a printed pass, and definitely if you are a non-EU national, you will need to stop by the check-in desk for a visa check. It will state that you need this check on your boarding pass. This process is usually painless, but just keep in mind that there may be a line, so don’t assume that because you have no check-in bag, you can go straight to security.
8. THE PLANE SIZE & LEG ROOM ARE NORMAL
Some travelers complain that RyanAir has cramped legroom or small planes, but this is not true. You can expect very typical Boeing airplanes with one aisle down the middle and a typical amount of legroom. I am 5’11 (181cm) and I find their legroom absolutely standard for economy seats. There are extra legroom seats, too, for a small fee.
9. YOUR FLIGHT IS NOT MORE LIKELY TO BE DELAYED
People complain that budget airlines are always delayed, but RyanAir’s punctuality record is actually pretty good, hovering around 90% of flights arriving within 15 minutes of scheduled arrival.
10. YOU MIGHT GET THE MIDDLE SEAT
Seat selection is not included in your ticket price. You can select your seat for $5 – $10 extra while you purchase you ticket, or you can do so after checking in 2 days before the flight if you don’t like your seat. It used to be that the earlier you check in, the better your random seat typically was. But now, it seems that RyanAir disperses middle seats first, even when aisle and window seats are available, in the hopes that you will purchase a seat selection. This is also true of traveling in a group – do not expect that because you purchased under one reservation, you will be seated in a row like with other airlines. I feel that RyanAir disperses travelers in the same party, again, in hopes that they will purchase a seat selection.
Personal anecdote: I was traveling in a group of three. We checked into our flight almost exactly 48 hours ahead, right when the free check in opened. We all received middle seats, even though the plane was half empty – several aisle and window seats were available when we boarded. On the return trip, we waited until the evening before the flight to check in. Our theory was to let others check in before us and receive middle seats, to increase our chances of getting a window or aisle. The result? All 3 of us got aisle seats, and when we boarded the plane, every single seat was full on the flight except one.
Moral of the story: there is a good chance you might get a middle seat. But RyanAir flights tend to be short flights, so you will probably survive.
11. IT IS NOT THE ONLY BUDGET AIRLINE IN EUROPE
RyanAir paved the way for budget airlines, showing that there is demand for no-frills flying and that providing this can be profitable. And many others have since then followed suit. EasyJet is very similar airline to RyanAir. There are also budget versions of large airlines in the budget-airline game, like Eurowings (Lufthansa) or Vueling (Iberian). These budget versions of large airlines often include carry-on bags and allow mobile boarding passes.
12. THERE ARE NO REFUNDS OR EXCHANGES
Well…*technically* RyanAir claims there are exchanges and partial refunds…but keep reading to see why you should just pretend there aren’t. RyanAir policy states that there are no flight cancelations (aka, refunds). But you can make exchanges. There will be a change fee, and this fee might be more than the flight itself – especially if you bought a cheap flight (which is like the entire point of flying RyanAir, right?) – so you would probably rather just buy a whole new ticket and loose the cost of the first one *tear*. Government tax funds are also available for refunds, but this requires an application, which – you guessed it! – often costs more than the amount of the tax refund. So, when you purchase your flight, assume that it is entirely non-refundable and non-changeable in ANY way.
Recommended reading: A 5-Step Guide to Travel Cheaper
If you haven’t already figured out RyanAir’s business plan from this entire guide, it’s this: have really, really cheap, no-frills flights with just the basics, charge a little bit for extras, and charge a lot for easy-to-make mistakes. Need to check-in at the airport? 55 EUR. Need to print your boarding pass? 25 EUR. Overweight bag? 11 EUR … per kilo! See the full list of things here, but you get my point. Most people don’t get charged all these fees, because they know what they are signing up for with RyanAir and are careful to follow the steps I’ve outlined in this guide. If you follow those, you’ll enjoy the cheapest flight prices ever.
And now you know everything you need to know about RyanAir! Personally, I love RyanAir, even though friends and I have been burned by certain policies of theirs in the past. But I have never been surprised, because I knew what RyanAir was about.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Have you flown RyanAir or other budget airlines before? Do you love them or hate them? Do you find their competitors to be better, the worse, or the same? I would love to know what you think.