Ryanair this week overhauled its baggage policy in a bid to encourage more customers to pay £5 for “priority boarding”, while pushing through a sneaky rise in charges for hold baggage – despite headlining its official press release “Ryanair to lower checked bag fees”.
The reality is that some passengers will be forced to pay twice the fee they did before, though for others the cost will come down.
So what are the changes, and how can you beat it at its own game – and perhaps even enjoy your flight?
The new bags policy
• Onboard luggage Until now customers could take two bags: a larger one, usually a wheelie bag that can be fitted in the overhead locker; and a smaller one such as a handbag or laptop bag. Under the new policy, starting 1 November, you will have to pay £5 for priority boarding to ensure you can take your wheelie bag as well as your handbag.
If you don’t pay you can still rock up with both, but you won’t be able to take the wheelie bag on board. It will be tagged and placed in the hold, usually after you have carried it down to the tarmac. On arrival at your destination you will have to collect it at the airport carousel, which is likely to delay your getaway from the airport. Ryanair is gambling that many passengers will cough up the £5 to ensure they can keep their bags close at all times.
• Hold luggage These changes come into effect immediately. Until now the airline has had up to 36 different tariffs for hold luggage, with two prices – one for a 15kg bag, another for 20kg – which vary on different routes and times of the year. This is being largely swept away to be replaced with a standard fee of £25 (or €25) per bag, with an additional £10 at Christmas, Easter and for certain popular summer routes, such as from the UK to the Canaries – making it £70 for one bag on a return flight.
Ryanair insists this is a cut in fees, but regular travellers know that the fee for, say, a bag on the London-Dublin route started at £10/€10 for 15kg. Those travellers will now have to pay £25 – an increase of 66% – though they will be able to add an extra 5kg.
Ryanair says there will still be cheaper bag rates on some routes and it will run “bag promotions”.
How to keep costs down
• Always buy two to three months in advance When we tested prices on the London Gatwick-Dublin route one day in advance, flying on a Friday, the cheapest fare was nearly £200. When booked two weeks in advance it dropped to £65. Booked eight weeks in advance and it was just £19.19.
So Ryanair is great value for advance-booked travellers, and phenomenally expensive when booking just a day or two before. And plump for Saturday, or Tuesday to Thursday, for the cheapest seats. Friday and Sunday are peak times and peak prices.
• Don’t pay to reserve a seat Ryanair charges £15-£22.50 each way to reserve its priciest seats in rows one and two, or £16-£17 by the emergency exits. Reserving a standard seat costs £6, though the fee at the back of the plane is often £2 each way.
Yet in-the-know travellers click “OK thanks” during the booking process and ignore the subsequent emails imploring them to pay for a reserved seat. Instead they check in between two and three hours ahead of their flight departure. Magically, these travellers are nearly always allocated the best “premium’ seats”. That’s because, while Ryanair sells nearly all its seats on most flights, it doesn’t always sell the premium ones. The last few people to check in are automatically put into these remaining seats.
The drawback? This only really works for individual flyers. And if you forget, there is a steep £50 for checking in at the airport. Many families will also want to avoid being split up by randomly allocated seats, particularly as “random” now seems to mean pushing people as far apart as the system allows. For them a £2 fee, while annoying, will be worth it.
• Be last on board Why queue at the gate? Instead, be the very last traveller to board – and effectively give yourself the pick of any remaining empty seats. As the cabin door closes, the last person on board can scan the seats and, if any is unoccupied, take it, safe in the knowledge that no other passenger will challenge them. They can grab the empty seat in row one or two and be first off as well. The drawback? Again this only works for solo travellers. It also severely limits your chance of finding space in the overhead lockers, though peculiarly the chances are greatest in rows one or two as these may not have been sold.
• Don’t take a wheelie case This is the crucial trick. Currently, those not prepared to queue for ages and who board later than others almost automatically have their wheelie bag tagged to be put in the hold, and must therefore wait for it to reappear on the carousel at their destination. But Ryanair agents almost never tag sports holdalls, which can easily carry the same 10kg allowance as rigid wheelies.
The drawback? Carrying a bag is obviously a pain rather than letting wheels take the strain, and when the new bag policy begins a large sports holdall is likely to be put in the hold along with the wheelies, unless you pay for priority boarding. It will be interesting to see how much Ryanair enforces this.
• Download the Ryanair app Checking in is fantastically easy, once you have logged on for the first time and entered your details such as your passport number. Obtaining your boarding pass can take as little as 90 seconds. It also means that so long as you can find an internet signal, it’s just as easy to check in when you are abroad, and thus avoid any risk of the £50 airport check-in fee.
The drawback? Your phone must have juice. If it runs out your boarding pass won’t be accessible.
• Follow good etiquette A lot of flyers cheered this week’s baggage change as they are hacked off watching some passengers shoving not just one, but two oversized bags into the lockers, holding everyone else up – and denying space to others. Only ever take a bag that meets Ryanair’s dimensions; the locker should take three if they are forward facing, side by side. Put your coat on top of that bag and your small bag under the seat in front. That way we all board faster.
• Bring food and water You can’t take more than 100ml of liquid through security, but you can take an empty plastic bottle. Fill it at the water fountain the other side (that is if the airport operator hasn’t removed it). Food can go through security – you can carry fruit, vegetables and all solid foods in your hand luggage, although soup will breach the rules. Sandwiches on board cost €4.50 upwards, so make them at home (or buy at Pret and save a couple of quid).
• Send your bag ahead Some people reckon this is worth it, though most will regard it as far too much hassle. Sites such as SendMyBag.com charge £32 to send a 30kg bag from the UK to Spain three or four days before you fly, with your luggage delivered to your hotel. Given that it would cost £70 to do the same with Ryanair in summer, it’s a possible saving. But it requires a level of pre-planning that most people will regard as ludicrous.
• Rely on the airport carousel Ryanair told the Guardian earlier this week that “more than 90% of the time your bag will be on the carousel when you get there,” partly because people are held up in security. So that makes paying the £5 priority boarding fee meaningless, as you’ll be able to fly carrying the same amount of luggage and not lose any time waiting to pick it up.
But frequent travellers may find the 90% claim somewhat dubious.