At the time of writing, Ryanair is experiencing its largest strike ever. Not familiar with Ryanair? Technically they’re Europe’s favourite airline if you count the number of passengers and not passenger complaints or bad press.
How big is? 400 flights were cancelled yesterday, stranding tens of thousands of would-be travellers across Ireland, Germany, Sweden, Belgium and Holland. Yet, according to a CBC report, 400 was just 15% of yesterday’s Ryanair flights!
So, how’d they get to be so big? Cheap prices! Crazy cheap. My mother-in-law once flew to Florence from London for £8.
And how have they stayed in business? In short, their business model is based on gambling. The company website and planes feature bright casino colours. You dial in dates and destinations, give the wheel a spin, then live in hope of deals like my mother-in-law’s ringing out. (They even sell their own lotto tickets to the strapped-in passive passengers.)
Here’s how it works. You see the advertised price ‘From€8’ and click to buy, but the three actual seats for that price have evaporated to quicker clickers. The remaining seats are ‘from’, say, €35 now. Still an excellent price, so you decide to pay for it. From there, you’ve proven yourself upsellable. Everything escalates.
And from there is why many people hate Ryanair. They’re unabashed about viewing you, Johnny Holidaymaker, as a helpless bound gosling they can stuff with overpriced crap during your flight to Strasbourg.
But if you take the time to patiently thread the needle flawlessly, you can realize insane bargains. Here’s a quick guide to shortening your odds of getting screwed in that flying casino called Ryanair. Avoid these penalties and follow the tips or you’ll be poor faster than you can say Cheap Flights. The problem is, as the saying goes, the house always wins.
Tip 1: Read the website closely before buying, no matter how great the price looks.
Prices plummet at slow times. Did you find a bargain? Great. You’ll notice the urge to BUY IT NOW!! because you know that in 10 minutes it’ll be gone and you’ll be paying three times as much.
Remember, though, gambling’s an addiction. Think of that advertised price, not necessarily a lie but neither is it the whole truth, as your free first taste. You caught a sniff in the air. BARGAIN! Sure, you wanted to go to Rome but Florence is only $35CAD at today’s conversion rate.
But think twice. Unless you’ve discussed a gambling system ahead of time like Rain Man, your travel partner may not appreciate your unilateral decision to change plans midstream for a couple of hundred bucks.
Hmm. Fuck it, you think! This is a great deal and she’ll understand.
Penalty 1: Using a credit card to pay for your flight? That’ll be a €10 ‘service charge’!
Yes, there’s no 1-800 or physical kiosk but you pay a service charge for using your credit card, the only currency they accept. Wait, you think. How else am I supposed to pay for a ticket that can only be purchased online? Can I bring cash on the day? Unh, no.
[Hey, @RyanAir, there’s a business idea to engender customer loyalty: offer to forego the credit card service charge with a €9 service charge for paying cash on the day of your flight, plus interest for those lost days when that initial charge would’ve been sitting in your account rather than ours! Savvy consumers get to feel superior but you’ve earned even more.]
Tip 2: Plan a route to the airport well ahead of time.
Got your cheap flight? Congratulations! But be warned of Ryanair’s B-status airports: London Stansted is practically a field in southern Yorkshire.
Whoops, you realized your flight leaves at midnight and there’s no train/bus/dog sled service to Stansted? A £70 taxi fare will fix that. At today’s conversion rate, that’s $116.82. Or maybe walk there. It’s only 36.7 miles from Buckingham Palace, which is 58.72 km at today’s conversion rate. I once visited friends in Helsinki, the airport was in a forest over 100km from town. Ryanair’s first ‘Glasgow’ airport was in Prestwick, the next county south, 50km away. Same goes for Ryan’s Milan airport, which is in Bergamo, next stop Switzerland!
So, plan how you’ll get there. Oh, and get there early. Maybe you didn’t look closely but your cheapest version of the flight is festival seating. (That’s explained in Tip 4 but maybe don’t skip ahead if you still want to save money.)
Tip 3a: Print your boarding pass or 3b: pay the convenience charge for putting it on your phone
So, you’ve arrived at the airport. If it’s a popular but yet-to-be-modernized one (step forward, Glasgow!) you may have to wait in line even if you’ve already checked in. If Ryanair shares the airport with other airlines, odds are good you’ll be queuing at the ass-end in some asbestos-lined looking Quonset hut from the war. And you won’t find machines to print your boarding pass on site. Print them chez vous or pay the surcharge for a text
Either way, be sure to check in early. Ryanair advises and offers the ‘convenience’ weeks ahead of schedule. It’s so conveniently far ahead, you may not notice they cut it check-in two hours before your flight. Didn’t read the extremely fine print saying you must check in online up to two hours before takeoff? So much for that $35 flight.
Penalty 2: That’s a €55 convenience fee per boarding card.
What cheek! There’s also an extra element of public shaming and punishment: you need to visit a special kiosk to pay for your €55 boarding card receipts before returning back to the endless line to pick up your €55 boarding cards.
Tip 4: Google ‘The Who Cincinnati 1979’, then agree to pay more for a guaranteed seat.
Wait a minute. Let’s back up to Tip 1 and pretend you didn’t pull the trigger without your partner’s OK. And while we’re blue-skying, let’s say there were still some bargains when you both agreed together to modify your ideal plans to accommodate this outstanding bargain.
Now, want to sit together? You’ll pay more. The cheapest flights are festival seating — that’s first come, first serve — and people who buy the cheapest flights come very early indeed.
It’s worth it to choose the basic upgrade even if it inflates your dirt-cheap price by 100%. That’s still probably really cheap. The upgrade includes a piece of checked luggage (yay) with weight restriction (read on).
Tip 5: Travel light.
So, you’ve upgraded and both brought a suitcase. Pack less than you want because there’s a weight limit and a nasty charge if you’re a fraction of a kilo over it. Fortunately, if not mercifully, there’s an alternative when her hairdryer is two grams overweight.
Penalty 3: Pay more or parade your secrets before the world.
You don’t want to pay even more? Now, you’re dismantling carefully packed bags and trying (at the front of a long line of equally or more miserable victims) to balance the weight limit per piece of luggage. Consider. Vacations are a time to let one’s hair down. Many people bring their favourite party materials with them. If you don’t want your darkest secrets floating around Youtube for eternity, consider tip 5. Travel extremely light and avoid the issue.
So, it was expensive but you’ve finally got your boarding card and checked your luggage! Congratulations. Now it’s time for security.
Tip 6: Have a European passport.
A poster-child for the runaway success of the Schengen Area, Ryanair could only exist in Europe. Which is great for Europeans. My wife and kids have European passports. See them zip through the fast lane
If, like me, you don’t possess such a golden ticket, practice your deep breathing exercises and think of your happy place.
Or Penalty 4: Go to the Foreigners’ pre-security.
You’ll notice most security staff in these B-status European airports don’t give off the impression of being overpaid. Many treat all non-Europeans like terrorists. Be prepared to wait and wait patiently, while every passenger before you is scrutinized six ways from September 11 by would-be Jack Bauers itching to waterboard a smartass.
Meanwhile, tick-tock, tick-tock. This ain’t Air Canada and nobody’s holding the door open if you miss the flight
Finally, you present your Canadian passport which is likely to be sneered at. What possible threat are you, they stare accusingly. You’re waved resentfully through and left wondering why you had to jump through the extra hoops. You look and realize it was for the adrenaline! The clock shows you’re late and you sprint for your flight. You arrive breathlessly and the gate’s shut.
That’s because it never opened and is delayed by two hours.
Ryanair claims an excellent on-time arrival record, well in the high 90s if memory serves. Which only gives them leeway to delay even longer when things go pear-shaped, which I’ve had the ill fortune to see them do many times.
Tip 6: Eat before you leave for the airport.
So, you left early to get to that Podunk airport, stood in endless unnecessary lines, abased yourself publicly and blown big bucks papering over mistakes you made by not reading the fine print. By now any money you’ve still saved on a cheap flight starts to feel a graduation gift from grannie and you decide to kill time in the bar. The longer the delay, the more you spend.
Of course, now you’re hungry because it’s been a long day already and you haven’t even boarded — but you refuse to order the overpriced ‘burger’ which comes wet with a side order of regret. “Just overpriced beer, please.”
Finally, several drinks later, your flight’s boarding. You saunter past those monk-like early birds waiting patiently in the festival seating line to your guaranteed seat. They’re so cheap, you opine with miserable superiority!
Tip 7: Take a sleeping pill as soon as you’re seated!
Aboard the flight, you’ve never seen such naked flogging. From whorish perfumes to scratch lotto cards, everything’s for sale, but real estate is by far the most expensive item. Ryanair crams 189 seats onto their 737s. Sadly your ‘upgrade’ didn’t guarantee legroom. Your knees are where your hips used to be while your hips are displacing your engorged bladder. You worry it’ll cost €3 to use the toilet. Just north of your bladder, your stomach’s growling as the scent of freeze-dried noodles wafts through the cabin, a legacy of the previous flight and low standards in oxygen transfer. It’s all so awful. You gambled on a cheap flight and lost. Use this time wisely; make yourself unconscious!
By Steven Bochenek