Ryan Air: The Cheapest Way Thereby Tourguide on Thu 30 Jun 2011, 02 PM CEST, Views: 954
When traveling around Europe you have numerous options for travel. With wide open borders inside the EU the easiest thing to do is drive. Now gas (or petro as they call it here) is easily twice as expensive as in the States, but it is the most hassle free way to get around, clearly. The train system throughout Europe, however, is relatively cheap and convenient also. For a few dozen Euro you can buy an open ended Euro-pass (aka Eurorail) to travel around the continent at your leisure. Many a back-packing post-collegiate student has found the virtues of seeing Europe this way.
If you are in a bit of a rush, or do not subscribe to the philosophy that the trip is in the journey not the destination, there are slightly more expensive ways to get to you there faster. The 180 mph ICE train system can get you half way across Europe in 4 hours, but it can be $100 a ticket. For my money, I recommend trying one of the numerous discount Airlines in Europe. Now with the skyrocketing airfare (pun intended) Stateside there would be little comparison, but in Europe there are *true* discount airlines. Forget Southwest Airlines, or TED where you can travel for a few hundred bucks, here in Europe we have something even better …Ryan Air.
How about from Germany to Ireland for $25, or Germany to Norway for $40? Yes, now that’s cheap! Discount airlines around Europe really make country-hopping affordable for anyone, and Ryan Air is the benchmark they are all compared too. For the cost of a nice dinner you could be in Paris. Check out the sales they have going this month. It’s not uncommon to find fares for as little €12.
Now there are pros and cons to discount airlines. The pros are obvious, they are cheap and, as Ryan Air loves to point out, they have a 98% on time arrival rate. Smaller airlines only have a few dozen flights a day, so delays in one, don’t snowball into the rest like with large carriers. The cons are often not obvious and can be a real pain if you are not prepared or have not planned for them.
The first hassle is the nickel-dime effect. Ryan Air looks to make revenue everywhere possible, and these fees can add up quickly. Didn’t check in online or print out your boarding pass at home …that’s €20 euro. Want to check even a single bag? That’ll be €30 euro. Is your carry-on more than 15kg’s? That’s €10 a kilo over. Oh, and that purse or small parcel in your hand, …that counts as a carry on too. That’ll be extra. And your clearly over-sized (however underweight it may be) carry-on better fit in the display stand or its next stop fine-ville, …population you. Don’t want to check a bag, but still have liquids in your wash-kit, a few more euro will make that problem go away too.
Ryan Airs *very* strict regulations on what goes for a carry-on and low weight limits often leads to some very funny situations. Coming back from Greece earlier this year, the older couple in front of us got flagged for trying to carry on a second tote bag of tchotchkes they had purchased. After futily trying to argue that it didn’t count, they were forced to make room in their one allowed piece of luggage for the tote bag (and the ladies purse). In order to do this they had only one recourse …to go to the rest room to actually put *on* the extra displaced clothes. They came out (to much fanfare from our group) each wearing 3 extra shirts, 3 pairs of socks and 2 pairs of shorts. What a scene.
Having had a chance to hang out with the couple in Greece that week, Rachel and I went to friendly chide them about their new apparent weight gain, when two other folks in line said “what, you’ve never heard of the Ryan Air dress code?”
With that they each showed us the 5+ plus shirts they were wearing as well. The couple behind us jumped in saying “you think that’s funny, …you should fly during the winter time. People so puffed up in layers of sweaters they can barely sit down.”
Rachel and I laughed our loud, and they continued with “No funny is trying to go to the bathroom with 5 pairs of underwear on and forgetting about a pair!”
Hilarious. Well, where there is a will there is a way. I credit them with their ingenuity, if not unending desire to be cheap.
The second hassle is the constant selling you deal with. Flight attendants double as vendors on discount airlines, shilling everything from smokeless cigarettes to lotto tickets up and down the aisles the entire flight. They even get on the PA to announce the limited time opportunities of this latest offer. Forget about complimentary, well, …anything. Water, soda, snacks are all a euro here or a euro there.
And they are mean about it to. They’ll heat up a nice smelling calzone or breakfast sandwich and parade it through the cabin, the cheesy goodness wafting over you, …yah, that’s just unfair. Oh, and those late overnight flights that get in after midnight? They’ll leave the lights on the whole flight. How else can they hock their wares if you are sleeping?
There is one plus-up cost that I do see the benefits to though, and that is “priority seating.” You see another attribute of discount airlines is that they don’t bother with things like seat assignments. Yep, first come first serve. If you are in the back of the line on a sold out flight, you and whomever you’re with will be scattered across the plane crammed into center seats.
It is often a very turbulent scene of people making a run for it when they release us from the gate to make our way over to the plane (yah, forget about a boarding ramp) and climb the plane staircases in the front and back of the plane. The funny thing, though, is that people don’t *actually* run (that would probably trigger a stampede), but they walk as *fast* as they possible can without breaking stride. You know that ridiculous over-exaggerated walk where you kind of drop your body 2 or 3 inches to really get into it, hips flying left and right. Yah, imagine 200 people doing that, …what a ridiculous scene, I call it the Ryan Air hustle, look for it on dance floors and tarmacs all across Europe.
So back to this “priority seating” option. Purchasing this upgrade (about €8 roundtrip), allows you to board the plane prior to the release of the hounds. You have your pick of the plane seating (and the lucrative overhead bin space) prior to the complete anarchy of everyone else surging in simultaneously. If you’ve only spent $30 on your ticket, adding in another 12 dollars or so to this seems absurd. But, I tell ya, having been in the cattle call of people calling ‘dibs’ on seats 4 aisles away, all trying not to get stuck sitting next to the 300 lbs Italian man sweating through all 5 of his shirts is no fun. Particularly if you are traveling with others and you’d rather not get split up.
Maybe in my aging 36 years I’ve begun to get a bit curmudgeonly, but for my money $12 bucks is *so* worth the lack of aggregation. Plus there is something very Beetles-esque about being escorted out across the tarmac to the plane before everyone and climbing up those stairs with just a few others.
So lets look at our list of pros and cons thus far, …pros are cheap cost and well, that’s about it.
Cons are fees for every little thing, no free checked bags, and the barrage of things to buy in air. Not so bad so far, right? Well, there is still one more hassle associated with discount airlines that may change your mind. A hidden one that can completely ruin a vacation and break your bank if you don’t see it coming.
This possible deal breaker is the airport logistics itself. The biggest factor being …airport location.
Ryan Air often does not fly into or out of major hubs. They use those “regional” terminals nestled well outside city limits. Do your homework and find out how “regional” your final destination airport actually is. All the money you saved could go up in smoke if you have to spend €40 on a 30 minute taxi ride to get into town. Our $40 flight to Oslo last month suddenly didn’t look so good when we found out we had to take a $65 bus for an hour and a half to get to our hotel.
Talking with locals I’ve learned that many current Ryan Air airports used to be old US Army Base runways. Over the decades, as the US abandoned them and gave them back to Germany, smaller airlines, like Ryan Air, have bought them up and maintained them ever since. And one thing I know about Army bases is that they are as far removed as possible from major populations. This keeps costs and security concerns as low as possible.
Doing the math, Rachel and I have often determined we’d be able to save *more* money by renting a small Smart Car than having to deal with long taxi or bus rides. Of course parking fees can offset this at the hotel, so do your research and run the numbers *before* you leave.
The other major aspect of airport logistics are the intermittent flights themselves. Just because you’ve saved up your pennies and euro cents for a $40 flight to Venice does not mean you can just show up and by a ticket to leave today. Ryan Air keeps costs down by keeping flights full. They may only fly to and from a place once or twice during the work week.
For example, the flight I just took to Venice left on Monday and, even though we only needed a day or two there to complete our business, did not offer return flight till Thursday. Now, they do put extensive effort into sorting out flight schedules, and they are always in flux, but they are smart about it.
Flights to tropical destinations often offer a late Friday outgoing trip and equally late Sunday return trip. Ryan Air knows what the customers want and plan as best they can. Still, be careful about booking last minute fares out of town. Money saved can, again, evaporate if you are stuck paying for an extra hotel night you did not want, or plan for in your budget.
So there you have it, the good, the bad and the ugly of discount airfare. Are there other things to consider? Of course, there always are. Easy rebooking, coordinated layovers for continued travel to other locations and the subtle conveniences of going through larger, more professional carriers can all factor in. But if you know what to expect, are willing to put up with the hassle and, most importantly, *plan* appropriately discount airlines like Ryan Air can absolutely be the way to go.
We met several people who said they love using Ryan Air to fly in and out of someplace in a single day. Ryan Air does offer same day in and out weekend flights to some of its most popular tourist destinations like Dublin, Paris and even Morocco. Imagine taking a 45 minute 7am flight up to London for the day and taking a 10pm flight back. Its possible.
You would wake up and go to bed in your own bed, visit a major city in a foreign country, and pay less than $40 for the whole experience.
Looking over all the places Ryan Air flies to its easy to get swept up in planning exotic destinations on a shoe-string budget.
For instance, one day last January Rachel came into my office at the hospital and slumped down in the chair opposite me.
“Ron, I’m tired of freezing, I just need to feel the sun for a few days.”
So, …where can Ryan Air take you?