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The ultimate survival guide for flying Ryanair

Sept. 22, 2019
12 min read
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Flying Europe's low-cost carriers can be daunting, but everyone loves the feeling of snagging a super-cheap fare — especially if you can avoid spending more in extras and fees than the price of your original ticket.

Although the (in)famous Ryanair has made traveling around Europe a possibility for many, if you aren't aware of the rules, you could be left spending double or even triple the ticket price on extras — or worse, be denied boarding. This survival guide will help Ryanair flyers know the rules and offers tips and tricks to survive (and maybe even enjoy) a Ryanair experience.

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Study your arrival airport

Ryanair is notorious for sending travelers to an airport in the middle of nowhere and classifying it as the nearest big city. For example, it lists Paris as a destination, but travelers unfamiliar with France may not realize that the BVA airport is in Beauvais, a 1.5-hour drive outside of Paris. So, if you want to see the City of Light, you should really consider flying another airline that goes to Paris Orly (ORY) or Charles de Gaulle (CDG).

The same is true with Milan Bergamo (BGY), a little over an hour by bus from Milan's Centrale station. Flying another airline to Milan Malpensa (MXP) or the even more convenient Milan Linate (LIN) is much simpler. Sure, Ryanair may have the less expensive ticket — but does the airline really get you where you want to go? Make sure to check Google Maps to find the airport before booking.

The good news here is that Ryanair can get you to destinations a little more off the beaten path. For example, the aforementioned Milan Bergamo airport is just a few minutes away from the beautiful Città Alta, Bergamo's stunning historic city center perched upon a hilltop. It's an idyllic alternative to the busy Milan.

You can also book a nonstop flight to Catania (CTA), one of Sicily's hubs, from Madrid (MAD) as opposed to flying Alitalia (at three times the price) with a layover in Rome. Perusing the Ryanair route map may encourage you to discover some unexpected and less touristy destinations for your next vacation.

Purchase checked baggage in advance

It's not uncommon for Ryanair passengers to pay more for their luggage than the fare itself, so make sure to familiarize yourself with the rules. Each traveler can check up to three bags weighing 20 kilograms (about 44 pounds) each. A 44-pound bag costs £/€25 (approximately $31) if purchased during the initial flight booking process, or £/€40 (around $50) if added online afterward. Rates at the airport desk are higher still and vary by route and season. Bags weighing more than 44 pounds will cost £/€11, or $14 per kilo, capped at 32 kilograms (about 70.5 pounds). An option to check a 10-kilogram bag (about 22 pounds) is now available, and prices range from £/€10 to £/€25 ($12 to $31) and it's also possible to check musical or sporting equipment.

Here are TPG's rules for checking baggage with Ryanair:

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  • Book and pay for your checked baggage when booking your ticket to avoid paying more later, either online or at the airport.
  • Always weigh your bag before traveling.
  • Pack a small travel scale to weigh it again before returning home.
  • Ensure your hold baggage doesn't exceed the maximum size of 81 x 119 x 119 centimeters (that's 31.8 x 46.8 x 46.8 inches).
  • Remember, travelers can share their purchased baggage allowance with other passengers on the same flight reservation when checking in together.
Pay attention to Ryanair's hold luggage policies in advance. (Photo by Marcoprati / Getty Images)
Pay attention to Ryanair's luggage policies in advance. (Photo by Marcoprati / Getty Images.)

Know the carry-on baggage rules

Passengers who don't purchase priority boarding can take one bag for free to put under the seat with a maximum size of 40 x 20 x 25 centimeters (15.7 x 7.9 x 9.8 inches). Priority passengers can take one bag to put under the seat with a maximum size of 40 x 20 x 25 centimeters, plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and 55 x 40 x 20 centimeters (21.6 x 15.7 x 7.9 inches). If you don't have priority boarding and you take a bag that's larger than 40 x 20 x 25 centimeters, you will be charged to check the bag at the gate starting at £/€25 (approximately $31).

Pay for your extras in advance

Besides making sure your luggage meets Ryanair's restrictions, it's a good idea to buy any other extras at the moment of booking so you won't face higher charges later. This includes, but isn't limited to, priority boarding and seat selection. Priority boarding starts at £/€6 (approximately $7.50) and allows you to board first, as well as take a carry-on plus a second bag (see size requirements above). This service is capped at 95 customers per flight, so if you think you want to add it on days after booking your ticket, it may no longer be available. If the service is sold out, the 10 kilogram (22 pound) checked bag may be the next best alternative option.

Some airports also feature a Fast Track option, which allows passengers to fast track through security in a dedicated lane. This service can be added to bookings (assuming you're departing from an airport that offers the service) starting at £/€4 (around $5).

Seat selection is also something best done ahead. Not only does it offer you a better choice of available seats (starting at £/€3 or $3.75, though extra legroom or front seats start at £/€7, or closer to $9), but it also allows you to check in online up to 60 days in advance, meaning you may even be able to print your boarding pass right after you book if the timing is right.

Consider a higher fare class

If you're planning on getting all the extras (seat selection, priority boarding and hold baggage), it may make sense to bundle it all together with a deal on a Plus or Flexi Plus fare. It could even be cheaper than adding all these things to your base fare separately. Plus fares include standard seat selection, free priority boarding and one hold bag. Flexi Plus fares come with seat selection, priority boarding, free airport check-in and flexible ticket changes, as well as Fast Track at participating airports and one checked bag. Ryanair also has special family fares if you're traveling with kids in tow.

(Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Ryanair Priority has benefits worth looking into. (Photo by Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.)

Buy a Family Plus fare if flying with kids

Ryanair does offer a special Family Plus fare, which includes:

  • Priority boarding, a cabin bag and a personal item
  • Two 20-kilogram (44-pound) checked bags
  • Free seats for children (adults will have to pay to reserve their seats)

TPG U.K. contributor Emily Kanders Goldfischer weighed the value of the Family Plus fare and deemed it a solid value if your family needs to check that much baggage. If not, it may be best to add the extras you need or 10 kilogram (22 pound) bags onto a regular fare. Note that while you must purchase a ticket for children 2 to 12 years, reserved seating is free for them regardless of purchased fare class, and adults traveling with children pay a reduced reserved seating fee start at £/€4 (approx. $5).

Parents traveling with an infant are not eligible for a Family Plus fare, and there is no cabin bag allowance for an infant (considered 8 days to 23 months old) traveling on an adult’s lap. But, a baby bag weighing up to 5 kilograms (11 pounds) with a maximum size of 45 x 35 x 20 centimeters (17.7 x 13.8 x 7.9 inches) may be carried by the accompanying adult in addition to their own cabin bag allowance. When reserving seats, look for a baby symbol, which shows infant-friendly seats.

Related: How to get an upgraded experience on Ryanair

Correct booking errors within 48 hours

If you've made any minor mistakes during the booking process, like misspelling a name, you have 48 hours to correct it free of charge. After that, expect to pay between £/€115 and £/€160 for a name or spelling change.

Skip Ryanair extras

While Ryanair wins for flight prices, it's best to avoid purchasing extras such as insurance, hotels, transportation and car rentals through the airline, as the terms can be restrictive and not especially user-friendly. There are plenty of other places you can go to search for affordable hotels and rental cars, and you can often find transportation with ease once you've landed. This way, if your flight plans change or your trip is delayed or canceled, you won't also have to deal with Ryanair's complicated customer service and restrictions when trying to get your money back or rebook your hotel, car rental or bus ticket. Check to see if the credit card you're using to book offers trip insurance or trip protections of any kind, or be prepared to purchase travel insurance elsewhere, as claiming with Ryanair insurance can be a trying experience.

Check in online

If Ryanair travelers don’t check in online and print their boarding passes at home or download a mobile pass (when available), they must pay £/€55 (approximately $68) to check in at the airport and £/€20 (around $25) to print their boarding card at the airport.

Travelers who’ve paid extra for seat selection can check in online between 60 days and two hours in advance of the flight. Those with unreserved seats can check in between 48 hours and two hours before the flight. If you have paid for your seats and it's within 60 days, you may as well check in and print your pass (storing it in a safe place) directly after booking. Or, immediately complete the check-in process on your phone.

Get the right stamp

Some routes require passengers who are not citizens of the European Union or European Economic Area to have their travel documents checked and their boarding passes stamped at the Ryanair Visa/Document Check Desk. This desk can be found in different locations depending on the airport, so leave enough time to find the desk, wait in line and get this stamp before boarding. If you're unsure if you actually need the stamp (certain routes require it while others don't), always double check. If you need the stamp but didn't get it, you will be denied boarding. And, just in case you thought otherwise: Ryanair does not care if you miss your flight. However, if you have been denied boarding and miss your flight because of an absent stamp or another travel document issue, you can call this number to argue with the company about it: 353-1248-0860. Best of luck.

Be prepared and manage expectations

If you haven't flown Ryanair in a while — or ever — you need to be prepared for what's ahead. You'll be charged for food and water during the flight, there are inflight announcements every few minutes (no, we don't want to purchase lottery tickets, Ryanair), your seat won't recline and people start lining up hours before boarding. Be prepared for airplane clappers upon landing.

A Ryanair flight flight between London STN and Madrid. (Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy.)

But if you pack smart, you can enjoy a somewhat more comfortable flight. Don't forget to bring:

  • Noise-canceling headphones
  • Snacks
  • Water (post-security)
  • A neck pillow, if you plan to sleep
  • A travel scarf or blanket, if you get cold

If boarding early is important to you, get ready to line up. Even if you have priority boarding, it's important to remember that as many as 94 other people will also have priority boarding, so plan to be at your gate with plenty of time, if you'd like to board first.

Ultimately, flying Ryanair is really about managing expectations. When you only paid $30 for your flight, you aren't having a high-end experience because you haven't paid for such luxuries. Take it in stride and try to relax and enjoy the flight. If it's important to you to have a less hectic, more upscale flying experience, stock up those points and miles and use them to book business class on a European full-fare carrier such as British Airways or KLM.

Read the fine print

Your Ryanair guide from TPG can help you navigate your next trip with the budget carrier, but airlines can change their rules at any time, so it's important to always read the conditions of your ticket before purchasing. It's also a good idea to know and understand your rights as a flyer in case of delays, flight cancellations and strikes. Above all, this guide should ensure you're prepared for your typical Ryanair flight and won't have to shell out for silly fees. And just remember, when the lottery ticket announcements are raging and your feet are squished under your personal item -- all that extra money you saved can go toward a fancy hotel room, shopping or dining at your destination.

Featured image by Alberto Riva