Idiot’s Guide to Ryanair vs Easyjet
You either love them or loath them, but whatever you think, Ryanair and Easyjet are here to stay for the foreseeable future. Ever since no-frills airlines proliferated in Europe more than a decade ago, it has profoundly changed the nature of travelling. Holidays are now affordable to everyone, and technically speaking with Ryanair’s 1p fares it was possible to fly somewhere and back for, well, almost free.
But over the years no-frill airlines have turned to more drastic and nasty measures to make money from their flights. Need a bag? Pay extra. Forgot to do your online check-in? Pay even more. Need to use the toilet? Pay £1 still free, for now.
So out of the no-frills carriers, what do you need to know about them to make a decision of which one to fly with? This “Idiot’s Guide” article aims to present the essential information and features of the two biggest budget airlines flying out of London, Easyjet and Ryanair, and compare and contrast them.
> Departure Airports
Both Easyjet and Ryanair fly out of all three secondary London airports: Stansted, Gatwick, and Luton. However, Ryanair has most of its flights out of Stansted, while Easyjet have most of the flights out of Gatwick. In terms of getting to each airport from London, most are about an hour to an hour and a half away from London, but the means of getting to them are different. National Express and other coach companies run buses to all three airports 24 hours a day from central London. For Stansted and Gatwick, you can take the Stansted Express train and the Gatwick Express train respectively which takes about 45 minutes. In addition, there are cheaper, but slower, trains to Gatwick and Luton Airports. Easyjet also run their own bus service (called EasyBus) to all three airports from various pick-up points in central London.
In terms of facilities, all three airports are roughly the same, with the usual WH Smiths, coffee shops, and duty free shopping inside. None are particularly comfortable, although Stansted is rather big and offers more shops than the others.
If you are flying off early in the morning (e.g. 7am flight), the choice of airport is very important, as you have to find a way to get to the bus/train departure point. The TFL JourneyPlanner is very useful to figure out night journeys. The key thing is that a journey that might have only taken like half an hour by Tube might end up taking more than an hour by several buses.
Ryanair’s prices are usually cheaper than Easyjet, but you have to be careful as they have started charging a £5 online check-in fee (but you can’t opt to not pay it, as online check-in is compulsory). They also charge more for baggage (£10 for one piece instead of £8 for Easyjet). In addition, unless you use a Visa Electron card Prepaid MasterCard (from 1st January 2010), they will charge you a £5 “card fee” for each flight segment. So booking return flights for a couple, paid for by a credit card, will end up incurring an extra £20 in card fees.
One way to get a Visa Electron card is through EntroPay, where you can set up a “virtual” card, load it, and use it to book flights in Ryanair. You won’t get a physical card though. The other way is to get a Travel Money Card from the Post Office, which can be used offline as well as online.
It is much harder to get a Prepaid MasterCard than it was to get a Visa Electron, and for most infrequent travelers the cost will just not be worth the hassle. However, for those that travel often, the upfront card fees, loading fees, and transaction fees might be worth the cost as you will still save money. One of the most trusted providers of a Prepaid MasterCard is Virgin Money, more information on getting a PrePaid MasterCard from them here.
Both Ryanair and Easyjet automatically stick on extras like baggage, travel insurance, and speedy boarding to any flights chosen. So if you don’t require these, make sure you remove them before the check-out. Generally, extras such as travel insurance, hotels, and car hire will be offered. However, they rarely offer value for money and you can definitely get each of the three much cheaper purchasing them on their own. One good place I recommend to get your travel insurance from is Columbus Insurance; you can order online and your insurance is immediately active, and they are usually one of the cheapest and provide comprehensive coverage as well.
> Arrival Airports
Be careful and make sure you double-check your arrival airport. In many cases, budget airlines fly to a secondary airport, which might be much further than the main airports for a city. For example, Ryanair has flights to “Venice”, but the airport it flies to is Venice-Treviso, which is actually about 2 hours by bus to the centre of Venice. The main Marco Polo Venice airport is only about half an hour to the city.
At almost every airport that Ryanair and Easyjet fly to, they have arrangements with a local coach company to bring you to the city centre. In most cases the drop-off point will be the train station. However, sometimes these coaches are quite expensive, up to about £10 for a one way trip, and might take up to 2 hours or more. However, the coaches are always timed so that they are there and waiting at the airport for each flight, so at least you are guaranteed that you won’t have to wait around long for the next coach.
Neither Ryanair or Easyjet offer free check-in hold luggage. Ryanair charges £10 per bag, while Easyjet charges £8. Ryanair has a check-in hold baggage allowance of 15kg, while Easyjet’s limit is 20kg per person. It is highly advisable that you book your luggage fee in advance online, as it costs much more if done at the airport. If there are more than one person traveling together, on Easyjet you are allowed to pool your baggage allowance (i.e. so one bag can be 25kg for example), but on Ryanair that is not possible.
Both airports are also very strict about the weight and will start charging even if the bag is half a kilo over the luggage weight allowance.
Both airlines offer one free hand carry bag. In addition to a bag size restriction, Ryanair limits hand-carry luggage to only 10kg, while Easyjet does not have a fixed limit, but it should not be so heavy that it is not possible for one person to lift into the overheard compartment locker onboard the plane. In addition, a handbag is counted as one hand carry item, and any other plastic/shopping bags, even airport shopping bags, will be counted as a piece of hand luggage! If you find yourself at the boarding gate with more than one hand-carry luggage, they can store it in the airplane hold for you but it will cost extra.
Because the fares are cheap, they are non-refundable and usually a steep charge to change them. If you miss your flight, you’re out of luck and will have to buy a brand new ticket, often at a very exorbitant cost at the airport ticket counter. The tickets can be transferred to someone else’s name, but again for a fee.
No-frills means absolutely no-frills, with no seatback TV, complimentary drink or food, and not even magazines (apart from the airline’s own one). Its not so much a problem because the flights are short, but occasionally there are delays in lift-off and so you should bring at least a snack on board the plane and a bottle of water just in case. You can purchase drinks and food on board the plane, but they tend to be very expensive.
What are the seats and economy-only cabins like? Well, for one, the seat width is a bit smaller than traditional airlines, and people with long legs will find it hard to squeeze the legs in the small space. But for a short haul 2-3 hour flight, the seats provided are decent. There is no entertainment sets, video screens, or audio/radio on board either. The quality of the seats depends from aircraft to aircraft. On one Easyjet flight, I could barely sleep as the headrest cushion was so thin that it gave me neck aches. But on the return flight it was really comfortable.
Seat assignments are free-for-all, which means that if the flight is packed and you are the last to board, you might be stuck in the seat right at the back of the plane next to the toilet. You can pay for speedy boarding, but in my opinion it is not worth the money; just make sure you’re at the boarding gate with at least 45 minutes to spare, and start queueing up in front of the boarding gate to get your pick of seats. Frequent travellers can sign up for Easyjet Plus, a membership scheme where you get unlimited Speedy Boarding per year, on all your flights. Sadly, its not a frequent flyer program and you don’t get any other miles, rewards, or points.
> Tips to get the lowest fares
The fares normally increase in price the closer you get to the date of travel, with the most expensive fares 3 weeks or closer to the date of the flight. However, booking way in advance does not guarantee that you will get the cheapest fares. Ryanair and Easyjet do frequent sales and promotions (almost weekly), where fares are sometimes slashed to 1p (Ryanair) or £10 (Easyjet). Normally these sales are for flights that are 2-3 months in advance, so I suggest you wait until around then to book your flights and wait patiently for offers.
In addition, I have often found flights by traditional airlines to be cheaper than these no-frill airlines, especially closer to the date. Sometimes you see ridiculous prices on Ryanair like £150 one way, and the reasoning is that they might only have 1-2 seats left and know that very close to the flight time there will always be someone desperate to buy a ticket. Traditional airlines don’t employ these tactics so even when their flights are rather full the prices of the remaining seats are still realistic.
Flights on Friday evenings, Sunday evenings, and Mondays are more expensive than flights on other days. Very early morning and very late evening flights are also cheaper, but bear in mind that the savings might not be worth the interruption of sleep or extra travel time needed to get to the airport or back at such hours.
I hope you’ve found this guide quite useful, and overall, I would choose Easyjet over Ryanair any day if the prices were similar for a flight. However, with low-cost flights you have to do your research and don’t forget to check out other smaller low-cost airlines as they might fly the route that you want.
You should also check out normal airlines, as sometimes they run promotions and offers that might make the flight prices more comparable to budget airlines. Flight comparison sites to check include Expedia, Opodo, and Lastminute.com.
Article last updated 11th May 2010
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