Are low-cost airlines really… low cost?

Nathalie Bonney's picture

I recently had to book flights to Belfast for a friend’s hen do, and was pleasantly surprised to book fairly cheap flights at quite short notice. Of course I knew that the ‘total’ cost of flights I had selected would go up once the various charges and taxes were added but I went near apoplectic when I saw how much I was being charged for paying with my debit card.

In the days after booking the flights I played the ‘guess how much game’ with my friends and family: ‘guess how much Ryanair charged me for paying by debit card – go on guess!’ I could do the same with this blog but either I’d have to finish it now, which would make for a distinctly underwhelming part one and the potential part two really isn’t the kind of cliffhanger that warrants a long delay and ‘to be continued’ tag.

Suffice to say I was charged £10. A payment handling fee of £5 per passenger, per flight applies so one person traveling to and from a destination – ie me, will incur a £10 charge. On Ryanair’s website the airline claims the booking fees are “to defray the substantial administration costs we incur when processing credit and debit cards or ELV direct debits a handling fee applies to each passenger per flight segment.”

Funny though that if I pay for my weekly shop, a pair of shoes, my train ticket and pretty much anything else with my card I don’t have to pay a tenner for the privilege.

Apparently though, even in a group booking that uses just one card the information for each flight for each passenger is sent to Visa separately. If this is the case then I suppose its fair enough that Ryanair have to try and recoup the cost but investigations last year from the Times revealed that airlines are charged a set percentage of the total payment, which therefore has no bearing on how many passengers or tickets are booked. Hmmmm.

But anyway don’t worry about all this, in a gesture of extreme generosity Ryanair will not charge customers a fee if they pay by Electron cards – for a limited period. How good of them and how does that work? What is it about Electron cards that mean we don’t have to pay extra handling fees? I presume they are dipped in fairy dust and stamped (with the approval) by a unicorn hoof. Who cares, I just know I’m getting myself one before I book flights to the wedding. 

If only that was the end of my gripes with Ryanair and that was the only charge there was to worry about. But no, the airline has come up with an ingenious array of ways to squeeze extra juice out of its customers.

Checking in at the airport now costs more than doing so online and if you want anything more than hand luggage expect to pay a significant amount. One checked in bag will set you back £20, two bags £60 (you would have thought £20 plus £20 equals £40 but  apparently not in the world of Ryanair.) Check in three bags and you will have to pay £100 extra.

I avoided these charges by taking a small overnight bag and asking my friend in Northern Ireland to bring me a towel etc. but for passengers going on longer trips or families who need more than one bag, these costs aren’t optional extras. That means a family of four would be looking at having to pay £40 in card charges and then £100 for three checked in bags  – and that’s even before counting the cost of flights, taxes and the save the leprechaun fund.

Yet despite all this the airline is still in the news for its cost–cutting adventures rather than its cost–upping. Firstly there was the “pay a pound to spend a penny” plan. Apparently this would earn the airline an extra £15m a year; however technical difficulties have put plans on a standstill although the airline still maintains it will go through with the plan once they have worked out the logistics of attaching a credit card slot on the toilet doors.

Then at the end of last month Ryanair said they were considering the possibility of scrapping checking in bags altogether. Admittedly this would get rid of the exorbitant baggage charges and according to Ryanair save them approximately £17 million a year because they wouldn’t have to pay baggage handlers. But who really wants to drag their heavy suitcase onto the plane? It all smacks a bit of traveling on the train or the national express. Apparently Ryanair quite likes that idea though: their latest announcement sees the airline looking at introducing vertical seats – a bit like bar stools.

“Train, bus and underground commuters often stand for hours each day yet pay the same fare as those who get a seat. Ryanair passengers who are willing to stand on our one hour flights should be able to fly for free.” Says Stephen McNamara, a spokesperson for the airline. Great: so in addition to enduring sweaty armpits and someone else’s music tastes via their too–loud ipod every working day of my life, I get to savour the same joys going on holiday too.

Still all of the above are only works/thoughts in progress and it strikes me that Ryanair is rather more concerned with its customers buying into the image of it striving to shave off all unnecessary costs, while still coming up with a fair few charges.

OK I accept flying isn’t dirt cheap but seriously how many more charges can they come up with? Perhaps a charge to turn on or off the lights and air con switch above you, extra costs for traveling on a Monday because let’s face it everyone hates Mondays and double fare if you support a football team that plays in a red shirt. To counter these ridiculous extra costs future cost–cutting measures could include letting learner pilots fly the shorter routes and getting passengers to vacuum the plane before they leave. 

In the meantime I will make the best of things by checking in online, only carrying hand luggage and paying by electron.

Nathalie Bonney is staff writer at Moneywise.

Your Comments

you should read this !

Do budget airlines still offer the cheapest fares?

The problem then is - how to obtain a Visa Electron card. They're like gold dust!

I noted that upon abolishing airport check-in, they are now charging you for the priviledge of checking in for your flight online, which was previously free. Imagine prepaying a hotel room and then being charged a tenner to get the key for it upon arrival!

Also, if you pay for your three bags as an individual, your 15KG allowance does not go up. ie you pay for 1 bag weighing 15KG, each of your other bags will be charged for excess baggage in addition to the charge per bag.

Personally I wouldn't use them for Holidays. I would use them for a weekend break if they flew to the cities advertised, but when away for 2 days, I don't want to be travelling by bus for 2-3 hours to get to my destination.

How do you get an Electron card?

if the electron cards are such a moneysaver, perhaps you should run an article explaining all about the electron cards, including what they cost, where do you get them from, any hidden costs and are they safe etc etc.

You are quite right to go and get an Electron card, Nathalie. I keep meaning to do this (but still haven't yet!)and I think it's a smart move for anyone who takes two or more Ryanair flights a year. (Yes, they say "limited time" but they've been saying that for a while and I'm starting to suspect it's just to discourage you from getting an Electron card to use in place of your normal debit card).

But there's really no point in complaining about Ryanair's other slap-on charges. More passengers simply need to understand that Ryanair provides ONLY a very specialised service and that if they need more than a "bus with wings" (ie. they want to check -in in person at the airport, take checked-in luggage etc.), then perhaps Ryanair isn't the airline for them.

Not that there is a shortage of alternatives!

A cursory glance at the Northern Ireland Low Cost Airlines Guide ( reveals that Aer Lingus, bmi baby, easyJet, flybe, Jet 2 and Manx 2 ALL operate low cost flights from the UK mainland to Belfast and, depending on what kind of service you need, may be a better option than the-airline-everyone-loves-to-fly-on-and-complain-about.

It’s reassuring to hear I’m not the only one riled by these charges. Getting an electron card is fairly easy, though most current accounts don’t offer them as standard. 

Unlike credit cards, you don’t need to have a good credit history to get an electron card but most current accounts offer debit and visa cards as standards, which still attract high fees. Ask your existing provider if they can send you an electron card in addition.

If this isn’t possible you could open up a current account with the express purpose of using it to pay for flights. Halifax’s Easycash account doesn’t offer any interest or overdraft facilities but comes with visa electron cards. The basic bank account doesn’t require monthly funding so you only need to keep £1 in the account so that it doesn’t close. It also accepts direct debits and standing orders so if you are a regular flyer you could set aside a small amount of money to come out of your main current or savings account to fund your ‘airfare account’. 

Ryanair have another totally 'immoral' way of getting money out of you. We flew to Dublin 2 weeks ago, flights were booked in January and at the last minute they (Ryanair) changed the timings of the flights making them very inconveniently timed. If you agree to the change you click on an online link. However, if you want to change flights you ring an 0870 number - no-one there but it redirects you to an 0900 number. For ringing this you pay £1 a minute, therefore by keeping you hanging on for 30 mins for a change they instigated they earn £30! unbelievable

I had to shop around as not many banks offer an Electron card but Co-operative Bank provide one with their current account.

Ryanair must belong to the magic circle as they are master conjurers.On a recent flight the cabin attendant( steward?) refused to convert sterling to euros on a purchase as in his words 'exchange rates don't apply up here!' how arrogant can they get??
I have complained to Ryanair but am not surprised that I have yet to get a response.
They don't like complaints - prefer to ignore them but my patience has run out. Brilliant service at one time but they are now just taking the'mickey'

I'm glad that the Ryanair bubble is starting to look as though it's ready to burst. People are gradually getting wise to the sneaky methods O'Leary and his cronies think up in an ongoing deception to make people think that flying with them is always cheap.

The Times article mentioned above is excellent and proves that all is not as it seems with the Loco airlines. There's a lot to be said for good old BA and the like. No, I don't work for an airline but I do have a good appreciation for the true cost of operating one and it's far from cheap with paper-thin margins. The sooner all of us realise that flying for pennies is a ridiculous and unsustainable (and non-existent) notion then the sooner we will be able to return to the days of quality and luxury. I say that unashamedly, because flying is and should be a luxury.

I do not need a visa electron card or other currently advertised accounts and credit cards to avoid Ryanair’s extra credit card charges/fees, if I had the facility to pay for the product I buy by cash or another option without paying extra fees on the credit card. Changing accounts, waiting for approval, passing on all my personal information again, costs money, time and is just tricking me into another deal.
But Ryanair and now more other companies do not offer the cash or other facilities without extra charges anymore. It is not negative for the consumer, not to have not cash payment option, but it’s not fair, only to be able to buy the product with added extra charges!!!
This is why Ryanair has been taken to court by the German VZBV, where the judge ruled, that the praxis of adding these charges is illegal. The consumer should have the right of buying a product without paying extra/hidden charges. Read more on the website of the
Federation of German Consumer Organisation including public court order:
with kindest regards

You can often save the 0870 number by going to "say no to 0870" and they will often have the landline number and sometimes EVEN AN 0800 number! Not sure about Ryanair as have not looked.

RE: Customers being forced to call expensive 0870 numbers. There is a cheap & perfectly legitimate way around this - check the Ryanair website for their contact number to ring if you are from ABROAD (it should display a 0035 number which is an Irish number). Go online and check the cheapest LANDLINE dialling rates for calling Ireland - usually, this will involve ringing a 0844 connecting number, followed by the Ryanair 0035 number. Calls can be as cheap as half a pence a minute, thereby dramatically reducing the cost to you, although in principle I agree that Ryanair shouldn't be profiting at all from this.

Alan L is absolutely right in pointing out that Ryanair simply isn't for everyone: they provide a basic, cheap-ish but reliable service, and take 'No frills' VERY seriously. If you want better customer service, and flexibility in your flight bookings, best to go with another airline!

I got an Electron from Halifax bank. Go on line and request one. No cost , but they will ask you for some confirmation as to who you are etc etc.
I use it often on Ryanair and have no problems.

We have just been over to Dublin to visit family, and flew Ryanair from East Midlands. My husband flies about 6 times a month and uses Ryanair probably about half of that time to fly throughout Europe. He just takes on carry on bag and does a web checkin. He booked the flight in a hurry and we didnt read about the changes they have made, so we assumed that as usual if you have a bag for the hold you have to checkin. Big expensive mistake. We flew from East Midlands and checked in our 1 bag, We were given boarding cards and advised that when booking in future you are now able to checkin online even with a hold bag.

On going to the checkin desk at Dublin, we were refused a checkin and informed that we had to checkin on line, and print off our boarding pass. We were told that if we wanted to fly with them we had to pay 40 euros each (80 euros in total) because we had not checked in on line and printed off the boarding pass. The Ryanair staff were really unpleasant, so much so I wonder if they are chosen for their manner. I wonder are they getting some cut of the extra money we had to pay.

As we were boarding everyone was told that they had to put everything into their carryon bag, including any duty free they have just bought, and the bag must still weigh 10 kilos and no more. Now I know about the carry bag having to have everything in it including your handbag camera etc., but Duty Free, who would expect that to have to fit that into the bag. A lot of people were caught out on that, and I cant say whether any of them had to pay extra.

On top of it all the flight was 1 hour late in leaving. It all left a very bad taste and a feeling that I dont want to fly with them ever again.

Re the cost of calling Ryanair its not the 0870 numbers that are mega expensive, but in the case of Ryannair its the 0900 that they make you call instead. This extortionate fee is as dear as any chatline! (£1 or 1.25 euro). When you call them because THEY are messing you about with timings it should surely be a norma telephone call!
I think I will complain to Oftel which is the regulatory body for telephones. Presumably BT is getting a kick back as well.

I long ago decided that life is too short to deal with totally cynical rip-off people!

As a result I have never travelled with ryanair and never will.

Being patronised and provided with a rotten service does not appeal. I would rather stay at home than put any money into o'leary's pockets.

I had a Visa Debit Card with my Abbey Current Account. I just went in to my local branch and asked for a Visa Electron. Having been told it was a backward step in the debit card stakes, I was given one no problem. I am led to believe that not all banks deal in Visa Elctron cards

I recently obtained a Visa Electron card by opening a basic bank account (easycash) with Halifax. This can be done online. Good luck

Although I sympathise with you as your flight was delayed, regarding all of the other complaints you have mentioned these facts are quite clearly displayed on the booking form before you submit to make your payment.
I know we don't always bother to read all the bumph but clearly in the case of Ryanair we need to.
I fly with Ryanair between Stansted and Newquay on a regular basis and rarely pay more than £25 for a return flight which includes on line checkin, one piece of hand luggage travel insurance and taxes. It would cost me double that in diesel to travel one way by car and take twice as long.
I really cannot complain at that and I have only experienced one flight delay in 4 years and that was due to the poor weather conditions in Newquay.
I am afraid that in this day and age you get what you pay for and I have been extremely satisfied with my dealings with Ryanair, and no I am not employed by them I just have relations in Newquay and Essex.
I have used Ryanair for travel to Dublin as well and again have no complaints.

Its easy just open a Halifax Easycash account and you will receive your visa electron card within 2 weeks of providing the Halifax with correct ID. You only need to keep a pound in the account to keep it open, no cheque book though.

Go to the Halifax Building Society. It is very easy to obtain a visa electron account. Just keep this topped up by enough to pay for your flights. I have been doing this for the past year.

Halifax still do an account with an electron card.
The account is called easycash.

I was due to fly out to Belfast and Valencia in June but suffered a heart attack a week before and could not fly. The hotel refunded my booking returning the deposit within 2 days (Travelodge) Ryanair were not so forthcoming, they said that any refunds would all be swallowed up in Admin fees and the e-mail came back I would receive no refund, not even the taxes , charges and fees, which is weird as I never flew. Everone should boycot them for a week , they couldn;'t give a fuck if I was alive or not. Complete set of bastards .

Visa electron cards are easily and quickly available by applying (online) for a Halifax Easycash account. I had my card delivered through the post within a week.

There has to be sufficient funds in the account to cover any purchase amount though.

On Ryanair flights we usually take just hand luggage (10kgs each) and return with checked in bag/s. This means booking two seperate flights which incurs a £1.50 charge for the return flight (for changing the currency to GBP, I think). The return checked in baggage cost is 10 euro as opposed to £10 but allows us to include any liquid holiday goodies.

It is worth remembering that the permitted hand luggage dimensions are a quite generous 55cm x 40cm x 20c. Lots of people have problems because they are carrying different dimensional cases that are usually a lot smaller but chunkier than those measurements.

Liquids, pastes and gels in hand luggage have to be presented at security in a clear resealable bag of 8" x 8" so take them with you already placed in one or you will be charged an extortionate £1 to purchase one at airport security.

The best way to beat the Ryan Air add - ons is not to travel with them. If people stopped travelling with them, Mike O'Leary would be forced to change his policy and make his airline more user friendly. His airline is run to increase his profits - he is a business man after all, but if travellers hit him in his pocket, there would definitely be a change of policy. People prefer up - front pricing.

Mrs H, Southport.


I fly with Ryaniar alot and after having read your story following your heart attack and them not refunding you I am simply appalled!


I now am thinking of travelling with other airlines as Ryanair are starting to charge for every little details including, excess baggage, online checking, paying online by debit card etc, and I heard they were going to charge people for using the toilet!!!!


Its a disgrace!  Why cant they also do a set charge for the flight including all booking fees when we originally search online so there are no hidden fees at the end, cos quite frankly it is wrong! 

I think WatchDog should investigate them and they should appear on TV and explain what all these hidden charges are for.


Also Im not a great fan of the cabin crew and their manners.  They can be quite abrupt with passengers!.

I use Ryanair all the time and mostly only pay £1 or £5 per flight each way . stop moaning and play them at their own game

I'm absolutely sick and tired of any company that quotes one price then adds on lots of charges that are not known in the first place.

I feel so much more comfortable being given an all-inclusive price from the outset.

For that reason, even though i travel a lot, I never use the websites of Ryanair, Easyjet and similar organisations. As a result, i get what I consider to be a good service, without problems, at a fair price.

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