Ryanair's $13 flights to Europe: All blarney

You might have read that the low-cost carrier Ryanair is floating the notion of starting flights between the United Kingdom and America for just $13 each way before taxes. The Irish airline wants to begin service between London and Dublin and New York City, California, and Boston for prices beginning around €10. The story, still not much more than a rumor since nothing has been confirmed, has floated to the top tier of the news ladder mostly because consumers could use some silver linings.

Even if the transatlantic flights happen (and starting up flights between continents is a laborious bureaucratic process that requires a lot more than simply renting gate space), don't count on the flights necessarily being a savings salvation. The no-frills Ryanair is one of the biggest airline names in Europe, yes, but it's also one of the most reviled, thanks to its lousy customer service and insidious pricing schemes.

Let's look under the hood at the real cost of Ryanair's flights. The carrier is always advertising its flights within Europe for similarly scandalous rates. But of course, when customers try booking the elusive €1 rate, they almost invariably find them sold out. That's because the airline allocates very few seats to the lowest price, and rates escalate dramatically from there. That's called lead-in pricing, and it's one of the most basic tricks in the travel-selling playbook.
Even when you score a cheap base airfare on Ryanair, you almost never get away without paying a lot more. Our domestic airlines, which are learning how to bleed travelers based on an array of new a la carte pricing, have a lot to learn from Ryanair, which nails customers for every little thing, often creating a bill that is comparable to those charged by airlines that are considered all-inclusive.

For example, let's take a typical flight on Ryanair's European routes. First, there's a "payment handling fee" to buy the ticket, which means that you must pay more to book with a credit card. That's €5 each way. Then there's a fee to check in at the airport, which is another €5. Want to check a bag? That's €10 as long as it weighs less than 15 kilograms, which is a mere 33 pounds. If you go over that, you'll be charged a whopping €15 for every kilogram (2.2 pounds) that you're over, so you can imagine how expensive that can get. Second bags are €20, as are third bags, and they're also subject to their own overweight fees. All of those charges are each way, so double them for round-trip.

At the bare minimum (checking just one underweight bag), you'll pay around $102 in fees for a round-trip based on the current Euro value of around $1.27. Let's say that bag is 45 pounds, though, which is an average weight for a bag (American Airlines, for example, allows for 50 pounds without fees). Adding that single standard bag, you'll pay $331. And that's beyond the base fare, tax, government fees (always big when you're talking about international flights), and fuel surcharge. Suddenly, that €1 fare looks an awful lot like the ones being charged by every other airline. Except you get no movies to watch en route.

Better not procreate, either, because infants under 2 cost €20 each way. And if something goes wrong with your reservation, there's a slew of other fees. Changing a flight costs €35, and changing your name is €100.

There's no reason to expect its charges to be any different if it starts flying between continents. In fact, they'll probably be higher. Many of these extra fees can be avoided if you're using Ryanair to jot between European cities because you can skip on big luggage, but if these $13 flights happen, you'll be taking it across an ocean and will probably need to pack accordingly. The baggage fees alone could put your total over the top.

In its early days, Ryanair lured Europeans with the siren song of lowball airfares, too, but with time, people wised up and realized that the only way to use the airline cheaply was to travel with no baggage and no expectations. Now that Ryanair is priming a whole new continent for its so-called low-fare planes, consumers need to know, off the bat, what to expect. Besides, our native airlines are headed this way, too.
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