Ryanair Introduces a Thoughtful and Fair Carry-On Bag Fee


Maybe it’s just that we’re used to having fees slapped on haphazardly here in the US, but I find Ryanair’s effort to effectively introduce a carry-on bag fee quite refreshing. Instead of following the legacy US airline path of “no carry-ons allowed” for Basic Economy or putting on a high fee to bring one onboard like ULCCs in the US, Ryanair has instead done something thoughtful that even comes with some traveler benefits. If only we had that kind of ULCC here in the US.

Carry-on bag allowance has historically involved two things. First, you get your normal carry-on bag which can be up to a mid-sized roller. Second, there’s the mythical “personal item” which is supposed to be a briefcase, laptop, purse, or European carry-all. As long as it’s small and fits under the seat, you should be good to go. In the US, the personal item is still protected. You can bring one of those for free on any airline, but it’s the larger carry-on that has started incurring fees (or banned outright in the case of Basic Economy). In Europe, however, it’s gone the opposite way. Wizz is doing away with its fee for a large carry-on and is instead only allowing a personal item for those who have Wizz Priority. EasyJet has done something similar with a personal item only allowed for Plus cardholders, full fares, and extra legroom seats. It’s in this context that Ryanair decided to go in the opposite direction.

Beginning on November 1, every Ryanair customer can continue to bring on a personal item for free, but only those with Priority Boarding can bring on a standard carry-on. Here’s the full rundown of the change.

  • Customers with Priority Boarding can bring a carry-on bag. This is usually €/£5 per flight at time of booking or it’s included with some fare bundles.
  • All customers can still bring on a personal item.
  • For checked bags, the standard allowance will rise from 15kg (~33 lbs) to 20kg (~44 lbs) and the price will drop from €/£35 to €/£25 per flight.
  • If you have a bag that is considered carry-on size and you bring it through security even though your ticket doesn’t allow a carry-on, Ryanair will check it for free at the gate.

According to Ryanair, this is going to cost the airline €50 million in bag fees, so, uh, why do it? Well, the press release says it well.

As too many customers are availing of Ryanair’s improved 2 free carry-on bags service, and with high load factors (97% in August) there is not enough overhead cabin space for this volume of carry-on bags, which is causing boarding/flight delays.

Normally in the US, we’d just assume this is a lie and is bound to simply be a money-grab, but in this case, I think there is truth to this.

By tying it to Priority Boarding, Ryanair can board those people first and let them get their overhead bin space. For everyone else, it will be easy to spot bags that need to be checked (for free, remember) and then get people onboard more quickly without the hassle of checking bags after finding there isn’t any space onboard.

Will this improve the operation? Yes. And it should make for a nicer experience onboard since there won’t be jockeying for bin space. And while Ryanair may lose bag fees in the short-run, it’s also creating some real revenue opportunities here.

  • Priority boarding may only be $6 or $7 a flight, but it probably wasn’t nearly as important as it will be now that the carry-on bag’s ability to sit in the bin depends on it. I would expect much higher uptake of the Priority Boarding product.
  • If demand is really strong, then Ryanair can always increase the cost of Priority Boarding. That’s a potential future benefit since Priority Boarding itself should be more desirable and can command a higher price.
  • The value of the bundles immediately increases. People who wanted a checked bag and a seat assignment but didn’t care about getting on the airplane first may feel differently now. I would bet we’ll see increased upsell.
  • The disincentive to carry on bags plus the reduced cost and increased allowance of a checked bag may get people to re-pack into a larger checked bag and one personal item instead of a carry-on and one personal item. This should result in more checked bags.

The expected increase in revenue plus the operational improvement and efficiency is likely to eventually pay for the cost of lowering checked bag fees. So yes, Ryanair is being a bit disingenuous saying that it’s losing €50 million in bag fees, but really, why not get the marketing bump from that if you can?

Overall, this is a great way to implement a carry-on fee. I wish US carriers would take note.

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22 comments on “Ryanair Introduces a Thoughtful and Fair Carry-On Bag Fee

  1. What is a little inconsistent about this policy is that if you have a carry-on-sized bag, but want to check it at the check-in desk(because liquids, or something) you’ll have to pay, but if you can get it airside, you can check it for free.This leads to more unnecessary operations at the Departure gate, which they’re supposed to be trying to avoid. Aside from this, I think it’s a pretty good policy change.

    1. I agree. I’ve never understood airline policies that charge a fee for checking baggage at the ticket counter, but will do a free courtesy check at the gate. This penalizes people who play by the rules and further gums up the works at the gate. And althoff go I’ll probably never fly Ryanair, I like their effort.

      1. I think the policy makes sense for legacy airlines where a carry on would normally be free. The airline knows they don’t actually have room for everyone’s bags, so they offer to check bags for free that would normally qualify as a carry on. And I suspect they make the offer early before boarding so that they don’t have as many bags to deal with right at departure time.

        But yeah, it is basically a bad solution to the problem. If passengers could check a bag for free, more people would take them up on the offer and check the bag at the ticket counter and we wouldn’t have such a big problem with too many carry ons.

  2. Is Ryanair really just saving costs of baggage handlers by offering “free” checked bags to anyone willing to lug their bag to the plane themselves?

    1. Ryanair does not pay baggage handlers.

      They are paid by the tax payers because the airports need Ryanair.
      Ryanair says I come to your airport if it is free for me.
      And we ask your tax payers to pay fees for an advertising about this and this to our markeying subsidiary.
      This is a requirement to have our planes landing on your runway.

  3. It took Ryanair a long time to become this ‘thoughtful’. They are still mostly detested (while simultaneously carrying more passengers than anyone else!!)

  4. I agree, I really like this fee structure, as long as it is communicated clearly.

    $5-10 a leg to bring a carry-on isn’t expensive, especially when you sometimes have to wait 30+ minutes at the baggage claim for bags to come up. I see a lot of people taking Ryanair up on this offer, perhaps too many- they will have to be very careful how many “Priority Boarding” packages they sell, because if someone pays for Priority Boarding and is forced to gate check a carry-on due to lack of space it will be a HUGE service failure.

    Personally, I wish that airlines would apply the RJ model of collecting carry-on bags from the jetway before departure, loading them in the bottom of the plane, and returning them to the jetway upon arrival. The wait on that usually isn’t too long, and I prefer that over having to schlep a bag down a long narrow aisle of a plane. I’d love to see an airline come out with a pricing model where this service is free, but a carry-on bag is priced at $25 or $30, and I’d love to see what it would to do turn times. Sure, it might require a few extra rampers, but they are cheap.

    1. Easy to do on a small regional plane as people get outside and walk to the building, impossible to do with a enclosed jetway with a full 320 !!!

      1. I wouldn’t say impossible. It would be a very significant challenge, but I’m sure if an airline thought there were enough potential benefits (which, to be honest, there probably aren’t) someone could figure out how to make it work.

        For example, if planes were boarded from back to front, with the bags stowed accordingly (such that the bags for pax in the nose of the plane were the last ones into the hold, and the first ones off), the number of pax waiting for their luggage could be kept to a minimum if the airline had enough bodies tossing bags up to the jetway.

      2. At one point I got a magazine which included ads for ground handling equipment.. One of the items advertised was an elevator that’d be installed at the end of the jetway for a cart of bags.. The problem I think you’d run into is the number of carts it’d take for an A320s bags would be quite a few…

          1. Exactly. You get a few conveyor belts and a few people chucking bags for $3 over minimum wage, and that’s most of the resources (though not the processes) that you’d need right there.

  5. Is carry-on that big of deal in Europe. Last time I was flying intra-Europe I looked quite the American with my roll-aboard luggage. Was quite surprised how little luggage was actually schlepped on the plane. This was on AF and KLM planes so Ryanair may be different but I figured the Europeans just were accustomed to still checking bags.

    1. I’d agree and extend that conclusion to most of the rest of the world. Other countries have more reliable, faster baggage delivery at the end of a flight. Americans have become conditioned – and then averse – to 45-minute waits at a baggage carousel at the end of their flights. Consequently, many of them don’t want to check bags, even when it’s free.

      Contrast with the rest of the world where bags are almost always waiting for you on the carousel when you walk up to it, or begin coming out just a minute or two later. The rest of the world has figured out timely baggage delivery. The US has been terrible at it for decades, and then began charging extra for the same terribly slow, unreliable service. It’s no surprise vast sections of the traveling public don’t even consider it as an option anymore and choose to carry on instead.

      1. Alaska guarantees the bags will be on the belt within 20 minutes of arrival on the ground and despite being MVP and flying often, I’ve seen them miss it once, by two minutes, and the agent insisted on giving out mileage credits and free bag check vouchers even though it was just 2 minutes! If AS has figured it out, why can’t the rest of them?

    2. Remember, Ryanair’s policy for years was to encourage people to bring hand luggage onto the aircraft and do away with hold luggage. Now that it’s affecting their departure times and boarding, they’re changing their tune. Pretty much a straight business decision. At one point Michael O’ Leary was telling passengers they didn’t need a hold luggage for a European holiday.

  6. “In the US, the personal item is still protected. You can bring one of those for free on any airline, but it’s the larger carry-on that has started incurring fees (or banned outright in the case of Basic Economy). In Europe, however, it’s gone the opposite way. Wizz is doing away with its fee for a large carry-on and is instead only allowing a personal item for those who have Wizz Priority. EasyJet has done something similar with a personal item only allowed for Plus cardholders, full fares, and extra legroom seats.”

    Isn’t that more customer-friendly? The US carriers allow you only to bring on 1 small bag (i.e. “personal item”), whereas European carriers (except Ryanair) allow you to only bring on 1 larger bag (i.e. “rollaboard”). If you wanted to only carry on a personal item in Europe, you could.

    1. A – Yes, it’s more friendly to allow a full size carry on than a personal item if you have to choose between the two.

  7. I am glad I got my PhD in Mathematics because that is what it takes to figure this out. It is getting really ridiculous because I fly a lot of different airlines and I can’t keep track of all this. I guess that is part of their strategy.

  8. Easyjet is already operating an informal version of this strategy. During pre-boarding, they count the number of large carry-ons and once past a certain number, they check all other large carry-ons for free at the gate. I would assume that with Speedy Boarding you also get your bag through but can’t say for sure.

    Agents are pretty adamant about it and it is always fun to be next in line after someone who thinks arguing is going to help. I suppose Ryanair’s goal may actually be to make the procedure more well-known.

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