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.