(October 26, 2013 Update: Per this story in the Daily Telegraph republished by online travel news site Skift.com, on December 1st, 2013 Ryanair plans to substantially reduce the boarding pass fee referred to below. The airline also plans to cut some of its other fees as well.)
But if you bought a ticket from discount carrier Ryanair and didn’t print out your boarding pass before arriving at London’s Gatwick, Luton, or Stansted airports, be prepared to pay another 60 Euros (about $74) for the privilege of boarding your flight.
Here’s when the boarding pass fee is charged, and how you can artfully dodge it.
Pay to Board
Like many airlines, Ryanair charges what the industry calls “ancillary fees” for changing your ticket, getting a reserved seat, and checking baggage. But until I read a story by consumer travel advocate Christopher Elliott, I was not aware that Ryanair would impose a heavy 60 Euro charge for providing you with a boarding pass at the airport.
Is The Sky The Limit?
Is tacking on a boarding pass fee to the base ticket price fair to the passenger who, for whatever reason, shows up at the airport without a boarding pass? According to a January 2011, USA Today story, a Spanish judge said “No” and voided the part of the airline’s contract that imposed the (then) 40 Euro fee.
The newspaper said that Ryanair planned to appeal the judge’s decision. The airline is still charging for airport-issued boarding passes, and has increased the fee 150% since the passenger sued it in Spain.
The “Airport Boarding Card Re-issue Fee,” as Ryanair calls it, is not imposed if you booked your flight via the airline’s Website—at least if you printed out the boarding pass at a location other than the airport and brought it with you.
Click on “Fees” at the top of the Ryanair Website and you’ll find a table listing all of its optional fees, including the one for getting a boarding pass issued to you at the airport. Near the top of the table you’ll find “CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO AVOID PAYING OPTIONAL FEES”; if you do so, you’ll read that the “Airport Boarding Card Re-issue Fee – is avoidable by simply presenting your online boarding pass at your departure airport.”
The passenger mentioned in Elliott’s story said that while an e-mail he received from Ryanair before the flight reminded him that he could check-in online from 15 days to 4 hours prior to departure, it did not inform him that his wallet would 60 Euros lighter if he didn’t print out the boarding pass and bring it with him to the airport.
But some readers of Elliott’s story said that they had received similar reminders via e-mail from Ryanair that did state that the fee would be charged if the passenger had not printed out the boarding pass before arriving at the airport.
So it looks like Ryanair is being up-front about the boarding pass fee, not burying it somewhere on its Website where it can’t easily be found, and is telling passengers how to avoid paying it.
Dodging The Bullet
Okay, you are now forewarned: Fly Ryanair, don’t bring a boarding pass with you to the airport, and you’ll be nicked for another 60 Euros, per passenger. How do you keep those Euros in your pocket, and out of Ryanair’s?
Print the Pass
Most airlines let you check-in and print out your boarding pass no earlier than 24 hours before scheduled flight departure time. But Ryanair says you can do so as much as 15 days in advance, so you might be able to take care of that task before you leave home and head to London.
If you are staying in a London hotel, ask the front desk or concierge to print out your boarding pass before you check out.
Pick a Different Airline
If you haven’t as yet booked your flight from London to the Continent (or Ireland, or elsewhere in the U.K.), consider flying on an airline that won’t charge you for an airport-issued boarding pass. (Photo: Phillip Capper, Wellington, NZ).
But in order to compare apples-to-apples, and oranges-to-oranges, fare-wise, you’ll have to add up all of the optional fees that you expect that Ryanair would charge above its base ticket price, and do the same thing with fares quoted by other airlines.
Oh, and don’t forget that VAT (value-added tax) is probably going to be imposed on top of the base ticket price and the additional fees.
On my past two trips to Europe, my first stop was London. After a two day stay, I flew east to the Continent. The fares I was quoted for flights out of Heathrow ranged from reasonable to you-must-be-kidding-me-high, depending on the time of day I wanted to fly. Luckily for me, both times I was able to depart in mid-afternoon without paying through the nose to get to my destination.
If may turn out that even if you had to pay the boarding pass fee, Ryanair would still offer the least expensive fare from London to your destination.
“Swim” The English Channel
Your other option is to forget the plane and hop a train in London.
Remember Tom Cruise “flying” under the English Channel in the first Mission Impossible movie? You can follow in his footsteps by taking the high-speed Eurostar train from London to Paris or Brussels.
Eurostar ticket prices vary depending on class of service, whether the ticket is refundable, and other factors. The cost could be more, or less, than the airfare you would otherwise pay.
If you are an American, you can purchase Eurostar tickets from Rail Europe, and if you are using one of its rail passes for travel elsewhere in Europe, you maybe be able to get a discounted Eurostar ticket.