How to avoid Ryanair's latest charges

Ryanair has announced that it will charge for booking flights online with a Visa Electron card, which previously incurred no fee. But there is a way to avoid the charge. Ruth Jackson explains how, and gives five tips to cut the cost of flying.

If anyone ever deserved a visit from the ghosts of Christmases past, present and future it's Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary.

He makes the original Scrooge look generous. If he isn't suggesting that it is perfectly reasonable for people to stand up for a budget flight, he's on national radio muttering about charging them to use the loo in mid-air.

And not all his ludicrous-sounding ideas are just about getting free publicity a good few actually end up getting implemented. Just think even five years ago, would you ever have thought you'd have to pay extra just to check in for your flight? Quite.

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Anyway, this week O'Leary's been at it again. Ryanair has announced that it is to start charging people a transaction fee if they book flights with a Visa Electron card. What's wrong with that? Until now, using a Visa Electron has been the only way to get around Ryanair's extortionate booking fees. But from 1 January, you will be charged £5 per person per flight to book with a Visa Electron card. That's £20 for a couple booking return flights. Irritating, isn't it?

On the plus side, there is still a way around the fee. Ryanair can only get away with advertising their fares minus booking fees if they maintain at least one way of avoiding said fees making paying the fees technically a choice, not an obligation. So while they have cancelled the 'promotional offer' on Visa Electron bookings, they've transferred the offer to the Mastercard prepaid card.

These cards are similar to the Travelex Prepaid Visa Electron Card I have recommended in the past to avoid Ryanair's fees. You buy one, load it up with money, then use it like a debit/credit card. Sadly, there aren't any Mastercard prepaid cards that are free to use. But if you choose carefully, you can find one that will have you paying a lot less than Ryanair's charges.

There are two particularly cheap ones. The ICE Travellers' Cashcard is recommended by This card costs nothing to get but there is a 2% charge whenever you load money onto it, and a £1.75 charge when used at an ATM.

The other option is the Caxton FX Global Card, a favourite at The Guardian. This doesn't charge you anything for putting money on your card, but charges £1.50 per usage in the UK. So if you bought two return Ryanair flights you'd pay a £1.50 charge rather than £20.

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Five more tricks to cut the cost of flying

1. Don't pay for travel insurance you don't need. Some airlines will automatically add travel insurance to your order. If you already have cover, then make sure you deselect this. And even if you don't already have insurance, the airline's travel insurance is rarely if ever competitively priced, so buy your travel insurance elsewhere.

2. Cut the amount of baggage you take. For some airlines you pay for each bag put in the hold, so if there are two of you try to check-in just one bag between you, and put all the things you can't take into the cabin - liquids for example - into that bag. Then put everything else into your hand luggage. Just make sure your hand luggage isn't bigger or heavier than allowed.

3. Check-in online. More and more airlines are charging you for the privilege of checking in at the airport. You can avoid this charge with most airlines by checking-in online.

4. Bring plastic bags with you. Since the rules on carrying liquids were introduced, it's become a common sight to see airport staff handing out clear plastic bags at security for people to put their liquids into. But never ones to miss a money-making opportunity, some airports now have started charging £1 per bag. Take your own with you and you won't have to pay.

5. One of the big downsides to budget airlines has always been the lack of assigned seating. Families face a fierce battle for seats if they want to sit together. To avoid this, Ryanair and Easyjet offer priority boarding for a fee. But this fee often doesn't actually buy you much: I once saw all the priority boarders leave the gate first only to see them two minutes later on the bus that took us to the plane. No-one stepped aside to let them off the bus first.

One way around this is to only buy a priority boarding pass for one member of your group ideally the biggest, scariest looking person. Then that person can board earlier if possible and save seats for everyone else. But if you all get stuck on a bus and they can't get there first, at least you won't have wasted much money.

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Ruth Jackson-Kirby

Ruth Jackson-Kirby is a freelance personal finance journalist with 17 years’ experience, writing about everything from savings and credit cards to pensions, property and pet insurance. 

Ruth started her career at MoneyWeek after graduating with an MA from the University of St Andrews, and she continues to contribute regular articles to our personal finance section. After leaving MoneyWeek she went on to become deputy editor of Moneywise before becoming a freelance journalist.

Ruth writes regularly for national publications including The Sunday Times, The Times, The Mail on Sunday and Good Housekeeping among many other titles both online and offline.