I have given in. Surrendered. Capitulated completely. To Ryanair.
Like many of you, I have been living in a state of almost constant warfare against the budget airline pretty much since its inception. Yet I can’t quite stop travelling with them.
I live in the north and we don’t get the same choice of carrier you get down south. If I want to go to Rome on any given day in the summer, for example, odds are I either go on Ryanair or via somewhere I don’t much want to go.
But I also have hideous memories of being left in boiling hot information-free corridors with small babies in Malaga. I can’t quite forget the time I forgot my boarding pass and had to pay an insane amount of cash to get it reissued at the airport. I can’t erase the misery of not making it to the front of the queue to board, back when you didn’t get an allocated seat, and having to ask the entire plane to Rubik’s Cube themselves around to get to sit next to my own kids.
And if I type Ryanair into my inbox, much of what comes up is failed attempts to get compensation for a lengthy delay in 2015. All this has long made it impossible for me to give the airline a penny more than I have to. Think no priority boarding, no luggage, no pre-booked seats and most definitely no Pringles on board. Ever. Until now.
Why? I still loathe Ryanair’s nasty system of making you pay extra for seats if you want to check in long enough in advance to print the boarding passes for your return flights before you embark on the outbound leg of your holiday. And I resent the general luggage confusion and costs. But I have finally realised that my own peace of mind is more important than a battle the budget airlines don’t even know I am waging.
So I buy the advance seat reservations. Both ways. I pay for whatever luggage means I won’t feel tense on the way to the gate – even if I end up with less than I booked. And while priority boarding still seems stupid (considering you’ve paid to book a seat with guaranteed cabin bag) I also now happily pay for fast track security. It costs £5 per head to not have to queue or (crucially) worry about time spent queueing. On a hot Friday, this can feel like something of a bargain. As, for that matter, can a few packets of Pringles bought on board to give everyone a break from playing Uno.
Cheaper isn’t always better when it comes to car hire
It isn’t just the budget airlines I have given in to. My surrender extends to car hire. After a nightmarish time with Goldcar a few years ago, I no longer ever go budget (here I do have a choice). I don’t want to walk a mile to a desk outside the arrivals terminal, and I don’t want to spend the two weeks after my holiday arguing about a £350 charge for a slow puncture.
I also don’t want to rent cars from companies that partner with the budget airlines I have to fly with – why stand in a queue with everyone else who just got off my flight? Instead I have upgraded to Hertz Gold and Avis Preferred (this is free to do). They have all my details in their systems already. Once I’ve booked online, all I have to do is turn up and go (you mostly get to jump any queue there is, or even skip the terminal desk and head straight for the car park).
This matters more at some airports than others – yes, Toulouse, I am talking about you. At Bristol airport last week, I had the keys in my hand after one quick flash of my driving licence. From landing in my pre-booked EasyJet seat to reversing out of my parking space took around 20 minutes. Bliss. You also get an automatic upgrade if one is available.
The big car rental firms are far from perfect, but they are certainly more satisfactory than some of the less well known. The last time I rented a car from Hertz, it had a dent in the side already. I had a tangle with a gate post and made that dent rather worse. They didn’t charge me. Others would have. Indeed, they often have.
The joy of American Express and packaged bank accounts
Hence my final travel capitulation – to American Express – which covers all my travel insurances. A good 70% of people believe they are better than average drivers. I am not one of those people. My platinum Amex (which charges a fee of £575 a year) covers all travel insurance (note: not anything related to pre-existing medical conditions) and all excess on car hire.
I’ve used the latter. I called them. They sorted it, with almost no admin involved. You can, of course, buy standalone excess policies for around £50 a year from a variety of firms and travel insurance too, but for me that’s just another thing either to forget or feel tense about.
Otherwise, there are credit cards and packaged bank accounts that come with insurance. Which?, the consumer group, has just done a survey of all of them. The top offer comes from Nationwide with its FlexPlus account – travel insurance, mobile phone cover and breakdown cover for £156 a year.
Second is First Direct’s First Directory account – all of the above but with a higher mobile claim limit (£1,500) for £180 a year, although you do have to put £1,000 a month into the account to get the benefits. As an extra, the platinum Amex also comes with two priority passes, each of which let two people into most airport lounges.
This is the kind of thing I would have dismissed as a pointless luxury a few years ago. No more. I travel a lot with my husband and children. They are always hungry. We could queue at Costa and spend £25 a go (feeling stressed as everyone’s blood sugar collapses). Or we could go into the lounge and not queue, not spend £25 and not feel stressed.
Finally, the card allows me to call or email the platinum travel people and get them to book my rental cars and hotels for me. That helps too. I have nightmares about forgetting to book my car with my Amex, crashing and not being insured. Get Amex to do the booking and that can’t happen.
It’s expensive – really expensive – at £450 a year and is soon to rise to £575. But as you might have begun to grasp, it is the kind of expensive that if used extensively translates into value. Or value to me anyway. No one enjoyed travelling with me during the long war of travel attrition. Things are better now I see travelling as part of the trip rather than as a penny-pinching battle around the trip. See you in the lounge.
• This article was first published in the Financial Times