Friday, June 12, 2009
Cheap Travel in Europe is not always cheap...
It seems like only yesterday that we arrived here in Berlin consumed with thoughts of low-cost travel between different countries in Europe. We dreamed about how easy it would be to jet to Paris, Rome, and London for a weekend and with NO JET LAG!
There are many ways to get around throughout Europe. My favorite website so far to find these great deals is Skyscanner. Skyscanner looks at most of the airlines including the low cost ones which Kayak leaves out. You can even look at a month at a time to find the lowest rates.
We have flown with many of them and had no problems so far. We especially love EasyJet. Early boarding for parents with small children, easy to understand website, and those hip orange/brown clothes that their flight attendants wear are very eye-catching!
One of the other main low cost airlines is an airline called Ryanair. Even though we have heard horror stories about Ryanair, we have flown Ryanair a few times and haven't had any problems.
In buying with Ryanair, we know how to play their game; get there really early and be pushy and aggressive so we can have seats next to our son!
PROBLEM #1: No seat assignments and no early boarding for families.
I really hate this strange personality trait that only comes out when I am standing in line at a Ryanair terminal. However, I want our family to sit next to each other and I don't see any other way around it. I know you can purchase priority seating so you can stand in the line but if you are flying Ryanair to begin with, aren't you trying to save costs???
Here we are flying on Ryanair flight with some friends of ours after getting to the airport very early so we could all sit next to each other. Notice there are no seat pockets.
We haven't had any problems with said airline until now.
Cue to present time...we decide to make another reservation. Ryanair has the only direct flight into this city. As we are deciding which airline to fly, we conclude that time is most important when traveling with toddler and book with Ryanair. After inputting our credit card number, we receive an error message. (The Scientist who is quick thinking, took a screen shot of the error message.) When I check my email, I realize that they have booked us on a flight that originates from a separate destination.
PROBLEM #3: The Ryanair website crashes...often!
I don't have any clue why this might have happened. I did have other browser windows with Ryanair open (I often do this to compare times & prices for flights) but both the Scientist and I double checked to make sure we had the correct time and place.
PROBLEM #3: When problems occur, there is only a very expensive phone number to call with limited opening hours.
Since we made this reservation on a Saturday, I tried to find an email or phone number to contact them but the call centers were not open on weekends and only between 9 and 5 during weekdays. The lines were also busy. It is now Monday and at .62 cents per minutes, I am not willing to wait for a representative for more than 15 minutes at a time.
I found plenty of websites devoted to this issue when I did a google search on Ryanair website problems or Ryanair locked website. In short, I am not the only one with this problem.
I have also compared prices. I believe Ryanair's marketing strategy is something like Walmart's. They have a reputation for being the cheapest but sometimes are not the cheapest!
Problem #4: Beware of hidden fees on Ryanair!! They are NOT always cheaper! (even if they appear to be)
And with all of their added fees such as baggage, online check-in, and passenger handling fees (what the heck is that for???), they are NOT always the cheapest. I often end up making an excel list of the different airlines with all fees included (also including transportation considering Ryanair often flies into cities that are quite a distance from the city you want to be in!) and found they are not always the cheapest. For example, I found a British Airways flight to London was cheaper by about 40 Euros. If you don't know British Airways = fancy!
I could go on but someone much more articulate than I (and with journalist's credentials) also wrote up some of the problems with Ryanair here. And Ian in Hamburg also wrote up his opinion of Ryanair here (also with creds!)
In summary, I would say that if you have no problems, they are fine for getting people from Point A to Point B. However, I don't believe you can clearly know whether or not you will have a problem with them! (i.e. website crashing). When there are problems, they will end up costing you a bundle! Any other experiences out there? I know J, another expat in Germany, seems to have had some good experiences with them. Here is another blogger who had a similar problem but also was not as happy about it.
UPDATE: After waiting 20 min for cust service at .62 cents/min, they agreed to do absolutely nothing. I think this is going to have to become a credit card dispute. Oddly enough, the customer service in Germany is only in English.