Monday, February 21, 2011

The Ryanair Experiment

Balanzza: the best gift ever.
(Thanks, Mom!)
One of the very best gifts I have ever received is a Balanzza, an impressively accurate hand-held scale that lets you weigh your suitcase before you get to the airport; allowing you to avoid awkwardly unpacking and repacking your belongings at the check-in counter when told you have exceeded the maximum weight for checked airplane baggage...a pre-Balanzza situation I've found myself in far too many times. Which is to say, I am the kind of traveler who likes to pack 20lbs of you-know-what into a 10lb bag.

And this is the reason that I have been utterly, completely terrified of flying Ryanair.

Ryanair is one of several low-cost airlines operating in Europe that lure passengers by offering ridiculously inexpensive flights. Then, they nickle and dime these same unsuspecting, unprepared travelers at every possible travel day opportunity with strict luggage restrictions, confusing rules, and hefty fines for forgetting things like printing your boarding pass at home. If you read the fine print, you'll be okay, but it is still a pretty intimidating process.

Flying in and out of Luxembourg is not cheap, however, so I knew that it would only be a matter of time before I had to figure out the deal with low-cost carriers in the region. And last weekend became the weekend that I would finally learn to overcome my fear of Ryanair. But if I can do it, you can, too. So, if you'd like to fly to or from Luxembourg on the cheap, read on...

On my Ryanair adventure, I flew to Rome to meet a friend who was in the city for work. An insane travel schedule prevented Nick from joining me, so I waffled back and forth for weeks about whether or not to flit off to Rome while he was busy working, earning the money I'd be spending on gelato and Limoncello. But then, my brilliant husband reminded me that I had all the time in the world (oh, the joys of being a house frau), so why not experiment with the cheap flights on Ryanair? Besides, he said, then I could blog about it.

So, I intentionally booked my flight to Rome from Brussels Charleroi (26,99€) and my flight home into Frankfurt-Hahn (34,99€), just to get the full experience. With taxes and unavoidable Ryanair fees, the total flight price came to 137,60€ - a bargain, especially considering that I booked the flight only four days before traveling. I booked bus transport via Flibco to and from each airport, then found a cheap bus that would take me from the airport in Rome to center city (Terravision, 4€ each way), where I would be able to take the metro system to my hotel. 

Once my itinerary was set, I printed out my Flibco and Ryanair boarding passes and stuck them in my passport so I wouldn't lose them. Ryanair allows passengers to check in for a flight and print boarding passes from 15 days out and up to 4 hours prior to flight departure. You will receive several pre-flight e-mails from Ryanair nudging you to print your boarding pass and reminding you of baggage restrictions before each flight. So honestly, if you're charged a fee at the airport for having to reprint your boarding pass or check a bag, you can't say they didn't warn you... 

I had decided to carry my bag on the flight to Rome, but added a checked bag (15€ if you do it online, in advance) to my itinerary for the flight home so I could bring back a few good bottles of wine. So, it would be only my outbound flight that I had to worry about when it came to weight and size of my bag...and it was finally time to face my packing fears.

Carry-on bags must weigh less than 10kg and be no larger than 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Weighing stations and bag size check stations are scattered throughout both airports, so you should expect to be stopped by a Ryanair agent who will weigh and check the size of your bag. If your bag isn't within the limits, they will make you check your bag; at the airport, you should expect to pay at least double what you would have paid in advance to check your bag (even more in high travel season).

Thanks to a tape measure and my beloved Balanzza, my backpack weighed in at 8kg and fit well within the size requirements. Normally I find myself at end of a vacation and, while happy that I lugged clothing and shoe options along, I'm a little disappointed that I've only worn half of what I packed and wonder why I bothered packing it all in the first place. But miraculously, when faced with the Ryanair 10kg challenge, for the very first time ever, I wore everything that I packed! Incredible. Maybe this discount travel thing is good for me? 

Booking Your Flight
To get started, you'll need to head over to the Ryanair web site to book your tickets. The closest airports offering Ryanair flights are Brussels South Charleroi Airport (CRL) and Frankfurt-Hahn Airport (HHN). Both airports are just over two hours away from Luxembourg Ville and can be reached only by car or bus.

The Ryanair web site will give you a great preview of your upcoming travel experience. Its colorful, busy design and flashing ads are designed to distract you from your main mission (booking a cheap flight) and divert your attention instead toward spending more money in the form of renting a car, signing up for a new cell phone plan, or engaging in a bit of pre-flight online gambling. Once you get on the plane, the sensory overload will continue: the flight is pretty much a flying carnival, complete with games (in the form of scratch-off lottery tickets for sale) fair food (overpriced beverages served in a smaller size than you'll expect, and pizzas, paninis and cheeseburgers on offer - yes, cheeseburgers - that a shocking number of people will actually purchase...and even eat), and entertainment, with opportunities to step right up folks and buy a Ryanair calling card or a new perfume sampler kit (who knew that people actually do buy things from the duty-free cart?).

Getting to the Airport
Once you've booked your flights, head over to the Flibco web site. The Flibco bus is an inexpensive bus service offered from Luxembourg that, each way, will cost anywhere from just 5€ (if you book in advance) to 17€ for Frankfurt-Hahn or 22€ for Charleroi. Buses leave hourly from Luxembourg Ville, around the clock. Worth noting: the bus to/from Charleroi is a direct drive on straight highways, but the road to/from Frankfurt-Hahn is hilly and winding with tight, if you have a sensitive stomach, be sure to sit toward the front of the bus on that route.

The Flibco bus was incredibly convenient and easy to use. Seats were fairly spacious and comfortable, and there was plenty of room for suitcases in the undercarriage of the bus. Chances are, your bus will be relatively empty on both legs of your trip. Flying out via Charleroi, I was one of five people on my bus; heading home to Luxembourg from Frankfurt-Hahn, there couldn't have been more than 15 people on the bus. (Flibco also shuttles passengers from Metz, Thionville, Arlon and Trier to/from Charleroi and Frankfurt-Hahn.)

The best part about living in Europe is the access to so many unique countries and cultures. Getting there isn't always cheap, but if you're willing to do a little legwork or travel a little bit off the beaten path, there is usually a fairly affordable way to get anywhere. (And I'll keep blogging about my travel discount finds so you have a little less legwork to do.) In all, I give high marks to Ryanair and Flibco: for the cheap price of seeing a friend at the last minute in an incredible city, it's worth the challenge (read: torture) of packing less than 10kg of clothes, toiletries and travel books for a four day adventure! Just be sure to invest in a good tape measure and a Balanzza.

Link Roundup

  • Ryanair
  • The Flibco bus, for transport between Luxembourg Ville and Charleroi or Frankfurt-Hahn airports.
  • The Balanzza, for sale on or other Amazon sites.
  • The Terravision bus, for transport from the airport to downtown Rome and several other cities where Ryanair flies.


  1. I fly into Hahn when I want to visit Luxembourg and have also used the Flibco service. it's really great and as you said so cheap if you book well in advance! Just so you are aware I didnt book in advance before and the ticket on the bus was €27 wheras the dearest it would have been online is €17 so worth booking in advance!

    also if you have an iphone, they have an app on that! so once you have money in your account you can book tickets whilst on the move!

  2. Hi Chele - thanks so much for sharing both the app recommendation and the fare you paid, I didn't realize the Flibco price was that high if you don't buy a ticket in advance!

  3. I didn't either until I had to get the bus one day and I hadn't booked it in advance! Huge difference between €5 and €27.

    The app is very useful as once you have credit on your flibco account you can just book tickets on the move and show them the ticket screen on the bus.

  4. Did anyone have a problem with luggage weight or size in flibco bus?
    I am going to Luxembourg this autumn and I am a little bit afraid about it, because I can take to my plane much more (both in size and weight) than what seems to be allowed in flibco bus...and I am not a light-packer :-)

  5. Hi Pavli - I have seen several people putting large bags into the undercarrier of buses. On the FAQ section of Flibco's web site, they say they allow one carry on and one checked bag, but they don't specify the size or weight of either. It might be a good idea to e-mail with the number of bags you plan to take and get something in writing from them so you know for sure...maybe if they know in advance, they can work something out for you? (And if not, maybe they can suggest a different service.) Good luck!

  6. Thank you Jessica!
    I have read in the general conditions on flibco website the size and weight of both types of luggage.
    I am just curious if someone has an experience like "they measure every suitcase" or preferably "they dont care at all" :-)

  7. Do not travel by Flibco, they cancelled our bus while we were in the queue after we had already bought a ticket, they said we would get a refund if we emailed them when we got home and they are now refusing!