Bougie on a Budget: Can Flying Ryanair Ever Be First Class?

Being from Philadelphia, we sometimes call Ryanair the SEPTA bus in the sky. If you’re unfamiliar with SEPTA, you can pretty much replace that with any major city’s public bus system. It’ll get you from Point A to Point B, but it’s definitely not luxurious.

Many times, however, Ryanair is the cheapest option and definitely worth it for a quick 1-3 hour nonstop hop in Europe. The seating is tight (with no recline) and you’ll have to board from the apron — often via shuttle bus. But can you actually make the experience a little more bougie? Our quest on our last trip was inspired by Nicky from The Points Guy UK to see if we could create a first class experience on Ryanair. Here’s how we did it and what we thought of the experience.

Add All the Add-Ons

If you’re wondering how Ryanair turns a profit with such low fares, there’s a lot that goes into it, including the use of cheaper airports on the outskirts of town. Another way is the upsell. The basic fare will get you a seat on the plane and allow you to bring a very small personal item to put under the seat in front of you. If you want to put a bag in the overhead bin, check a bag, or even check-in at the airport, you’ll have to pay extra. The longer you wait to make those purchases, the more expensive it gets.

Waiting to board on a chilly London morning

You’ll also get a random seat assignment if you don’t purchase a seat selection in advance — and you can guarantee you will be assigned a middle seat until they are all full. Pro tip: If you’re willing to gamble, wait until the last minute to check in, so that perhaps the middle seats will be taken, and you’ll get a window or aisle.

For our trip, however, we selected all the add-ons except for the checked bags and in-person check-in options. So, that means we purchased the fast track lane through airport security, priority boarding, carry-on bags, and seats in the extra-space area at the front of the plane.

Although Ryanair doesn’t offer airport lounges, we did have access to the Escape Lounge at London Stansted with our Priority Pass.

All of this made for a smooth experience — but you should note that half the passengers usually have priority boarding, so it still feels a bit like a cattle call.

Purchase the Middle Seat (Too)

Some European airlines, like Icelandair and Turkish, offer a true business class seat for intra-European flights, which is similar to U.S. domestic first class.

More often, flying business class in Europe just means you’ll get economy seating at the front of the plane with the middle seat blocked off for extra space and comfort. You’ll also get perks like fast track through security, lounge access, and meal service — but the price probably isn’t worth it unless it’s part of a bigger long-haul itinerary.

We decided to duplicate the typical Euro-biz-class for our Ryanair experience. We already purchased the fast track through security and priority boarding, and to make the experience more “first class,” we selected the bulkhead seats and purchased the middle seat in between us as an “extra comfort seat.” You can read more on how to do this with Ryanair, here.

Not so bad with an empty middle seat!

This gave us plenty of space for the 3-hour flight. And we were really happy to see that the flight attendants kept the first overhead bin reserved for passengers in the bulkhead seats. Also, not all airlines’ bulkhead seats are created equal. These were surprisingly good. Row 2 D, E, and F have plenty of legroom. Row 1 on the other side, however, is a little awkward because it’s right next to the door and across from the flight attendants’ jump seats.

Row 2 bulkhead legroom

Treat Yourself to a Treat

No first class experience is complete without a glass of champagne. So, we each purchased a small bottle of Prosecco along with a sandwich, water, and snack.

The sandwich wasn’t the best, but it satisfied our hunger for the journey. And the Prosecco, of course, was perfect.

Please accept this stand-in photo to represent lounge and flight Prosecco (bonus points if you know what lounge this actually is)

Cost Comparison

So what’s the difference in fare between the basic Ryanair ticket and our upgraded service?

Basic fares on this path from London to Palermo range from $20 to $80 USD for a one way. On our day, it was $24.50.

The upgrade to include priority boarding, a carry-on bag, and a free seat selection brought the total to 46£ or about $55.

The premium seat selection was comparatively pricey for the bulkhead row: $25. So that’s up to $80 now.

The middle seat cost $58, so we’ll allocate that as $30 per person for the two of us. That brings the tally to $120 pp.

The fast pass cost 7£ or $8.50 per person, meaning our total is now $128.50

Finally, our food and beverage purchases came out to $20 each. So let’s say the total “first class” add-on experience cost $150 per person for a one-way, 3-hour flight. That’s $125 more than the original basic fare in a middle seat with only a personal item and no perks or priority.

That’s still a good deal compared to the only other nonstop flight to Palermo — on British Airways — which started at $320 for economy and went up to $500 for business class. Keep in mind that flying out of Stansted on Ryanair might cost a pretty penny just to get there. While Uber would’ve cost $90 total or $45 pp, we could not secure a ride for our early morning flight, and the taxi cost $200 total or $100 per person. Comparatively, tickets for the London Heathrow Express costs $25. But even when factoring in all the costs, it was still less expensive to fly Ryanair with all the add-ons than British Airways on their lowest fare.

But Was It First Class?

Well, first class and business class products run the gamut from luxurious lie-flat seats and fine dining options to merely a blocked middle seat and a ham sandwich. The Ryanair experience was definitely comparable to the latter but absolutely more enjoyable than the basic budget option. Whether it’s worth it will depend on your budget and preferences. For us, it was definitely worth it, and we would fly Ryanair this way again in the future. Especially coming from the U.S. where we don’t have extremely low-cost options, this flight was pretty bougie for the price.

Free Bonus: Outstanding View of Swiss Alps

It’s also worth noting that the boarding process and service was excellent on this flight, and that goes a long way, too, as far as the experience goes.

Our upgrade to United Polaris Business Class on the way to London was even more bougie!

Have you flown Ryanair? What was your experience like? Let us know in the comments.

One response to “Bougie on a Budget: Can Flying Ryanair Ever Be First Class?”

  1. I love love this! I’m hesitant to fly them because I love the recline. But this makes a difference!

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