Any readers who are frequent partakers of the dubious benefits of budget airlines may be familiar with the curious activity known hereabouts as Ryanair Roulette. For those of you well-placed enough not to find your travelling selves regularly at the mercy of such beguiling demons of the skies, let me explain.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I travel to Derby from our haven of tranquillity in the Middle-of-a-French-Nowhere quite often. Nay – very often. And however many times I research the options, and try to think of alternative time/cost effective ways of making the trip, I am invariably drawn to the depressing conclusion that a Ryanair flight from Limoges to East Midlands will be the quickest and cheapest way to achieve my goal. I may despise the less-than-transparent pricing, and Mr O’Leary’s tireless sneakydom in pursuit of his aim to squeeze a few more spondoolies out of his credulous clientele at every conceivable opportunity, but the fact remains that, if you play him at his own game, it is still often possible to bag yourself a flying bargain.
With so many years of on-line booking experience under my oh-so-tight belt, I have become rather adept at getting myself from Limoges to Derby for less than the cost of a large Domino’s pizza. Of course I never check in luggage, or get priority boarding, or even buy coffee on the plane. And my travel dates can usually be fairly flexible. But there is more to getting a bargain than just cutting out the frills and travelling outside of school holidays. There is the very special Art of Waiting.
Received wisdom in the world of travel-booking tends to suggest that the earliest bird catches the juiciest worm. Special rates for advanced purchases abound. Everybody knows that the longer you leave it, the more it will cost. So if you have in mind a fixed date on which you want to travel, the sooner you get clicking on that credit card icon the better. Or NOT!
The thing about Ryanair (which is a thing which somehow manages to be a good thing and a bad thing AT THE SAME TIME), is that ‘special’ low prices can turn up at almost any moment. It’s really good, if you happen to have put off making a booking because you are an indecisive last-minuter with commitment issues, and then find that the flight you were going to book at £39.99 has suddenly dropped to £9.99. It’s really annoying if you find that the flight you did book for £29.99 (because it was the cheapest by far at the time, and you thought you should book early to ensure you got such a bargain) would have been £5.00, if only you had waited a couple more days.
Now of course this makes it sound easy. Obviously, one should never book in advance at the standard advertised prices. EXCEPT…. Sometimes the prices don’t come down. And sometimes they go up – surprisingly quickly. And sometimes they keep going up, and stay up and you can do severe damage to your person with all the self-kicking you get into, because really you should have booked earlier when the price was still reasonable. But then sometimes they go up, and up… and up some more, BUT THEN SUDDENLY GO REALLY CHEAP AGAIN!
So what is one to make of all this? Sensible people (aka Simon) will point out that, in the whole scheme of things, a few tens of euros really aren’t that important, and that one should just book the dates that work best and have done with it. And by “have done with it” I assume he means “For God’s Sake, once you have booked, JUST STOP LOOKING!” But for some reason I can never bring myself to do the sensible thing. For some reason, I seem to have to take a bit of ordinary cost-conscious behaviour and grow it into the proprtions of a fully blown OCD.
So here I am, having agreed with my offspring the dates for their proposed visit to our glorious abode in May, and assured them that I would take care of booking the flights, obsessively monitoring the fluctuations in the Ryanair prices for that period, and waiting to make my move. I am studying the prices before and after the desired slot, and tracking the wave of reductions as they inch closer to the target dates, waiting to pounce as soon as the drop hits. All the while knowing that there is a strong possibility that the next time I log on to the Ryanair website and laboriously work my way through the mostly indecipherable Captcha security system to view the prices of the day, I will be greeted with the heart-sinking sight of HIGHER prices, and the expletive-provoking realisation that I have got it WRONG.
I recall my father’s Saturday afternoons welded to the TV screen, with the horse-racing section of the newspaper (marked all over with black biro code) gripped tightly in his hand, phone on the table at his side. He was not really a gambler – he never had enough spare money to take any real chances. But he did enjoy a bet. And I wonder if the motivation for my current approach to booking flights springs from the same genetic pool of silliness. When all is said and done, it isn’t about the money. It is about the winning.