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Comment: The great Ryanair debate

‘To care or not to customer care’, that is the question posed by Steve Endacott

Like many UK travellers, I hate Ryanair with a passion after a litany of Covid-19 dirty tricks.

Be it broken cancellation buttons, understated brought forward balances or a rip off £95 amendment fee per flight seat, not to mention refunds that never seem to appear in your bank account, the budget airlines doesn’t sit well with me as a customer.

However, when booking flights to Andorra for a new year ski trip, Ryanair had the best schedule and a £30 per seat lower price. So now I’m faced with a dilemma. Do I risk booking with Ryanair now Covid-19 disruption is easing?

I’m ashamed to admit that you can guess the outcome, but it does beg the question: What is the real benefit to airlines like Jet2 and easyJet of doing right by their customers?

I personally think the answer depends on what product the airlines intend to sell moving forward.

Business travellers spending company money are more discerning and will pay a premium to fly with easyJet, while using their annual speedy boarding pass to book their preferred seats, carry extra hand luggage and avoid the worst queues.

However, leisure travellers booking a quick city break or a week away in Spain often regard flights as a bus service, booking the cheapest option relative to the flight times they want.

Brand loyalty rarely survives even a £10 differential, with sites like Skyscanner and Google actively promoting mix and match flying between different airlines.

Ryanair is the ultimate no-frills airline, with a brutal attitude that says the lowest price wins and customers can be stripped of as much money as possible during a pandemic downturn, as they have short memories. Unfortunately, my own experience shows Ryanair is probably right.

It is interesting to see Ryanair’s eastern bloc equivalent, Wizz Air entering the UK departure market, targeting easyJet routes but avoiding Ryanair. They clearly believe easyJet is a softer target that can be taken on with the weapon of price, which is ironic given this was how easyJet drove British Airways out of Gatwick.

I would argue Jet2 has ringfenced themselves from this battle, having driven their in-house holiday operation to 60% of volumes and up to 80% on beach routes. Brand value definitely does matter in the holiday sector, when the tour operator is responsible for the whole holiday experience. Few customers would ever book a Ryanair holiday!

Jet2holidays has also successfully integrated into the wider third-party travel community, being the go-to holiday company for most high street retailers. They provide seats to many dynamic packaging players now they have removed API fees, unlike easyJet which still damages relationships with a £12 per flight seat, or £24-30 price disadvantage, compared to customers buying flights direct.

Doing the right thing and protecting your brand during a pandemic for me makes total sense, but I’m not convinced that in the bus route world of flight-only that customers’ brand loyalty is worth the investment.

easyJet offers a brilliant service and has a mega-brand but need to use this to rapidly grow its easyJet holidays division to complement its strong business travel presence.

Competing directly with Wizz Air and Ryanair in the brutal flight-only market may not be a winning strategy.

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