I frequently have friends and family looking puzzled when I tell them about my bargains. In fact they often do not believe me until I show them my booking confirmation. Here is how I book cheap or free flights on Ryanair:
1. If you see a Ryanair advert (press or tv) offering free/reduced tickets immediately go to their website www.ryanair.com - time is often critical as the company will offer limited reduced fare/free seats, and once they're gone the price of seats increases based on what's left. In order to get the lowest possible fare, or for free you must get in there early. It's also useful to keep checking their website a couple of times a week if you have time.
2. Have travel dates that are convenient for you jotted down so that you know what you are aiming towards. This need not necessarily be "holiday" time off from work. The reason being that Ryanair fly regular services often at quite convenient times from major and regional airports. Therefore, it is useful to keep in mind flights departing Friday evening and returning late Sunday (for example).
3. Break the mould with your choice of airport. Those of you in the south of England , you have an array of options, don't confine yourself to your nearest or most familiar departure point. This goes for Midlanders as well, overlook Birmingham and take advantage of the give-aways at East Midlands. Ryanair receives a lot of stick for its "regional" airports, but this is largely their competitors feeling the pressure. In reality these can offer a close, cheaper and convenient alternative to major international hubs.
4. My Irish tip: If you want to go to Ireland, Ryanair is ideal. They fly in and out of Belfast and Dublin 2-3 times a day from most of their UK bases. If you are first in the queue for low fares or free tickets you can quite reasonably fly into Belfast/Dublin on their first flights of the day (often departing around 6am), have a full day in these cities, and return on the last flights of the day (11pm). This is also an ideal long weekend option with late night Friday services (after work!) and late Sunday options (back before Monday!) as well.
5. My sunshine/culture getaway tip: Mainstream destinations such as Barcelona, Prague, Berlin etc will be most in demand so you need to be on the ball. Ryanair generally only fly once a day to these destinations (from each specific departure point), so you cannot daytrip unless you leave from one UK base and can afford to return to another (or fly onward). This is because generally flights "turn around" and do the return leg immediately after arriving that day. What I recommend you do is to look for long weekend options. Look from your departure airport of choice from Friday evening until Sunday evening flights (for example) - but of course you can tinker to your hearts content based on your requirements.
6. How do I scour for these free/cheap flights? - Whilst the Ryanair website is pretty straightforward, you do need to know how to look. There are some disadvantages, perhaps deliberate on the part of the airline, such as no comparison feature (between airports and destinations), and no way to store or "add to basket" whilst you browse to save/discard later. Therefore you have to do some good old fashioned searching through their system. Deals will often be displayed on the main page through a prominent flashing banner on the left hand side, clicking this will bring up bigger airports Ryanair operate out of such as "London Stansted" etc. Note by scrolling down you can select other "bases" - by clicking on these you can see the deals relative to the lesser used departure points. Alternatively you can search between fixed dates, ideally you will be flexible, but if you have to work around holidays etc you might have to pay a premium to get the best deal.
7. Perseverance - What I do next is scroll until I find the first departure I can make for any free/cheap flights. I then make sure that the outbound date is tomorrows date, and the return is the furthest allowed under any offer currently running. Sometimes Ryanair automatically add this to the search form. I then try and line up on the top row cheap/free flights(outbound) against the bottom row cheap/free flights (return). There might be multiple options to choose from using this method. Try and keep the return date a mimimum of a week ahead of the outbound as you search as the system seems to choke on this, and line it up when you find an outbound you fancy. I generally just work my way from the first available departure scouring for deals until I find something!
8. Time - Ryanair have multiple UK bases that might be convenient for you, and also numerous destinations that you may wish to try. Searching through all of these flights will take time - but if you want a freebie, then surely it's worth it? The trick is getting in there early when the offers emerge so that there is less searching to do.
9. Being adventurous - The airline flies to many places I'd like to go, and a whole host more I've never even heard of. If you stumble across a freebie or really cheap flight, Google search the destination and see what there is to do in and around the area. Katawice anyone? Simply put, aside from the more obvious places, why not try out something different or use the cheap/free ticket to get to an onward destination? In fact this is probably one of the biggest untapped ideas, getting out into East Europe and then continuing a journey (such as a world tour) via train or plane from destination to destination.
10. What to look out for? - When there are offers running, the applicable tickets will usually have no taxes, charges or online check in costs applied to the price. Be aware that even a £3 ticket can jump massively when all of the fees are added. It is a common misconception that you have to wait until the end of the purchase to see this, when in fact it is displayed in full view whilst you are browsing your flights. Just clicking on a flight will re-total the cost. Note when there is a specific offer on (e.g. 4.99 each way) this will be the total cost. Naturally you should ensure that you print your tickets to avoid the £40 charge and travel light (under 15kg) to avoid having to pay to check a bag in. That aside, your biggest outlay will probably be parking your car at the airport - unless you catch a train or hire!
11. Book immediately - Do not go to the trouble of finding your free or cheap ticket and then decide to email your friends, family about it, or worst of all, sleep on it. You will discover the tickets have been taken advantage of or have been snapped up in the time you have been procrastinating or congratulating yourself about it.
My most recent victories? I have free flights to Belfast, Dublin and Barcelona - so it can be done! Let me know your successes or if you have any tips to add!