Lately, Ryanair has changed the way it sells flight tickets by introducing assigned seats. But if you understand their algorithm, you can still get your desired seat for free! I studied their booking process during the last few weeks by gathering statistical data and analysing it. After understanding how their engine works, I will teach you how to get your desired seat on any Ryanair flight for free.
June 2017 update: It seems Ryanair has changed completely the seat allocation algorithm since 15 May 2017. So the algorithm below is not valid anymore. I started analyzing the new algoritm, but as of now I haven’t finished it, so I can’t publish it. It seems that the seats are allocated on columns (letters) rather than rows (numbers), in the order B, E, C, D, A, F. I don’t have yet the rows order. I will update you in the following days. In the meanwhile, you can check Roberto’s comment which seems correct.
April 2015 update: Ryanair has changed the seat allocation algorithm and the premium rows. According to my analysis, the new row allocation order is:
33, 20, 19, 22, 15, 24, 12, 26, 10, 28, 8, 30, 18, 21, 14, 23, 11, 25, 9, 27, 29, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 17, 16, 31, 32. The order in which seats are allocated on each row seems to have remained the same,
but it’s not sure whether they consider the interval between seats C and D as a “separator” or not (as one couple reported to have received the seats C+D). I am trying to build a tool to “predict” the seats that will be allocated next, hope I will have the time to finish it and announce it here soon!
November 2015 update: The free Priority Boarding is now offered only to the paid Front Row & Premium Seats (rows 1-7, 16-17). If you manage to get a Premium/Front row seat for free (as explained in this article), it will not include Priority Boarding, but you will have to do the check-in in “Other Q”.
April 2016 (small) update:
During free seats allocation, if only the A and B seats are taken and a group of 2 persons does the check-in, Ryanair will not allocate the C+D or D+E seats, but will allocate E+F, keeping this way the C+D seat pairs available. As far as I saw, the C+D pairs are not allocated to groups of 2, even when there are no 2 seats together in the standard seats area. Instead of allocating the C+D standard seats to a group of 2, Ryanair prefer allocating premium seats. (not valid starting August 2016)
June 2016 (small) update: During free seats allocation, if on the current row only one of the D or E or F seats are taken and a single person do the check-in, Ryanair will not allocate the A seat (first from left to right), but will allocate one of the available seats between D-F, keeping this way the A+B+C group available.
If you have flown with Ryanair lately, you should know that the company offers allocated seating on all their flights. You can book your seat during the flight booking process or via Manage Booking, or even during check-in, for a 4-10 euro tax, depending on the seat. If you don’t book a seat, one will be automatically allocated to you during the check-in phase. Ryanair says that it randomly allocates seats if you don’t purchase them. Is this true, or is it just a marketing strategy to force you to buy? Let’s see.
During my research, I analysed the order in which seats are allocated, regularly checking the Ryanair website in the days before departure. I took snapshots of the seat allocation map, and below you can find the snapshots for a flight from London Stansted to Milan Bergamo. By comparing multiple flights, I noticed that the airplane got filled in a precise order, without leaving empty seats. This helped me conclude that the allocation is not random; instead, it follows a precise algorithm. And if you understand it, you can choose your seat for free by doing it at the “best check-in time” instead of having to pay for it.
My analysis started 15 days before the flight departure, when online check-in started, but I noticed almost no allocation up until 10 days before departure. Starting from day 10, the maps started showing some unavailable seats, which were either purchased or were freely allocated during check-in. The first 5 rows, the last 2 rows and the 2 emergency exit rows (16 and 17) are called premium seats (costing 10 euro/seat) and are not freely allocated at this stage, remaining available for passengers who are willing to pay.
The first allocated seats were always the seats in the middle of the cabin, behind the emergency exists: rows 18 and 19. Then, Ryanair continues allocating seats from the middle of the cabin to the back of the plane and to the front of the plane, one row at a time: 15, 20, 14, 21, 12, 22, etc. I have to note that the allocation process takes into account families and tries not to split them in different rows. For example, if there is only one seat available in the current row, and a family of 2 does the check-in, requesting “random seating,” they will be given seats on the next available row and the empty seat will be allocated to a passenger travelling alone. Ryanair also claims that it tries to help families who have been allocated seats randomly and in different rows, which is a very nice thing.
As the plane gets filled, when there are around 10 empty “regular seats,” Ryanair starts allocating the unsold “premium seats.” The company does this so that passengers who still want to purchase seats can choose between the cheap regular and the expensive premium seats. The first premium seats allocated for free are the seats in the 5th row. There is not much difference between the 5th row (premium) and the 6th row (regular), so they prefer to offer the 5th row before the 6th.
In the back of the plane, row 29 is almost always left empty, until there are no other seats left to allocate. The last 2 rows (32 and 33) are premium and are also left empty until the last passengers check in.
The premium seats plus rows 6 and 29 are the last ones to be allocated for free. So, if you want to grab a premium seat for free, you have to wait and do the check-in only after the regular seats have been allocated. The more you wait, the better your chances are of getting a good seat. However, don’t forget that online check-in closes strictly 2 hours prior to the scheduled departure, and you also have to print the boarding passes and go to the airport.
What is the order in which premium seats are allocated?
First, Ryanair flights do not always sell out, so there might be some seats left empty during the flight. Also, if there are passengers doing airport check-in, you have to do the online check-in before them, so you’ll be allocated a seat before them. But if there is no passenger doing online check-in, and the flight is full, according to my observations, the premium seats are allocated in the following order:
- Premium seats in the front (rows 5 to 2)
- Premium seats in the back (rows 32 to 33)
- Premium seats in the middle – with extra leg room (rows 17 to 16)
- Premium seats in the front – with extra leg room (row 1)
Do travellers really pay for allocated seats?
Yes. While I can never be sure that a seat was “randomly allocated” or “paid for,” in some cases, it is obvious that a seat was paid for. Around 5 to 10 seats in each plane are not allocated following the above-described algorithm, so they are most probably paid for. Some are reserved during the booking process, but most of them are allocated during check-in.
Which seats do people pay for?
Generally, passengers pay for seats with extra leg room (rows 1 and 16, sometimes also 17). Apart from these, I have often seen the seats in the 6th row being blocked early, so people must be paying for these seats, too. They are considered regular but are in the front of the cabin, so they give you a notable advantage by letting you be among the first passengers to get off the plane. This way you don’t have to queue for passport checking (when travelling outside Schengen). That said, this is an advantage only if you don’t have checked baggage.
How can I get a seat in the middle of the plane?
Do the check-in as fast as you can! The online check-in can be made up to 15 days before departure (note: it starts at midnight, not around your flight time). Do it then, and you will surely get a seat in the middle of the cabin, probably in rows 18 or 19.
How do I get a seat next to an exit (front or back doors)?
Do the check-in late, between 24 and 2 hours before the scheduled departure. According to some observations, the last rows to be freely allocated are 16, 17 and 29, in this order. You may not find 2-3 seats together in these rows, but if you are travelling alone and are booking 2-3 hours before departure (you may use the Ryanair app for this), this info may be very useful to get an extra legroom seat for free.
How do I see which seats are allocated and which are still available?
You can see the allocation map by starting another booking on the same flight. After selecting the flight, you will see a page with various options, among which is “Reserved Seats.” Click on the “Choose Seats” button, and you will see the allocation map, just like in the snapshots in this blog post.
What if I prefer a window seat?
No problem! Keep in mind that seats are allocated on a “per row” basis, and inside a row, they are allocated from left to right (from A to F). So, you just have to wait till there are 5 seats taken in the current row (A to E), and immediately after that, you can do the check-in. This way you will get the F seat of that row (next to the right window)! Alternatively, you can wait for it to be taken, too, and you get the A seat of the next row (next to the left window).
Is there a way two people who booked separately could be seated together?
First of all, in order to have a chance, you have to do the check in (almost) at the same time, otherwise there is no chance that you seat together! You can do it by using 2 different browsers/computers and check in simultaneously. If you can do it, there are 2 ways of making sure you get seated together:
1. (recommended) – do the check in exactly when the check in period starts! That is exactly
7 days 4 days (as of 1st November 2016) before the flight date, at midnight (UK time). In order to fasten the check in process, you can fill the passenger details at any time before this moment. This way, you will most probably be allocated the seats 18A and 18B, over the wings (if they are available). So you will stay together.
2. (only if you really hate row 18!) – you first have to understand the “allocation algorithm”, as described above. Identify the current row and check whether there are any empty seats on the already allocated rows.
- If there are, you will (probably) be allocated those seats, so you will NOT be seated together. So you have to wait till these empty seats get filled.
- If there are no empty seats on the already allocated rows AND there are 2 seats available on the current row, you will be allocated those 2, go for it now!
Keep in mind that as the plane gets filled, the chance of having empty seats on the already allocated rows grows, so you may lose a lot of time keeping an eye on it. So if you can still do the first method, I strongly advise you to do it.