How to Get a Free Seat on Ryanair

London Stansted - Milan BergamoLately, 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.

Seat allocation on a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Milan Bergamo
Seat allocation on a Ryanair flight from London Stansted to Milan Bergamo

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.

280 thoughts on “How to Get a Free Seat on Ryanair”

  1. We are a party of 2 persons travelling on Ryanair. We have been assigned seats 24B (middle) and 24C (aisle). In future, how can we ensure that we receive seats A (window) and B (middle) OR seats E (middle) and F (window)?

      1. So, If I get check in “early” while are available space for 3 seats I get them together. If I wait until it is almost full Dou you think I can get in premium rows? (2-5)?

        1. According to my analysis, you can wait till there are no 3 standard seats together and you should get 3 premium seats together.
          Please confirm (or not) this, after you do it!

  2. Hey there! Interesting article. I am flying from Spain to Germany on June 23, 2016 but I don’t want to pay for my seat. How can I do this if I just skip that selection without hurting me in the due time of my departure? Thanks.

    1. You will receive an assigned seat (for free) during the online check-in. Normally you can’t choose which seat you get, but since you can predict it, you can play with the check-in time in order to get the best seats possible! Read the article for details!

  3. I waited until row 27 get filled except seat F. I opened another booking and locked 27F. After made my check in. Asigned 29A,29B,29C. I heard a lot of good stuff about row 29, but nothing about row 5. So I decided to take row 29.
    PS: Acording to my observation, on this flight, for a lot of rows, after AB was taken, seat DE was alocated and C and F remained empty until only one person checked in.
    I belive theat in this algorithm , it consider ABC a row and DEF another. Something like row X(left) and row x(right).Eg. row27L,27R,29L,29R,etc. They try to alocate on the first row on witch the group(1,2,3,..)can fit.

  4. Thanks for the frequent updates, they are very useful. But it seems that they have changed something else lately. I did the check in expecting the seat 5A (only the 5F was already taken on that row) but surprisingly I got the 5D, leaving not only the middle seat at my right free but also the A B C at my left (I also checked it again afterwards in order to be sure).

      1. Maybe somebody try to book , or buy this seats. Before chech-in try refresh the seat plan. Also the period of the the day when you check-in is very important. I notice that in the first 2 working hours(8-10 am) and in the afternoon are made a lot of check-in(I observed more than 2 rows in less than 5 min), and no movement at midnight. So if you check-in in the morning, you must to be quick. Complete check-in forms before and save them.

    1. It is unexpected indeed, but none of the tests I did contradicts this scenario, so it may be that it was always like this, just that I didn’t figured it out / thought of it :(.
      The explanation could be that Ryanair tries to “fill the gaps”, in order to leave room for groups to be seated together. In this case, allocating the 5A would have created 2 groups of 2 seats, but allocating 5D or 5E would have created 1 group of 3 seats + 1 isolated seat. It is logical to make the second choice and between seats D and E, I would also choose D, trying to give travellers more space (if nobody else would need a single seat).

  5. At the return flight, row 29 ABC and F was taken. On row 7 AC and on row 6 ABC was taken. I wanted to get to row 5 (premium) , but only one ticket remained unsold. I booked this one and locked 7E. After, made my check-in. It alocated 6D,6E,6F. I did not notice any diference between row 6 and 5 or other premium(except row1).

  6. Hi Lucian,

    Great article and thanks for all of the updates.

    I am travelling on 1 July with my husband and 3 young children. I paid (reluctantly!) for seats for the return journey and have just checked in amd printed off our boarding cards. I am going to risk the free allocation on the outward journey. Are the seats always allocated from left to right or would they ever put 3 in one row with the other 2 in the row in front or behind on the same side of the cabin?
    Also, does anyone know can you check in online at midnight and then print the boarding cards at another time? I was able to do this for my return flight i.e. when I purchased the seats but wondering if is the same when it’s free allocation?
    Thanks again,

  7. They will for sure not put you in 2 rows one behind the other. Most probably they will give you the A-E seats of a row, if available.
    You should be able to print the tickets at a later moment.

  8. If you are unable to print, save boarding passes as PDF, and print them later. Or if you have a smartphone, use Ryanair app. I used smartphone app on the return flight (no printer on my vacation) and it is working great.
    You must to have no broken screen of smartphone and battery charged. U will have to put your phone in scanners in several points of airports and it is important, that the barcodes to be clear.

  9. Checked in for 2 of us expecting 28 A&B as the row was empty but got 28 D&E and ABC are still empty, don’t know what’s happened as Ryanair always start allocating from A first.

    1. I just did a brief research and I didn’t find big differences in the allocation algorithm. There may be some small change, I need to test it better, but for the moment it is safe to use the order found in 2015. If any of you recently got unexpected seats (respecting my algorithm), please report them here.

  10. Yes, it works. Thank You so much for your research.
    Twice booked 10A and 10B seats, as expected by the algorithm, described in this blog.

  11. Just a small correction regarding the “do the check in exactly when the check in period starts! That is 7 days before the flight date, at midnight.”

    It’s actually exactly 7 days before your departure time. I tried checking in at midnight but couldn’t do so until 7 days prior to my exact take-off time – 19:35 hrs, in my case.

    Love the blog!

  12. Well done mate. Your formula still works like a charm. Wondering how long will they keep this flaud system up like this ? Brexit might screw them anyway

  13. Thank you so much for this! It’s making my trip so much easier and is so far 100% accurate. First flight I expected seats 10A and B from your blog, second flight expected 8A and B. Both times were spot on.

  14. Thanks man.

    (because you wrote ‘unsure’ on rows 1 and 2:)
    My flight showed as you said an aisle seat clear in row 2, aisle + center seat free in row 1, then 16-17, and the back rows. I opted for the allocation and got the aisle in row 2, so unless they prefer assigning 1 person to 1 free seat, they filled row 2 before allocating row 1. I indeed got “other q.”

  15. Just did the check in – only seats A and B were taken in the current row (the row order seems to be working), but got assigned seats D-E instead of E-F as mentioned in this post. So no window for me 🙁 😀

    1. Exactly the same thing just happened to me. So ‘April 2016 (small) update’ is now not correct. But no worries, I can put this knowledge to good use on the return flight!

      Thanks for the information – have used it many times successfully and I love it!

  16. Thanks for the great work Lucian – I have used your formula successfully on several occasions. I have just checked in 2 people for 2 flights – the outward flight was as predicted by the formula, but for the return I must have been unlucky and checked in at the same time as someone else – so on what appeared to be a completely empty row instead of getting AB I got DE (a subsequent check showed AB are now allocated). So this confirms other recent comments and your latest update. One other thing to mention – my return flight is still 7 days and 7 hours in the future, but I was able to check in, this contradicts other recent comments. Thanks again.

    1. Unfortunatelly not. But the good news is that you can calculate which seats will be allocated, using the algorithm above. According to the comments, it works almost perfect!
      Also, I am updating it as soon as any change is reported!

      1. Thank you very much for your reply! Do you have an idea how to proceed when the flight is fully booked (completely sold) and you could not get access to the seat map because of it?

        1. You can enter your account, select your flight and “pretend you want to choose your seat”. This way you will see the seat map and determine which seats will be allocated next.

  17. Thanks for this blog post. It totally worked for me. I am flying ryanair for first time and didn’t want to pay for a seat, looked this morning they had booked all the first ones in your sequence all the way up to 26, so I decided to wait as I didn’t want 26. Just checked now and now 26 row was all booked up and next row was 10 and showing empty so i chose to allocate free seat and boom got 10A window seat. Thanks so much!

  18. This just works! Thanks so much, man!

    Note that on not so busy flights you don’t actually need two browser windows open, of course, I think it’s only an issue if many are booking at the same time, otherwise it will gonin order automatically anyway, so if the previous row is full, or the next one on still has sufficient places available for those part of the booking, you’ll more than possibly be seated together.

  19. Hi
    I am looking at booking flights from Stansted to Cyprus for Thursday 1st December returning Sunday 4th December.
    Trying to get my head around the system so I don’t need to pay for seats. I am travelling alone, but want a nice seat and definitely not the seat next to the toilet!!
    Can you explain what I would need to do if I choose not to pay for my seats?

    Many thanks

  20. New change as per October 2016, an adult that is travelling with children has no choice but to buy a seat (at half-price) and you then get to pick the children’s seats for free.
    This will obviously cause a huge rise in the % of seats that get purchased at the time of the flight booking.

  21. Dear Lucian,

    I would like to thank you so much for the precious information about the Ryanair seat distribution algorithm. I tried it and it totally worked! Now I have nice window seats for my flights and I can’t begin to express how glad I am. Thank you once again!
    Ryanair is reducing the free check-in period to 4 days as of 1 November, so I would be even more grateful if you could check whether the same algorithm will remain in force after this date.

  22. Hi,
    it seems that (free) check-in starts 96 hours before the actual flight.
    I was doing check in for flights on 15th and 18th Dec (at 15.05h) on Dec 12th, and wasn’t able to do it for the return part, and it was stated it opens 14th Dec at 15.05.

    Hope this helps.

  23. Hi there!
    I thought this had been discarded, but I just checked in and c+d was not given for a 2 people booking.
    23CD was free. While I was waiting, 11AB was allocated for someone else (which I first was hoping for, giving me a clue that CD would not be given to me).
    Next available seats were occupied (11cde, 25 full row), and I just gave it a try, received 9AB!

  24. Is it legal to do what Chris suggested? To pretend like you’re starting a new booking so that you exclude some seats and then choose a seat for you?

  25. Hi Lucian,

    This is amazing analysis! Please can I ask a quick question?

    There are four of us flying together and hoping to check in. We aren’t worried about getting a premium seat but would preferably like to be in the same row or at least within a row of each other.

    I’ve taken a look at the seats available and read your piece and am wondering whether the best thing to do is:

    a.) check in immediately at midnight on the day “free” check-in opens
    b.) follow the algorithm and wait until a row of 6 becomes available

    I guess the question I am asking is – if I check in midnight will they just fill up the empty individual seats around the plane or place us in a row of seats together? (eg: at the moment there are 3 free seats on row 33 and then the next free seat according to the algorithm list is 22.

    Thanks for this amazing work.

  26. It seems things have changed again – STN-BTS on morning of 12 February 2017, it looks like the rear of the cabin (except row 32 which is free) has been filled but the front of the cabin has not. Row 10, which was quite near the front of your sequence has not yet been allocated.

  27. Thank you, I am using this website every time when flying Ryanair. For our next flight we are flying with 2 persons. The first available seats for us are C,D,F. Because I wanted a window seat, I set up a fake booking (on PC) for 1 person and blocked seat D. I did check the app if this seat was really blocked. Then we checked in (app) and were allocated to the next available row on seat A + B. Very happy.

  28. My observations as of today: on a row when seats A, D and F have already been allocated/bought, the system gives not as expected seat B but seat E. A minute later a second person receives seat B.

  29. Thanks for the article!
    Small update on the June 2016 update:
    Row 2 had only seat D taken. Instead of A or F though, I got 2E. 2ABCF are all still available.

  30. The algorithm still works! I used the random selector, and it gave me aisle 15, seat C (an aisle seat is what I wanted). I was a single traveller. I checked the website the night before the 4-day booking rule kicked in, and copied the seating pattern. Row 19 was already taken (that was available the night before), meaning row 15 was the next one. Voila, booked.

    I did my friend, who was flying from another airport (single traveller) to the same destination as me. Her seat was again a single, and she got seat 33C, the 1st randomly selected seat (well, obviously not random, due to the seat booking pattern as noted above).

    Thanks! love this website, saved us £12 between us. Will use it again on the flights back.

    1. Ps, forgot to mention, that on my flight, there were at least 25+ tickets I could have bought, so the plane was not full and on my friends flight, there were 19 seats still free.

  31. Worked like a dream, thanks. I’m not a brilliant flyer so I don’t like being in the back of the plane where turbulence is more noticeable. Knowing the allocation sequence meant I was able to reserve a seat nearer the front without having to pay for it. The only difference in the allocation sequence on my flight to Gran Canaria was when only two seats were available in row 21 that hadn’t been bought and 4 seats in row 14 were allocated just before those. Because it was seats A-D, I assume it must have been a group of 4 people on the same booking being allocated those so that they were sitting next to each other rather than being split across rows 21 and 14.

  32. For the first time ever did not get seats together. Have faithfullly followed the order and always knew which seats I would be allocated. Noticed that middle seats were being allocated on flight from Málaga. Checked in and my husband and I separated and allocated two middle seats in alternate rows. O me miserum

  33. Curious behaviour checking in today (15/5) for a flight tomorrow (16/5). Seat allocation algorithm appears to have changed. Now they seem to be filling all the middle seats first, then the aisle seats, then the window seats. In what order I’m not sure as this didn’t happen when checking in last week. Any observations?

    1. Can confirm that seats are being allocated middle – aisle – window left to right (i.e seats B, E, C, D, A, F in each row) but its not clear what row order they are being allocated in as yet.

    2. The wordpress notification mechanism had broken, so I saw your comment (and all others) just now, sorry for this. I updated the article and looking to understand the new algorithm. Any help is welcome!

  34. There seems to be an update to the algorithm. Today I checked in 3 hours prior to departure and got seat 15F, which is the last one I possibly have wanted. My boarding sequence number is 159. I had been checking since yesterday and it appears that seats are no longer filled from the middle. They really want people to spend money…

  35. 17th May 2017…I have noticed a new sequence! On the flight I’m currently tracking, the middle rows B and E are being allocated first!!!

  36. Looks like the algorithm has changed again. Seems to be a bit more difficult to predict the next seat assignment from what I can see.

  37. Have Ryanair changed the seat order again? Checked in 1 min after it opened and got row 11…. Worked fine up to now.

  38. I think everything has changed, on my last flight with Ryanair my wife and I were allocated really random seats, one at the front one at the rear. My daughter had a similar experience with her friends!!
    I guess they want you to pay to sit together!!

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