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Ryanair gives away one million free flights

Low-cost airline Ryanair has launched an unprecedented bid to win customers by giving away one million free flights.

Unlike other so-called “giveaways” in the past, the airline took the step of also paying for taxes, fees and charges. After the flights went up for grabs at 10 a.m. yesterday, the carrier's website collapsed several times due to the massive demand for the freebies. Ryanair said in the first five hours after the extraordinary offer there had been some four million attempts for tickets. The airline said it hoped to recoup the money it forked out on taxes by passengers buying onboard snacks and opting to take out travel insurance. A spokeswoman for Ryanair said: “This is about getting bums on seats.” “We are paying to get passengers into our plans - we'll be paying the tax that they would normally have to pay.” “There's no point in flying planes empty.”

The airline admitted a recent slight drop in passenger numbers was behind the giveaway, which is expected to cost it around £10 million ($19.7 million) in total. “There has been a softening in the market and we're trying to get people back to flying again,” the spokeswoman said. The offer covers flights from June 2 to October 27 and takes in most of the airline's routes, though flights at peak travel days, such as weekends and the August bank holiday, are not included. Last night many of the free flights were still available - though admittedly they were not the most attractive for fliers based in the UK. For example, Frankfurt-Hahn to Verona still had free seats available, though 'going fast'. People signing on to the website had to deal with a number of add-on charges which the booking system automatically adds - such as travel insurance at £6.50 ($12.85) per person, priority boarding charge of £4 and £10 per bag put in the hold. However, these can be removed before proceeding to payment to ensure the booking is entirely free. The offer ends at midnight on Monday. (