If you're flying on budget airline Ryanair, from next month you'll have to pay a fee if you want to check in more than four days before you fly.

The change applies to anyone checking in for a flight on or after 1 November, including those with pre-existing bookings.

It means holidaymakers returning to the UK more than four days after their departure – for example, those going away for a week – will need to access the internet while abroad to check in online to avoid paying the charge. If this isn't possible you'll have to pay up to £15 per person to reserve a seat before you depart.

Whatever you do, don't leave checking in until you get to the airport though. If you do, you'll pay a hefty £45 per person, per flight – that's £180 for a family of four if you get it wrong. For full help in mastering the airline's mega-strict rules to keep your flight cheap, see our 20 Ryanair Tips guide.

What is Ryanair changing?

Ryanair passengers can choose between paying for a seat or not paying and being randomly allocated seating.

  • If you pay for a seat (typically £8-£15 per person, though there are sometimes sales), you can check in for no additional charge up to 30 days before flying. This isn't changing.
  • If you don't pay for a seat, you can currently check in for free between two hours and seven days before departure. However for anyone checking in from Tuesday 1 November, this is changing to between two hours and four days before departure.

The airline says it's shaving three days off the free check-in window because it believes this will "increase the choice available" to customers who opt to pay for reserved seats by giving them a greater time frame in which to choose.

It's emailing affected customers who booked before the changes were announced, and those customers will have the right to cancel and request a refund within 5 days of being notified.

How to dodge the fee - use the app

The new rules mean if you want to check in for free and are going abroad for more than a couple of days, you're now likely to need to check in overseas.

The easiest way to do this is via Ryanair's free app (for iOS or Android). In most cases you can also get your boarding pass on the app too, meaning no hassle trying to find a printer. Remember though, beware costly roaming charges if you're overseas and use Wi-fi if you can.

Mobile boarding cards aren't accepted at a few airports though, mainly in Morocco - see a full list in our Ryanair Tips guide.