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Budget carrier Ryanair offers business-class, a bid to woo Europe's austerity-minded companies

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DUBLIN - European budget carrier Ryanair is offering business-class tickets in an attempt to woo companies and governments during penny-pinching times.

Marketed under the slogan "Your boss will approve," the new ticket reverses some of the airline's more reviled policies for fee-dazzled travellers. The Dublin-based company, long Europe's fastest-growing airline with a sell-it-cheap, stack-'em-high philosophy, says it hopes to capture three-fourths of all business travel between Britain and Ireland, its two biggest markets.

The move reflects not just the airline's desire to leverage its huge presence in Europe, but also a growing interest for low-cost executive travel. Most European governments are still cutting down on debt while many companies remain wary of spending as the eurozone recovery has stalled. Ryanair says more than a quarter of its passengers already are business travellers.

The new ticket will be a low-budget version of traditional business class. It will allow a checked-in bag weighing up to 20 kilograms (44 pounds), which normally costs 25 euros to 75 euros ($33 to $99); preferential boarding and, at some airports, fast-track security lines; and most importantly, free changes to flights including on the day of travel.

The latter policy seeks to solve one of the great headaches of travel that made Ryanair off-limits for many business travellers: the risk of eating tickets and punitive penalties for altering anything.

Allied to the new approach, Ryanair increasingly is cutting deals to open services at Europe's business airports, most notably the European Union hub of Brussels' Zaventum. Currently, Ryanair tends to fly to smaller airports that are often distant from the cities it serves and not practical for time-pressed executives or civil servants.

Ryanair's product looks extremely competitive versus Aer Lingus, British Airways and continental carriers that typically charge more than 150 euros ($200) each way for flexible economy-class tickets. Ryanair says its business tickets will cost as little as 69 euros ($91).

Wednesday's announcement sent Ryanair shares 2.8 per cent higher to 7.13 euros ($9.40) on the Irish Stock Exchange.

The airline, to many analysts' surprise, took a cold look in the mirror this year after lacklustre 2013 results and decided it could get even more business if, in chief executive Michael O'Leary's typically blunt assessment, its policies stopped irritating people needlessly.

Customers now can buy tickets online using debit cards without fees. They automatically receive seat assignments, ending long waits in line to secure position and making family travel easier. They can take two bags on board, no longer battling to shove airport purchases into an already full bag and avoid costly punishment at the boarding gate.

Ryanair aims to carry 86 million passengers this year, 4.5 million more than last year.

While Ryanair's business-branded ticket is strong on flexibility, other business-class staples remain absent. The airline has no executive lounges, there's no special menu, and no seats recline on its tightly packed aircraft. You'll pay extra to pre-book the least uncomfortable seats.

And long-haul connections remain a nerve-wracking chore because Ryanair does not transfer bags between flights. This leaves Ryanair as Europe's most ubiquitous choice for travelling from A to B, but not C.

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Online: Ryanair fees, http://bit.ly/1tCo2QN

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