Gone are those days when traveling was a tagline of the rich. Today, there are a lot of low-cost carriers that offer cheap flights to different parts of the Old Continent that are sometimes even cheaper than taking a bus or train. Sure, you might have to take a long layover, sacrifice your luggage weight, and pray your flight doesn’t get canceled (because you won’t get a refund), but low-cost airlines in Europe have made air travel accessible to everyone that wishes to fly to different parts of the continent. If you’re planning to visit Europe this year, don’t worry- flying to and around Europe is probably cheaper than you might think and this ultimate guide to low-cost airlines in Europe will teach you everything you need to know.
History of low-cost airlines in Europe
Back in 1992, the EU decided to create a single-market airline system in Europe. This allowed airlines to fly freely across EU member countries without having to register as a carrier in every country separately. This decreased the operational costs of airlines significantly and paved the path for a new breed: the low-cost airlines in Europe. Subsequently, the demand for cheap flights was increasing dramatically, causing a lot of new low-cost carriers to appear on the market.
With that being said, let’s see which are the best low-cost carriers in different parts of Europe and just how much can you save by choosing to fly with them.
If you’re looking to travel to the UK or Western Europe, EasyJet is one of the best options. This airline operates more than 1,000 routes in 30+ different countries. Their prices are very competitive and the Britain-based airline even compares to mid-range carriers in terms of the comfort you get on their flights. In fact, even though a low-cost carrier, EasyJet is the fourth-largest airline in Europe. They recently even launched easyJetHolidays, a program that enables passengers to book accommodation through EasyJet while purchasing their ticket.
Similarly like most low-cost carriers, the basic tickets purchased from EasyJet don’t include hold luggage. If you want one, you’ll have to pay between €10 and €37 per item as long as the weight doesn’t exceed 23 kg. Additionally, no single item can weigh more than 32 kg. EasyJet also charges some ridiculously high amounts for things like cancelation within 24 hours of booking (€35), passenger name change (€55), flight change if more than 60 days before travel (€35), choosing a seat (€8-€32), and rescue fee for showing up late (up to €100- which oftentimes costs more than the flight itself).
Only a few airlines can compare to RyanAir when it comes to low prices. This Irish airline is famous for its flash sales at which you can oftentimes get one-way tickets that cost as low as €5! You have to be really fast to grab one of these deals, but even if you don’t, the price you’d end up paying will probably still be lower than most of RyanAair’s competitors.
RyanAir has been criticized in the past for trying to save money on every possible thing, including their employees. Back in 2018, more than 400 flights were canceled after a lot of their pilots walked out due to an issue regarding their previously-agreed holidays. Needless to say, RyanAir makes 20% of its revenues from ancillary costs. Currently, RyanAir has by far the cheapest airline in Europe when it comes o BASIC PRICE but fifth cheapest when all fees are included. RyanAir charges passengers that didn’t complete their online check-in to pay €45 for boarding pass, between €25 and €60 for baggage fees (maximum 23 kg), and up to €125 for a name change. Finally, their new aircraft have non-reclining seats and no seat-back pockets.
Aer Lingus is a budget airline that was founded by the Government of Ireland and the second largest airline in the country behind RyanAir. Today, the airline has been completely privatized and flies to 93 destinations, including the US and Canada, despite having a significantly smaller fleet than RyanAir and EasyJet. In recent years, they’re trying to rebrand as a mid-range carrier, so they charge a lot less for additional fees compared to the two above-mentioned airlines.
Fun fact: all of Aer Lingus’s aircraft are named after a saint (St Ronan, St Munchin, St Aoife, etc.).
Baggage fees: between €20 and €60 per item depending on weight and distance.
Jet2 is the fourth-largest airline in the UK and one of the cheapest low-cost airlines in Europe. It started off as a cargo service and gradually turned into a low-cost carrier throughout the year. Today, Jet2 serves more than 7 million passengers in 72 destinations and it even operates transatlantic flights. Additionally, Jet2 is second when it comes to flying with the fewest empty seats, falling behind only RyanAir. This airline made the headlines with their decision to charge passengers a fee that will “guarantee” that their cabin bag doesn’t get put in the hold. Prices start at £2.59 per item and can easily climb up to £10 per person!
Check-in baggage fees: between €10 and €50 per item, depending on route and booking
Based in Exeter, England, Flybe was the largest regional airline in Europe until it was sold to Connect Airways. Today, even though not as large as it was, this airline still holds a large piece of the market, serving around 8 million passengers a year across 210 routes in Europe. Flybe has a single-class all economy layout with three different ticket types. You don’t have to pay any baggage fees for “Get More” or “All In” ticket, however, for the basic ticket, the baggage fees vary between €24 and €54.
Transavia is a Dutch budget airline and a wholly-owned subsidiary of KLM. The airline is a part of the Air France-KLM group and is one of the best choices when it comes to flying around Western Europe and the north coast of Africa. Today, Transavia holds roughly 50% of the Dutch holiday market. What’s interesting about the Dutch airline is that it isn’t a very kid-friendly carrier. You have to pay a fee of € 25.00 per one way if you’re traveling with a baby and there are no discounts for children between 2 and 11 years old.
The baggage fee varies between €9 and €35 if your bag doesn’t exceed 20kg, but up to €100 if your total weight is 40-50kg. This also includes two bags of 20kg each.
While we’re at it, I just joined Air France’s Discover the World at a low price program where they offer flights around the world which are even lower than some budget airlines! If you’re looking for a cheap flight, make sure to check it out.
Similarly like Transavia, Germanwings is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Lufthansa which operates under the EuroWings brand. The wet-lease airline is famous for its blind destination bookings. In case you’re wondering what in the world blind destination bookings is, here’s how it works; You start by adding your departing point (ex. Munich), choose a category (ex. Sun and beach, shopping, culture, etc.) with a fixed price and voila, you get your “blind booking lottery ticket” for as low as €33 (ex. Mallorca if you choose Sun and beach). Booking through this lottery system is almost always cheaper than the price offered by most carriers.
The baggage fees for flying with German wings vary between €15 and €65
Based in Budapest, Hungary, Wizz Air is by far the largest low-cost carrier in Eastern Europe. This airline transports more than 30 million passengers every year and has flights to all larger airports in Eastern Europe. As of 2018, Wizz Air flies to more than 60 destinations, mostly in Europe, but also in the northern coast of Africa and the Middle East. Wizz Air usually lands and flies from small and secondary airports, which allows them to maintain a low price. The baggage fee is between €19 and €120, depending on the season and where you purchase your allowance.
Smartwing is the largest Czech airline and probably the second largest low-cost carrier in Eastern Europe. It’s a great choice for people looking for cheap flights in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe, as well as Dubai and Tunisia. Smartwing is one of the rare budget airlines that allow pets on board (in a carrier). They charge between €50 and €70 per carrier for this.
Baggage fees: between €25 and €79, depending on your final destination, weight, and season.
Founded in 2004, Blue Air is one of the youngest airlines on this list, but still the largest one in Romania. 15 years later, this airline transports more than 5 million passengers per year and it’s one of the fastest growing low-cost airlines in Europe. Currently, Blue Air flies to 57 different destinations, mostly in South-Eastern and Western Europe. Similarly like SmartWings, Blue Air allows pets on board charging €35 for a cage of up to 6 kg.
Baggage fees: between €30 and €65 depending on the circumstances.
Being founded in 2016, the Ukrainian carrier, SkyUp is one of the newest low-cost airlines in Europe. It’s also the national carrier of Ukraine since 2018. Today, SkyUp already operates 40 routes across a handful of destinations in Eastern Europe, Egypt, Tunisia, and Portugal.
Baggage fees: €25 for a bag of up to 23 kg.
Similarly like Transavia and Germanwings, Pobeda is fully owned by Aeroflot, the largest airline in Russia. Starting its operations in 2014, Pobeda is one of the newer European low-cost carriers. This airline has some of the cheapest flights to and from Russia and provides great value for money, hence it’s no wonder they hit the mark of 2 million customers after only 9 months of operation. Today, Pobeda is the cheapest choice for flying to different destinations in Russia, but it also covers 39 other destinations in Europe and Central Asia.
Baggage fees: between €27 and €55.
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Norwegian Air Shuttle
After the bankrupt of WOW Air and Blue1, Norwegian Air Shuttle is “the undisputed ruler of the north”. It’s the only low-cost carrier in Scandinavia and it flies to 132 destinations in 35 countries. This airline offers only premium & economy berths in order to maintain a very low price for its low-cost fares. Norwegian has some too-good-to-be-true prices on one-way flights to the US, but it also has a record number of complaints by passengers. Just check out the hashtag #NeverFlyNorwegian.
If you want to add a check-in bag to your ticket, you have to pay between €35 and €70 depending on the circumstances.
Air Baltic is the national carrier of Latvia and a leading low-cost carrier in the Baltics. This airline has some very cheap flights to Scandinavia and Russia, but it also flies to Western Europe and a few Asian countries like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Azerbaijan.
The baggage fees are usually around €20 for flying to nearby destinations and up to €60 for longer flights.
What started off as a two-plane fleet in 2004 is today the largest airline in Spain and arguably the largest low-cost carrier in Southern Europe. Vueling is probably the most feasible choice for flying to most airports in Spain and the Mediterranean, but they also cover a lot of destinations in different parts of Europe.
Baggage fees: €10-€90 depending on numerous factors.
If you’re considering flying to Turkey, Pegasus is probably the most economical option. Pegasus has flights to 35 different airports in Turkey and also flies to most bigger airports in Europe and the Middle East. This airline is famous for its “flying coffee” (on most domestic flights) which is served free-of-charge to all of their passengers.
Baggage fees: €7-€25 as long as the weight doesn’t exceed 20kg.
If you’re flying in and out of Turkey, Sun Express is, most of the time, the second best choice, but sometimes you can purchase tickets for a price even lower than the one Pegasus offers. Currently, Sun Express is a joint venture between Turkish Airlines and Lufthansa and covers 107 different destinations, mostly in Turkey, Eastern and Western Europe, and the Northern coast of Africa.
Baggage fees: none, as long as you’re under 20kg.
Volotea has a significantly smaller fleet and covers fewer destinations than the other airlines from this region. However, the prices for the destination it covers are very hard to match, even for the bigger airlines. Volotea has flights to a handful of destinations in Spain and the Mediterranean, as well as a few destinations in Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and Ireland.
Baggage fees: €12-€55 depending on the distance and booking method.
Iberia was founded in 2011 as the new national carrier of Spain. Today, this airline has a fleet of 40 aircraft, but only flies to 22 destinations around Europe, including Spain, Croatia, France, Germany, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Iceland, Ireland, Malta, Poland, the Netherlands, Romania, and the UK.
Baggage fees: €35-€60, as long as your baggage doesn’t exceed 23kg.
And since I mentioned Iberia, I have to tell you about their new discount program I just joined. If you’re looking to fly to from or to some of the above-mentioned destinations use this link to get some amazing savings.
Don’t forget to…
The airlines mentioned in this article will help you in your quest to travel Europe on a budget. However, never neglect the fact that airlines like British Airways, American Airlines, Air France, United Airlines, and KLM sometimes offer discounts which (after combining all additional costs) can compare with the fares of the budget airlines. Keep a track of American Airlines deals, Air France, British Airways, and Turkish Airlines and compare before you book your flight.
The Drawbacks of flying with low-cost airlines in Europe
Sure, flying with low-cost carriers can save you a lot of money, but this brings a few drawbacks that you might or might not be aware of. Keep in mind that budget airlines don’t make a lot of money on your ticket. That’s why they try to make up for that in every way possible.
No connecting flights
One of the biggest drawbacks of using low-cost carriers is that most of them (at least in Europe) don’t allow you to book a connecting flight with your initial ticket purchase.
Flying to distant airports
Most budget airlines fly in and out of airports that are quite far from the city. For example, RyanAir flies to Paris Beauvais Airport, which is roughly two hours away from Paris.
Lack of amenities
Of course, most discount airlines don’t provide the same amenities as major carriers do. Heck, a lot of them don’t even provide enough leg room.
As you could see above, the fees for excess luggage can get quite high. You need to measure the dimensions and weight before you leave, and always follow their (more often than not) ridiculously-long specific baggage guidance.
Limited carry-on items
Most of the airlines on this list allow only one carry-on item. This means if you have a laptop, a handbag, or sometimes, even a coat, you will be charged extra for it if you don’t keep it in your carry on. Most airlines allow 10kg for your hand luggage and if your bag weighs more than that, as you might be guessing by now, you have to pay extra. Be careful- some of these airlines allow only 7kg, so read carefully before booking.
Penalties for not checking in online
A lot of budget carriers require online check-in or charge fees of up to €50. Understandably, this might not always be possible for you, so keep this in mind.
No flexibility when missing connecting flights
Finally, you have to be extremely careful if you have a connecting flight. Most budget carriers advise you to leave at least 2-4 hours between two flights and they’re usually reluctant to provide you with a wide range of options for the next flight in case you miss the initial one.
With all that being said, I think low-cost carriers still are a great option for exploring the old continent on a shoestring budget. What do you think about low-cost airlines in Europe? What are your experiences when flying with them? Let me know in the comments!
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