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The ultimate guide to low-cost airlines in Europe: here’s everything you need to know

The ultimate guide to low-cost airlines in Europe: here’s everything you need to know

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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.

Western Europe

EasyJet

easy jet airline

by aPeter Dargatz CC by SA 3.0

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 tickets.

Similarly like most low-cost airlines in Europe, 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), a 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).

RyanAir

ryanair airline

by Sean Glossop CC by SA 4.0

Only a few cheap airlines in Europe 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 Ryanair’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

aer lingus

by Adam Moreira CC by SA 4.0

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. Â 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 low-cost 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

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

Flybe

flybe

by aeroprints.com CC by SA 3.0

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

Transavia is a Dutch budget airline and a wholly-owned subsidiary of KLM. The airline is a part of the Qatar Airways-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 Qatar Airways’s Discover the World at a low price program where they offer flights around the world which are even lower than some of the cheapest budget airlines in Europe! If you’re looking for a cheap flight, make sure to check it out.

Eurowings

germanwings

by aeroprints.com CC by SA 3.0

Similarly like Transavia, Eurowings 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 Eurowings vary between $15 and $65

Eastern Europe

Wizz Air

wizz air flight

by Catalin Cocirla CC by SA 4.0

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 on 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

Smartwings

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 in Europe 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.

Blue Air

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 onboard charging $35 for a cage of up to 6 kg.

Baggage fees: between $30 and $65 depending on the circumstances.

SkyUp

low cost airlines in europe

by N509FZ CC by SA 4.0

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.

Pobeda

Pobeda Airlines

by A. Savin CC by SA 3.0

Similarly like Transavia and Eurowings, 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.

Do you want to compare cheap flights in your area for your next trip? Check out CheapOair’s best deals in your area and save big on your next flight.

Northern Europe

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

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.

Southern Europe

Vueling

budget airlines in europe

by Jvillafruela CC by SA 4.0

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.

Pegasus Airlines

Pegasus AirlinesPhoto by Martin Falbisoner CC by SA 4.0

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.

SunExpress

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

Volotea Budget airlines in EuropePhoto by Bene Riobo CC by SA 3.0

Volotea has a significantly smaller fleet and covers fewer destinations than the other cheap budget airlines in Europe. However, the prices for the destination it covers are very hard to match, even for the bigger low-cost airlines in Europe. Volotea has flights to a handful of destinations in Spain and the Mediterranean, as well as a few destinations in Germany, Germany, the Czech Republic, Luxembourg, and Ireland.

Baggage fees: $12- $55 depending on the distance and booking method.

Iberia Express

iberia express

Photo by Bene Riobo CC by SA 3.0

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.

Don’t forget to…

The budget airlines in Europe 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, Qatar Airways, United Airlines, and KLM sometimes offer discounts which (after combining all additional costs) can compare with the fares of the budget airlines. Always keep a track of these deals 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 in Europe 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 in Europe 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 in Europe don’t provide the same amenities as major carriers do. Heck, a lot of them don’t even provide enough leg room.

Luggage fees

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 budget airlines in Europe 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 low-cost carriers 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 budget airlines in Europe? Let me know in the comments!

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Earl

Tuesday 5th of January 2021

this is a really useful post for all travelers it contains content of guideline for all travelers =and especially for beginners and I must want to appreciate you for your true concerns and cares.. thank for sharing this useful article with us

Passport Symphony

Friday 12th of February 2021

thank you for your kind words, Earl.

Eral

Thursday 31st of December 2020

This guide is very useful for beginners traveling to Europe it was very helpful to me for my first trip!

Passport Symphony

Saturday 2nd of January 2021

Thank you, Eral, I'm glad to hear that :)

James Hannum

Monday 20th of April 2020

A PLANE takes 1.5 hours for all the passengers to board, all filing through one tiny door loaded with luggage. Passengers board TRAINS through about 40 doors simultaneously. So TRAINS don't have to delay everyone 1.5 hours... they stop only 1 to 5 minutes at a station.

One must drive about an hour out of town to reach an airport. (No neighborhood wants the noise.) Consider: 1.) TRAIN stations are in the center of towns, and 2.) TRAIN stations are much more numerous than airports. These 2 factors make TRAIN stations closer to you.

One must arrive at the airport 2 hours before departure. You can arrive at a TRAIN station 10 minutes before departure!

After finally boarding your PLANE, you sit for another 45 minutes or so before the wheels begin to slowly turn. Your taxi at snail's pace a long way, then stop again. The captain announces, "We're fifth in line for takeoff, thank you for your patience." Compare the TRAIN: Within 2 minutes of boarding, you're at full speed toward your destination.

On a PLANE, finally, your turn to take off comes and the PLANE engines begin to scream, about 20 feet from your ears. They continue their high decibel screaming throughout the flight. On a TRAIN the engine is far away from your wagon; usually, it cannot be heard.

On a TRAIN there is no charge for any luggage; take whatever weight you want. Wheel them right into your 6-person compartment and one of your new compartment mates will help you lift them onto the overhead rack. If you need anything during the trip, it's right there (not inaccessible, as on a PLANE). Upon arrival, no waiting 45 minutes for your bag(s) to show up on the airport luggage carousel.

You see so much from the huge TRAIN windows, whereas from the tiny PLANE windows you see only cloud tops. You really can't see anything of the towns & cities of Norway or Croatia from 30,000 ft. And if you don't have a window seat you don't see even the cloud tops.

PLANE seats recline only 1 inch, making sleep impossible or uncomfortable, but you can get real bunk beds on a TRAIN. The most popular TRAIN trips in Europe, as they used to be in the US, are those that depart a major city around 10 pm and arrive in another major city around 8 a.m. These sleeper cars allow one to travel while sleeping in a real bed with sheets, rocked to sleep by the gentle rolling of the TRAIN. So much for TRAINS being "time-consuming."

It's important that TRAIN wagons be divided into several compartments with bench seats facing each other, as they have historically always been until recent decades. These compartments are vastly superior to having airline-style seats arranged like on an airliner all facing forward. Some of the most interesting people can be met on a TRAIN if the seating is right. It's nice to have your own little compartment, 3 people facing 3 people, a large window, a folding out table, 6 bunk beds that fold down at night, and a door that locks at night to keep out the sneak thieves!

In the old wagons, passengers can open the window in their compartment. This is good for saying goodbye to friends & relatives standing on the platform to see you off. In former Soviet countries, private women sell home-cooked food through the windows to passengers.

PLANE windows don't open and they have stuffy, recirculated air because of the high cost of heating the fresh air from outside, which at 30,000 feet is below zero. The stewardess' union is always complaining about the unhealthy stale air, but airline executives refuse to spend the money to heat enough fresh air. TRAINS don't have this problem since they are at ground level where the air is warm.

TRAINS are more fuel-efficient than PLANES. For the same gallon of fuel, one may travel 7 times as far by TRAIN as by PLANE. So PLANEs pollute the air 7 times as much as TRAINS.

But the most important thing about TRAIN travel is that it is a lot of FUN!

* * * High-Speed Trains * * *

I don't like the new high-speed TRAINS. Their stations look & feel like airports, with all the mouth-breathing over-security. There are long security lines. A muffin costs $7. Normal TRAIN stations in Europe are usually at least 100 years old and architecturally beautiful. They are just fun places to be. The high-speed TRAIN stations are modern and sterile, with lots of restrictions. They won't let your friends & family onto the platform to meet your TRAIN or to see you off. I don't like the self-important paranoia of high-velocity TRAIN stations. High-speed TRAINS have airline-style seats, all facing forward. They don't recline.

I don't like the new high-speed TRAINS also because of their speed. I don't want to travel from Lisbon to Berlin in 3 hours. I want to enjoy it, see the forests and beautiful towns go by, catch up on my reading, meet new people in my compartment or bar car, eat a real meal in the rolling restaurant, & fall asleep at night in a real bed with linens, to the rolling cadence of the TRAIN on tracks.

You have to sleep the night anyway, why not do it on a TRAIN, while moving toward your destination? Why not have time to read up on your destination city, to appreciate it before you arrive? Why not meet some new people?

TRAIN station ticket window clerks are usually rushed, and just assume without asking that Westerners want the fastest train. If you want to travel at normal speed rather than on the new high tech 100+ mph "bullet train," before you get in the ticket line look in your guidebook and find the word for "high-speed train" in the local language. Write on a slip of paper: "No / Nein / Nyet [word for high-speed train]." In Italy, the high-speed TRAINS are called Frecciarossa (red arrow). In France, TRAIN à Grande Vitesse (TGV). In Germany, ICE. In England, British Rail Class 395. Tickets on these high-velocity TRAINS cost much more than normal TRAINS, so you'll save money while you have a better time.

Passport Symphony

Friday 1st of May 2020

Thank you for your detailed comment, James. Nice sum up of advantages of train travel as opposed to flight as a method of transportation. I can completely relate to your point about the high-speed trains tho. I also prefer slow travel and one of my favorite things about train travel is the fact that it allows me to observe while traveling. With high-speed trains, this perk of train travel is gone.

Sagar Sahay

Sunday 29th of March 2020

This is a comprehensive list of facts and complete detail. Easyjet faces criticism but I still opt for them as I never had any issues. They do not offer facilities but the cost is low. I did not know about some of the other budget airlines, thank you for giving the information about them.

Passport Symphony

Wednesday 1st of April 2020

Thank you, Sagar, I'm glad you liked the post. Indeed, a lot of these airlines face criticism but most of the time, they're too cheap for people to care :)

Blair villanueva

Saturday 25th of May 2019

For many travellers, flying is addicting and yes it is and more exciting when you fly in convenient means. These airlines looks amazing, and how i could fly with them when I visit Europe. Hope they are much better than our budget airlines here.

Passport Symphony

Sunday 26th of May 2019

Thank you, Blair, I'm glad you enjoyed this post :)