Low-cost airlines in Europe

Boarding at Ryanair, no assigned seats

This is one of several Wikivoyage articles about air travel on a budget.

Europe has a number of low cost airlines, the largest and most established being easyJet, RyanAir, germanwings (a subsidiary of Lufthansa) and Air Berlin. These airlines have stirred up air travel within Europe by dramatically cutting fares.

Especially in Western Europe, trains may also be worth considering as they arrive and leave at the center of the city and not some obscure airport 100km away from your destination, and their fares include luggage. However there is rarely if ever a discount for round-trip tickets, so they might only be cheaper on one way trips. Keep in mind that most train tickets get considerably more expensive the later you book and advertised fares are not always widely available. Although it is by no means guaranteed, there is a tendency for shorter distance train rides to be cheaper than a flight when bought on the same day with the trend slightly reversing the longer the distance becomes. According to this study from the German VCD trains beat flying in Europe most of the time, so make sure to compare fares carefully.

Tickets and pricing

see also: air travel on a budget

Most low-cost airlines in Europe sell their tickets exclusively over their website or over the phone, and tickets are not available via travel agents. Most are ticketless; you simply turn up at the check-in desk or even just at the departure gate with your passport and confirmation number (and print-out of your e-ticket). A credit or debit card is a very good idea for booking tickets. Most low-cost airlines sell their tickets as single journeys only.

The pricing structure is complex, with fares fluctuating strongly according to demand, often on an hourly basis, and the same rule "get as much money as a traveler is ready to pay" that was invented by traditional carriers applies. There are no hard and fast rules for obtaining the cheapest fares. In fact, fares can vary from as little as £1 or £2 on special promotions, right up to £500 - such as a London-Geneva return flight, during the February half-term weekend (winter holidays in most of the schools).

The following will however increase your probability of obtaining very inexpensive fares:

Connecting tickets

For most traditional airlines it is possible to book a flight from A to B with a connection at C on a single ticket. For many low-cost carriers, this is not possible as they only offer single "point to point" flights. To make a connection with a low-cost carrier, you need to purchase two separate tickets, one from A to C, and another from C to B, and these count as separate contracts. Connecting low-cost flights can save on cost but it has a few disadvantages:

However, some low-cost carriers want a share of the market with transporting connecting passengers, and have policies which allow for connecting tickets. Note that connecting flights here refers to connections to another flight on the same airline. Planning low-cost flight connections can be complicated and requires access to vast amounts of data.

Very few low-cost carriers offer connecting tickets to different airlines. (Many traditional carriers don't offer such tickets either although interline agreements often exist.)

Restrictions

Other points to consider

easyJet

easyJet plane taking off

easyJet carried 30.3 million in 2005 making them just smaller than Ryanair and the 7th busiest airline in Europe. Fares are priced as single segment one way trips. Their website allows you to book multiple flights simultaneously however, and even allows you to exchange a flight you have purchased for a different flight of your choice on their website providing a partial refund (e.g. changing to a flight on a different date and/or with different passenger names). If you change planes at an Easyjet hub you must collect your luggage and check it in again at the hub. You can book a return at the same time as the outbound but you get no discount for doing so. Some of the advanced features on the Easyjet website are only available if you create an account for yourself on the website.

Following Ryanair, easyJet has no free weight allowance for luggage, and charge for all checked luggage. However, they do not charge extra for printing a boarding pass at the airport.

EasyJet has hubs in 3 London airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Luton) as well as Basel, Berlin, Bristol, Madrid, Dortmund, Edinburgh, Geneva, Paris (CDG and Orly), Liverpool and various other UK and European airports. As well as these hubs they serve 70 other airports throughout Europe, Morocco, Egypt and Israel with over 260 routes.

EasyJet operate an ever-expanding network, keep your eyes peeled to their site. Unlike Ryanair, easyJet tend to operate out of principal airports, such as Barcelona rather than Barcelona Girona, in Spain.

Tickets can range from €20 to €420, all inclusive one-way.

Easyjet releases their summer tickets around December so book well in advance for the greatest savings. Flights departing on Friday evenings and Sunday Evenings are highly sought after by frequent travellers so the cheap tickets are the first to go and therefore those dates tend to be quite expensive


There are no advance seat assignments. However, Easyjet offers the option for pre-boarding for a small surcharge. This could be well worth the money for some travellers. However, this only works where gates lead directly to the plane: if you have to take a bus to the plane, your pre-boarding will only get you on the bus early. After that, it's a scramble with everyone else, pre-boarding or not. Requests for refunds for Speedy Boarding where planes are boarded by bus are generally met with refusal via form emails.

As of late 2012 Easyjet is now offering seat assignments (possibly only on selected routes)

Ryanair

Ryanair plane

Ryanair , with 65 Million passengers in 2009 is Europe's largest low-cost carrier, the 3rd largest airline in Europe in terms of passenger numbers and the largest in the world in terms of international passenger numbers. Ryanair carries more international passengers than any other airline. Fares are priced as single segment one-way trips. If you wish to change planes at one of Ryanair's hubs, then you must book the two segments separately. Luggage is not transferred and must be collected and checked in again. You can book a return at the same time as the outbound but there is no discount for doing so. If you miss a second flight due to a delay in the earlier Ryanair flight, you will not get a refund for the missed flight and will be forced to buy a new ticket at the applicable price, which may be higher than you originally paid.

Tickets start from €0.01 all inclusive one-way during promotions, however always check the full final cost of the fare including all "taxes" and "fees" before booking. Most Ryanair flights that are advertised for €0.01 end up costing at least €10 after such fees, even before airport tax. When booking online (the only reasonable method and possibly the only one available at all), the final cost of your reservation may be difficult to find out until you have confirmed everything, including the payment details. Ryanair charges a credit card fee of €6 per person and segment, which can only be avoided with a prepaid MasterCard credit card. The average price one-way is about €40-50 inc. baggage and all fees and taxes.

Ryanair has a lot of add-on fees such as €15-20 per bag per segment. The fee for overweight luggage is €40 per kilo. There is no free checked baggage allowance on Ryanair, plus they have strict carry-on rules about cabin baggage, only one piece which may weigh no more than 10 kilograms. The cabin baggage rules are not always seem to be enforced though. Airports which are heavily dependent upon Ryanair flights tend to be stricter about enforcing cabin baggage rules and will often check that cabin baggage conforms to Ryanairs limit on dimensions, which is currently 55cm x 40cm x 20cm. Other airports, such as Düsseldorf Weeze, will ask passengers to put their cabin luggage on a set of scales, if they suspect that the luggage may be overweight.

Ryanair operate a large network in Europe, and are generally (but not always) the cheapest airline on the routes where they compete with another airline. They have 41 hubs: in Shannon, Dublin, Glasgow (Prestwick), Liverpool, London (Stansted & Luton), Madrid, Brussels (Charleroi), Düsseldorf (Weeze), Frankfurt (Hahn), Stockholm (Skavsta), Milan Bergamo, Rome, Kaunas, Barcelona (Girona). They serve 142 European destinations as well as Morocco, with over 1,000 routes.

Ryanair uses small airports that can be quite far from the city they purport to serve so check your travelling time and cost estimates carefully. Coach tickets from airport to city centre may be available through Ryanair, but there may be local competition with more favourable schedules and/or fares. Check through the airport's website, or do an online search for "airport coach" plus the name of the airport.

Ryanair keeps extremely low prices by setting a standard customer behaviour (typically an airport to airport travel without on flight meal and hand luggage only) and placing additional fees for every addition you need. So although you may be able to pick up a €20 fare for a London - Milan flight, in-flight meals and snacks are charged at a premium and there are other charges for things like items of checked-in luggage. Ryanair's "no-frills" approach is aimed at travellers requiring a basic cheap transport service. Beware of getting on last when the plane is fully booked. Because everyone takes the maximum size hand baggage to avoid paying the suitcase fee the containers for hand baggage rapidly get filled up. If there is no room for yours it will be put underneath with the checked-in baggage and you will have to wait for it to arrive at the carousel.

In order to offer faster check-in to passengers with hand luggage only, Ryanair allows passengers to check-in in advance via their website. If booked in advance, there the fixed fare €15.00 per single trip per checked bag is €15 (€20 in July and August and for international flights to and from the Canary Islands). The cost if paid at the airport is €35. Luggage weight limits are 10kg for hand luggage and 15kg for checked luggage or 20kg for an increased charge of €25. It is possible to check in a second piece of luggage, but this is charged at €35 and limited to 15kg (€40 in July and August and for international flights to and from the Canary Islands).

Compared to most other budget airlines, Ryanair provides very limited compensation in the event of flight cancellations, despite the EU regulations. Typically, Ryanair will only provide a replacement seat on a later Ryanair flight (which can depart up to 3 days later than the original flight), or a full refund of the single journey price. Alternative travel arrangements and accommodation are not normally provided by Ryanair. Passengers wishing to return on the same day are normally forced to purchase a new non-advance ticket with a different airline, which can far exceed the price of the original ticket. Therefore, it is advisable to obtain insurance against flight cancellation when travelling with Ryanair.

Also bear in mind that since October 2009, Ryanair is very strict about checking in online and printing your boarding pass at home. You will be charged with a £40/€40 issuing fee if you do not have your boarding pass with you. You must have deposited any checked-in luggage no later than 40 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time. When flying with Ryanair it is advisable to get to the airport early as bag drop desks (as Ryanair terms them) can often have long queues.

airberlin

airberlin is Europe's third largest low-cost airline and the second largest German carrier. It offers a huge network between Germany, Austria, Spain and other regions around the Mediterranean Sea like Greece, Tunisia and Egypt as well as throughout most European countries like France, Italy, Russia and Scandinavia. airberlin also offers some long-haul flights, for example to New York, Bangkok and Dubai.

Tickets start from €44,99 one-way including all taxes and fees, free beverages, snacks, sweets and newspapers aboard and up to 20 kg checked baggage. They can be booked one-way at no penalty. Connecting flights via their hubs in Düsseldorf, Berlin, Nuremberg (all in Germany) and Palma de Mallorca (Spain) or Munich are also available.

Some flights, especially from and to Austria, are carried out by their partner NIKI. airberlin joined the oneworld Alliance in spring 2012. Therefore other codeshare partners are American Airlines or S7 Airlines.

Other low cost airlines

There are 62 low cost airlines in Europe, and this number is rapidly changing. Here are a few of the biggest, grouped by their base country.

Baltic states

Latvia

Lithuania

Balkans

Bulgaria

Romania

Serbia

Kosovo

Western and Central Europe

Ireland

UK

Austria

Czech Republic

Germany

Hungary

Slovakia

Poland

Switzerland

France and the Benelux

Belgium

France

Netherlands

Iberia

Spain

Italy

Greece, Turkey and Cyprus

Greece

Turkey

Scandinavia

Finland

Iceland

Norway, Sweden, Denmark

Based outside Europe

Canada

Asia & Australia

Low cost airline hubs

If you cannot find a direct flight with a low cost carrier, it may be necessary to change flights at a low cost airline hub. Make sure you leave plenty of time for connections, as you will not be refunded if you miss a flight. It may be sensible to stay overnight in a city near the hub to be sure you won't miss the flight.

List of low cost airline hubs

Airport name (airport code) Low cost airlines Local cities
Alicante (ALC) Monarch, Easyjet, Air Berlin, FlyBe, Ryanair, Thomas Cook, Jet2, Thomson Airways, transavia Alicante, Barcelona
Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS) Easyjet, transavia, Blue1 Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden
Barcelona (BCN) Monarch, Vueling, Easyjet, Thomson Airways, tuiFly, Germanwings, Jet2 Barcelona, Alicante
Orio al Serio Airport (Bergamo - BGY) Ryanair, My Air, Alitalia, BMI Baby, and many others flying Europe-wide, see Milan
Berlin Schoenefeld (Brandenburg - SXF) Easyjet, Ryanair, tuiFly, Condor Berlin, Potsdam
Berlin Tegel (TXL) Germanwings, tuiFly, transavia Germanwings, Berlin
Bratislava Ivánka (BTS) Danube Wings, Ryanair, Sun D´Or Bratislava, Vienna
Brussels (BRU) Brussels Airlines, Sterling, Blue1, Condor, Jetairfly, Thomas Cook, Brussels
Budapest (BUD) Wizz Air, EasyJet, Ryanair, Jet2.com, AerLingus, Germanwings, Air Berlin, Norwegian Air, Transavia, Volotea Budapest
Cologne/Bonn (CGN) Easyjet, Germanwings, tuiFly, Wizz Air Cologne, Bonn
Dublin (DUB) Ryanair, Blue1, FlyBe, Germanwings Dublin
East Midlands (EMA) Ryanair, bmi Baby, Jet2, Thomson Airways Nottingham, Leicester, Derby, Peak District
Hamburg (HAM) airbaltic, Blue Wings, Brussels Airlines, Easyjet, FlyBE, Germanwings, Hamburg International, Intersky, norwegian.no, Pegasus, TUIfly, Hamburg
Liverpool (LPL) Easyjet, Ryanair, Flybe, Wizz Air Liverpool, Manchester, Preston
London Luton (LTN) Monarch, Easyjet, Ryanair, Flybe, Thomas Cook, Thomson Airways, Wizz Air Luton, London
London Stansted (STN) Easyjet, Ryanair, Kibris Turkish Airlines, Norwegian.No, Germanwings, Atlantic Airways, Blue1, AtlasJet, Transavia, Fly Niki Cambridge, London
Malaga (AGP) Monarch, easyJet, Ryanair, Thomsonfly, Flybe Malaga
Munich (MUC) Easyjet, Brussels Airlines, tuiFly, HapagLloydExpress, German Wings, Blue1 Munich
Paris Beauvais (BVA) Blue Air, Ryanair, Wizz Air Paris
Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) Easyjet Paris
Pisa (PSA) Ryanair, Easyjet, tuiFly, Wizzair Pisa
Reykjavik (KEF) Iceland Express Reykjavik, Keflavic
Stuttgart (STR) tuiFly, Condor, Germanwings Stuttgart
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