European Discount Airlines
This article is a travel topic.
This is one of several Wikitravel articles about Discount airlines.
Europe has a number of low cost airlines, the largest and most established being easyJet, RyanAir, germanwings and Air Berlin. These airlines have stirred up air travel within Europe by dramatically cutting fares.
The European Open-Skies Treaty of 1992 blew the lid off the system in place before, where national government would restrict access to their airspace to expensive 'flag-carriers', such as British Airways or Lufthansa. This enabled airlines to fly anywhere they wished in the European Union without government approval.
Ryanair was the first airline in Europe to try this model, and now has many followers offering low fares across the continent. These are boom times for cheap air travel in the European Union, with fares on some routes as low as €10 (£7, US$12) one-way including tax (though average fares for international flights are around €80 one-way).
Do not overlook other European airlines: for example depending on the your destination, dates and time budget the normally expensive Swiss airline can be cheaper than a so-called discount airline, when all costs and times are included from source to destination. Another example is OLT, which offers business flights, can be cheaper than any alternative airline for some legs.
Tickets and pricing
Most discount airlines in Europe sell their tickets exclusively over their website or the phone, and tickets are not available via travel agents. Most are ticketless; you simply turn up at the check-in desk with your passport and confirmation number. A credit or debit card is a very good idea for booking tickets. Most discount 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 invented by traditional carriers. There are no hard rules for obtaining the cheapest fares. In fact, fares can vary from as little as £1 or £2 on special promotions, right upto £500 - such as a London-Geneva return flight, during the Feb half-term weekend (winter holidays in most of the schools).
The following will however increase your probability of obtaining very inexpensive fares:
- Do fly in mid-week
- Do fly early in the morning or late at night
- Do fly in low season (Spring and Autumn)
- Do make use of sales. These sometimes appear 3-5 weeks prior to departure, however this is by no means guaranteed.
- Don't fly during public holidays.
- Don't book your ticket less than two weeks in advance
- Discount airlines are often much more strict about their fares. For example, while in traditional airlines they usually allow some baggage over the weight limit, WizzAir will charge you €6 for each kg over the limit. Also, some airlines have lower limits than the usual 20 kg. A few kilograms of weight can double your ticket price. Check your terms carefully and weigh your luggage before a journey.
- Food is usually not served during the flight, or it is available for a fee. It's best to bring your own food and water. Liquids are generally not allowed through security anymore, but you can bring an empty bottle and fill it up at a drinking fountain or restroom tap. Alternatively, buy bottled water after security check.
- In-flight entertainment isn't normally provided either. Again, bring your own (laptop, music player, book or magazine)--although electronic devices are not allowed during landing and takeoff, as they are not with traditional carriers.
- Most discount airlines try to lower airport fees, so they often use smaller and more distant airports, sometimes quite far away from the city they state they fly to. For example Paris Beauvais Airport is some 90 km from Paris, bus costs about €13 one-way and it takes about 1h15 to get to Paris (taxi would be €130-150 one-way).
- Discount airlines do not wait for late running passengers, since an idle plane waiting for a passenger costs money. Check in desks shut promptly at the advertised time. If you are one minute late, they will not let you check in. Also, if you do not get to the boarding gate in time, you may find the plane gone and your luggage sitting on the ground. In these circumstances you will not get a refund, but you may get a transfer to a later flight if there is room.
- Many airlines have changed their schedule with as little as week before departure, so the flight is up to 10 hours earlier/later than in the original reservation. Options they typically give are: accept the change; re-book on a different flight (normally you still have to pay the difference in ticket price but no fee); or accept a refund. Note that purchasing another ticket with either that airline or another at a week's notice may be very expensive relative to your original purchase. When flying low cost it is always better to have good cancellation policy from the supplier connecting with the flight (next flight in your itinerary; hotel at your destination; car rental at the destination airport etc).
- Many discount airliners are "point-to-point" airlines, and do not sell connecting tickets if you need to take two planes to reach your destination. This means you might need to collect your luggage and check it in again for the next leg of the journey, and they do not take responsibility if you miss your connection, even if your connecting flight is with the same airline. This could force you to purchase a new ticket for the next flight. Some low cost carriers (notably Air Berlin) do offer end-to-end tickets, but normally only if you book the entire journey as a single ticket.
Other points to consider
- Do check out deals from the traditional carriers as well, especially on return trips they may have offers rivalling those of the discount carriers. Following competition from discount airlines, traditional carriers such as BA have also cut their fares on competing routes, and are often only about 20% more expensive than discount airlines, a price worth paying if the journey to the airport is cheaper and faster. Sometimes they can even be cheaper than discount airlines, especially during public holidays.
- Also check high speed rail connections in countries where they are availabe (France, Spain, Germany, Italy, UK). Railway companies have started to offer discounted advance fares (as low as €20 one-way) in response to competition from budget airlines. Travelling by high speed train can often be faster and cheaper than by discount airline, once you take into account the cost and time needed to get to the airport, as well as lenghty embarking/disembarking procedures.
- Contrary to public perceptions, most budget airlines have an excellent safety record.
- The flight frequency and departure/arrival times are usually worse on discount carriers compared to traditional ones.
- Traditional carriers will rebook you on the next available flight for free if something happens. Low cost carriers often charge for this or force you to buy a new ticket.
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, 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 and Morocco, 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.
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.
Ryanair is Europe's largest budget airline with 49 million passengers in 2007 making them Europe's 3rd largest airline and 14th in the world. Ryanair carries more international passengers than any other airline. Fares are priced as single segment one way trips. If you wish to change planes in a hub then you must book the two segments separately, and there is no transfer of luggage. You can book a return at the same time as the outbound but you get no discount for doing so. Ryanair charges a credit card fee of €10 per person and segment, which can only be avoided with a few (mostly British) debit cards. 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.
Ryanair has a lot of add-on fees such as €10-20 per bag per segment, up to 15kg before an excess charge of €15/kg applies. There is no free checked baggage allowance on Ryanair, and carry-on rules — one bag up to 8 kg, and not a gram over — are zealously enforced.
Ryanair operate a huge network in Europe, and are generally (but not always) the cheapest airline on the routes where they compete with another airline. They have 27 hubs: in Shannon, Dublin, Glasgow (Prestwick), Liverpool, London (Stansted & Luton), Brussels (Charleroi), Düsseldorf (Weeze) Frankfurt (Hahn), Stockholm (Skavsta), Milan Bergamo, Rome, Barcelona and add more practically monthly. They serve 142 European destinations as well as Morocco, with 627 routes.
Ryanair uses small airports that can be quite far from the the city they purport to serve so check carefully your travel time and costs estimates.
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 fares for every addition you need. So you'll be able to catch a €20,- fare for a London - Milan flight, but you'll be heavily charged for on flight meal, every item of checked-in luggage and so on. If you need a basic and cheap transport service, Ryanair is definitely a good choice.
In order to give a faster check-in to passengers with hand luggage only, Ryanair allows to check-in in advance via their website and a fixed fare €10.00 return per checked bag, if booked in advance (else doubled at the airport). Luggage weight limits are 10kg for hand luggage and checked luggage is paid for in 15 kg increments.
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 is 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 easily exceed the price of the original ticket by a factor of ten. Therefore, it is not advisable to travel with Ryanair if you're not insured against flight cancellation or if you have important work commitments the day after the return flight.
Also bear in mind that Ryanair is very strict about checking in no later than 40 min prior to the scheduled departure time. Passengers arriving at the check-in desk even one minute late have been known to be refused boarding, even if they only carried hand-luggage and despite the flight being delayed. When flying with Ryanair it is advisable to get to the airport early.
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 taxes.
Air Berlin, Europe's third largest discount airline, operates a huge network between Austria, France, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia, Greece and the UK. Tickets can be booked one-way at no penalty. They are also one of the few European budget airlines offering connecting flights, i.e. via their hubs in Nürnberg, Germany (NUE) or Palma de Mallorca, Spain (PMI). Also one of the very few low-cost-airlines which serve free beverages and food on their flights, even short ones, and to allow seat reservations, even prior to check-in. Works in an alliance with Fly Niki and Germania Express.
Tickets start from €29 all inclusive one-way.
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.
- Air Baltic have a wide variety of cheap fares from Riga, which can be used as a transit point. E.g. it is cheaper to travel Odessa-Riga-Kiev with airbaltic than Odessa-Kiev directly with regular-fare airlines. (from €14 all inclusive, one-way.)
- Air Baltic might be used to find some flights from Vilnius.
- Ryanair has some cheap flights from Kaunas (second biggest city in Lithuania).
- Blue Air operates 24 routes
- Ryanair has cheap flights from Constanta to Pisa or Bologna
- Wizzair is currently the cheapest operator out of Romania, and has many routes to major European cities
British and Irish Isles
- Aer Lingus operate many routes to and from the Republic of Ireland. Fares as low as €1 on certain routes mean that flying to or via Ireland can be very cheap. (from €28 all inclusive, one-way.)
- Ryanair (see above)
- BMI Baby, a subsidiary of bmi, have bases in, Cardiff, Manchester and East Midlands. They operate domestic flights to Scotland and Northern Ireland and international flights all over Europe.
- EasyJet (see above)
- FlyBe operates out of the UK to many European destinations
- FlyGlobeSpan based in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh) with cheap flights over Europe; a few cheap flights to Canada and direct service between Sanford/Orlando Florida and Glasgow.
- jet2 operate out of UK airports Belfast, Blackpool, Edinburgh, Leeds/Bradford, Manchester and Newcastle to destinations throughout continental Europe. The airline has been given an award for 2006 by consumer review site, Review Centre, based on customer ratings of the airline.
- Monarch Operates scheduled low-cost flights from London Luton, London Gatwick, Birmingham and Manchester airports to various destinations in mainland Spain, the Balearics, Portugal, Gibraltar, the Canaries and Cyprus.
- Thomsonfly Operates from many UK airports to destinations across Europe and Northern Africa, as well as to Tel Aviv.
- FlyThomasCook Offering flights from 21 UK airports to 75 destinations using a fleet of 24 modern aircraft.
- Sky Europe operates out of Bratislava, Krakow, Prague, Vienna and Warsaw. Sales online, in some travel agencies and at airports. (from €14 all inclusive, one-way.)
- Lauda Air operates out of Austria to many European destinations.
- Niki operates out of Austria to many European destinations. Serves free beverages and food. Has an alliance with AirBerlin.
- Smartwings operates out of Prague.
- Air Berlin (see above)
- Condor operates out of major airports in Germany (doesn't use obscure airports) and sells tickets starting at 29,00 € one-way within Europe, putting it into the discount airline bracket as well. Offers free food and beverages catered by Lufthansa parent.
- Germanwings operate a large network out of German airports Berlin, Cologne-Bonn, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. The airline also offers guaranteed connection flights between some of its destinations. (from €20 all inclusive, one-way, to all destinations.)
- TUI Fly former Hapag-Lloyd Express operate a large network out of Stuttgart, Cologne/Bonn, Hanover, Hamburg and Berlin. Flies as far as Greece and Israel. (from €20 all inclusive, one-way.)
- Wizzair is a Hungarian airline which operates out of Poland and Hungary (fares are from €20 all inclusive, one-way.) Following RyanAir, they have no free weight allowance for luggage, and charge for all checked luggage.
- Wizzair (see 'Hungary' above)
- Centralwings operates out of Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice) to several European destinations. It is a daughter airline of LOT Polish Airlines, the national operator, and generally makes use of LOT's fleet, but more expensive than others. Booking by Internet and phone, as well as through some travel agencies (additional fees apply).
- Norwegian operates direct flights from Warsaw to Oslo-Gardermoen, Bergen, Stavanger, Stockholm-Arlanda, Athens, Dubrovnik, Split, Rome, Salzburg, Paris-Orly and Malaga; from Krakow to Oslo-Gardermoen, Oslo-Rygge, Bergen, Stavanger, Copenhagen-Kastrup and Stockholm-Arlanda; from Wroclaw, Szczecin and Gdansk to Oslo-Gardermoen.
- Helvetic operates out of Zürich to mainly destinations around the Mediterranean.
- FlyBaboo operates out of Geneva to mainly destinations around the Mediterranean and East Europe.
France and the Benelux
- Brussels Airlines, the successor of SN Brussels Airlines and Virgin Express, operates from Brussels to destinations in Italy, Spain, Greece, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and other countries. With B.Flex, fares start at €49 all inclusive, one way. Brussels Airlines also has an extensive network of destinations in Africa.
- L'avion low cost business fares Paris to New York.
- MartinAir operates out of Amsterdam, offers worldwide destinations.
- Transavia (former BasiqAir), Operates out of Amsterdam to many European destinations.
- Air Plus Comet Based in Madrid, travels several places in Western Europe and Latin America.
- Clickair operates out of Spain to 35 European & Spanish destinations, with main hubs in Barcelona, Sevilla and Valencia. It's a subsidiary of Iberia and some of Clickair flights are shared with Iberia.
- Spanair operates throughout Spain and to a few other European destinations. Owned by SAS and a member of Star Alliance.
- Vueling operates out of Barcelona (Spain) to many European destinations.
- Meridiana / Eurofly operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.
- Wind-Jet operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.
- Myair operates between several French, Italian, Romanian, Turkish and other European airports.
- Blu-Express operates within Italy and to Thailand & Mediterranean destinations
Greece, Turkey and Cyprus
- Aegean Airlines operates from Athens to the Greek islands and the biggest cities of Europe.
- Corendon operates out of Turkey to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands
- Easyjet operates from Istanbul to Basel/Mulhouse (from around 30 euros).
- Onur Air operates a Turkish domestic network.
- Pegasus Airlines operates from istanbul to Germany,Netherlands, Switzerland
- Blue1, a Scandinavian Airlines subsidiary and a Star Alliance member, operate routes within Europe (mainly from Helsinki) and eight different cities in Finland. Not really low-cost, but often offers very competitive prices.
- Iceland Express operates out of Reykjavik to 13 airports in Europe including London, Berlin, Paris and the Nordic capitals Copenhagen, Stockholm & Oslo.
- Norwegian operates out of Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Poland. Has very cheap flights. Took over Sweden's FlyNordic in 2008. Main hubs: Oslo (Gardermoen and Rygge), Stockholm, Copenhagen and Warsaw. Domestic flights within Norway, Sweden and Denmark, and international flights to destinations in Europe (primarly from the four hubs, but also from some smaller cities in Norway). Norwegian operates in 25 european countries (plus Morocco, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates), and has flights to more than 70 destinations.
- Cimber Sterling was formed when established Danish airline bought some of the assets of the bankrupt low cost airline Sterling. Now operates out of Copenhagen and Billund to several destinations in southern Europe and Britain as well as Danish domestic and intra Scandinavian flights.
Based outside Europe
- FlyGlobespan is an Scottish airline which operates from Toronto (YHM/Hamilton) to the UK and Europe (fares are from $99 all inclusive, one-way.)
- AirTransat is a Canadian airline which operates from several Canadian cities (Calgary, Halifax, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Vancouver & Winnipeg) to the UK and Europe (fares are from $99 all inclusive, one-way.)
Low cost airline comparison sites
These meta search engines look through many of the websites above and compare prices on one page.
- AirlineTickets.de Search & price comparison engine for very low airfares within and to Europe and worldwide.
- FlyCheapo Low-cost airline route search and news.
- Flylc European discount flights search engine.
- FlyLowCostAirlines.org Search engine of low-cost airlines' flights.
- The Low cost Airlines Blog lists the latest offers from discount airlines.
- Kayak Popular flight search engine which includes some European low-cost airlines.
- Momondo Low-cost airline search engine.
- Skyscanner Search engine that started out covering pan-European destinations and expanding to other countries around the world. Most discount airlines are covered, and the most useful feature is a monthly bar chart that allows you to compare the cheapest dates to travel on a calendar. The second most useful feature is the ability to define start- and destination by country instead of by city, with summary of best fares found for each city, if maximum flexibility and lowest fares are desired.
- WiseTravelSearch This sites helps you search and compare the top online travel agents (including Kayak and Skyscanner) for low-cost flights.
- Travelmarket.com Search engine with agencies, low cost carriers and regular carriers.
- CheapOnlineFlights Compare scheduled, charter and lowcost airlines from the UK.
- Viviro.com Compares airfares from tradtional and lowcost airlines in addition to travelagencies. No cached prices
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
This page was last edited at 22:17, on 21 March 2009 by Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel. Based on work by Stefan Ertmann and Jani Patokallio, Anonymous user(s) of Wikitravel and others.