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The Essential Guide to Europe’s Budget Airlines

Get on a plane and goSearching for a flight from Venice to Santorini? A search on Expedia or Kayak returns fares in the neighborhood of $500 and suddenly that vacation to the Greek Isles seems like a distant dream. But what if you could find that same flight for $40 each way? There must be a catch, right? Right? Let us introduce you to Europe’s budget airlines.

And yes, there are plenty of catches. But when you follow all the (ridiculous) rules, you can’t beat the prices on Europe’s budget airlines. You can suddenly find yourself jetsetting around Europe and instead of huge chunk of your vacation budget going toward the airfare just to get there, you can spend it on luxury hotels, fabulous food, and unforgettable experiences.

WhichAirline.com

WhichAirline.com

How to Find Europe’s Budget Airlines

Europe’s budget airlines aren’t always easy to find. These days most everyone has heard of Ryanair because of the outlandish money-saving suggestions of its CEO Michael O’Leary. Ideas like standing-room fares and charging to use the bathroom have fizzled, but Ryanair is promising $14 fares to the US. We’ll see… But back to how to find Europe’s budget airlines because they often don’t show up on flight aggregators like Expedia, Cheapoair, and Kayak. New no-frills airlines take off every year and it can be hard to keep up with them all.

WhichAirline.com does a great job of searching the budget carriers and I particularly like the to anywhere function. Plug in your home departure airport and the flight search engine pulls up a list of where you can go from cheapest to most expensive, with the list topping out usually somewhere in the $100 range. Deciding where to go is now just a question of following your wanderlust.

Of course, WhichAirline.com still doesn’t list them all. So I’ve put together this chart with their hubs (where the airline has a home office and operates the cheapest from) to make using Europe’s budget airlines easy for you:

 

Budget Airline Hub
Aer Lingus Dublin, Shannon, Cork, Belfast
airBaltic Riga
airberlin Multiple cities in Germany
Air One Milan, Venice, Pisa
AnadoluJet Multiple cities in Turkey
atlasjet Istanbul
Blue Air Bucharest, Bacău
Blue Express Rome, Milan
Brussels Airlines Brussels
CityJet London City Airport
Condor Multiple cities in Germany
Darwin Airline Geneva, Lugano
easyJet London, Milan, Berlin, Paris, Nice, Edinburgh, Madrid, and more
Estonian Air Tallinn
Flybe Manchester, Newquay, Exeter, Southampton, London, and more
Fly Niki Vienna, Salzburg, Graz and Linz
Fly Romania Bucharest, Timisoara and Tulcea
Germanwings Multiple cities in Germany
Helvetic Airways Zürich, Bern
Jet2 Multiple British cities
Jetairfly Brussels, Liège, Ostend
Meridiana Olbia, Cagliari (Sardinia), Rome, and other Italian cities
Monarch Airlines Multiple British cities
Norwegian Oslo, Bergen, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Alicante, and London
Pegasus Airlines Istanbul, Antalya
Ryanair London, Dublin, and several other cities
SmartWings Prague, Ostrava
SunExpress Antalya
Tailwind Airlines Istanbul
Thomsonfly Connects various British cities to Mediterranean resorts
Transavia Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Eindhoven
TUIfly Multiple cities in Germany
Volotea Venice, Palermo, Bordeaux, Nantes
Vueling Multiple cities in Spain, Amsterdam, Florence, Rome
Widerøe Oslo
Wizz Air Budapest and many other Eastern European cities
WOW Air Reykjavik
XL Airways Paris

Tips for Using Europe’s Budget Airlines

Now that you know where the cheap-o airlines operate from and you’re ready to book your ticket, follow these tips so you don’t end up spending more than if you’d just hopped on that more luxurious Lufthansa or British Airways flight.

1. Sign-up for the emails and newsletters

You’re best chance of making these already budget airlines work for you is by being alerted to sales. Ryanair is notorious for having £1 fares and Volotea has certain destinations on sale every Sunday for 19.99 each way. Sign-up for the various European budget airlines’ emails so you don’t miss out on these fare sales.

2. Pay attention to the airport

Budget airlines often use less-central airports that can take more time and money to get to. For example, Ryanair flies into Paris Beauvais, about 80 kilometers from the center of Paris. Although a regular bus schedule is timed to regularly arriving and departing flights, you’ll need to factor in the 1 hour bus ride and 26 round trip per person bus tickets to see how much you’re saving.

3. Watch out for baggage fees

Budget airlines are notorious for only allowing a carry-on so small that no human could possibly pack anything more in it than a swimsuit. Headed to a nude resort? No problem! For the rest of us, even an expert packer like me who can pack three weeks worth of clothes into a reasonable carry-on sized rollerboard, the carry-on allowances of Europe budget airlines presents a challenge.

If I’m going for a weekend, no problem. But I usually end up checking a bag because I need a laptop, camera equipment, and – you know – clothes. It is far less expensive to purchase a checked bag when making your reservation. Show up at the airport with a bag that doesn’t meet the airline’s standards and you’re facing outrageous fees of €50 or more!

4. Speaking of fees…

Budget airlines are cheap for a reason. They keep their operating costs at a minimum by having minimum check-in staff at the airport, not offering free food and drinks, and an assortment of other things you’d just expect an airline to do. Be sure to check-in online and print out your boarding pass. If you show up at the airport without it, you’re facing a fee. Also be aware that some budget airlines charge a booking fee and other additional fees if you don’t use a certain credit card.

5. Abide by the 3-1-1 rule

No matter whether you’re flying on a European budget airline or Emirates, if you’re carrying on you need to abide by the TSA’s 3-1-1 rule. According to the TSA, “3-1-1 for carry-ons = 3.4 ounce (100ml) bottle or less (by volume); 1 quart-sized, clear, plastic, zip-top bag; 1 bag per passenger placed in screening bin. One-quart bag per person limits the total liquid volume each traveler can bring. 3.4 ounce (100ml) container size is a security measure”. So don’t get your panties in a twist if you’re told you have to toss out that bottle of moisturizer because it’s 4 ounces.

 

Although it can seem like a lot of work and hoops to jump through to make Europe’s budget airlines work for you, they offer some incredibly good deals. Just sign up for those emails, print out your boarding passes, limit your luggage, and you’re on your way to your dream destination!

Jennifer Dombrowski

Jennifer Dombrowski is a location independent globe trotter who is based in Prata di Pordenone, Italy. She works as a social media and communications strategist and is an award-winning travel writer. She is also a travel correspondent on Traveling on the American Forces Radio Network. Jdomb's Travels was named one of the top travel blogs to watch by the Huffington Post and has been featured by top publications such as CNN, Buzzfeed , and The Telegraph. Her iPhoneograpy has also been featured on publications such as USA Today and Travel + Leisure. Google+

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6 comments

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  1. Frank

    Very useful post Jen! We’ll be doing some travel in Europe this summer so I’m saving this post in my favorites list.
    Frank (bbqboy)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    Glad to hear you’ll be making good use of this list, Frank!

    [Reply]

  2. Heather

    I cannot wait to start using this guide once we move to Europe this summer! That “to anywhere” feature will be fun to play around with :-)

    [Reply]

    Jennifer Dombrowski Reply:

    It really is a fun feature just to see where you can go to. And why not when you can get there so cheap?!

    [Reply]

  3. Jaryd

    The main thing about finding these cheap flights is yes it takes time, but keeps a lot of extra money in your pocket to adventure longer and further. Great list of airlines too with their destinations, thats very helpful, cheers.

    [Reply]

  4. Lori

    This is indeed a very useful post! I am sure many people will benefit from your recommendations – as always ;)

    [Reply]

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