It used to be the best way to travel around Europe was on the large train network that crisscrosses the continent. This network still exists and is in operation, in fact there are plenty of high speed trains that can take you from London to Rome or Prague quicker than you might think. But, there’s also a new kid on the block and that’s the discount airlines who are taking over European skies. Sure, the major national carriers are still in existent and offer you more with your ticket than just a guarantee to get from point A to point B. But if you’re looking to travel, and get a deal, then here are 5 tips you need to know for flying to and within Europe.
Know the Carriers and Where to Find Their Best Prices
There are new discount carriers popping up every day, and for the most part you won’t find them on fare aggregator websites (like Orbitz or Expedia). You will need to look for their individual websites or on different aggregator sites like SkyScanner or Momondo. Personally I always use Momondo first. When I recently was looking at tickets to Portugal, I was so depressed the ticket prices were coming up very high and only on major airlines. But, I had seen RyanAir and EasyJet planes flying into Marrakech (one benefit of living within spitting distance of the airport). When I looked at the websites for the low cost options, the prices were MUCH lower. I realized that sites like Orbitz didn’t show these discount carriers. After some searching I found Momondo. Here’s an example comparison. Let’s say you’re on vacation in Morocco and decide to go to Paris for the weekend – because you can do this. Momondo results return this;
Yes that’s 163 euros per person. This is actually higher than normal as I sometimes can get flights for as low as 50-60 euros roundtrip to Paris or Madrid. Our recent trip to Portugal cost us under 200 euros TOTAL for two people using discount airlines.
If you searched the same weekend to visit Paris on Orbitz, your results look like this;
Yea…that’s a big difference wouldn’t you say?
Still not all discount carriers will show up (but almost all do). If you want to do some additional research, some of the major discount carriers in Europe include; RyanAir, EasyJet, Norwegian Air, Transavia, Vueling, or Wizz Air. Each has its own hub and often regional selection of flights. Some even fly trans-Atlantic (like Icelandair and Norwegian Air).
Pay Attention to City Listings.
Discount airlines often fly into smaller city airports. So even though your ticket may be for Barcelona, if you’re flying RyanAir you’re really flying into Girona and it’s about 40 kilometers outside of Barcelona. Or using the same carrier listing a flight to Frankfurt – it really flies into Hahn, 70+ miles away. This might not be ideal. Then again, it might be perfect for where you want to go! Before booking make sure the flight is really going where you want and that it is a savings. It may be less expensive to take the traditional route once you account for transportation to and from the airport.
If you think luggage allowances and fees on US domestic flights are rough, they’re even worse on these carriers. If you want to check a bag it will cost you about 50 Euro depending on the carrier. Some discounts are given for paying in advance online. You are allowed one carry on with most airlines, but the size and weight restrictions re tightly controlled. If it says one piece of luggage, it means one piece of luggage, no extra bag, like a purse or shopping bag. They’re very strict. But, because of this gate agents almost always ask for volunteers willing to check their bags at no cost. Odds are if you’re flying the discount airline it’s because you want the deal and aren’t willing to pay to check your bag. With so many doing this they need people to check their bags at the gate. While I won’t say count on it, every time I’ve flown with one of the discount airlines it’s been the case – so the odds are good!
If you want anything to eat or drink on board – even water – you’ll have to pay for it. The costs are roughly the same as if you made the purchase on a traditional airline but this can be one cost that adds up. For example on a Norwegian direct flight from Oslo, Norway to Marrakech, Morocco the flight time is 5 ½ hours. If you’re not prepared that’s a long time to be without a drink or snack. Some say the seat space is less than on other airlines but I think it’s quite comparable to US domestic airlines. But, there’s no hot towels for sure.
Then of course there are the hidden costs of flying. Low cost carriers expect you to shoulder some of the work. They can offer low prices by reducing the number of staff they need for example at the check in counter. If you forget to print your boarding pass before arriving at the airport you’ll be charged to print it. If you want to select a seat or have priority boarding, that will come at a fee too. Any extras above and beyond having a seat and a minimal amount of carry-on luggage you will pay extra for.
If you’re shaking your head and wondering why anyone would want to fly with these airlines the answer is simple; price. You can regularly find flights between major European cities for under 30 euros each way. Even last minute flights can be very inexpensive. It’s easy to book one way tickets at a reasonable price, whereas with traditional airlines a one way ticket can cost you as much or more as a roundtrip ticket. This also gives you multiple options of destinations. Fly into Madrid, take the bus around the country, hop on a train to Paris, and fly home from London, no need to loop back to Madrid.