Discount airlines in Europe
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Boarding at Ryanair, no assigned seats
This article is a travel topic.
Europe has a number of low cost airlines, the largest and most established being easyJet, Ryanair, 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 have many imitators offering low fares across the continent. These are boom times for cheap air travel in Europe, with fares on some routes as low as €10 (£7, US$12) one-way including tax (though average fares are around €80 one-way).
 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 mandatory for booking tickets. Most discount airlines sell their tickets as single journeys only. If you want to fly return you simply purchase two singles, and there is no "Saturday night rule" as with many legacy carriers.
The pricing structure is complex, with fares fluctuating strongly according to demand, often on an hourly basis, and 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.
The following will however increase your probability of obtaining cheap 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
 Points to consider
- Discount airlines are often much more strict about their fares. For example, while in "fat" 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.
- Be prepared that 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 (though with the new EU security rules, you can only carry liquids in bottles of maximum 100ml. It seems to be possible to bring an empty bottle through security and fill it up at a toilet - whether this is useful depends on the quality of the water there.
- In-flight entertainment isn't normally provided either. Again, bring your own (laptop, music player, book or magazine)
- Most discount airlines try to lower airport fees, so they often use smaller 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).
- Following competition from discount airlines, main 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.
- Discount airlines do not wait for late running passengers. Leaving a plane idling 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 including but not limited to: easyJet, hlx.com, SkyEurope, and AirBerlin 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 advisable to have good cancellation insurance bought from another supplier which isn't the airline.
- 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. Another risk is that several low cost carriers 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 will help you out though, so check their rules.
- Contrary to public perceptions, most budget airlines have an excellent safety record.
- Do check out deals from the legacy carriers as well, especially on return trips they may have offers rivalling those of the discount carriers.
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). Note that 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.
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. They have an extensive UK domestic network, and operate to and between large European airports. Unlike Ryanair, easyJet tend to operate out of principal airports, such as Barcelona rather than Barcelona Girona, in Spain.
Travel insurance is optional but is encouraged at the time of booking.
Tickets can range from €20 to €420, all inclusive one-way.
Ryanair is Europe's largest budget airline with 40.1 million passengers in 2006 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 baggage. 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 2,50 Euro per Person and Segment with the exception of some 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 4.50 Euro per bag, up to 15kg before excess charges apply. There is no free checked baggage allowance on Ryanair. Other budget airlines that have fallowed suit by charging for all checked luggage include easyJet and wizzair.
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 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 130 European destinations as well as Morocco, with over 360 routes.
In order to lower travel costs, 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, excessive luggage weight and so on. If you need a basic and cheap transport service, Ryanair is definitely a good choice.
In order to allow passengers with hand luggage only a faster check-in, starting from March 2006 Ryanair introduced the possibility for them to check-in in advance via their website and a fixed fare €7.00 return per checked suitcase, if booked in advance (else doubled at the airport). Luggage weight limits are 10kg for hand luggage and checked luggage is sold in 20 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 accomodation is not normally provided by Ryanair. Passengers wishing to return on the same day are normally forced 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.
Travel insurance is optional but is encouraged at the time of booking.
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
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 Nuremberg, 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.
- Snowflake operates out of Copenhagen and Stockholm. Snowflake is the discount version of SAS.
- Sterling operates from bases in Denmark, Norway and Sweden to city and sun destinations across Europe. On the Scandinavian routes Sterling often compete with SAS by offering the same service at much lower prices.
- Maersk Air Maersk is now part of Sterling airlines with Scandinavian based routes and will redirect the weblink to their site.
- Blue 1 operate routes within Europe (mainly from Helsinki) and eight different cities in Finland.
- FlyMe operates out of Sweden, mainly Gothenburg. (bankrupt)
- FlyNordic operates from Stockholm to mostly Scandinavian places but also to Europe
 Central Europe
- Sky Europe operates out of Bratislava, Budapest, 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. Also gives away free beverages and food. Has an alliance with AirBerlin.
- Wizzair is a Hungarian airline which operates out of Poland and Hungary (fares are from €20 all inclusive, one-way.)
- 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, and thus is probably safer (eg. less likely to go bankrupt), but more expensive than others. Booking by Internet and phone, as well as through some travel agencies (additional fees apply).
- 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.
- LTU operates out of Germany. Europe and worldwide destinations. Has recently been taken over by AirBerlin (see above)
- Condor operates out of major airports in Germany (doesn't use obscure airfields) 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.
- German Wings operate a large network out of German airports Berlin, Cologne-Bonn, Hamburg, and Stuttgart. (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.)
- Iceland Express operates out of Reykjavik to 13 airports in Europe including London, Berlin, Paris and the Noridc capitals Copenhagen, Stockholm & Oslo.
- RyanAir (see above)
- 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.)
- Meridiana 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, Turkish and other European airports.
- 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.)
- MartinAir operates out of Amsterdam, offers worldwide destinations.
- Transavia (former BasiqAir), Operates out of Amsterdam to many European destinations.
- Blue Air operates six routes, as of 2005 September, between Bucharest and Barcelona, Maastricht, Lyon, Milan, Rome, and Madrid.
- Air Plus Comet Based in Madrid, travels several places in Western Europe and Latin America.
- Clickair operates out of Spain to many European & Spanish destinations. 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.
- Helvetic operates out of Zürich to mainly destinations around the Mediterranean.
- Corendon operates out of Turkey to Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands
- Onur Air operates a Turkish domestic network.
- BMI Baby, a subsidiary of bmi, have bases in Teeside, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands. They operate domestic flights to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also have a small number of flights out of Gatwick.
- 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 as of 6/2/06 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 out of several UK cities
- Silverjet low cost business fares London to New York.
- Thomsonfly Operates from many UK airports to destinations across Europe and Northern Africa.
 Based outside Europe
- Zoom Airlines is a Canadian airline which operates from many Canadian cities and New York to the UK and France (fares are from $99 all inclusive, one-way.)
 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.
 Low cost airline comparison sites
These meta search engines look through many of the websites above and compare prices on one page.
 List of low cost airline hubs
For these purposes, a low cost airline hub is an airport which provides more than seventy routes by the
|Airport name (airport code)
||Low cost airlines
| Alicante (ALC)
||Easyjet, Air Berlin, FlyBe, Thomas Cook, Jet2, thomsonfly, transavia , Sterling
|Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS)
||Easyjet, Sterling, transavia, Air Berlin, SkyEurope, Blue1
||Amsterdam, Haarlem, Leiden
||Clickair, Easyjet, Thomsonfly, Air Berlin, tuiFly, Germanwings, Jet2, SkyEurope, Sterling
|Berlin Schoenefeld (Brandenburg - SXF)
||Easyjet, Ryanair, Air Berlin, Germanwings, tuiFly, Condor
|Berlin Tegel (TXL)
||Air Berlin, Sterling, HapagLloydExpress, tuiFly, transavia
||Brussels Airlines, Sterling, Blue1, Condor, Jetairfly, Smart Wings, Thomas Cook, SkyEurope
||Wizz Air, SkyEurope, EasyJet, Ryanair, Sterling, Jet2.com, AerLingus, Germanwings, Air Berlin, Norwegian Air
||Easyjet, Germanwings, Air Berlin, tuiFly, Wizz Air
||Ryanair, Blue1, FlyBe, Germanwings, SkyEurope
||Easyjet, Brussels Airlines, tuiFly, Air Berlin, German Wings, Blue1
|London Luton (LTN)
||Easyjet, Ryanair, ajet, First Choice, Flybe, Thomas Cook, Thomsonfly, Wizz Air
|London Stansted (STN)
||Easyjet, Ryanair, Air Berlin, Kibris Turkish Airlines, FlyGlobespan, Norwegian.No, SkyEurope, Germanwings, Atlantic Airways, Blue1, AtlasJet, Eos Airlines, MAXjet, Transavia, Fly Niki
||Easyjet, Brussels Airlines, Air Berlin, tuiFly, HapagLloydExpress, German Wings, Blue1
|Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
|| Easyjet, Sterling, Air Berlin, Germanwings
|| Ryanair, Easyjet, tuiFly
||Air Berlin, tuiFly, Condor, Germanwings
 See also
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