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Flying with low-cost airlines (also known as low-cost carriers or LCC) in Europe is a great option for anyone interested in spending less money while still visiting many new places.
And these types of companies continue to get more and more popular, particularly in Europe (and around the world, as well). That’s why today, I created this list with the best European low-cost airlines so you can learn a bit more about each of these companies, find out what they have to offer, as well as see their main advantages and disadvantages.
Here’s what we’ll cover in today’s article (in this order):
- What exactly are low-cost airlines?
- Why fly with a low-cost airline?
- Pros & cons of flying with a low-cost airline in Europe
- How does the baggage allowance for low-cost airlines work?
- What are the best low-cost airlines in Europe? (6 options)
- Comparison table of the 6 best low-cost airlines in Europe
- How to compare prices, see your options, and get the cheapest flight from a low-cost airline
- Things to be careful about when flying with a low-cost airline
So first things first….do you know exactly what a low-cost airline is?
What exactly are low-cost airlines?
As their name implies, low-cost airlines are airlines that have very, very cheap plane tickets (as in, 10-euros-from-London-to-Rome-cheap).
The idea first began in the United States, where it remains popular with airlines like Spirit, but it really took off in Europe, where several small companies were able to offer cheaper flights than traditional airlines by lowering their operating costs.
Naturally, this often means that they only have flights at certain (often inconvenient) hours, or fly in and out of secondary, not primary, airports some distance from the main city…and that they will try to charge you fees for just about everything, including checked and even carry-on baggage, if you aren’t careful. But luckily, as you’ll read in the tips below, if you’re careful you can avoid these and pay nothing but the low fare!
Despite these annoyances, this business model became very lucrative for these companies, and remain great for travelers who are fine with low-maintenance travel absent of the “luxuries” of traditional flights like food, large seats, included checked or carry on bags, etc.
So to put it simply, a low-cost airline won’t give you the services you might be used to on a normal airline, like meals or personal screens to watch movies, for example. They also often sell a variety of products on their flights, which is yet another way they are able to keep such accessible prices. In other words, there are both pros and cons to flying with low-cost airlines, as we’ll get into below.
Pros & cons of flying with a low-cost airline in Europe
Flying with a low-cost airline is certainly a different experience than flying with traditional flights. But I’d say that they are definitely worth using, especially for short flights (such as within Europe) that fit your schedule. So, I certainly recommend trying one out yourself, but you also need to be aware of the downfalls so you don’t run into any unpleasant surprises.
Advantages of flying with a low-cost airline in Europe
In my opinion, there are 3 main advantages of flying with a low-cost airline:
- Very cheap ticket prices
- Chance to visit new destinations
- Many destination options across Europe
I’ll talk a bit more about each below.
Very cheap ticket prices
It’s impossible to talk about the advantages of low-cost airlines without talking about the price.
After all, they aren’t always the most pleasant flights, so the real reason anyone uses them is for the benefit described right in the name.
To give you an idea, flights within Europe (such as between London and Berlin) can hit as high as 200 euros with a normal airline. But with a low-cost airline, you might be able to snag yourself a round-trip ticket for as low as 20-30 euros.
This is obviously a big difference, but you do have to remember that there are some disadvantages to this, which we’ll talk about below.
Chance to visit new destinations
When you look at the flights available with a low-cost airline, you’ll often find flights for destinations that you never thought about visiting. There are many people (myself included) that have ended up seeing new cities or even countries simply because they found a ridiculously cheap flight there and took advantage of it.
Given that Europe alone has more than 40 countries, this gives you plenty of opportunities to explore! In other words, choosing to fly with low-cost airlines can be a great option to visit new places you hadn’t thought of before.
Many destination options across Europe
One reason that low-cost airlines are so cheap is that there is a lot of competition. Which is great for you because it means you have a lot of options all over Europe…perfect for anyone who is backpacking around or on a long trip!
Disadvantages of flying with a low-cost airline in Europe
When it comes to disadvantages of low-cost airlines, I think the big 3 are as follows:
- They’re not very comfortable
- The baggage fees are high
- No extra services (unless you pay)
You can find more detail about each of these topics below.
They’re not very comfortable
The first thing that I should say here is that low-cost flights are not the most comfortable in the world. Most of the seats won’t recline and the space between each is minimal.
This is one of the major downfalls of traveling with low-cost airlines, although it’s not such a big deal if you’re just flying between countries that are relatively close, like Italy and Portugal. It’s fine to deal with if it’s just for a few hours.
I myself try to limit the length of any low-cost airline flights I take to 5 hours. If I have to fly longer, I try to pay a bit more to fly with a traditional airline company.
Although, once I did fly from Sweden to Dubai for 6 hours with Norwegian (one of the companies we’ll talk about below) because the price was really good…and it wasn’t that bad because I just brought food with me and uploaded some movies into my tablet
The baggage fees are high
An even bigger disadvantage to low-cost airlines pops up when we talk about your luggage. Often, the cheapest tickets for these low-cost airlines only include a carry-on back of up to 10 kg, or simply an onboard backpack that you have to be able to fit under the seat in front of you (nowadays, you often have to pay even to put a carry-on bag in the overhead bin).
In other words, it’s important to always pay attention to the baggage limits included in your ticket because going above them means you’ll have to pay lots of fines and fees.
If you have a lot of baggage, often a flight with a low-cost airline just isn’t worth it because the cost of your baggage can cost more than your flight (especially if you don’t pay for your baggage online ahead of time).
So make sure you check this before booking your flight and calculate if the cost of your baggage is still worth it. And if it is and you need to bring more baggage, reserve and pay for your baggage online ahead of time (it’s cheaper that way).
How does the baggage allowance for low-cost airlines work?
Currently, the cheapest flights with most low-cost airlines only include a small backpack that you can fit under the seat in front of you.
If you want to bring a small suitcase to put in the overhead bins as well, you’ll have to pay. And obviously, if you want to check a big bag, you’ll have to pay as well.
In other words, the key here is to buy the cheapest ticket and only pay what you need for baggage. And remember to buy your carry-on or checked baggage allowance online, before you go to the airport, because paying for it there will be a lot more expensive!
No extra services (unless you pay)
Besides baggage, basically anything else that you’d usually have for free on a normal flight would be something you have to pay for on a low-cost airline.
Luckily, they’ve gotten a bit better over the years. For example, before the possibility of using mobile boarding passes on your phone, you might have had to pay something like 40 euros for them to print out a paper boarding pass for you if you didn’t print it out ahead of time yourself!
That said, this still means that you’ll have to pay for things like headphones, to choose your seat (this one makes me mad because they always try to put you in the middle if you don’t pay!), for food, for drinks of any kind, and even for a bottle of water (at the very least, they still have to give you free cups of water if you ask!). And this doesn’t even include the range of products that they usually sell on the flights as well, like perfumes and watches.
What are the best low-cost airlines in Europe? (6 options)
And now that we all understand what exactly a trip with a low-cost airline means, we can finally talk about the 6 best low-cost airlines in Europe and why they earn that title.
But first, here’s the list of the 6 best low-cost airlines to fly in Europe:
Founded in 1993, Norwegian is considered the best low-cost airline in Europe. And they’ve expanded their operations to include cheap long-haul flights as well, such as their recently-inaugurated flight from London to Rio de Janeiro.
A nice benefit of Norwegian compared to other low-cost airlines is that they have free Wi-Fi and they tend to be a little more reasonable/less picky when it comes to baggage (unlike Ryanair, which we’ll talk about below). But other than that, everything else is the same. No checked baggage included and no food, even on the long-haul flights.
Another benefit to Norwegian is that they have their own loyalty program. In other words, the more you fly with them, the more points you accumulate. These points can be used not only to buy other plane tickets, but to book hotels and rent cars.
To learn more about Norwegian’s loyalty program, head here.
It’s almost impossible to talk about low-cost airlines in Europe without talking about Ryanair. Founded in 1985 in Dublin, Ireland, Ryanair is probably the most famous (or infamous, depending on how you look at it!) low-cost airline and has the highest number of flights across the continent.
Given that its headquarters is in Dublin, the majority of their flights are between Ireland and the UK, but this doesn’t mean that they don’t extend to other regions. Currently, for example, the company has flights to the African continent, covering a number of cities in Morocco.
Some important things to keep in mind is that Ryanair flights will often not fly to a destination’s main airport, but to one farther away. For example, if you fly into Paris with Ryanair, you may fly into the Paris-Vatry airport, which is in fact 150 km (93 miles) from the city center!
In other words, if you fly with Ryanair or any other low-cost airline, be sure you know exactly which airport you’re flying into and that you calculate the cost of transportation to get to the city center if the airport is far away. Because sometimes, the cost of the transportation makes just paying more to fly into the normal airport worth it.
Beyond this, Ryanair also has a bit of a reputation for being a pain about your baggage. As in, they are likely to go around checking to see if your bag will fit on the plane under the seat, and may even weigh it. So if you fly with Ryanair, be very careful with your luggage!
All that said, the prices of their flights are often unbeatable!
Vueling is a Spanish low-cost airline founded in 2004 and headquartered in Barcelona.
Since it’s beginning, they’ve become known for offering cheap and comfortable flights to specific destinations, especially between Barcelona and Ibiza.
Although Vueling isn’t one of the oldest or most traditional low-cost airlines, it’s still currently one of the most respected and best options in Europe.
Wizzair is a low-cost airline company that comes from Budapest and was founded in 2003. Today, its eye-catching purple logo is easily recognized by travelers across Europe.
Beyond having flights between all the main destinations and countries in Europe, include Iceland, they’ve also extended their routes to include regular flights to destinations like Kazakstan, UAE, and plenty of spots across the Middle East and Central Asia.
Although it was founded in 1991, Eurowings only began operations in 1994, when it began to operate within Germany (it’s currently headquartered in Berlin).
Although the majority of its flights and routes are based on Germany, the company has expanded to include low-cost flights across the continent.
EasyJet is another name that we just can’t avoid when talking about European low-cost airlines. Headquartered in the UK, today you can find EasyJet flights all over Europe, in cities both big and small (including many small cities that the other low-cost airlines skip over because there’s not enough demand).
I can say fairly confidently that Ryanair and EasyJet are the two companies that dispute the title of the most popular low-cost airline in Europe.
Because of this, it’s common to see both of these airlines in practically any airport across the continent, not to mention their advertising everywhere.
Luckily for us, this means we get a cheap way to fly to many different countries!
Comparison table of the 6 best low-cost airlines in Europe
As you can see above, all of these companies have pros and cons. And although some are bigger than others, they aren’t necessarily better.
So, I created this table below so you can easily compare each of them.
|Has flights just within Europe||No||No||No||Yes||No||No|
|Charges extra fees for baggage||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Has an app for smartphones and tablets||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Has “trip planner” on its website||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Has partnerships with hotels & car rental companies||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|Operates in Iceland||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||No|
|Has a loyalty program||No||No||No||No||Yes||No|
This comparison should help you find the best company for your trip.
How to compare prices, see all your options, and get the cheapest flight from a low-cost airline in Europe
Theoretically, you could click on the websites for each of the companies above and search individually for the trip you want.
To learn more, you can check out my article with the 5 best and cheapest websites to search for and book plane tickets. My article with 16 tips to save on flights might also help.
Things to watch out for when traveling with low-cost airlines in Europe
To finish off, I’d like to list some of the main things to watch out for when you fly low-cost airlines. Now, that’s not to say that these types of flights aren’t safe (as you probably know, flying is one of the safest forms of transportation in the world and low-cost airlines have to meet the same safety standards as all the other airlines).
When I say there are “things to watch out for,” I mean in terms of extra fees that you might get stuck paying if you’re not careful (low-cost airlines are, after well, quite infamous for their unexpected fees). So, here are some tips to make sure you follow:
Read all your ticket rules & restrictions
I know, I know. No one actually reads the fine print on anything, right?
But when it comes to traveling with low-cost airlines, it’s worth doing to make sure you know all of the details of your ticket and follow all the rules. If you do this, you can avoid the fees that many travelers accidentally get stuck paying, and won’t have to worry that much about the other items below.
Be very careful with the size and weight of your bag
As I said above in the “How does the baggage allowance for low-cost airlines work?” section, low-cost airlines can be very picky when it comes to your bags. So, make sure you aren’t just paying attention to the weight of your bag, but also its size. You can really rack up baggage fees if you aren’t careful, both for your checked bags as well as for your carry-on bags.
Pay close attention to the airport you’re flying into or out of
Like I said in the “Ryanair” section above, the airports for low-cost airlines often aren’t the main city ones. So, just make sure you know exactly what airport you’re flying into and out of.
Basically everything within your flight will be things you have to pay for, so don’t accept anything!
Another thing to be cautious of is to not accept anything during your flight. Often, these flights will “offer” many things for you (from food to beauty products), but not always make it clear that you have to pay for them.
In most cases, the costs for these items will be above average, unlike the plane ticket that you purchased.
Do your check-in online and print your boarding pass before going to the airport
Low-cost airlines will charge you if you do your check-in at the airport and if they have to print out your boarding pass for you. So, be sure to do your check-in before and print at home.
These days, some companies accept electronic boarding passes, so you can just use your phone or go through their app and avoid printing. But be sure to check if this is allowed for your type of ticket so you don’t get charged otherwise.
Don’t cancel or try to change your ticket
In general, since these tickets are so cheap, there are not flexible at all. In other words, if you try to cancel your flight, you’ll lose all that you paid…or if you try to move the date, you’ll pay a ton for the change!
In other words, if you have any reason to think your trip isn’t completely confirmed and that you may want to change your ticket, don’t buy a ticket with a low-cost airline.
Now that you know how low-cost airlines work, what the best low-cost airlines in Europe are, what things to watch out for, and how to compare and find the best low-cost airline tickets (remember, you can look at this article here with the 5 best and cheapest websites to search for and book plane tickets for more help), you’re ready to book your flight!
If you have any questions about any of the companies above, flying low-cost, traveling on a budget, or just about anything else travel-related, just leave me a comment below and I’ll get back to you!
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