Guide to Low Cost Carrier Travel in Europe

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Taking no-frills, short distance flights on low cost carriers is a great way to fill in the hole on an open jaw award and to hop around Europe if you’re traveling light.

You often cannot redeem traditional miles on these kinds of flights–or if you can it just wouldn’t be worth it because the value you’d be getting per mile would be so low. That’s when a different kind of “mile” comes into play: The Arrival mile.

For a limited time, the Barclaycard Arrival Plus is offering with 50,000 bonus Arrival miles after spending $3,000 on purchases in the first 90 days. Arrival miles are perfect for covering cheap economy flights when miles aren’t worth spending, award taxes/fees, Airbnb’s, hotels, etc because they’re redeemed in the form of travel expense statement credits

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You’ll earn 56,000 Arrival miles after meeting the minimum spending requirement of $3,000 in three months for the sign up bonus (50K), as every dollar spent earns two Arrival miles. You can redeem the miles to offset any travel expense greater than $100 inside your Barclaycard account within 120 days of the purchase, like any flight (no blackouts). Here is How to Redeem Arrival Miles. 56,000 Arrival miles is worth $560 if you redeem on travel expenses.

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It’s important to realize that there’s a reason these airlines are cheap: all the extra comforts are cut and you have to pay for most luggage, selecting a seat, etc. Avoid having to shell out cash at the airport by preparing yourself with the policies and restrictions of the carrier you’re flying. This is a good post to bookmark for future reference if you ever plan on flying cheaply around Europe!

Below are some popular low cost carriers to use when traveling around Europe and a bit about the policies of each one:

  • Ryanair
  • easyJet
  • Wizz Air
  • Vueling
  • Transavia

Ryanair

Headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, Ryanair is Europe’s biggest low cost carrier and the one all of you have heard of. Check out all of Ryanair’s destinations.

Photo by Ana & Michal
Photo by Ana & Michal

Here’s what you should know before flying Ryanair:

  • Ryanair does not offer connecting flights. That means that if you need to take two Ryanair flights to get where you’re going, they won’t be on the same ticket, you might have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and check it in again to get on the next flight, and if the first flight causes you to miss second, they won’t claim responsibility.
  • Check in online. Checking in at the airport will cost you a little under $50. Print your boarding pass beforehand too unless you want to pay $16 for it.
  • You get to bring two bags in the cabin total for free, one can weigh up to 22 pounds with maximum dimensions of 55cm x 40cm x 20cm, and the other can have maximum dimensions of 35cm x 20cm x 20 cm. If your carry ons are too big, you will either not be allowed to board or, if there’s room, they will store under the plane for cost of $53
  • This table explains what it will cost you to check luggage beyond your free carry ons

Ryanair baggage fees

  • If you miss your flight for whatever reason, you can get re-booked on the next one for a little over $100 if it’s within 40 minutes before departure or one hour after.
  • You have to pay to choose your own seat. Prices range from $9 to $16 depending on what kind of seat you want to reserve.

EasyJet

EasyJet is a British low cost carrier based in London. Check out all of EasyJet’s destinations.

Photo by Ben Salter

Here’s what you should know before flying easyJet:

  • EasyJet does not offer connecting flights. That means that if you need to take two easyJet flights to get where you’re going, they won’t be on the same ticket, you might have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and check it in again to get on the next flight, and if the first flight causes you to miss second, they won’t claim responsibility.
  • All passengers can bring one bag into the cabin for free, maximum size of 56 x 45 x 25 cm including handles and wheels. There is no weight restriction–easyJet’s website says “As long as you are able to place the bag into the overhead locker and get it out again without assistance then the bag will be accepted into the cabin.” Those that buy easyJet Plus, FLEXI fare, Upfront and Extra Legroom tickets get one additional small under the seat bag.
  • This table explains what it will cost you to bring another bag in the cabin/check luggage beyond your free carry ons:

easyJet baggage fees

  • If you arrive late to the airport you can pay what they call a “rescue fee” of $85 to be put on the next flight to your destination as long you arrive within two hours of your originally scheduled departure
  • You have to pay to choose your own seat. Prices range from $2 to $21 depending on what kind of seat you want to reserve.

Wizz Air

The Hungarian low cost carrier Wizz Air is headquartered in Budapest. Check out all of Wizz Air’s destinations.

Wizz Air
Photo by Chris

Here’s what you should know before flying Wizz Air:

  • Wizz Air does not offer connecting flights. That means that if you need to take two Wizz Air flights to get where you’re going, they won’t be on the same ticket, you might have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and check it in again to get on the next flight, and if the first flight causes you to miss second, they won’t claim responsibility.
  • Check in online as you’ll have to pay for it at the airport.
  • All passengers get one bag free of charge in the cabin, maximum size of 42 x 32 x 25 cm
  • All additional cabin bags or checked bags will incur a fee that will be cheaper if you arrange it online before arriving at the airport. If you pay for Priority Boarding ($5 online) you also get to bring a maximum 40 X 30 X 18 cm sized personal item. The amount of the fees for additional luggage depends on the time of year and where you’re flying. You can get a quote with their Baggage Fee Calculator. The maximum size paid bag you can bring in the cabin is 56 X 45 X 25 cm, and the maximum size paid bag you can check is 149 X 119 X 171 cm.
  • There are fees for reserving specific seats that are listed when booking.

Vueling

Vueling is a Spanish low cost carrier based in Barcelona. Check out all of Vueling’s destinations.

Photo by Irekia
Photo by Irekia

Here’s what you should know before flying Vueling.

  • Vueling does not offer connecting flights. That means that if you need to take two Vueling flights to get where you’re going, they won’t be on the same ticket, you might have to pick up your luggage from baggage claim and check it in again to get on the next flight, and if the first flight causes you to miss second, they won’t claim responsibility.
  • Each passenger can bring one bag in the cabin free of charge, at a maximum weight of 10 kg (14 kg if you book the Excellence Fare), and a maximum size of 55x40x20 cm All passengers also get a free small personal item, maximum of 35x20x20 cm.
  • Basic economy fare customers can check bags of of up to 50 lb but they must pay x (the maximum total weight they can check is 110 lbs). The Optima and Excellence fares can each check a 50 lb bag free of charge, and any checked bags beyond that must be payed for (there is also maximum total checked weight of 110 lbs per Optima and Excellence fare customers).
  • If you arrive late to the airport you can pay what they call a “passenger rescue fee” of $106 (if domestic) or $127 (if international) to be put on the next flight to your destination.
  • Reserving a seat costs extra and is cheaper to do online ahead of time. Prices range from $5 to $20 depending on the seat.

Transavia

Transavia, owned by KLM, is a Dutch low cost carrier based in Amsterdam. Check out all of Transavia’s destinations.

Photo by Gerard van der Schaaf

Here’s what you should know before flying Transavia:

  • You can pay for Transavia flights with Flying Blue miles, but make sure you check the cash price first to see if it’s worth it
  • Transavia doesn’t offer connecting flights, but…
  • Each passenger can bring a 22 lb bag for free. If its dimensions are 45 x 40 x 25 cm, then you can definitely take it in the cabin. If it’s dimensions are larger than that (and no more than 55 x 40 x 25 cm) then you may be able to put it in the overhead compartment, if not then it will be put under the plane for free.
  • Checked baggage on basic economy fares costs extra but less if you arrange it online before. With Plus fares you get 44 lbs and with Max fares you get 66 lbs of free checked luggage.

  • Reserving a seat costs between $4 and $10 depending on which seat and which type of fare you buy.
  • After you’ve checked in online, you can no longer add anything or make changes to your booking (i.e. more checked baggage, reserving a seat, etc).

Low Cost Airline VS. Train or Bus

Often these airlines (especially Ryanair) don’t fly to the standard city airport, but instead airports farther outside the city, so the time and money it takes to get to your actual destination from the airport should be considered in the overall cost.

The key between deciding whether it’s a better value to book a low cost airline or another form of transport like a train or a bus is to add up the cost of the base fare + extras (luggage, seat reservation, etc) + transportation to/from the airport to see if it’s really a good deal versus the bus/train, which mostly has an all-in price and goes city center to city center.

Pro Booking Tip

You should probably search for flights on these airlines on their own websites.

Some of them either aren’t on flight aggregators like Kayak and/or cost a little more there than on their own site in their own currency.

Bottom Line

Low cost airlines are a savior for low budget travelers, but you shouldn’t fly them unless you’re 100% aware of their policies–otherwise you might get sideswiped with unexpected fees. Part of what allows these airline to sell such cheap fares is that you have to pay for anything extra, so be prepared!

Arrival miles earned by the Barclaycard Arrival Plus are perfect for covering this kind of travel expense you can’t/shouldn’t spend normal airline miles on. Right now the Arrival Plus has a limited time elevated sign up bonus of 50,000 Arrival miles that you can use towards over $500 of flights or whatever other travel expense you can’t redeem airline miles or hotel points on.

What other low cost carriers do you patron in Europe?

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11 COMMENTS

  1. It is not entirely accurate to say that the airports used by Ryanair or other budget carrier as being outside the city. It might be more accurate to say they serve secondary airports of smaller cities. If you happen to visit these smaller cities, budget carriers become a better choice. Take Billund, Denmark as an example. It gives you more convenient access to the Jutland. Billund Airport is only 10 mins away from the Legoland and Headquarters of Lego. It also saves you $ and time to travel from Copenhagen or Hamburg.

    A problem that regulator should deal with is the naming of these secondary airports. I have no idea why Ryanair is allowed to name Girona Costa Brava Airport as a Barcelona airport, so as Reus airport as Barcelona. They are not located within Barcelona at all. They are not like London airports- Heathrow, Gatwick, City The so-called Frankfurt Hahn airport, again, is another arguably misleading example.

    • Indeed a good point. If you are flying specifically to see a given city, then the fact the airport is out of the city can make the identification misleading. If your goal is to visit locations in a country as a whole, say with a car, train, or bus, then not flying into the major airport can be just as good or better. For example if a traveler is only interested in seeing Barcelona, then Girona Costa Brava Airport is a bad choice. But if you’re interested in Salvador Dalí, it can be a good starting point for getting to Cadaqués and Figueres, maybe also the beaches of Costa Brava, and perhaps hopping over to Perpignan, France. You can then easily get a train or bus to Barcelona itself.

      The point is transparency so people can make informed decisions.

  2. Blue Air, based in Bucharest, flies to about a dozen countries, often with very enticing fares. I flew Madrid-Bucharest for next to nothing, and fares under 100 euros are commonly available. Bare bones, but no problems.

  3. You might add Aer Lingus to those airlines. I took a flight with them from MUC to DUB on New Years night 2016, because I had found a super cheap flight on United in Business from DUB to Maui/Hawaii for under $ 1,600 return, so I combined that with two 65,000 miles award flights to/from MUC for two relatively cheap trips…Aer Lingus was s a bad joke…one of their check-in agents had not shown up… so check in took forever. Their female flight attendants looked like they had escaped from the Fifties with over the calf skirts and strange doughnut hair dues all in some weird dark green, and the head lady flight attendant sounded like she had just escaped from some pre-school place while explaining the usual safety instructions. So they were trolling through the aisle, offering their coffee for 1 Euro, and Gin Tonic for EUR 7.50…thank you very much, I just bought a bottle for that price, and the usual overpriced ‘duty free crap’, that’s a lot cheaper at Costco anyway…Well, so we landed in DUB, and the pre-school lady informed us in her usual jolly cheer, that we better huddle up, because there was no jet-way available. WHAT? that’s an ‘up an coming’ International Airport’. and all your work force is off and boozed out because it’s New Year’s eve 10 p.m., so you can’t move a flipping jet-way to my plane ?
    Ok, down the stairs, and about 100 yards walking in pouring freezing rain to the terminal. I was cursing all the way. Don’t those folks have any respect for their passengers ? Then it took about 1 hour for the luggage to appear, because they ‘had misplaced it’. Sure, I am standing there for an hour, shivering, soaked to my bones. This resulted in a month long cold/ bronchitis/ walking pneumonia for me with a loss of income of about $ 3,000, since I am self-employed. Apart from my return flight from DUB to MUC I will never fly this airline again. Period !

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