Low Cost Carriers in Europe

If you're a fan of low cost airlines in the US like Southwest Airlines, you'll find plenty to love in Europe: the continent is home to a growing number of low cost airlines. With some early booking and careful scheduling, you can find some unbelievably low airfares (we've seen fares as low as one pound, minus fees and taxes).

On our recent trip to Europe, we traveled aboard the two major low-cost carriers: EasyJet and RyanAir. We're happy to report both flights were easy (and cheap!) and ones we'd happily make again.

In booking and taking our trips, we learned several good tips:

Book early...really early. We were unsure of our travel schedule so we didn't hop on the first fare we found on the internet. By the time we got our travel schedule from Amsterdam to London finalized, the fare was double (but still less than half the cost of rail travel).

Plan on Smaller Airports. Like Southwest Airlines, most of Europe's low-cost airlines utilize smaller airports, not the major hubs. Our first low-cost flight was aboard RyanAir from London to Graz, Austria. Graz was our intended destination but the airport is also a low-cost alternative to travelers headed to Vienna, over two hours away.

We left London via Stansted Airport, a long transfer from Heathrow. Instead of taking the London-Graz flight and the long airport transfer right after our international flight from Dallas to London, we opted to stay in London for a couple of days of sightseeing.

Weight Flights vs. Rail The low, low fares make these flights very appealing but don't forget about Europe's excellent train system. Remember, every flight will involve transfers to and from the airport (you won't be arriving and departing from downtown, as is often the case with train stations). Each flight means arriving a couple of hours early for the usual airline security.

We found rail travel a very welcome change from air travel so we used the low-cost flights only for the longest legs: London to Graz and Amsterdam to London. We traveled via train from Graz to Vienna, Vienna to Prague, and Prague to Amsterdam.

Arrive Early Most of these carriers do not assign seats. Both RyanAir and EasyJet gave us boarding cards based on our check-in time; early check-in meant the chance to be in the first group to board the plane. To make sure the two of you can sit together, arrive early.

Travel Light Always a good idea, light travel is especially important on these carriers. Many restrict you to one small carry-on and one checked bag; more luggage will mean more money.

Plan on No Frills Don't look for any frills on these flights: no movies, no music, no extras. (Let's be honest, though: how many frills do you get flying any airline these days?) Food and drink (even sodas) are sold by flight attendants.


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