Tips for finding cheap flights around Europe
It costs how much to fly from London to Berlin? I just searched for the flight for mid-September and found incredibly (some would say “suspiciously”) cheap offers from easyJet (€40 / $52) and Ryanair (€46 / $59).
That’s super cheapo, and not even unusual for Europe’s budget airlines, which have been known to offer tickets for as low as £1… or even free. How is this possible? And how can you score one of these tickets?
Know where to search
From the US, airfare on carriers such as easyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Germanwings and others are not always easy to find, as they’re often not included (or at least highlighted) in the search results of the big airfare websites.
To find fares, go directly to the airline’s own websites. We do include them on our flights search on EuroCheapo, and we compare them to legacy carriers (such as Lufthansa and Air France) which sometimes offer tickets at comparable prices to the budget carriers.
Pay attention to the airport
To keep ticket prices low, budget airlines often use less-central airports that can take more time (and money) to get to. For example, in my London to Berlin example, easyJet’s flight takes off from London Southend Airport, which is 40 miles from London (farther than Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted or Luton). Ryanair’s flight, meanwhile, departs from Stansted. So in this case, you might want to spent a few euros more for the Ryanair flight.
For another example, consider many of Ryanair’s flights from London to Barcelona. They actually arrive into Girona-Costa Brava airport, 57 miles away from Barcelona. Although regular bus service between the airport and Barcelona is offered according to arriving and departing flights, mishaps (and unintended overnights) do happen.
Watch those baggage policies…
Many budget carriers try to recoup losses on very low ticket prices through sky-high charges for checked and carry-on luggage. Take special note of the baggage policies when booking, and consider your options. And be aware that some carriers charge less if you pre-pay for your checked bags.
Ryanair, for example, charges between €15-45 for checking luggage (up to 20 kg) when the bags are paid for in advance. If you forget and pay at the airport, you’ll be charged an outrageous €60-140 for the first bag and €105-160 for the second bag! There’s nothing sadder than watching last-minute luggage catastrophes at the Ryanair bag-drop.
…and those hidden fees
As my colleague Hilary Bown wrote last week on the blog, budget carriers famously tack on additional fees, including administrative fees, check-in charges, and credit card surcharges.
For example, Ryanair charges a €7 “administrative fee” per flight, while easyJet charges €12.50 per order (regardless of number of tickets). And they both add a surcharge for tickets purchases by credit card (Ryanair charges 2%; easyJet 2.5%).
Don’t forget to compare trains as an option
Europe’s high-speed trains often offer a compelling alternative to flying, especially shorter distances. For these routes (such as London to Paris, Paris to Brussels and Amsterdam, Barcelona to Madrid) the train might actually be faster once you add the time that it takes to get to the airports, checked in and through security.
And once you consider baggage fees and extra charges, a high-speed train could easily be cheaper, too.
Book in advance and snag a great deal
All caveats and hidden fees aside, Europe’s budget airlines can offer some incredibly good deals. If you book in advance, limit your luggage and follow the rules, very cheap flights are possible.
To read more about Europe’s budget carriers, visit EuroCheapo’s new budget flights search, which includes ticket prices on low-cost carriers like Ryanair and easyJet, and compares them to high-speed trains when they offer an attractive alternative.