Money, Booking & Tickets
Budget airlines are cheap... most of the time. So what's the best way to book a flight? And how much should you expect to spend? Read on.
Q: Can I book online?
A: Yes. This is the preferred way to book flights on most European low-cost airlines.
Q: Do I need a European credit card to book a ticket?
A: No. However, some airlines have established their own co-branded credit card partnerships. These airlines may charge an additional fee for transactions that are not booked with these credit cards. But this is not the norm.
Q: Will I ever receive a paper ticket?
A: We actually can't answer this question, as we haven't flown on every budget airline out there. However, we can say that we've never received a paper ticket for any flight we've taken. Every time we book a low-cost ticket, we've received confirmation via email or on a confirmation page on the airline's Website.
One airline, the Turkish low-cost carrier SunExpress, notes on their website that you can pay extra to receive a printed ticket in the mail, but this is the only airline for which we’ve seen this.
Q: Will I ever have to buy a round-trip ticket?
A: The vast majority of low-cost airlines will not require the purchase of a round-trip ticket. You may very well run into exceptions with charter airline fares. Another major exception: flights to destinations in Tunisia, Egypt, and Jordan. For the most part these flights must originate in Europe, and they must be booked round-trip.
Q: Do I have to buy a one-way ticket?
A: No, absolutely not. Next question!
Q: Can I book a budget airline flight through a travel agent?
A: The low-cost reservation format suits independent travel very well. In the budget air universe, travel agents are a bit of a prehistoric concept. Travel agents charge commissions or otherwise take a cut, and low-cost carriers are able to offer such cheap prices because they've eliminated the middleman as thoroughly as possible. All that said, some airlines do make their tickets available through travel agencies, but keep in mind that these tickets will be more expensive than those purchased directly through the carrier's Website.
Q: I bought a ticket on a European low-cost airline and I was charged for not using a credit card associated with the airline. What was that all about?
A: As we've pointed out elsewhere, low-cost airlines are very good at drumming up odd fees. Some airlines impose a charge for not using the airline's own credit card.
You've got two options, as we see it: recognize that this fee may materialize at the tabulation stage of your booking and curse it, or sign up for the airline's credit card. If the credit card comes with any tangible benefits and does not have a high yearly fee—and you're in the market for a new piece of plastic, it might be a good idea to sign up for the card.
Q: I just spied a €400 roundtrip on one of the "low-cost" airline sites you profile here. How is this possible?
A: Low-cost carriers for the most part operate on a scarcity model. The fewer seats left on a given flight, the more expensive those seats will be. At zero hour on a popular route, you should expect to see expensive fares.
Q: Can I find cheaper fares on legacy ("full-cost") airlines?
A: Sometimes. Last-minute fares on popular low-cost airline routes can be quite expensive. Occasionally, these fares will be considerably more expensive than a fare on a legacy carrier (which some low-cost airlines, with a touch of bravado, refer to as "full-cost" or "high-cost" airlines)! Factor in the tendency of most legacy airlines to introduce fare sales and you'll find that legacy carriers sometimes offer cheaper fares than do low-cost airlines. For this reason, we've added a price comparison tool to compare these fares on our route search result pages.
Also, consider your needs as a traveler. Many low-cost carriers now charge for checking luggage and for checking in for your flight at the airport (versus on-line at home). These charges can add up quickly.
Factor in these costs, as well as other considerations like in-flight refreshments (for a charge on low-cost carriers; often free on legacy carriers), your rebooking options in the case of cancellation (a hassle and often for a charge on low-cost carriers; far easier and free on legacy carriers), and airport location (secondary airports can be quite far from city centers) See our Pros and Cons for more information.
Q: There seem to be a lot of hassles for people wanting to fly on budget airlines. Is it even worth it?
A: Yes, we think so. If we didn't, we wouldn't have created this low-cost flight channel, after all! The key is to first educate yourself about the limitations, the potential penalties, and the hazards. Approached with a realistic sense of how budget airlines work, low-cost carriers are not a massive hassle. Never pay more than you would for a "full-fare" flight. Never check luggage. Try to check in online if it's available. Jump through the hoops and enjoy your bargain flights!
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