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Travel Tips

The Best and Worst Budget Airlines in Europe

Katie Stepek
By 
Katie Stepek
Flight Expert Manager, Europe
11 min read
Last updated 
September 11, 2019

The world of low-cost carriers can be a confusing one. And between part-time charter airlines, exorbitant hidden fees, unusual routes, and difficult-to-comprehend fare class breakdowns, navigating the European market can be even more complicated than attempting it stateside. But if you’re looking to see Europe on a shoestring budget, scoring a cheap flight to Europe and then getting around the continent on one of these no-frills carriers is often the best way to go. Here’s everything you need to know about European low-cost airlines.

Let's start with some of our favorite Europe budget airlines. 

Norwegian Air

Named Europe’s Leading Low-Cost Airline in 2019 by World Travel Awards, Norwegian Air is the continent’s third-largest low-cost airline and rose to fame in the US when it began offering transatlantic flights at bargain prices in 2013. They operate a mostly new fleet dominated by Boeing 737-800s for short hops and 787 Dreamliners for long-haul trips, so you can usually expect a comfortable and connected inflight experience despite the lack of perks. 

Purchasing a LowFare ticket covers a personal item and carry-on while checked luggage and reserved seats can be added for an additional price. All drinks, snacks, and meals onboard will also cost you. Some aircrafts, especially those used for longer routes, like the Dreamliner, are equipped with seatback entertainment systems, USB charging ports, WiFi (now free throughout Europe), and even a premium cabin option with extra legroom, a three-course meal, AC power outlets, complimentary checked luggage, advanced seat selection, and few other standard amenities. 

If you include all its subsidiaries (Norwegian Air Shuttle, Norwegian Air International, Norwegian Air UK, Norwegian Air Argentina, Norwegian Air Norway, Norwegian Air Sweden, and Norwegian Long Haul), the airline reaches more than 150 destinations in 40 different countries spanning five continents. For travel within Europe, the focus is on domestic routes within Scandinavia and Finland, short- to medium-haul flights in and out of London’s Gatwick to various continental business hubs, and popular seasonal escapes like Greece, Croatia, Ibiza, and southern Italy. 

In general, Norwegian offers fewer and more expensive intra-Europe flights than its direct competitors so it’s not always the best option for country hopping on the European continent. But if creature comforts like modern planes, a bevy of optional upgrades, inflight entertainment, and free gate-to-gate WiFi rank high on your priority list, the extra cash could be worth it.

Here’s an example of a trip from London to Barcelona for €66.32 roundtrip during the month of September. 

screenshot of booking Norwegian Air flight.

Norwegian fees for LowFare tickets on intra-European flights:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb)
  • Checked bag purchased at the airport: From €50 but note the cost is per leg 
  • First checked bag pre-purchased online: From €10 per leg (varies by itinerary)
  • Seat selection: From €9 per person, per leg 
  • Snacks and meals: €2.50–€14 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.50–€3.50 
  • Alcoholic drinks: €5.50–€20 

Add a checked bag and seat selection and you’ll add a minimum of about €40 to your roundtrip price, with extra fees making up 40% of the total cost. 

Norwegian’s fee system is least painful when booking short direct flights, as connection charges and other per-leg options like checked bags and seat assignments can add up quickly if you’re putting together a complicated itinerary. Also note that the discount on checked luggage booked ahead of time only significantly applies to your first checked item, as a second one will cost you much more depending on your route.

EasyJet

Twenty-four-year-old, London-based EasyJet is Skytrax’s number two pick for best European budget airline, serving 156 destinations in 33 countries via 979 routes. Their all-Airbus fleet consists primarily of slightly older narrow-body A319-100 and A320-200 models though they’re currently being phased out and replaced by sleeker and more fuel efficient A320neos. 

As is the case with most budget carriers, EasyJet runs a no-frills operation, charging extra fees for advanced seat assignments, checked luggage, onboard refreshments, and other amenities. Unlike some of their competitors, however, they only allow passengers a single carry-on bag and no additional personal item. 

The catch is that there’s no weight limit—as long as it’s less than 56 cm by 45 cm by 25 cm (including handles and wheels) and can fit inside the overhead bin, you’re good to go. If you can’t fit everything into one bag, each customer including children and babies are allotted up to three pieces of checked luggage for purchase. Each checked item cannot weigh more than 32 kg (70.5 lb) or exceed a combined length, width, and height total of 275 centimeters. Fees range from £6.99 to £37.49 for bags booked ahead of time online to £40 at the airport, with varying additional fees for heavier items weighing between 23 kg and 32 kg (50.7 lb and 70.5 lb). It’s an unusual system but if you’re an expert packer on a quick trip, the end savings is well worth it.

EasyJet flights are cheapest when booked well in advance through their online Low Fare Finder and you can check-in online up to 30 days before take-off. Since they focus almost exclusively on European travel, their network is packed with direct flights spanning a broad swath of the continent. You won’t find inflight entertainment systems or WiFi on any of their flights, but most of the routes are short enough that it’s not too much of a setback. EasyJet’s 29 base airports run the gamut from major cities like Paris, Amsterdam, and Berlin to smaller markets like Bordeaux, Inverness, and Porto while a host of leisure destinations like Malta, Mykonos, and Ibiza operate seasonally and provide some great last minute deals. 

EasyJet’s fleet doesn’t include premium cabins, though some seats available for pre-purchase do offer extra legroom. If you’re looking for a slightly upgraded experience and plan to fly EasyJet regularly, you might consider buying an EasyJet Plus membership. A £215 annual fee gets you free advanced seat selection (including the extra legroom options), fast track through security, an additional cabin bag, a designated bag drop desk at check-in, and priority boarding. It’s basically like having low-level status on a legacy airline and could come in handy if you’re booking multiple Euro trips per year. 

Here’s an example of a cheap weekend getaway from Barcelona to Paris for around €54 ($60.78) roundtrip during the month of October. 

screenshot of booking EasyJet flight.

EasyJet fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included (but no personal item)
  • Checked bag purchased at the airport: From £40 
  • Checked bag pre-purchased online: From £6.99 
  • Seat selection: From £1.99 
  • Snacks and meals: £1.50–£9 (discounted if purchased online beforehand)
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: £2–£3 
  • Alcoholic drinks: £4.50 –£8.50 

As a minimum, a checked bag and seat selection will add about £18 to the final roundtrip cost, making up about 30% of the total. 

Blue Air

Considered a semi low-cost airline, Blue Air is Romania’s largest carrier with 23 planes flying to nearly 60 destinations in Europe plus Israel. Henri Coandă International Airport in Bucharest serves as the airline’s hub and bases include Cyprus, Turin, and three additional Romanian airports: Bacău International, Cluj International, and Iaşi Internațional. They offer both budget as well as full-service flight experiences and helpfully codeshare with Alitalia, AirItaly, Cyprus Airways, and Sky Express, which greatly increases their reach and helps them stand out among other carriers of the same size. 

While their fleet is admittedly outdated—classic Boeing 737s with an average age of 21 years according to airfleets.com—they’re planning to replace the bulk of them with new 737-MAX8s by the end of 2019 (though that date might change due to the model’s current grounded status). As such, inflight entertainment systems and onboard WiFi are never a sure bet. The benefit to flying older planes, however, is that the seats tend to be wider and more plush than those you’d find on more recent planes retrofitted to maximize passenger capacity. 

A Light fare ticket comes with 10 kg (22 lb) of cabin baggage allowance and passengers are limited to one carry-on bag measuring no more than 55 cm by 40 cm by 20 cm and no personal items. You can check up to four bags for an additional fee, but the maximum size and cost varies by route and they’re always cheaper when booked ahead online.

Depending on the route, Blue Air does offer some complimentary snacks and beverages as well as hot meals for advanced and onboard purchase (though occasionally those are free, too—you can verify by route online). Besides food and luggage, Light fare add-ons include lounge access, reserved seats, and priority boarding. Blue Air’s major downsides seem to pop up primarily on the booking side of things. The website can be buggy and unresponsive and they’re not always listed on flight search engines (and even when they are, the prices don’t always align). Online check-in availability also differs by route, which can be inconvenient when you’re on the move.

Here’s an example of a weeklong trip from Bucharest to Larnaca, Cyprus for around €65 (310.98 RON) roundtrip from late September to early October. 

screenshot of booking Blue Air flight.

Blue Air fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (but no personal item)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €60, depending on route and weight
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €10, depending on route and weight
  • Seat selection: Varies by route 
  • Meals: Varies by route (search here)
  • Snacks and non-alcoholic drinks: Sometimes free, though varies by route
  • Alcoholic drinks: Varies by route

Adding advanced seat selection and a checked bag increases your roundtrip total by at least €20-25, with these extra fees accounting for about 25% of the total.

TUI 

TUI isn’t a single carrier but a network of six European airlines owned by the TUI Group, the world’s largest leisure, travel, and tourism company. The biggest, UK-based TUI Airways, is actually the world’s largest charter airline, maintaining a roster of 60+ Boeing jets of varying sizes and models and serving over 80 domestic and international destinations from 22 UK airports. 

Along with sister airlines TUI fly Belgium, TUI fly Deutschland, TUI fly Netherlands, TUI fly Nordic in Stockholm, and France’s Corsair International, TUI Airways specializes in curated vacation packages but also offers fantastic flight-only deals to popular tourist destinations all over Europe in an effort to fill empty seats on chartered flights. As you can see in this screenshot of a flight search from Antwerp to Florence with TUI fly Deutschland, prices drop significantly as the departure date approaches. So if you’re flexible enough to book last minute, you’re in the market for some fantastic deals.

screenshot of TUI deals list

While TUI is not a budget airline in the traditional sense, there are extra charges associated with flight-only bookings. Costs differ between the sister airlines, so we’ll use the UK’s TUI Airways as a baseline example. Flight-only passengers are allowed just one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 10 kg (22 lb) (no additional personal item) and not exceeding 55 cm by 40 cm by 20 cm, including wheels and handles. 

You can check up to three bags weighing 23 kg (50.7 lb) each for a fee. Costs vary by route, but a recent search showed a £40 to £58 price tag for each bag purchased online while booking a flight from Manchester to Venice, so it’s not cheap, and choosing to check your luggage at the airport will always set you back quite a bit more. Advanced seat selection, Extra Space seats like bulkheads, and Extra Legroom seats with up to two additional inches of pitch are also available for purchase during the booking process. 

Advanced seat selection, Extra Space seats like bulkheads, and Extra Legroom seats with up to two additional inches of pitch are also available for purchase during the booking process. Once in the air, you can buy inflight snacks and light meals from a set menu (some items are complementary on long-haul flights) along with soft drinks and a wide variety of alcoholic beverages. Shorter flights generally don’t provide inflight entertainment while long-haul flights over seven hours feature movies, music, and gaming on seatback devices. WiFi is not currently available on any TUI Airways flights.

One interesting aspect about TUI Airways is their Premium Club program, which upgrades your standard fare ticket to TUI’s version of business class on long-haul flights for a relatively low cost, depending on route and time of booking. The difference between the two classes is substantial, with perks like a larger luggage allowance, priority check-in and bag drop, security fast track, lounge access in the UK, 38 inches of pitch, headphones and a Rituals amenity kit, a duvet and pillow for overnight flights, and free meals, drinks, and tea service. Premium Club isn’t offered on short- and medium-haul flights under seven hours, but it’s a move worth considering when available, especially if you’ve lucked into an ultra-low base fare.

Here’s a screenshot of a last minute seven-day TUI Airways trip from Manchester to Venice for £49 roundtrip departing in late June, one week from the search date. 

screenshot of booking TUI flight.

TUI Airways (UK) fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (but no personal item)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: Varies according to route and weight, but pricey
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: Varies according to route and weight, but pricey
  • Seat selection: Varies by route (the flight from Manchester to Venice started at £19 for adults and £9 for children)
  • Snacks and meals: £1–£6.50 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: £1.50–£2.50
  • Alcoholic drinks: £4.50–£20 

With higher fees for seat selection and a checked bag, adding these extras for your roundtrip journey could double the cost of the base fare for your flight.  

Vueling

Since launching in 2004, this ambitious low-cost airline has grown from a two-plane operation servicing just four destinations from its hub at Barcelona-El Prat to Spain’s biggest carrier according to number of planes and destinations. 

Today’s 122-strong fleet is dominated by modern, fuel efficient Airbus 320-200s and a growing number of sleek new Airbus 320neos. And with a second hub at Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci–Fiumicino Airport as well as four additional bases and 14 focus cities, Vueling connects passengers to over 130 locations in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East. 

Like its aircrafts, Vueling’s website is streamlined and easy to navigate, and they do a good job of clearly communicating add-ons and extra charges throughout the purchasing process. There are four different seat selection tiers, from regular assigned seats in the far back rows starting at €1.99 up to €15.99 for a bulkhead with 20% more space and priority boarding. There’s also the option to purchase the empty seat beside you during check out for even more room. An impressive selection of snacks, light meals, and drinks are available to buy onboard. There’s no inflight entertainment, but you will get the chance to catch up on some work as Vueling was the very first European airline to debut high-speed WiFi back in 2014.

Vueling’s luggage policy is not only refreshingly transparent, it’s generous—you’re allowed one carry-on bag weighing up to 10 kg (22 lb) and no bigger than 55 cm by 40 cm by 20 cm, a personal item like a purse or briefcase plus a separate shopping bag for airport purchases (as long as both can fit under the seat in front of you). 

Checked bags reserved ahead of time online are very reasonably priced and broken down by size from 15 kg (33 lb) starting at €8 to 30 kg (66.13 lb) starting at €25, and Vueling even has a special drop-off counter for pre-purchased bags so there’s no need to wait in line at the airport. Note that checking a bag at the airport will still cost you a flat fee of €50. While the no-frills Basic Fare only includes hand luggage, the next step up offers most of the standard amenities like a free checked bag and advanced seat selection and usually only costs around €30 each way. And if you’re planning to bring Fido, you can even add a pet to your reservation during the online booking process (a rarity) starting at €40.

Two things that set Vueling apart from the competition are its frequent flyer program and its ample codeshare agreements. Vueling Club members can rack up Avios points and put them toward discounts and award travel on Vueling flights as well as on Aer Lingus, Air Italy, British Airways, Iberia, and LEVEL. Avios points can also be spent on award travel on any Oneworld Alliance partner airline. Vueling currently has codeshare agreements with British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Iberia, LATAM Brasil, and Qatar Airways, greatly extending its already substantial global reach. And, passengers who book online or through Vueling’s app are given the opportunity to add lounge access to their ticket for a fee.

Here’s an example of a five-day trip from Barcelona to Amsterdam for €64.98 roundtrip departing in early October.

screenshot of booking Vueling flight.

Vueling fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) plus a personal item
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €50  
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €8 
  • Seat selection: From €1.99 
  • Snacks and meals: €2.50–€12 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.10–€3.60
  • Alcoholic drinks: €3.60–€10.50 

Adding seat selection and a checked bag will add at least €20 to your final roundtrip cost, a relatively small amount given the fees some other carriers impose for these extras, but still account for about 25% of the total cost. 

Pegasus

Turkish low-cost airline Pegasus is your best bet for cheap flights from Western Europe to the Middle East and Central Asia via the 29-year-old carrier’s primary hub at SAW-Istanbul in conjunction with focus cities Adana Airport, Antalya Airport, Ankara Esenboğa Airport, Adnan Menderes Airport, and Ercan Airport in North Nicosia, Cyprus. 

The company’s current 79-aircraft fleet is an even split between workhorse Boeing 737-800s and updated Airbus A320 models (mostly A320neos with plenty more on the way) and transports customers to 105+ destinations in 40+ countries. Along with popular tourist draws like London, Amsterdam, Rome, Budapest, Tel Aviv, and Dubai, Pegasus stands out by servicing smaller, harder-to-reach markets like Kyrgyzstan, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Russian airports outside of Moscow and St Petersburg.

While the planes aren’t fancy—no WiFi or seatback screens, though Pegasus is rolling out inflight entertainment packages on personal devices—they are modern, clean, and well maintained, with an average age of just five and a half years. Basic international fares are limited to one 8 kg (17.6 lb) carry-on bag less than 55 cm by 40 cm by 20 cm plus one small personal item like a purse or laptop case, while the same level fare on domestic flights includes a checked bag up to 15 kg (33 lb). 

However, upgrading to a 20 kg (44 lb) checked bag-inclusive class is relatively inexpensive and often subject to promotional discounts. Prices can start as low as €30 each way for international flights to Istanbul and €15 for connecting flights within Turkey. Charges for checked bags vary based on route and increase gradually as the date of departure approaches. As always, checking your bags at the airport (or online less than three hours before take off) will cost you much more. For food, you can either pre-order discounted meals during booking, upgrade to a sandwich-inclusive fare class package, or purchase snacks and drinks a la carte on board.

Here’s an example of a six-day trip from Istanbul to Stockholm for around €98 ($109.99) roundtrip from late October to early November.

screenshot of booking Pegasus flight

Pegasus fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 8 kg (17.6 lb) plus a personal item
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €20, depending on route
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €7, depending on route and departure date
  • Seat selection: From $5 USD
  • Snacks and meals: €2–€14 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €1.50–€4 
  • Alcoholic drinks: €5–€9 

With relatively low fees, you can add a checked bag and seat selection for about €20 roundtrip, which in this case is only about 15% of the total. 

Volotea

Volotea is a Spanish low-cost carrier with primary bases in Venice, Nantes, Bordeaux, Palermo, Strasbourg, Asturias, Verona, Toulouse, Genoa, Bilbao, Marseille, Athens, and Cagliari. Using their 32-aircraft fleet (Boeing 717s and Airbus A319s, though they’re transitioning to 100% Airbus over the next few years), Volotea flies 319 direct routes to 80 medium and small cities throughout 13 European countries. 

Passengers are allowed one carry-on bag plus one small handbag or briefcase with a combined total weight of 10 kg (22 lb). Checking a 20 kg (44 lb) bag starts at €9 during online booking, €50 at the check-in desk, and €60 at the gate (each additional kg up to 32 kg (70 lb) costs €12 regardless of purchase method). Each passenger can check five pieces of luggage as long as the overall weight doesn’t exceed 50 kg (110 lb). 

When booking, you can pick from several different amenity bundles including advanced seat selection, access to “First Row XL” bulkheads, priority boarding, and complimentary snacks. Food and drink can be pre-ordered online or purchased on board from the a la carte menu. You can also easily add an in-cabin cat or dog to your online booking (a rarity) for an extra €39. Some (but not all) Volotea flights offer inflight WiFi and streaming entertainment packages via your personal device for a small charge.

Frequent flyers should consider signing up for Volotea’s Megavolotea and Megavolotea Plus programs. For an annual fee starting at €49.99, members receive discounts of up to €10 to €15 off all flights, as well as steep discounts on checked luggage and advanced seat selection, free priority boarding, exclusive monthly promotions, free companion benefits, and a €20 to €35 Volotea credit on their birthday. 

Here’s an example of a week-long trip from Dubrovnik to Milan for €27.99 ($31.62) roundtrip in mid September.

screenshot of booking Volotea flight.

Volotea fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (counting your personal item)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €50 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €9 
  • Seat selection: From €2 
  • Snacks and light meals: €1.50–€7.50 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.50–€3 
  • Alcoholic drinks: €4.50–€5.50

With a checked bag and advanced seat selection each way, you’ll add a minimum of €22 to your cost, which is almost as much as the base fare without these extras. 

Also, note that if you’re flying Volotea, you’re going to want to check in ahead of time online. Checking in at the airport ticket counter will run you an extra €10 to €30.

Transavia

A wholly-owned subsidiary of Dutch legacy airline KLM, Transavia began as a small charter operation in 1966 and has since developed into a low-cost commercial airline with bases at Schiphol, Eindhoven, and Rotterdam-The Hague. The current 57-aircraft fleet consists primarily of Boeing 737-800s performing direct flights between 88 destinations throughout Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa. A sister company, Transavia France, maintains its own separate fleet out of Paris-Orly.

Passengers are allowed just one piece of hand luggage weighing up to 10 kg (22 lb) and no additional personal items. Checked bags are priced at five to 10 kg (11 lb to 22 lb) increments starting at 15 kg (33 lb) and going up to a maximum of 50 kg (110 lb), depending on the route. Prepaying for a 15 kg (33 lb) checked bag online starts at just €9 while waiting until you get to the airport causes the price to skyrocket up to €45 for the same bag. Advanced selection of standard legroom seats starts at €3 for a Basic Fare ticket and goes up to €7 for an extra legroom seat and all food and drink items are only available for inflight purchase. You won’t find any WiFi on board, but you can access inflight entertainment through your personal device.

Transavia’s reach is substantial, their flights are comfortable, and their fares are generally lower than legacy fares and subject to frequent promotions. However, ticket prices and basic upgrades aren’t quite as cheap as some of their competitors.

Here’s an example of a week-long trip from Amsterdam to Sofia for €69 (quoted at $78 USD) roundtrip from late September to early October.

screenshot of booking Transavia flight.


Transavia’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (no additional personal item)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €45 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €9 
  • Seat selection: From €3 
  • Snacks and light meals: €1.50–€9.20 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.80–€3.80 
  • Alcoholic drinks: €4–€5.50 

A checked bag and advance seat selection will add at least €24 to the total; which means in this example fees account for about 25% of the final cost. 


This next batch of airlines isn’t necessarily bad—we’ll still send deals on these airlines if the price is right—but they do have some caveats to consider. 

Ryanair

Founded in 1984, Dublin’s Ryanair has long had a lock on ultra-cheap flights across Europe, North Africa, Israel, and Jordan. The world’s largest Boeing 737-800 operator, Ryanair maintains a modern fleet of 439 updated airplanes with an average age of just under 8 years and connects passengers to 37 countries on over 2,400 daily flights from 83 European and North African bases. Ryanair’s planes have particularly sleek interiors with more legroom and pitch than many competitors (though the seats themselves are significantly slimmer). 

Ryanair’s basic fares are incredibly cheap, even by European budget carrier standards, with flash sales and promotions starting as low as €5 each way including taxes and even standard flights regularly dropping below €15 when booked in advance. 

But, as so often is the case, those bargains do come at a price and Ryanair is notorious for its upselling practices. Ryanair is one of only two European low-cost airlines that charge passengers to bring a small suitcase on board in addition to a purse or briefcase. 

The only bag included in a basic fare ticket is a personal item that must be able to fit under the seat in front of you and measures no more than 40 cm by 20 cm by 25 cm. Make sure to take those dimensions into account before flying—if your personal item is too big, you’ll be hit with a €25 fee at the gate, the same price as adding a separate carry-on during airport check-in. If you know you need more packing room, purchasing a bag-inclusive fare during booking is your best bet, with rates starting at €6 (~$6.77) for a 10 kg (22 lb) carry-on, a small personal item, and priority boarding. 

Ryanair recently revamped its checked bag policy, adding a 10 kg (22 lb) checked option starting at €8 depending on route and departure date. Passengers can also check up to three checked bags up to 20 kg (44 lb) each starting at €25 when booked online and €40 at the airport. Bags in excess of 20 kg (44 lb) incur a €11 fee per extra kilo up to 32 kg (70.5 lb). 

During the booking process, you also have the opportunity to add advanced seat selection, meals, security Fast Track, flight change flexibility, and a few other amenities to your reservation. You won’t find any inflight entertainment or WiFi on board any of Ryanair’s planes and in-cabin pets are not accepted. And make sure to check in online before your flight, as an airport check-in will set you back a whopping €55.

Here’s an example of a cheap five-day trip from Brussels to Warsaw for around €23 ($25.78) roundtrip in early September.

screenshot of booking Ryanair flight.

Ryanair’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Small personal item included; Additional carry-on from €6 (~$6.77) for 10 kg (22 lb) when booked online or €25 at the gate
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €40 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €8 
  • Seat selection: From €3
  • Snacks and meals: €1.50–€15
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2–€3
  • Alcoholic drinks: €5–€8 

Adding a checked bag and seat will only set you back about €22 roundtrip, but that actually doubles your total cost from the base fare. Plus, unlike on the other carriers, carry-ons come with a fee, too. 

If you’re flying Ryanair, keep an eye on your flight status and beware of what you’re getting yourself into. The deals aren’t necessarily too good to be true, especially if you’re a light packer on a tight budget, but the company does have a history of cancelling flights due to mismanagement. Non-EU citizens should also note that they may need to get their boarding passes stamped at a document check desk prior to security. This means they may be unable to use Ryanair’s app to check in and should print out paper boarding passes ahead of time to avoid paying extra fees.

Wizz Air

Operating more than 600 routes from 25 bases throughout Central and Eastern Europe, Budapest-based Wizz Air’s fleet of 100+ Airbus 320 and 321s accounts for biggest of any Hungarian carrier. While some of their older 320-200s are admittedly a little worse for wear, Wizz Air has been updating their models over the last few years and recently announced an order for 20 super-efficient Airbus A321XLRs. Older aircrafts generally mean roomier seats than other more modern budget airlines might offer, so having some slightly older planes in the mix isn’t always a major disadvantage.

Wizz Air is a particularly viable option if you’re flying to or from Eastern Europe, as they service some destinations few other low-cost airlines regularly reach. They also fly to a few locations outside of Europe that their competitors usually don’t, like Dubai, Kazakhstan, and Russia, since Wizz Air’s Budapest hub is a great jumping off point for accessing that part of the world.

Passengers traveling on Wizz Air’s most basic fare are granted one free 10 kg (22 lb) carry-on bag not exceeding 40 cm by 30 cm by 20 cm and no separate personal item (though a Duty Free bag of goods purchased at the airport is allowed). Customers who upgraded to Priority class for a charge of ‎€5 to ‎€30 depending on route and season can bring an additional 10 kg (22 lb) carry-on bag measuring less than 55 cm by 40 cm by 23 cm. 

Checked luggage prices start at ‎€9 for 10 kg (22 lb) during low season and run up to €72 for 32 kg (70.5 lbs) in high season and each passenger can check up to six bags, more than most budget airlines permit. As always, checking luggage at the ticket counter costs substantially more. Other options like advanced seat selection (including bulkhead and extra leg room seats), lounge access, priority boarding, and security Fast Track also come at an extra cost and can be added either a la carte or in one of Wizz Air’s bundled fares. A selection of food and drink can be purchased on board from the Wizz Cafe menu and there’s no inflight entertainment or WiFi.

Frequent flyers might be interested in the Wizz Discount Club, which for an annual fee of €29.99 provides discounts on fares and checked luggage as well as access to exclusive promotions for you and a companion (though Wizz eschews other standard membership perks like priority boarding, seat selection, and complimentary food).

Here’s an example of a five-day Wizz Air trip from Budapest to Berlin for around €20 ($22.48) roundtrip in early September.

screenshot of booking Wizz Air flight.

Wizz Air’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (no personal item); Additional 10 kg (22 lb) carry-on bag starts at €5 (~$5.64)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €55
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €9 
  • Seat selection: From €1 
  • Snacks and meals: €1.50–€8.50 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.50–€3
  • Alcoholic drinks: €4.50–€5

Adding a seat and checked bag adds at least €20 to your roundtrip fare, which in this case doubles the total cost. 

Plus, note that Wizz Air is very strict on carry-on weight, and beware that the airline is notorious for sticking hidden fees wherever they can. They’ll charge you ‎€1 to receive an SMS confirmation, €3 for a printed receipt, ‎€15 to use the call center, €30 to check in at the airport, and €70 if you miss your flight and need to rebook.

Eurowings

Eurowings is a wholly-owned subsidiary of German legacy carrier Lufthansa Group based in Düsseldorf. It maintains a diverse fleet of 110 short-, mid- and long-haul planes (mostly Airbus A319s and A320s) and, until very recently, served more than 210 destinations worldwide from 11 European bases. On June 24, 2019 parent company Lufthansa announced that it would be ending Eurowings’ long-haul operations citing poor financial performance, a decision that will definitely impact Eurowings’ overall value as a budget airline.

Eurowings previously offered a wide global reach and ran some great deals on flights to the US, the Caribbean, Asia, and Mauritius, albeit usually with limited available dates. Now that Lufthansa is pulling back, customers will be relegated to short- and mid-hop destinations and Eurowings has traditionally charged significantly more than its competitors for these intra-European flights. That being said, you can still snag some modest bargains on the continent and codeshare agreements with major airlines like Air Canada, All Nippon, Austrian, Singapore Airlines, United, TUI fly Deutschland, Brussels Airlines, Swiss, and, of course, Lufthansa, should help keep things afloat.

In terms of added fees, Eurowings is fairly average. The basic fare allows one 8 kg (17.6 lb) carry-on item measuring less than 55 cm by 40 cm by 23 cm plus a small personal item like a laptop case or handbag. However, they make a point to say that carry-ons aren’t guaranteed to make it into the cabin for Basic Fare ticket-holders and will be checked at the gate if the plane is at capacity. 

Your first checked bag starts at €9 for 23 kg online and €18 at the airport counter depending on route but note that adding a second bag starts at a hefty €75. Both inflight refreshments and assigned seats (including extra legroom seats) can be booked online at a discounted rate. Food and drink can also be purchased on board from the Wings Bistro menu and water is free for Basic Fare ticket-holders (somewhat of a rarity). WiFi and inflight entertainment, either via a seatback screen or personal device, is available on most flights.

Here’s an example of a five day Eurowings trip from Rome to Vienna for €49.98 (~$56.40) roundtrip in early September.

screenshot of booking Eurowing flight.

Eurowings’ fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) (no personal item); Additional 10 kg (22 lb) carry-on bag starts at €5 
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €18, depending on route
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €9, depending on route
  • Seat selection: From €4 
  • Snacks and meals: €2–€9
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: €2.50–€3.50 
  • Alcoholic drinks: €3–€6.50

With advance seat selection and a checked bag, the roundtrip total increases by at least €26, which means in this case fees account for about 30% of the total cost. 

Jet2

British low-cost carrier Jet2 offers both scheduled routes and charter flights to and from the UK, usually in conjunction with its all-inclusive vacation package subsidiary Jet2Holidays. Jet2 operates an all-Boeing fleet of 90 (predominantly 737-800s) and reaches 70 destinations across Europe from its headquarters at Leeds Bradford International plus nine other bases throughout England and Northern Ireland. 

Because it’s a mix of chartered and scheduled flights, prices can vary drastically from day to day, many routes are strictly seasonal, and it can be difficult to track down a good bargain. In fact, Jet2 flights are often quite a bit pricier than those offered by other similar low-cost airlines, especially for roundtrip fares, though the company keeps racking up awards due to their celebrated customer service, reliability, and punctuality. 

Jet2 allows passengers to bring one 10kg (22 lb) carry-on bag no larger than 56 cm by 45 cm by 25 cm plus one small personal item with them. Passengers can also check up to three 22 kg (48.5 lb) bags each starting at £8 each when booked online depending on route and schedule. Luggage checked at the airport starts at £45 per piece. Advanced seat selection, including extra legroom seats, and pre-ordered meals can also be added during the booking process while a selection of a la carte snacks and drinks is also available for purchase on board. There’s no inflight entertainment or WiFi, but you can pre-order a bottle of champagne for £25 to kick off your vacation in style.

Here’s an example of a three day Jet2 getaway from London Stansted to Majorca for £78.30 (quoted at $111.81 USD) roundtrip in September.

screenshot of booking Jet2 flight.

Jet2’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included up to 10 kg (22 lb) plus one small personal item
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From £45 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From £8 
  • Seat selection: From £7 
  • Snacks and meals: £1.30–£7.50
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: £1.30–£2.80 
  • Alcoholic drinks: £4.50–£30

It’ll cost a minimum of £31 to add advanced seat selection and a checked bag roundtrip, which means for the flight above, extra fees account for nearly 30% of the total cost. 

Flybe

British budget airline Flybe operates more than 210 short- and medium-hop routes across 80+ airports in 15 countries from its twin hubs in Manchester and Birmingham. Though they’re not always the cheapest option, Flybe stands out by offering some unusual routes within the UK and Western Europe as well as maintaining a roster of codeshare agreements with major players Aer Lingus, Air France, Finnair, Air India, Alitalia, British Airways, Cathay Pacific, Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Etihad, United, and Virgin Atlantic that provide passengers easy access to long-haul flights. In terms of its fleet, Flybe stays true to its roots as a regional carrier, operating 54 turboprop Dash 8-400s out of a total of 76 aircrafts.

Passengers are allowed one carry-on bag measuring no more than 55 cm by 35 cm by 20 cm plus one small personal item for a combined weight of up to 10 kg (22 lb). Checked luggage fees are steep, starting at £24 for one bag up to 23 kg (50 lb) booked online and going up to £40 at the airport for basic fare customers. The second tier Get More fare class includes one checked bag for free, whether you book it online or at the ticket counter. Note that if your carry-on bag exceeds the stated dimensions, you’re looking at a £50 gate-check fee, so make sure to measure your bags before getting to the airport. 

Advanced seat selection, including extra legroom seats, can be added during online booking while food and drink are available for purchase on board and you won’t find WiFi or inflight entertainment on any Flybe flights. Both online check in and in-person airport check in are free for all customers, somewhat of a rarity.

Here’s an example of a five day Flybe trip from Manchester to Amsterdam for £50.20 (~$63.48) roundtrip in September.

screenshot of booking Flybe flight.

Flybe’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included plus one personal item weighing up to a combined 10 kg (22 lb)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From £40 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From £24 
  • Seat selection: From £6 
  • Snacks and light meals: £1.10–£13.50
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: £1.60–£2.50 
  • Alcoholic drinks: £5–£6

It’s a whopping £60 extra roundtrip to add advanced seat selection and a checked bag—in this example, that’s £10 more than the roundtrip base fare. 

If you’re considering booking on Flybe, keep an eye on the news. Recent reports indicate that Flybe has entered into some financial trouble and is blaming Brexit for the problem, so the current political climate could have an impact your travel plans.

Thomas Cook Group

Similar to TUI UK (see above), Thomas Cook Group is a British global travel agency that runs both charter and scheduled flights through Manchester-based Thomas Cook Airlines as well as Thomas Cook Airlines Scandinavia, Germany-based Condor, and Thomas Cook Airlines Balearics. The UK’s Thomas Cook Airlines is the largest of the lot, serving 82 leisure destinations worldwide with a fleet size of 46 (primarily Airbus A321-200s) out of its bases at Manchester and London Gatwick. 

Passengers with Economy Light and Economy Class tickets are permitted one carry-on bag (55 cm by 40 cm by 20 cm) and one small personal item (40 cm by 30 cm by 10 cm max) up to a combined weight of just 8 kg (17.6 lb), putting Thomas Cook’s hand baggage policy on the stingier side. Adding a checked bag up to 20 kg (44 lb) starts at £23 but varies drastically depending on fare class and route (they use a zone system, which can be pretty confusing) and generally doubles at the airport ticket counter. 

Unlike many of its fellow low cost carriers, Thomas Cook offers premium cabin seating as well as inflight entertainment via seatback screens and complimentary snacks and soft drinks in economy class on long-haul flights. Overhead screens air popular TV shows during short- and medium-haul flights and headphones are available for purchase on bard. Inflight meals (including gourmet options and a kids’ menu), advanced seat selection (including new full-row sleeper seats on long-haul routes), and priority boarding can all be added online and snacks and drinks can also be purchased on board from the Cafe Cloud menu.

Thomas Cook offers some good deals, especially for last-minute bookings and direct flights to destinations outside of Europe, but departure and return dates can be quite limited and the company’s website is confusing and difficult to navigate.

Here’s an example of a cheap week-long Thomas Cook Airlines trip from Manchester to Marrakech for £76.98 (~$97.35) roundtrip in late November.

screenshot of booking Thomas Cook flight.

Thomas Cook Group’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included plus one personal item weighing up to a combined 8 kg (17.6 lb)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From £45 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From £23 
  • Seat selection: From £10 
  • Snacks and light meals: £1.50–£6; gourmet hot meals from £7.50 
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: £1.60–£2.80 
  • Alcoholic drinks: £4.50–£29 

Thomas Cook’s fees are even higher than Flybe, with advance seat assignment and a checked bag adding £66 roundtrip, which in this example is nearly as much as the flight’s base fare. 

Condor

Frankfurt-based Condor began life as a subsidiary of legacy airline Lufthansa but is now owned by England’s Thomas Cook Group. Condor’s current 41-aircraft fleet consists of a mix of Boeing 757 and 767s and Airbus 320 and 321s running charter and scheduled flights to 90 destinations from 7 base airports throughout Germany. While Condor only maintains code-share agreements with Thomas Cook Airlines and Air Namibia, it has a ton of international interline agreements with carriers like Alaska Airlines, Austrian, Copa Airlines, JetBlue, Lufthansa, Swiss, Volaris, and WestJet, which significantly extends its reach overseas. 

Hand luggage restrictions mirror Thomas Cook Airlines, with 8 kg (17.6 lb) total allowed on board (one carry-on bag plus one personal item). Checked baggage reserved online starts at €24.99 (quoted at $30) and skyrockets to €75 (quoted at $85) at the airport ticket counter. Other fees like advanced seat selection (including XL seats) are based on the same confusing zone system Thomas Cook uses and vary greatly by route and fare class.

Inflight entertainment comes in the form of drop-down screens on short- and medium-haul flights while long-haul economy passengers get a seatback screen and the option to purchase headsets and upgrade to a premium package for an extra charge. Snacks and hot meals can be booked ahead of time online or purchased on board, depending on your zone, and long-haul economy passengers get a free warm meal and a hot or cold snack plus free soft drinks.

Condor’s short- to medium-haul intra-European flights aren’t the cheapest by European budget airline standards, though they frequently offer good deals during last-minute sales and limited promotions and they offer direct routes between Europe and the US, including Alaska. However, since Condor flies a mix of charter and scheduled flights, intercontinental routes are often relegated to fairly limited dates.

Here’s an example of a Condor deal on a four-day getaway from London to Palma de Mallorca for around €63 ($69.98) roundtrip in mid October.

screenshot of booking Condor flight.

Condor’s fees:

  • Carry-on bag: Included plus one personal item weighing up to a combined 8 kg (17.6 lb)
  • Checked bags purchased at the airport: From €75 
  • Checked bags pre-purchased online: From €24.99 
  • Seat selection: From €9.99 
  • Snacks and meals: €4.49–€17.99 (snacks from €1.50 available on zones 1 and 2 only)
  • Non-alcoholic drinks: From €3 (free on long-haul flights)
  • Alcoholic drinks: From €3 

Condor is also at the top of the list for fees, with a checked bag and advance seat assignment clocking in at nearly €70, which in this example more than doubles the cost of the base fare.

Read about the best budget airlines in the US, and join Scott's Cheap Flights to save up to 90% on international flights.

Last Updated 
September 11, 2019
The Best and Worst Budget Airlines in Europe
Katie Stepek
Flight Expert Manager, Europe

Katie has travelled to over 40 countries, but she still loves her native Scotland. A history lover, Katie has a MA in Medieval History and has never lived more than 5km from a castle! While traveling, she's often found drinking wine near a historic site and happily chatting away to locals or travelers. At home, you'll likely find her planning her next trip or geeking out over a new Pokémon game.

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