Low-cost airlines, also known as budget airlines, are a type of airline that offers lower fares by eliminating many traditional passenger services. This allows low-cost carriers to save on operating costs and pass the savings on to customers in the form of cheaper ticket prices.
The low-cost airline business model focuses on moving passengers from point A to point B for the lowest possible cost. To achieve this, low-cost carriers often only fly direct, point-to-point routes instead of using a hub-and-spoke system. They may only fly to and from secondary airports in an effort to reduce airport fees. Low-cost airlines also tend to operate a single aircraft type to streamline maintenance and operations.
In the cabin, low-cost carriers may remove seatback screens, charge for food and beverages, and eliminate frequent flier programs. By unbundling amenities from ticket prices, passengers only pay for the services they want. This allows travelers who are flexible on comfort and convenience to enjoy deeply discounted fares.
The tradeoff is that low-cost airlines often have more restrictive booking policies, little flexibility for changing flights, and very limited customer service. But for budget-conscious travelers, the cheap ticket prices make these limitations worthwhile. Low-cost carriers have disrupted the airline industry by making air travel affordable to a wider demographic. They now represent over 30% of all short-haul flights in Europe.
Top Low-Cost Airlines in Europe
Europe is home to some of the world’s most popular low-cost airlines. Flying on a budget carrier can help travelers visit more destinations without breaking the bank. Here are some of the top low-cost airlines in Europe:
Ryanair is one of the largest low-cost carriers in Europe and operates over 2,500 daily flights to destinations across Europe and North Africa. Headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, Ryanair is known for incredibly low fares but also extra fees for things like checked bags and seat assignments. Ryanair exclusively flies Boeing 737 aircraft.
Founded in 1995, easyJet is a British low-cost airline based at London Luton Airport. It operates domestic and international flights on over 1,000 routes in more than 30 countries. easyJet flies Airbus A319 and A320 aircraft. The airline is focused on providing low fares and frequent services on popular European routes.
Vueling is a Spanish low-cost carrier with its head office near Barcelona. As of 2022, it serves over 100 destinations in Africa, Asia and Europe. Vueling is focused on major leisure and business destinations and operates a young all-Airbus fleet. It’s known for low fares, particularly on direct flights between major European cities.
Wizz Air is a Hungarian ultra-low-cost airline with hubs across Central and Eastern Europe. As of 2022, Wizz Air serves over 200 destinations and has the largest fleet of Airbus A320 and A321 aircraft of any airline in the world. It focuses on short-haul point-to-point routes and is renowned for very inexpensive fares, albeit with many extra fees.
Owned by Lufthansa Group, Eurowings is a low-cost carrier based in Germany. It operates short- and long-haul flights to destinations in Europe, Africa, and Asia. Eurowings offers Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Cologne/Bonn, and Stuttgart as major hubs within Germany and across Europe. It offers cheaper tickets than other Lufthansa subsidiaries.
Ryanair is one of the largest and most well-known low-cost carriers in Europe. The airline is headquartered in Swords, Dublin, Ireland, and operates over 200 Boeing 737-800 aircraft, serving around 200 destinations across Europe and North Africa.
Ryanair’s main hub and base of operations is London Stansted Airport, with major bases also located at Dublin, Edinburgh, Madrid, and other airports. In total, Ryanair flies to over 200 airports in 40 countries.
Sample Ryanair fares include:
- Dublin to London Stansted – €19.99 one-way
- Barcelona to Bologna – €24.99 one-way
- Berlin to Malaga – €29.99 one-way
Ryanair is able to offer such low base fares by charging additional fees for services and amenities. Some common Ryanair fees include:
- Checked Baggage – €25 for first bag, €40 for second bag
- Seat Selection – Up to €20 per seat
- Priority Boarding – Between €6-€15 depending on route
- Food & Drinks – Between €5-€10 for snacks and drinks
By unbundling services from the base fare, Ryanair can significantly reduce ticket prices. However, passengers should factor in additional fees when comparing Ryanair to other airlines.
easyJet is one of the largest low-cost carriers in Europe, headquartered at London Luton Airport in the UK. Its main hub airports are London Gatwick, London Luton, London Stansted, Bristol, Milan Malpensa, and Geneva.
easyJet operates a fleet of over 300 aircraft, flying over 1000 routes across 35 countries. Some sample fares include:
- London to Paris for €29
- London to Amsterdam for €20
- London to Berlin for €39
easyJet offers cheap base fares but charges additional fees for services like checked baggage, seat selection, priority boarding, food, & drinks. Prices for checked bags start at €13 per bag when booked online. Seat selection fees range from €3 to €15, depending on the seat.
easyJet offers great low fares for short-haul flights across Europe. Just be prepared to pay extra for services not included in the base fare. Still, it remains one of the top budget airlines in Europe.
Vueling is a Spanish low-cost airline based in El Prat de Llobregat, near Barcelona. It operates over 300 routes to more than 100 destinations in Africa, Asia, and Europe.
Vueling’s main hub is Barcelona El Prat Airport, with additional hubs at Rome Fiumicino Airport and Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. The airline operates a fleet of over 110 Airbus A320 family aircraft.
Some sample Vueling fares include:
- Barcelona to Paris – €29
- Rome to London – €45
- Lisbon to Seville – €19
Vueling offers a basic fare that includes a personal item and allocated seating. Checked bags cost around €13–€60, depending on the route, and selecting seats costs €3–€15. Food and drinks are available for purchase on short-haul flights.
The airline has a reputation for generally good service and competitive fares compared to other low-cost carriers. However, change and cancellation fees can be high, so it’s important to book carefully.
Wizz Air is a Hungarian low-cost airline with its head office in Budapest. Its main hub airports are Budapest, Warsaw, Bucharest, Katowice, and Tirana.
Wizz Air has a fleet of over 150 Airbus aircraft that operate more than 1000 routes across Europe and beyond to the Middle East. Some of the popular destinations include London, Milan, Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Oslo, Brussels, Rome, and more.
Sample fares on Wizz Air:
- Budapest to London – €29
- Warsaw to Milan – €39
- Bucharest to Berlin – €29
- Katowice to Paris – €25
Wizz Air has a low cost base with cheap ticket prices. However, they charge for extras like checked baggage, seat selection, onboard food and drinks. 1 small cabin bag is allowed for free. Prices for extras:
- 1 checked bag up to 20kg – €25
- Seat selection – €3-15
- Onboard snacks and drinks – €2-5
So while the base fares may be cheap, adding on extras can increase total costs. Still, Wizz Air remains one of the top low-cost carriers in Europe.
Eurowings is based in Düsseldorf, Germany, and has major hubs in Cologne Bonn, Düsseldorf, Hamburg, Stuttgart and Vienna. Its fleet consists of around 100 aircraft, and the airline flies to over 200 destinations in more than 60 countries in Europe, Africa, Asia and America.
Some sample fares on Eurowings include:
- Berlin to Mallorca: from €29.99
- Hamburg to Barcelona: from €39.99
- Düsseldorf to Rome: from €49.99
Eurowings offers an economy basic fare that only includes a personal item and charges extra for checked bags. Carry-on bags cost €12 if paid when booking and €20 if paid at the airport. Seat reservations start at €3. Checked bags are €25 if prepaid and €35 if paid at the airport. Food and drinks are available for purchase onboard.
Comparing Low-Cost Airlines
When choosing a low-cost airline, it’s important to compare prices, baggage fees, amenities, and customer satisfaction ratings. Here’s an overview:
Ryanair and easyJet often have the cheapest base fares, sometimes as low as €20 for a one-way ticket. Eurowings and Vueling are slightly more expensive but still budget-friendly.
All airlines charge additional fees for checked bags, seat selections, priority boarding, etc. These can add €50 or more to your total ticket cost. Ryanair is known for having the most fees.
Most low-cost airlines only allow a small carry-on bag included for free. Checked bags cost €25-€40 each way.
Ryanair is the strictest on baggage allowances. easyJet allows the biggest carry-on at 56x45x25cm.
Don’t expect many free amenities on low-cost carriers. Food, drinks, wifi, entertainment all cost extra.
easyJet offers the most amenities like onboard wifi and preferential seat options. Ryanair has the fewest frills.
easyJet tends to have better customer satisfaction ratings than Ryanair for things like on-time performance, legroom, and helpful staff.
Vueling and Eurowings score decently for budget airlines. Ryanair consistently ranks low in satisfaction surveys.
So in summary, Ryanair has the cheapest base fares but many extra fees. easyJet is a bit more expensive but offers more legroom and amenities. For the best combination of price and comfort, Vueling or Eurowings are good options.
Tips for Booking
Booking with low cost airlines can seem tricky, but following some tips can help travelers find the best deals while avoiding extra fees.
Look for sales and promotions. Low cost airlines frequently offer sales and limited-time promotions. Signing up for email alerts can notify travelers of upcoming deals. Being flexible with travel dates makes it easier to take advantage of sales.
Avoid extra fees. Read the fine print to know what is included in the base fare and what will cost extra. Fees often apply for checked bags, carry-on bags, seat selection, onboard food and drinks, etc. Travel light, don’t pre-book seats, and bring your own snacks to avoid fees.
Consider seat selection carefully. Many low-cost airlines charge extra for pre-selecting seats, though some seats with extra legroom do not cost extra. If a specific seat is important, pay for the selection, but otherwise, wait until check-in to get free random seating.
Understand refund/cancellation policies. Low cost fares are usually non-refundable. However, some airlines allow name changes or flight credit for a fee. Purchase travel insurance for further protection.
Take advantage of mobile apps. Booking, check-in, and boarding passes can all be handled via airline apps. Mobile boarding passes help avoid long check-in lines.
Weigh baggage restrictions. Check the airline’s baggage allowance. Some only allow small carry-ons unless a premium fare is purchased. Pack light or pay fees in advance for checked bags.
Use price-comparison sites. Sites like Skyscanner and Kayak allow comparing fares across multiple low-cost airlines. But always double-check prices on the airline’s site.
Book early for the best rates. Prices usually start low and increase as the departure date approaches and seats fill. Booking months in advance locks in the lowest fares.
Conclusion best Low-Cost Airlines
With the rise of low-cost carriers, air travel has become more affordable and accessible for many people across Europe and beyond. This guide has covered some of the top low-cost airlines operating in Europe, including Ryanair, easyJet, Vueling, Wizz Air, and Eurowings.
When choosing a low-cost carrier, it’s important to compare prices across multiple airlines and routes. Consider factors like baggage allowances, seat selection fees, and onboard amenities. The cheapest ticket price isn’t always the best value once you tally up all the additional fees.
It’s also wise to book early and be flexible with your travel dates when possible. This increases your chances of finding the lowest fares. Sign up for email alerts so you don’t miss out on sales and limited-time offers. Avoid peak travel periods if you can, as prices are usually higher.
While low-cost carriers strip back certain services to offer cheap base fares, this bare-bones approach suits many leisure travelers just fine. As long as you know what to expect and plan accordingly, flying budget airlines can save you a lot of money compared to full-service legacy carriers. Just remember to read the fine print and adjust your packing strategy to avoid surprise charges.
With some savvy planning and flexibility, low-cost carriers make it possible to fly on a budget. Happy travels!