Anyone traveling on a budget in Europe will be familiar with the many European budget airlines and their intrigues. Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2, FlyBe, WizzAir, etc. have all made their fortunes by offering dirt cheap basic airline fares, and charging for anything and everything else.
Successfully traveling on budget airlines is an art—an art that may take years to hone. I have made my fair share of mistakes with budget airlines, and trust me when I say that those mistakes can cost you! Here are my top 12 tips for flying budget airlines in Europe:
1) Understand that cheap fares will mean inconvenient flight times
Obviously one of the major benefits of budget airlines that nickel and dime you for everything from carry-on bags to checking in is the cheap prices. But remember that the price you pay is often the convenience of “normal” flight times. Budget airlines will sometimes have flights that leave at 6:00am or arrive at midnight. Be aware when booking your flights that you might be staying up late or waking up early.
2) Book as far in advance as possible
While this is true in most cases for all airlines and most travel expenses, budget airlines typically offer the best (read: cheapest) fares far in advance, and raise prices as take-off gets closer. If you book early enough, you can generally get flights for £10 between the UK and Ireland. Booking as soon as you settle your travel plans can mean big savings!
3) Consider the airport location/transit when booking your flight
Most budget airlines won’t operate out of the major airport for a city because it’s more expensive for them (and they want to keep costs low to have the cheapest prices). So budget airlines typically use smaller airports that can be far away from the city—and this is really important to remember when booking your flight, especially if it’s early in the morning. Flying from Stockholm Vasteras Airport is actually about a 90-minute bus ride away from the city center of Stockholm. This meant that I had to get a bus at 3:30am to make sure I got to the airport on time for my flight. (I should have slept in the airport!!) It can be a major pain, and sometimes transit between the regional airport and the city can be more expensive than the flight! Check airport locations and do your research on public transportation there and back!
4) Purchase checked bags when you buy your flight
While it is now (unfortunately) becoming standard for many airlines—including in the US—to no longer offer free checked bags on your flight, checked bags will always cost more money with budget airlines. In some cases (I’m looking at you, WizzAir) the cost of checking a bag will be more than the flight itself! If you know you’re checking a bag, buy it along with your flight as far in advance. It’ll be more expensive if you wait a few weeks or even the day before to check it. And you’ll pay an absolute fortune if you wait to purchase a checked bag until you get to the airport.
5) Weigh your checked bags beforehand
Budget airlines can be really tough with their weight allowances for checked bags. Even being 1 kg or 1 lb over your allotted weight can mean a fee of 10-20€. Weigh your bag before you check it, otherwise you might end up being that person repacking their whole bag at the desk.
6) Check-in online and print your boarding pass
Budget airlines will sometimes charge anywhere up to 50€ to check in at the airport and print your boarding pass. This is an absolute con and one of the easiest things that can be avoided! Make sure you check in online, and print your boarding pass beforehand. If for some reason you can’t print your boarding pass, some airports (like Dublin) have printers you can access and you can print a boarding pass for 1€. Which is a whole lot cheaper than paying 50€ to check in at the airport. Avoid these insane charges and do this in advance!
7) Get a visa check before going through security (if you need one)
Many European budget airlines will require non-European Union/European Economic Area citizens to go through a visa check before you go through airport security. As an American, I’m able to visit most European countries for up to 90 days visa free, so typically they just look at my passport and stamp my boarding pass. If you’re not European, check with the airline if you need to get a visa check. Depending on the airport, you may need to wait in the queue to check a bag (even if you only have carry-on luggage) to get a visa check. If you don’t get a visa check before you go through security, the airline can legally refuse you boarding. Always always check and see if you need a visa check, and make sure to get one before going through security.
8) Travel as light as possible
As budget airlines will charge for everything possible, you should try to travel as light as possible as a general rule of thumb. You’ll save the most amount of money if you don’t check a bag and can travel with just a carry-on. If you do check a bag, remember that there are strict weight restrictions and pack light. You’ll also save time waiting for checked bags upon arrival.
9) Check and double-check the size of your carry-on with airline regulations
I lost $67 on my flight from Prague to Paris because I flew with EasyJet, and they only allow one carry-on bag. And when they asked me to fit my purse into my big backpack, my backpack was too big and they forced me to check it for a fee (cue me crying for the entire flight and panicking they would lose my bag). Check and double-check the size of your carry-on before you get to the airport, and in the luggage sizers once you’re there, and make sure it complies with the airline regulations. Most budget airlines will have different rules for carry-on, so read all the fine-print before you fly!
10) Wear your heaviest layers—utilize the maximum amount of carry-on space
When packing for a budget airline flight, always wear your heaviest layers and make full use of your carry-on luggage. Remember even jacket pockets can carry a surprising amount of stuff if you need to! Hopefully you won’t need to do this, but if you do get caught out and need to cut down on your luggage to avoid paying fees, wear as many bulky layers as possible and stuff whatever you can in pockets.
11) Pack extra water and snacks
Budget airlines charge ridiculous prices for anything purchased on board. Water or a small can of Coke can easily be 3.50€, and a mediocre sandwich can cost up to 7€. The prices are simply not worth it, so plan in advance and pack extra water and snacks before you board. Even buying snacks at the airport will be cheaper than paying for them on board!
12) If you want your carry-on to be with you, pay for priority boarding (depending on the airline)
Many airlines (Jet2 and Ryanair among them) have rolled out new restrictions on carry-ons, with only those who have purchased priority boarding being guaranteed to keep their carry-on luggage with them in the cabin throughout the duration of the flight. If you don’t have priority boarding, the airline may ask you to check your large carry-on bag (especially rolling suitcases) at the gate into the hold for the flight as they may not have room for all bags in the plane. While this is free of charge, it’s certainly not convenient for the passenger. If you absolutely cannot check your carry-on (for example, if it’s your only piece of luggage and has all your valuables in it), I suggest purchasing priority boarding depending on the airline, as then you’ll be guaranteed to keep that bag with you. And purchase priority boarding with your flight, as it’ll be cheapest then!
I’ve flown so many flights with budget airlines all around Europe, and have become a pro at working the system. The cheap fares can quickly increase with hidden fees and expensive add-ons. Plan in advance and be prepared if you’re traveling Europe with budget airlines!
Have you ever flown with a budget airline in Europe? What tips do you have?!