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Departures board at Cologne/Bonn airport
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Europe has a number of low cost airlines, the largest and most established being EasyJet (http://www.easyjet.com), Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com), and Air Berlin (http://www.airberlin.com). These airlines have stirred up air travel within Europe by dramatically cutting fares.
The European Open-Skies Treaty of 1992 blew the lid off the system in place before, where national government would restrict access to their airspace to expensive 'flag-carriers', such as British Airways (http://www.ba.com) or Lufthansa (http://www.lufthansa.com). This enabled airlines to fly anywhere they wished in the European Union without government approval. The de-regulation of Europe's skies enabled a European airline run like Southwest to become a reality.
Ryanair was the first airline in Europe to try this model, and now have many imitators offering low fares across the continent. These are boom times for cheap air travel in Europe, with fares on some routes as low as ?10 (£7, US$12) one-way including tax.
Points to consider
- Discount airlines are often much more strict about their fares. For example, while in "fat" airlines they usually allow some baggage over the weight limit, WizzAir will charge you €6 for each kg over the limit. Also, some airlines have lower limits than the usual 20 kg. A few kilograms of weight can double your ticket price. Check your terms carefully and weigh your luggage before a journey.
- Be prepared that food is usually not served during the flight, or it is available for a fee.
- Most discount airlines try to lower airport fees, so they often use smaller airports, sometimes quite far away from the city they state they fly to. For example Paris-Beauvais is some 90 km from Paris, bus costs about €13 one-way and it takes about 1h15 to get to Paris (TAXI would be €120 one-way).
- Following competition from discount airlines, main carriers such as BA have also cut their fares on competing routes, and are often only about 20% more expensive than discount airlines, a price worth paying if the journey to the airport is cheaper and faster. Sometimes they can even be cheaper than discount airlines, especially during public holidays.
EasyJet (http://www.easyjet.com/) fares are priced as single segment one way trips. Their website allows you to book multiple flights simultaneously however, and even allows you to exchange a flight you have purchased for a different flight of your choice on their website providing a partial refund (e.g. changing to a flight on a different date and/or with different passenger names). Note that if you change planes at an Easyjet hub you must collect your luggage and check it in again at the hub. You can book a return at the same time as the outbound but you get no discount for doing so. Some of the advanced features on the Easyjet website are only available if you create an account for yourself on the website.
EasyJet has hubs in 3 London airports (Gatwick, Stansted, Luton) as well as Paris (CDG and Orly), Berlin, Dortmund, Liverpool, Bristol and various other UK airports. As well as these hubs they serve 45 other airports throughout Europe, with 180 routes.(not updated)
EasyJet operate an ever-expanding network, keep your eyes peeled to their site. They have an extensive UK domestic network, and operate to and between large European airports. Unlike Ryanair, easyJet tend to operate out of principal airports, such as Barcelona and not Barcelona Girona, in Spain.
Ryanair (http://www.ryanair.com/) fares are priced as single segment one way trips. If you wish to change planes in a hub then you must book the two segments separately. You can book a return at the same time as the outbound but you get no discount for doing so. If you miss a second flight due to a delay in the earlier Ryanair flight, you will not get a refund for the missed flight and will be forced to buy a new ticket.
Ryanair operate a huge network in Europe, and are generally (but not always) the cheapest airline on the routes where they compete with another airline. They have hubs in Shannon, Dublin, Glasgow (Prestwick), Liverpool, London, Brussels (Charleroi), Frankfurt (Hahn), Stockholm (Skavsta), Milan Bergamo, Rome and Barcelona. They serve 82 other European destinations, with 209 routes.
Ryanair is infamous for flying to secondary airports that may be hundreds of kilometers away from the city they purport to serve, so check carefully and factor this into your travel time and cost estimates. Ryanair is also infamous for its "small print", which allows them to change flight departure times by up to 3 hours without refunding customers if the customers can no longer use the flight because of this change.
- Checked baggage allowance is 15kg per person. (€7 for each additional kg)
virgin express (http://www.virgin-express.com/) operates within continental Europe, and flights can be booked as one way or return trips with fares priced as single segment one way trips.
Their website allows you to change flight details, including departure and destination, time and date of travel, seat allocation and extra leg room, passenger name (Euro 50 charge), after you have purchased. Virgin Express does not offer a connecting service. Each booking atrtracts a 10 Euro booking fee, so booking legs separately will cost that much more than booking both legs of a return trip. Their website has links to
extra services such as to car hire partners holidayautos. Prices tend to be lower than main airlines but higher than Ryan air when booked 2 to 3 weeks in advance but can be as high or higher than main airlines only a week before travel (SN Brussels can be cheaper at these times). Food, drink and gifts can be purchased on board.
Virgin Express has one hub at the main Brussels Zaventum airport, with a mini-hub at Rome where they fly to both Amsterdam and Brussels. Their main destinations are in Spain, with the rest to France, Italy, Holland, Greece and Switzerland.
Like easyJet, Virgin Express operates out of principal airports.
Other low cost airlines
There are 62 low cost airlines in Europe, and this number is rapidly changing. Here are a few of the biggest.
- Aero Flight (http://www.flyaeroflight.de/) operates out of Germany to Sicily, Spain, Balkans and Turkey.
- Air Berlin (http://www.air-berlin.com) operates a network between Austria, France, Egypt, Germany, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Tunisia and the UK. They book through tickets. Some routes not available until November 2005.
- Air Baltic (http://www.airbaltic.com) have a wide variety of cheap fares from Riga, which can be used as a transit point. E.g. it is cheaper to travel Odessa-Riga-Kiev with airbaltic than Odessa-Kiev directly with regular-fare airlines.
- Blue 1 (http://www.blue1.com) operate routes between northern Europe (Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden) and seven different cities in Finland.
- Blue Air (http://www.blueair-web.com) operates six routes, as of 2005 September, between Bucharest and Barcelona, Maastricht, Lyon, Milan, Rome, and Madrid.
- BMI Baby (http://www.bmibaby.com/), a subsidiary of bmi, have bases in Teeside, Cardiff, Manchester and Nottingham East Midlands. They operate domestic flights to Scotland and Northern Ireland, and also have a small number of flights out of Gatwick.
- Centralwings (http://www.centralwings.com/) operates out of Poland (Warsaw, Krakow, Katowice) to several European destinations. It is a child airline of LOT Polish Airlines, the national operator, using their fleet, and thus is probably safer (eg. bankruptcy less likely), but more expensive than others. Booking by Internet and phone, as well as by some travel agencies (additional fee apply).
- Condor (http://www.condor.com) operates out of major airports in Germany (doesn't use obscure airfields) and sells tickets starting at 29,00 Euros one-way within Europe, putting it into the discount airline bracket as well.
- FlyBe (http://www.flybe.com/) operates out of the UK to many European Destinations
- FlyGlobeSpan (http://www.flyglobespan.com/) based in Scotland (Glasgow, Edinburgh) with cheap flights over Europe and a few cheap flights to Canada
- FlyNordic (http://www.flynordic.com/) operates from Stockholm to mostly Scandinavian places but also to Europe
- Monarch (http://www.flymonarch.com/) operates out of several UK cities
- German Wings (http://www.germanwings.com/) operate a large network out of German airports Berlin, Cologne-Bonn, Hamburg, and Stuttgart.
- Hapag-Lloyd Express (http://www.hlx.com/en/index.html) operate a large network out of Stuttgart, Cologne/Bonn, Hanover, Hamburg and Berlin.
- Iceland Express (http://www.icelandexpress.co.uk) operates out of London Stansted, Copenhagen & Frankfurt to Reykjavik.
- Lauda Air (http://www.laudaair.com/) operates out of Austria to many European destinations.
- jet2 (http://www.jet2.com/cgi-bin/jet2/I6/home) operate out of Leeds/Bradford to continental Europe, and from Belfast to Prague.
- Niki (http://www.flyniki.at/) operates out of Austria to many European destinations.
- Onur Air (http://www.onurair.com.tr) operates a Turkish domestic network.
- Maersk Air (http://www.maersk-air.com/en/) Maersk is now part of Sterling airlines with Scandinavian based routes and will redirect the weblink to their site.
- Meridiana (http://www.meridiana.it/) operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.
- Sky Europe (http://www.skyeurope.com/start.php?lang=en) operate out of Bratislava, Budapest, Krakow and Warsaw. Sales online, in some travel agencies and in airports.
- Probably they don't do this often, but it happens that SkyEurope change its schedule a week before departure, so the flight is 8-10 hours earlier/later than in original reservation. Options they give are: rebooking (for free in this case) or refund (sidenote: buying another ticket week before the flight can be 10 times more expensive then the refund). Anyway, flying low-cost airline, you agree to take that risk.
- Smartwings (http://www.smartwings.net/en) operates out of Prague.
- Spanair (http://www.spanair.com) operates throughout Spain and to a few other European destinations. Owned by SAS and a member of Star Alliance.
- Snowflake (http://www.flysnowflake.com) operates out of Copenhagen and Stockholm. Snowflake is the discount version of SAS.
- Sterling (http://www.sterlingticket.com/) operate from Stockholm, Gothenburg, Malmo, Oslo, and Copenhagen. On the Scandinavian routes Sterling often compete with SAS by offering the same service at much lower prices, but not give air miles.
- Transavia (http://www.transavia.com/) (former BasiqAir), Operates out of Amsterdam to many European destinations.
- Virgin Express (http://www.virgin-express.com/default.asp) operate out of Brussels.
- Vueling (http://www.vueling.com/) operates out of Barcelona (Spain) to many European destinations.
- Wizzair (http://www.wizzair.com/) operates from Poland and Hungary
- Wind-Jet (http://www.volawindjet.it/) operates out of Italy to many European & Italian destinations.
Low cost airline resources
There are some very useful websites to use when booking connecting low cost airline flights:
- mixfly.com1 (http://www.mixfly.com/) expands your low-cost destinations by arranging flights from several low-cost airlines. Mixfly.com gives you flight schedules and travel duration times for all your low-cost flights needs in Europe.
- FlyLowcostAirlines.org2 (http://www.flylowcostairlines.org/) provides the comprehensive overview of over 2000 European low-cost airlines? flights. FlyLowcostAirlines.org enables to search both direct and multiple-stops connections among more than 240 cities.
- seatscanner.com3 (http://www.seatscanner.com) creates multi-segment low cost trips based on current routing information from low cost carriers worldwide. Answers the question "who flies where?". Information site (you cannot book there).
- WhichBudget4 (http://www.whichbudget.com) tells you which budget airline flies from a particular airport or to a particular airport, linking hundreds of airlines and thousands of routes.
- Flylc.com 5 (http://www.flylc.com) shows all European cheap flights on one screen and redirects to the low-cost airline operating the flight selected (Information site).
- Skyscanner6 (http://www.skyscanner.net) will find the cheapest way of getting between cities and has additional tools, such as fare graphs for a given route over a month and cheap weekend flights from any given city.
- Openjet7 (http://www.openjet.com/) will find the cheapest way of getting between the 91 cities served by Easyjet, MytravelLite, BMIbaby, Volareweb, Basiq Air, HLX and Germanwings. Doesn't always work.
- Low Fare Flights8 (http://www.lowfareflights.co.uk/), this UK site compares budget airfares on over 300 european routes, originating from the UK only.
- Applefares9 (http://www.applefares.com/) covers a very limited set of European-based routes as it only covers these airlines, as of 2005 July 20: BasiqAir, bmibaby, easyJet, GermanWings, MyTravelLite, Sky Europe, Thomsonfly. You can give it a range of airports or even countries, and find the cheapest flight to any destination on a range of dates.
- Eurovoli.com10 (http://www.eurovoli.com/uk/) is a search engine for low cost flights from the UK to the rest of Europe.
- Zingarate11 (http://www.zingarate.com/) (in italian) searches among 7072 routes with connections across Europe you can use or EasyLow (http://www.easylow.com) if you want an english version.
- dohop.com12 (http://www.dohop.com) cleverly composes multileg journeys based on low-cost airlines. Be careful when you plan journeys with connections! Lowcost airlines don't guarantee any time and not even the flight so put at least 3-4 hours between arrival and last check-in time (As the site suggests).
- billigflieger.capital.de13 (http://billigflieger.capital.de/) German Website where you can search for flights all over Europe with many LowCost Carriers by destination or origin airport.
Unfortunately Ryanair actively keeps its fares off many of these fare comparison websites, forcing users to go directly to ryanair.com.
Also of use are some information sites (in alphabetical order):
- 2cheapflight.com14 (http://www.2cheapflight.com) can be used to search and compare air fares of the major travel agents.
- attitudetravel.com15 (http://www.attitudetravel.com/lowcostairlines/europe/) has information on 80 low cost and low fare airlines across Europe and further info on web-fares available on competing flag-carriers
- cheap0.com16 (http://www.cheap0.com) is another excellent resource, and has up-to-date low-cost airline route news.
- Euroflights.info17 (http://www.euroflights.info) provides information on low cost flights available to several hundred European destinations.
- lowcostairlines.org18 (http://www.lowcostairlines.org/) lists all 61 European low cost airlines (plus many other low cost airlines all over the world)
- Routehunter.com19 (http://www.routehunter.com) More than 7.300 routes, 349 Airports and 70 Low Costs Airlines ready to browse. And with a very useful tool that will show you only the avalaible routes and will send you directly to the airline website.