If you’ve ever traveled through Europe (or Asia for that matter), chances are you’ve taken at least one budget flight in your life. And chances are even greater that you’ve seen or been that person who is desperately putting on clothes from their suitcase to avoid the strict and exorbitant baggage fees that come with flying on a budget. It’s not a pretty look.
I remember the first time I flew Ryanair. Let’s just say I had to cave and check in my backpack, and I was NOT happy about it.
So that you can avoid turning your budget-friendly flight into a not-so-budget-friendly one, I’ve compiled a guide to budget airlines in Europe – tips to make your experience as pain-free as possible!
1. Book early.
Budget airlines are not the same as your average airline. Prices won’t fluctuate or cater to the whim of the last minute booker (guilty). The longer you wait, the higher the price – until it’s no longer budget-friendly. As soon as you know where you’re going, book your flight.
2. Read the rules.
Not all budget airlines are created equal. Europe’s most infamous budget airline, Ryanair, is known for its extremely strict baggage rules. Others such as Vueling, Easyjet, and Air Europa are less strict. Apparently, Ryanair now allows you to bring a personal item and a carry-on on board. Back in the day, they used to allow one bag in total! Remember, your suitcase has to fit into the carry on measurement stand, so make sure you double check weight restrictions and maximum dimensions!
3. Pay ahead for luggage (or, pack lightly).
If you are planning on bringing a bag for check-in, pay for it ahead of time online. It’s always much more expensive to add it on at the airport. Or, alternatively, pack lightly and avoid this problem entirely. Packing lightly is not only a tip for my guide to budget airlines in Europe, but a good tip for travelling in general. Remember that each airline has its own weight and measurement rules so pack accordingly!
4. Cross check prices with non-budget airlines.
If you are planning on bringing luggage, cross-check the total cost of your flight with the cost of a non-budget airline flight. Sometimes you’ll find that once you add luggage, the cost is the same. The only difference is you’ll get the perks of having a reclining chair and other such important benefits.
5. Be wary of regional airports.
When I went to Paris back in 2011, I paid around 60 euros for my Ryanair flight to Orly airport. Punishment for last-minute booking = lesson learned. Guess where Orly is? An hour outside of Paris, in the middle of nowhere. Even though the flight was expensive, it was, in my mind, cheaper than the 100 euro flight with Air France that flew directly into Charles de Gaulle, the main airport in Paris. Wrong! The cost of the airport transfer to the city center was an hour of my time and 10 euros each way. The lesson here is to factor in the transportation costs to your final destination. That budget airline flight might not be so cheap and convenient after all. Another city that is notorious for its multiple regional airports? London. Do your research, guys. This is what made me write a guide to budget airlines in Europe.
6. Watch out for hidden fees.
I’ve pretty much encountered this on every budget airline’s website: as you go through the booking process, they frequently try to upsell you on your ticket. Want to pick your seat early? 5 euros! Want cancellation insurance? 20 euros! And so on. Uncheck all the boxes. #justsayno
7. Print your boarding pass.
First of all, check in as soon as you can. Although I’ve never experienced this personally, people have definitely been booted off overbooked flights due to not checking in in advance. Don’t be one of those sad folks. Once you’re checked in, print your boarding pass. Certain airlines *ahem Ryanair* will charge you an “administrative” fee to print your pass at the airport, and it’s always ridiculously expensive. Better safe than sorry!
8. Buy your own food and water.
…And really, anything else that will make your flight comfortable (I’m looking at you, headphones). If you just paid 10 euros for your flight, you’re definitely going bare bones, which means no food on the flight. Food and water might be expensive at the airport, but it’s downright extortionate if you buy it on the actual plane. If you’re flying within Europe, you’re likely only dealing with a 2-3 hour flight, but factor in airport and transportation time, and suddenly you’re up to 6 hours without food or water and you are seriously hangry. Just think of what you bought at the airport as your airport tax.
9. Pack one bag of toiletries.
You’re allowed one sandwich-sized bag of toiletries when you’re bringing luggage on board. That’s it. In the U.S., you can bring a gallon-sized bag filled with toiletries, as long as they’re all under 100mL. In Europe, it’s a sandwich bag. I learned this the hard way after parting ways with some of my favorite toiletries – read this guide to budget airlines in Europe carefully, and don’t let that happen to you!
Just because you’re traveling in the EU doesn’t mean there aren’t passport control regulations. Get to the airport early just in case!
10. Have fun!
You just scored a flight for the cost of one dinner, yo! You should be jumping for joy that your bank account is still intact (kinda). Because seriously, at the end of the day, nothing beats budget-friendly flights!
What are your favorite tips for surviving a budget flight? Do you have anything to add to this guide to budget airlines in Europe? Share in the comments below!