European Low-Cost Airline Guide

The skies of Europe are swarming with planes. With new routes opening up on a regular basis and airlines expanding, competition is fierce, driving down air fares. The established low-cost airlines have dominated this market for years, prompting a reaction from other airlines to claw back their share of passengers. As a result of this, the airlines traditionally perceived to be the cheapest, may not actually be offering the lowest like-for-like fare. Additionally your choice as a customer might depend on other factors such as baggage, the option to choose seats and quality of customer service, not just the price tag.

Below is a brief overview of some of the low-cost carriers I’ve flown with.

Ryanair

The infamous low cost carrier, Ryanair’s fleet of Boeing 737’s covers an extensive network of destinations throughout Europe (albeit with many airports located 1-2 hours away from the destinations themselves). No other airline can compete with the amount of choice on offer. The website can be overwhelming and you do need to know what you are doing in order to not get ripped off by their ancillary “offers”. Usually flights are cheapest booked 2-3 months in advance and you have to be watching their site like a hawk to grab the best offers.

In my own experience I’ve had few problems with their notoriously poor service, and if you want to fly from A to B cheaply, who actually cares? My first time with them I flew to Germany for a grand total of £10 return; and while prices have increased in recent years, it’s hard to argue with that. Play by their rules and you should have no problems.

Why fly Ryanair? The extensive route network is unrivalled for travel within the EU and it is possible to get really cheap flights if you are flexible and on the ball.

In one word: Ryanair

Easyjet

Although Ryanair’s main competitor, Easyjet can seem like a world apart. Their service is reliable and helpful, friendly staff can really make your flight a pleasant one. The website is easy to navigate and their communication is clear and transparent. The routes they offer are efficient, taking you to the places that matter while still maintaining a wide and ever-increasing variety of relevant destinations.

After flying Easyjet on a regular basis (usually Glasgow-Berlin and Edinburgh-Munich), it has become my go-to airline. I’m really happy with the quality of service and value they have offered over the years. The best is yet to come with my upcoming trip to Russia – with my return flights costing a mere £104.

Why fly Easyjet? Hassle-free, competitively priced flights to the destinations you want to go.

In one word: Professional

Jet2

Jet2 serves northern England and Scotland to a well-balanced mix of sun and city break destinations in Europe. They also offer Christmas shopping flights to New York towards the end of the year which sell very quickly. A step up from Ryanair, Jet2’s service is straightforward and they offer a full range of extras, including a wide range of package holidays. The website is a little overwhelming at times, and it can be a little difficult to find good deals last minute or if your flexibility is limited.

My own experience with Jet2 was positive. My flights to Prague in 2010 were reasonably priced, and they even made sure not to leave without me after I found myself administering first aid to a toddler who had split their head open in the departure lounge. Since then their network has been growing steadily, with continued investment in new aircraft and I thoroughly expect them to really start throwing their weight around in the next few years.

Why fly Jet2? They bring added options for travellers in the north of the UK, which loses out with competition from London. Cheap flights are available if you keep a beady eye out or are fortunate with your dates.

In one word: Growing

Monarch

With Jet2 serving the northern half of the UK, Monarch likewise serves the south. They have a wide range of scheduled flights to a number of city and sun destinations throughout Europe and also a significant number of long haul destinations. The website is easy to use (although currently seems to lack a route map) and their latest offers and promotions. Monarch’s service is excellent, with the staff’s polite, friendly and efficient attitude bringing more than a touch of class to affordable air travel. Quite simply they are a cut above the competition (while still being competitively priced).

Monarch

After flying Monarch twice this year already (to Munich and Gibraltar), I’ve been very happy with the quality of service I’ve received. The food I’ve had on both occasions was pleasant (I particularly liked their Afternoon Tea snack box). Returning from Gibraltar I was also pleased to have my seat upgraded to have extra legroom at no extra cost (the perks of being a solo traveller). I certainly felt like a value customer and would fly Monarch again without hesitation.

Why fly Monarch? Their excellent service, quality and value are unmatched.

In one word: Excellence

Thomsonfly (TUI Group)

Thomson offers flights from the UK to destinations throughout Europe, the Caribbean and worldwide. (The wider TUI group also includes a number of other airlines, such as TUIfly, which offers more options for flights from various bases in Europe.) They offer flights to destinations throughout the Mediterranean, Caribbean and other exotic locales, plus full holiday packages. Currently they are having a big push to upgrade their fleet, being the European launch customer for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner, although delivery of the jets has been delayed due to widely publicised technical problems.

With a surprise week off before Christmas, I managed to grab flights to Morocco for £150 return, which was the cheapest fare to a destination I hadn’t been to in recent years. The service I received was very efficient and a step up from what I had gotten used to as a student. I also found they had improved the comfort of their flights since I last flew them as a teen. In short, it was a pleasant flight and I would definitely give them another go.

Why fly Thomsonfly? Going on holiday? If you want an airline that really knows what it is doing, then seriously consider Thomsonfly.

In one word: Holidays

I hope this has been helpful in making decisions about your travel plans in and around Europe. This list if by no means exhaustive – there are the likes of Wizzair, Flybe, Germanwings etc. – I just simply haven’t flown them… yet!

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9 responses to “European Low-Cost Airline Guide

  1. Hello there, just became alert to your blog through Google, and found that
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  2. EasyJet are my favourite LCC in the UK, but I do wish they’d do more flights from Leeds-Bradford – at the moment, they only do one, and that’s to Geneva (?!) I do like Jet2, but their planes always terrify me slightly and I don’t know why.

    Ryanair are fine, I just wish people would read the stuff on the site that is RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEM when they book, rather than bitch about ‘hidden fees’ which were there for them to see.

    All European LCCs pale in comparison to the glory that is AirAsia, though. Super cheap AND very classy. They’re better than some of the European national carriers (I’m looking at you, Alitalia).

    • Yet the Pope still flies Alitalia!

      Yeah there is no excuse for people whining at Ryanair. The information is there (albeit amongst a mishmash of other information) – grown adults shouldn’t need spoon feeding.

      Jet2 was a bit scary my only time flying them, but I think they’re getting newer planes all the time. I was also offered an “upgrade” by an old colleague who worked as a steward for them – provided I gave him a “foot massage”. I’m sure he meant his foot. He was just a fountain of sexual harassment 😉

  3. I also really like Vueling Airlines – they’re out of Spain so that’s where most of their flights are from/to… But they have good music on the radio and a cool & hip magazine. They’re definitely a budget airline because they charge you for all the extras, but in the end I really like them 🙂

  4. I also like WizzAir. Cheap, not so bad service and they also have a nice magazine. I’ve flown them a lot when I used to live in Warsaw.

  5. Hey guys,
    just my 2¢: at http://www.azair.com , you can find up-to-date schedule and pricing info for most of European low-cost airlines and also combine them (with up to 4 changes on the way) to find the optimal route to your destination.

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