Budget Air Travel
Within Europe: Strategies for the Cheapest
|Ryanair is one of many budget
airlines in Europe, where there are deals to
be had, often cheaper than all modes of long-distance transportation.
After months of planning and packing,
you’ve finally made the move to Europe or are planning
an extended trip. You had to visit Paris for the first time
or once again. The allure of Rome’s history could
not be ignored. The pull of London and its chaotic frenzy
was not to be resisted. Regardless of the chosen destination,
most of us who uproot our lives and make the big intercontinental
shift permanently or for an extended period do so because
of the diverse range of travel options available in a continent
rich with history and culture.
However, the elation of the first few
days in your new country soon gives way to the reality that
most of us need to work for a living. If on an extended
trip and wish to see many locations on the large continent,
how to do on a budget. The question soon arises: How to
best realize our dream to travel extensively given the hectic
pace of working lives in cities like London or Rome? It
is said that “a stitch in time saves nine,” and
this is certainly true of planning successful trips across
Europe via one excellent and surprising affordable mode
of transportation we will cover—the network of airlines.
Budget Airlines in Europe
Let’s begin with the plethora
of European airlines available at your doorstep.
The rise of the budget carrier is no
news to the seasoned traveler, but many people don’t
realize what tactics need to be employed when planning a
trip involving any flight on an airline like Ryanair, EasyJet,
Wizz Air, and many others. You have to be prepared to be
flexible, while at the same time understanding that planning
in advance will always yield better results. Ever
wondered how budget carriers can afford to charge as little
as a total of €5 (around US$6) for a return flight
(typically, flights are more like $50-200 to major cities)?
There are several explanations, but only one is relevant
to the traveler. A business deal or family emergency means
that I need to fly from Ancona (Italy) to London tomorrow.
A few quick clicks on the Ryanair website will get me there,
but only for around US$300 before fees and charge—and that
for a flight that takes less than 2 hours. Ryanair and EasyJet
have extensive route networks across Europe (far more widespread
than the major carriers). This means that they are often
the only airlines flying a particular route, giving them
a monopoly on connections between many airports.
Advance vs. Last Minute Ticket
Purchases (As Always Keep Holidays in Mind)
A misconception about traveling with
a budget airline is that your tickets need to be booked
as early as a year or 10 months in advance. Sometimes, (such
as for major public holidays — see below), this can
be true. However, most budget carriers release their best
seat specials around 3-6 months in advance. After the January
post-Christmas period, for instance, airlines are looking
to entice those of us dreaming of sunnier climates and websites
will offer specials for the March-June period. A month or
two later, you are likely to see summer specials (for the
June-September travel period) released.
Exceptions to this rule are the major
public holidays, particularly the English Bank holidays
and the religious holidays shared by the rest of the continent.
Because public holidays are set dates, the keen traveler
knows that he or she will have a string of days off and
keeps a close eye on prices as early as possible. While
it is an exaggeration to book public holiday tickets as
early as a year in advance (or, more precisely, 330 days
beforehand, as this is the earliest allowable time frame
for almost all airline booking engines), booking six to
nine months in advance is advisable. Let us take the UK
bank holidays as an example. When you return from your bank
holiday vacation in August, you should begin to think about
your options for the May bank holiday of the following year.
Conversely, on the high-traffic routes
of budget carriers (such as Ryanair’s London Stansted
to Frankfurt Hahn / Milan (Bergamo) to Barcelona (Girona)
and EasyJet’s London Gatwick to Milan Malpensa routes)
the cheapest tickets can be found right up until around
two weeks before the departure date due to the number of
flights that the airline runs per day. All rules have an
exception, however, and it is important to note that this
is not the case for high-traffic routes from major cities
the likes of London, Paris, Milan, and Rome to popular summer
hotspots such as Ibiza, coastal Italy, and Greece. It is
advisable to treat these almost as you would a public holiday
(see below), particularly if you plan to leave on a Friday
night or Saturday morning.
Best Time of the Year to
Fly in Europe on the Cheap?
High season, shoulder season, and low
season vary greatly throughout Europe. However, as a general
rule of thumb, travel tends to be more expensive in the
- December/January: Christmas and
New Year period
- April: Easter period
- July/August: Summer period
- If you are based in the UK, “mini” high
seasons also occur during the following half-term breaks:
mid-October, mid-February, and mid to late May.
Mid-Week vs. Weekend Airline Travel
Europe is the perfect place for the
weekend city break, and airlines are clued in and openly
honest about the fact that such flights are more expensive
than mid-week flights. Tuesdays to Thursdays generally offer
the cheapest seats, and often considerably more so than
Fridays to Mondays. At the time of writing, a Friday evening
ticket from Rome to Paris on Ryanair—purchased a month
in advance—costs around €250. The same route
at the same time on a Tuesday (during the same week) costs
approximately €20, a fraction of the cost of the Friday
evening ticket. Therefore, if you have one week’s
worth of holidays available (five working days), it is certainly
better to consider timing your holiday from Wednesday to
Wednesday rather than Monday to Friday (the astute will
realize, however, that planning a Monday to Friday holiday
means having nine consecutive days off as opposed to seven — this
is simply a matter of priorities and personal choice).
Budget vs. Full Service
Airlines in Europe
Most of us fall into the trap of disregarding
full service carriers because of their tendency to be considerably
more expensive than the budget carriers. This is a mistake.
In the last year, full service carriers like British Airways,
Alitalia, Air France, and KLM have revised prices on popular
routes to compete with the budget carriers. In addition,
they are infinitely more convenient than the budget carrier
whose airport for Florence is actually in Pisa, or who sell
you a ticket to Frankfurt but land you in a town some 150
kilometers (90 miles) away. The price of the budget carrier
may win out when we have the luxury of time, but often,
it is far more suitable to fly to and from the main international
airports. This is particularly true if you need to catch
public transport to reach your final destination.
Hidden Costs in European Airline
You’ve found an unbelievably
cheap flight from Milan to Barcelona on a Tuesday evening
and you are ready with your credit card in hand. The flight
comes to around €30 return, which is excellent given
you have a partner and two kids. However, on Ryanair, be
prepared to pay the following extra fees: €10 per person
for online check-in, €100 for two suitcases at 15kg
each, €8 for priority boarding and, finally, €10
of credit card charges. Suddenly, your €30 return flight
(€120 for your whole family) doesn’t look so
appealing at a total of around €280!
Packing Light is Absolutely
Essential for Budget Air Travel Within Europe
While not always easy when having to
consider an entire family, it is certainly attainable for
a couple embarking on a short city break. Look to use a
backpack as hand luggage, weighing no more than around 7kg
(this is enough for an extra pair of shoes, socks, underwear,
jeans, three t-shirts, and a small bag of travel toiletries).
For More Information
List of Popular Budget
Airlines in Europe along with their home bases:
from and to many European cities.
Ryanair — Once
primarily England/Ireland, now air flights from
and to most European cities.
Flybe — England,
but flies from and to many cities in Europe.
Berlin— Out of Germany,
now with flights worldwide and within Europe.
Lingus — Ireland.
of Italy but flies from and to many cities worldwide
TUIfly — most
cities in Germany.
Norwegian — Norway,
but with flights across Europe and to destinations
Airways — Not always as
cheap, but many destinations.