The 5 Best Budget Airlines in Europe

Ahhh the lovely European Airlines…you’re in for a real treat. No, they don’t seem to have the exact same standards as the USA, but they do get you from Point A to Point B. You may feel a bit frightened and wonder if European pilots were taught to land by just dropping from the sky, and some passengers may stand up during landing (maybe that’s just Spain), but hey, they’re surprisingly…upbeat! People will clap upon landing because of on-time arrival, but I think it’s because people are just thankful to be alive. Alright, now that I’ve scared you, it won’t seem so bad…you’re welcome.

There are plenty of budget airlines in Europe, and I’ve narrowed down my favorites and what you can expect from them.

1. Vueling 

(Note: it’s a Spanish low-cost airline, and since I was based in Spain, it was often a great option for me.)

  • My #1. It’s cheap, yet safe (aka never feared for my life) and mostly comfortable.
  • It flies almost everywhere you want to go. All around best option.
  • 55x40x20cm carry on bag (10kg) + personal item. From my experience, they’re not as strict as some airlines (cough RyanAir cough) Don’t quote me on this, but I’ve carried larger bags and never had a problem. I was asked to place it into the carry on sizing bin and it didn’t fit at all, but they let me through anyways. The guy was obviously extremely nice, but a lot of airlines will charge you to check it at the gate.
  • Their online site shows 3 days before and after your flight search to help you compare prices and find the best day to fly.
  • Check in online from the moment you book to 4 hours before a flight, and pick your seat. Easy check-in process online, print off your boarding pass (or get it to your phone!), and you can go straight to security at the airport – if you only have a carry on bag.

“Home, let me come home. Home is wherever I’m with you .” If you don’t like this song, don’t fly Vueling. I like to think they change their playlists every year, but each time I flew Vueling (which was a lot) it was always the same 5 songs upon takeoff and landing. (complete with Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used to Know”, Jack Johnson’s “Never Know” and a couple others I’ve tried to forget about, as well.)

2. Aegean

  • Live, love, Aegean. This would be my #1, except that it primarily flies Greece and the islands. Obviously, any airline that flies me to Santorini is okay in my book, but it’s not an airline that will get you all over Europe.
  • Why it’s great? Flies you to the Greek Isles. And…legroom. The plane is comfy and spacious.
  • Variety of check-in options.
  • They also give you mints before takeoff. It’s the little things.
  • You get free snacks and a beverage, too. This is a big deal.
  • 56x45x25cm carry on (8kg). I had a personal item, too, and never had an issue.

3. airberlin

  • Free snacks. I’m tellin’ ya this is a rare thing for Budget Airlines.
  • Decent legroom and overall nice plane.
  • Primarily German destinations…(Sidenote: Berlin-Tegel is a really weird airport)
  • 55x40x20cm (8-10kg) carry on bag + personal item
  • Check-in online 30 hours to 45 minutes before a flight. Print your boarding pass, get it in an email, passbook, etc…

4. Easyjet

  • Lots of destination options. 
  • You can check in 30 days before a flight and up to 2 hours before departure.
  • 1 piece of cabin baggage 50x40x20cm, no weight limit. It can be 56x45x25cm, but on busier flights, it may be put in the hold at no extra cost.
  • Known to be delayed, but I personally never had a problem.
  • Overall comfortable airline with decent legroom.

5. Ryanair

Had to include it, but it’s at the bottom of my list.

  • CHEAP. If nothing else, it is probably the most affordable option.
  • No seat assignments. You line up and then board the plane from both the front and back of the airplane and pick your seat. If you get in line soon enough it’s fine, but it’s a little chaotic.
  • Known for on-time arrivals and departures. (Although Ryanair landings have to be my least favorite)
  • Little to no legroom.
  • Long check-in process and slightly misleading. You have to enter all of your flight and passport info and then go through a bunch of pages of them trying to sell you things. Often times it’ll be set on the option to buy it, so you have to scroll through and find the NO option. For example, they make you think you need flight insurance, but you can scroll through and click the “no thanks option.” Don’t underestimate their sneakiness. You don’t need a Ryanair cabin bag either.
  • You can check in 7 days before your flight or up to 2 hours before departure; you can check in earlier if you want to purchase a preferred seat, though.
  • Even after check-in online, you have to also go to the passport check desk at the airport to get your boarding pass stamped.
  • Oh, and they charge you to print off a boarding pass so be sure to do this ahead of time.
  • During the whole flight they will try to sell you things like perfume. Put in headphones and attempt to ignore.
  • Sticklers on carry on baggage size. 55x40x20cm, and if it’s bigger, it will cost you 50 euros. Only the first 90 bags make it into the cabin, and the rest will go under free of charge (so get in line to board early if you need your bag in the cabin with you).
  • I’ve heard they now allow a personal item, as well, but when I flew with them everything needed to be on you (coats) or in your one bag. So you had to stuff your purse into your probably already stuffed carry on bag.
  • Another downfall, they often fly into the lesser known, smaller airport. Example: Paris Beauvais vs Paris Orly (Beauvais is a little over an hour bus ride from the city center and costs about 20 euros.)
  • Ryanair is a very cheap option and gets the job done, but know what you’re getting into!

Bottom line: these are budget airlines. If you’re jet setting around Europe with nothing but a carry on bag, this is the way to go. It’s cheap. It’s fast. It’s convenient. Who needs legroom on a short-haul flight anyways. Just remember that because they’re so cheap, nothing is included. If you want to check a bag it’ll cost you, if you want a meal, it’ll cost you, etc… and beware of baggage size if you don’t want to pay extra to check it. You will most likely get by on something not exactly to scale, but just make sure to hide it a little bit as you’re boarding 🙂

You can certainly pay more for upgrades, butttt if you’re a poor young adult, just enjoy living out of a small carry on, staying in hostels, and appreciate that you get the opportunity to travel all over Europe.

Tips for Smooth Sailing:

  1. Set an alarm on your phone and check-in for your flight online as soon as you can.
  2. Either print your boarding passes, get them in an email/passbook ahead of time.
  3. Don’t forget your passport. Travel with a copy of it just in case.
  4. Only take a carry on. (With boarding passes in tow and a carry on – go straight to security)
    1. Go for a standard backpack or this is my favorite carry on bag. Has a bunch of different pockets and you can squeeze a good amount into it.
  5. If you are going to check a bag, buy it online. It’ll cost more at the airport.
  6. Invest in travel size items before you go abroad (mini toothpaste, shampoo, conditioner, body wash, contact solution? whatever you may need. This will save you on those weekend trips.)
  7. Get in line early to board at the airport.

Search each of the sites for flights or try to compare them all at once!

Warning, for the cheapest flights (and for the most time in a place during a quick weekend jaunt) you’ll be flying EARLY in the morning or LATE at night. If you only have a couple days though, I think it’s worth getting up early for a 6 am flight, don’t you?

My one piece of advice: watch out for long layovers. You may find a 20 euro flight, but it probably comes with an overnight layover in an airport. Do yourself a favor and pay a little extra for the flight that eliminates that ridiculous layover. If you only have a short period of time, do you really want to save yourself $20 just to get to know a foreign airport? Didn’t think so.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy the cheap flight.

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