Guide to flying budget airlines in Europe

If you’re like me, you find those super cheap budget airline ticket prices very tempting. €25 per person from Paris to Rome? €45 to Copenhagen? Sign us up! These prices are not too good to be true; families really can get fares like these on airline tickets in Europe. Fail to read the fine print, however, and you’ll end up paying more. Much, much more. Here’s what you need to know before flying budget airlines in Europe:


Ryan Air tips:

The mack daddy of budget airlines (and certainly the first I became familiar with), Ryan Air offers insanely low prices. However, know the rules to avoid extra fees:

1. Print boarding passes before your flight. I don’t mean just check in before your flight, make sure you have your confirmation number, or find that booking email on your phone. I mean PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASSES. Otherwise, you face a steep fine for them to print them at the desk. Is this silly? Of course it is.

2. You can (and should) check in with Ryan Air one week before your flight. For us, this meant that during a recent trip to Europe, I checked in for my Ryan Air inter-city flight scheduled for mid-way through our trip before I could even check in for our cross-Atlantic flight. When you check in and print your boarding passes, you’ll be required to enter every person’s birthdate and passport number.

3. When booking, be sure to buy adult tickets for adults and kid tickets for kids (under 16), no matter the difference (or not) in price. If you don’t, you’ll be unable to check in your child when promoted for his or her birth year if you’ve accidentally booked an adult ticket. If for any reason you can’t print your boarding passes, use the online chat option to resolve the problem immediately. I chatted with a Ryan Air representative when I couldn’t print my 16-year-old’s pass and screen-captured the conversation in which he stated a gate agent would print the boarding pass at no charge. They complied at the gate because the conversation was noted in their system and I had the screen capture. Just saying, ‘they said it would be ok’ is not enough.

4.  Ryan Air now allows one carry-on and one personal item, just like in the US, though the officially carry-on size is one inch smaller. We had no problem boarding with 22 inch carry-ons, but we also made sure to queue up right when boarding was called to avoid being one of the last to board. These are the people whose bags were scrutinized.

EasyJet tips:

There’s nothing easy about flying EasyJet, but it’s certainly cheap. Here are a few tips:

1. Note their carry-on restriction of only ONE bag per person. This does not mean a carry-on and a personal item or backpack, but rather only ONE piece of baggage total. Families can check bags if needed, for 25 euros online, 35 euros at the check-in desk, or 45 euros at the gate. Ouch. Here’s what we did: each person in our family had a carry-on and a backpack. We put all our extra shoes and laundry in our largest carry-on, and paid to check it online for 25 euros. We then had just enough room for everyone to stuff their backpack into their carry-on for the flight, with one person carrying only the largest backpack. Whew!

2. Queue up to board early. If the boarding time is listed as 8:30 am, for instance, you’ll see people queuing as early as 8 am. By all means, join them, because like with Ryan Air, those last few to board have their carry on bag size analyzed more carefully. Though I will note that during the busy holiday season, a gate agent came down the line and measured each and every person’s bag. Talk about stress!

3. Bring water and snacks onboard. Nothing will be complimentary onboard. For those who have flown Frontier or Allegiant in the States, you know the drill.


General tips and cost traps:

  • Budget airline gates are almost always located at secondary or smaller airports, which in turn are almost always further away than the main airport serving a city. Take this into account: while some of these airports are served by metro trains or shuttles, expect to pay more per person on ground transportation. If you have an early flight, you may even need a private car service or taxi transport.
  • For example, we had a 9 am flight out of Paris’ BVA airport, located further afield than CDG or even ORLY. While 9 am seems like a civilized flight time, we had to leave our accommodations at 6 am to get to the airport by 7:15 am. We used this airport shuttle service which picked us up at our door. Had we used the bus service offered, we would have had to leave earlier…too early to take the metro to the bus line. The takeaway: if you know you’ll be taking public transit to a distant airport, opt for a later flight time because the whole process will take awhile. If you need to fly earlier in the day, budget for a shuttle or car service. We paid $125 on ground transportation in this case. If we’d had a later flight, the bus would have cost us around $75. We still saved more than if we’d flown a more expensive airline, but the ‘hassle-factor’ is strong here.
  • For shorter airport transfers, consider booking a private car service in advance. Often not much more expensive than public transit for a family of 4-5, a car service is far more relaxing and convenient. We used Blacklane from CDG to our Paris accommodations, and liked them so much, we booked them again instead of a taxi when we needed early morning transportation from our accommodations to a tour office.
  • Don’t dismiss a taxi as an option. When we needed to get from our downtown Rome accommodations to FCA, the Da Vinci airport train would have been 14 Euros per person (almost 75 for our family of five) whereas a taxi cost us 60. Negotiate a price with the driver before you get in the cab. (In Rome, only take white taxis…the others are unofficial and illegal.)
  • We love multi-day metro passes in major cities, but these passes often do not include outer zones serving airports. Be prepared to buy one-way fare for each person if you book a later flight on any airline.

Even taking these ground transportation expenses into account, all our budget airline flights cost us less than their standard airline counterparts. By planning far ahead of time, using Ryan Air and EasyJet can absolutely be worth the hassle. Just don’t expect to come out ahead if you’re planning on the fly (no pun intended).