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Use Budget Airlines to Save on European Travel Costs

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Use Budget Airlines to Save on European Travel Costs

Kaiserburg Castle, Nuremberg

Photo © Nancy Parode

It sounds too good to be true – one-way airfare from Frankfurt to Rome for one Euro cent plus airport taxes and fees. You’re not dreaming. If you fly on one of Europe’s budget airlines, and you book your flights well in advance, you could end up paying this amazingly low price for your ticket.

The modern budget airline revolution began with Southwest Airlines. Once Southwest proved that budget airlines brought in profits, European entrepreneurs followed the carrier’s successful business model, and low-cost carriers sprang up around the Continent. Today you can find budget airlines flying to nearly every European country; some even offer flights to Africa.

Expect No-Frills Travel

European budget airlines have taken the no-frills concept to extremes in order to keep costs low. On Ryanair, for example, you pay extra to check baggage, check luggage at the airport counter or board the airplane in the first boarding group. Food and beverages are extra, too. You can only bring 15 kilograms (about 33 pounds) of luggage with you, and you aren’t allowed to “pool” your baggage allowance with others in your travel group. Some budget airlines charge extra to check wheelchairs and umbrella strollers.

You may encounter delays if you need to connect to another airline from a budget carrier. Most budget airlines don’t provide check-through service for passengers’ bags, so you’ll have to clear passport control, pick up your luggage, and carry it to your next check-in counter. Be sure to plan extra time for this process.

Investigate Ground Transportation Options

Budget airlines tend to use smaller airports. If your itinerary includes major European cities, you might need to take a bus or train from the airport to your destination city. Ryanair, for example, flies to Rome’s Ciampino airport, not to Fiumicino (Leonardo da Vinci), where most international flights land. To get into downtown Rome, you’ll need to take a bus or taxi; Ciampino doesn’t have a Metro station.

Travel Light to Avoid Excess Baggage Penalties

European low-cost airlines use small airplanes, such as 737s. European carriers strictly enforce carry-on baggage rules, and storage space is limited. You will only be allowed to bring one carry-on item onto the airplane. Its dimensions can’t exceed 21.6 x 15.7 x 7.8 inches. That’s not very large; it’s about the size of a well-stuffed laptop case. Carry-on items can’t weigh more than 17.6 pounds.

Plan Ahead to Save on Per-Bag Charges

When you book a flight, you’ll be asked how many bags you wish to check, and your per-bag fee will be added to the price of your ticket. If you show up with additional luggage, you’ll pay a much higher fee. You may also be asked if you’d like to pay extra to board the plane first. Traditionally, passengers board the plane á la Southwest; there are no reserved seats. Travelers who pay extra jump to the head of the line.

Protect Your Investment

If you’re flying on a low-cost airline, consider purchasing travel insurance. If your flight is cancelled, you might have to wait a long time for another flight because major airlines probably won’t accept your low-cost ticket. Similarly, if your airline goes out of business – and this happens – you’ll be out the cost of your tickets. Safeguard your travel investment with insurance if you can’t afford to buy a second set of tickets.

The Bottom Line

In spite of challenges and complications, travelers flock to low-cost airlines. They prefer value to frills. If you are willing to spend some time finding flights and if you’re able to travel light, the rewards can be great. You really can fly from Frankfurt-Hahn to Madrid for less than $40 one way.

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