Tramping Around Europe: A Guide to Trains, Planes and Buses on the Cheap (Part 2: Discount Airlines)

I am in the process of compiling lists for cruising around Europe called Tramping Around Europe. So far, I have talked about trains and rail passes, and in this post, I will talk about the most popular form of travel these days, the plane. Europe is home to a lot of airlines, which provides a decent amount of competition between carriers, resulting in great prices for consumers. With that, here is a tidbit about discount airlines in Europe.

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Ryanair Plane at Warsaw Airport

Discount/Low Cost Carriers (LCCs)

What is an LCC? It is a low cost, no frills airline. Usually you can get a really good deal on the seat to go somewhere, but then have buy all of your extras, like seat reservations, drinks on the plane and biggest of all, baggage (hand and/or checked). If you are traveling light, they can be extraordinary deals, and a great way to cross the continent. To put it in perspective, I just bought a ticket from Szczecin, Poland to Bergen, Norway, where my ticket cost 119 zł ($32 USD), where my bag cost 125 zł. Most of the time, your bag will cost more than your actual plane ticket.

I wrote a post that had a list of all the LCC carriers I could find/ think of. I also wrote a follow up post on how to get around the world for this summer for $1500. Those prices have since risen, but the post has some decent information on the LCC routes. I am going to steal this list from what I wrote about before since, it is the same concept, and I would be wasting my time rewriting everything:

Things to Note While Flying LCCs:

  • Fees exist for everything.
  • It is cheaper to book extras like checked baggage ahead of time.
  • The closer you get to the gate, the more expensive everything is.
  • No one will tell you that you have to check your bag because it is too big until you are at the gate.
  • Check in and print your ticket ahead of time.
  • Research fees before you go to the airport, it can save you a lot!
  • Usually, flights do not happen every day, but instead a few days a week between city paris.
  • Sometimes they fly to far out airports, like Paris Beauvais is ~85 km from downtown Paris. Check transport options prior to booking.
  • Instead Of changing your ticket, it is probably better to just buy a new one.
  • After factoring in baggage fees and such, it is sometimes a better deal to fly with a flag carrier (a nation’s flag carrier is one like Lufthansa, British Airways etc.).

The main LCCs in Europe are EasyJet, Ryanair, Wizz, Vueling and Norwegian. It is worth noting though that the big airlines, like British Airways, Air France and some of the others have started to play the LCC game, meaning that you can buy an ultra low fare, comparable to the other LCCs that are out there. For instance, I was looking at tickets from Bergen to London for this summer. Norwegian wants $45 for the route, where British Airways wants $44 for a flight leaving an hour later. Both Norwegian’s and British Airways’ fares do not include baggage.

When we throw in the baggage add on for both of these carries, Norwegian comes out to $58, where British Airways comes out to $63.  For me, the extra $5 might be worthwhile on BA, since then I earn miles ;), although Norwegian has free WiFi.

On a separate ticket, I was looking at going from Stockholm to London. SAS was offering tickets for $59, which includes a checked bag. When I looked at Ryanair, the airport was in narnia and cost ~$78…SAS won out on this one.

What I am trying to show you, is, LCCs are not always the best option. Their airports are out in bum fuck rolling hills of Sweden, or something like that, the flying experience is not always the best, and the fees are hazardous. Throw these things in with the legacy carriers competing within a close price range means that you might be able to find a better flying experience, that takes you to a more centrally located airport (easier public transit, aka cheaper to get to the city), and you might be able to accrue miles. Shop around before committing to any flights, like you always should.

With that, there are some exceptional deals. My cousin used to tell me that he would pay a $1 for a ticket to some random place. He would go and fly around for fun, because he loved to fly. Not all of the flights are the best deals, but there are some really good ones out there. Below is a list of some of the LCCs that you can find in Europe. This list is the bigger companies, but should get you anywhere you want to go in Europe, from Svalbard, Norway to the Grand Tenerife, Spain, some 3,600 miles away.

Ryanair

Probably the most popular LCC out there. Ryanair flies point to point (meaning you can only fly direct, there are no connections. You have to buy two different tickets if you want to connect) routes all over Europe. It is based out of Dublin, Ireland, but its main hubs are London Stansted, Milan Bergamo, Frankfurt Hahn, Dusseldorf Weeze and some smaller hubs like Warsaw Modlin, Oslo Rygge and Paris Beauvais. Honestly, it is nearly impossible deciding where the hubs are for Ryanair, and it is best to head over to their route map to see where they fly. Baggage fees are affordable, but service is limited. With that, they are getting better, and hey, they get you there!

Note: With Ryanair they always want to charge you in your credit card issuing countries currency. Hover your cursor around the price, and click around somewhere in there. A box will pop up, somewhere in that box it will say something about the conversion. Uncheck the box and you will be billed in the currency of your departure country.

Wizz Air

Wizz is an airline that is from Eastern Europe. It started in budapest, which means that it covers Eastern Europe a bit better than the others. They have some interesting routes, like to Dubai and some smaller airports in Norway. The baggage fees are about $30, so a little bit up there considering that the tickets run in the $20-35 range for all the routes that I have been interested in. Booking is a bit easier and straightforward than others, in my opinion. Their route map is found here.

EasyJet

When I think of EasyJet, it reminds me of Southwest. Yes, bags aren’t free, but the experience seems similar. They were based out of Switzerland, and have hubs in Geneva, Basel, London, Berlin and more. They fly more “holiday” routes in my opinion. With that, they are a great option for cruising around, just bring your earplugs…constant selling from Milan to Mallorca taught me that. Their route map is here, and fees are here.

Norwegian

Norwegian has exploded in the past few years. They are the only (not for long) LCC to fly long haul routes that are actually enticing. They fly all over the US and to Bangkok from Oslo, Stockholm, Copenhagen and London. In addition to the long haul flights, they fly all over Europe. All fo their flights are WiFi enabled, and it is apparently free, which is a nice touch. Norwegian does not fly to the “bum fuck rolling hills” airports, but moreso some of the main ones, Like Gatwick in London and Gerdermoen in Olso. I really want to fly their longhaul someday, especially when the $150 transatlantic fares pop up again in the winter.  Their route map is here, and fees are here.

Vueling

Vueling, like Norwegian, has grown immensely in popularity the past few years. It is based in Barcelona, but flies all over Europe, mainly southern, although it is creeping into the north. They have phenomenal connections throughout the Med though. I find their prices to be a bit higher. Route map is here and fees are here.

Pegasus

Pegasus is based in Istanbul. It flies to a lot of the Middle Eastern and southeastern European destinations. Getting from places like Serbia, Macedonia and Albania, they proved to be the most consistent response in my searches. To my knowledge, the first bag is free, which is really nice. They don’t really have a route map, so this Wikipedia article might be your best bet for destinations.

Air Baltic

A carrier based out of Riga, Latvia, that connects many of the Eastern European destinations. The baggage fees are really high in my opinion. Regardless, they have some really good routes from the Baltics, and beyond, like Tashkent, Uzbekistan. Their route map is here, and baggage fees are found here.

Above, I mentioned the big carriers based at each end of the continent. A list of the LCCs in Europe would not be a list if you only had the big airlines, so here are the other ones that I know about, if you happen to know of more, let me know and I will add them. Remember, the line between flag carrier and LCC is growing slimmer, so this is just what I think are LCCs:

  • Germanwings – Germany and beyond, subsidiary of Lufthansa.
  • FlyBaboo – Swiss based that flies mostly to the Med.
  • Jetairfly/Tui Fly companies – Charter companies based all over Europe that offer flights to vacation destinations, usually.
  • Transavia – France and Netherlands based, flying all over Europe.
  • Jet2 – UK based, and has the occasional flight to the US.
  • Monarch – UK based to most vacation destinations.
  • WOW – Based in Iceland, flies to Boston and Baltimore starting this summer, with extremely high bag fees. (Like $60+ to cross the pond)
  • Volotea – More of a southern airline, and flies all over the Med, including many Greek islands.
  • Smart Wings – Based in Prague, Czech Republic.
  • Niki – Based in Vienna.
  • XL Airways – Paris based and flies to many international destinations.

Sample Itinerary on LCCs

Doing a trip in Europe exclusively on LCCs is stupid. You don’t see much from the air. You see more from the ground, and watching the landscape cruise by is a better way to get to know Europe, in my opinion. LCCs should be a supplement to your journey, not an exclusive means of travel. Because of this, I am going to extend the itinerary that I prepared in the “Tramping Around Europe: A Guide to Trains, Planes and Buses on the Cheap (Part #1)” train itinerary. That itinerary read as follows:

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Burano, Italy, outside of Venice

  • Arrive London on May 10th.
  • May 15th: Hop  on the Eurostar. Booking early can yield $54 tickets, usually on Monday-Thursdays.
  • May 20th: Catch the Ouigo ($12-25) to Marseille, where you can enjoy a few days on the French Riviera, maybe making your way slowly to Nice by regional train, which should cost about $15-30.
  • The regional trains are €20 from Nice to Milan, and can be any day of the week without large price variances.
  • After a day or two in Milan, or more with a few day trips to things like the Italian lakes, take the train to Rome, maybe with a stop in Florence at no extra cost. €40. These trains are available for any day. Another option is to continue to Venice, then onward to Rome.

So lets supplement this bad boy.

  • Let’s add Dublin, Ireland to the beginning of the itinerary. Flights from Dublin to London are cheap, and on May 10th, there are flights with Ryanair for $22.58 USD. Dublin is a cheaper place to fly into in Europe, and you can take Westjet across from Canada (different topic).
  • From here, lets continue the itinerary as we did before, all the way to Rome.
  • From Rome, lets fly to Budapest around early June, say the 3rd. Ryanair wins out again at $32.75 USD.
  • From Budapest, i would take the train (or bus, which is coming soon) through eastern Europe. Realistically, you can get to Vienna, Prague, Warsaw and Gdansk on buses (Polski bus is an exceptional value). I think you could do all this traveling for about $50 USD.
  • From Gdansk, let’s dip into Norway a bit. Only a bit because it is like putting yourself into induced poverty (something I have volunteered for this summer and will be doing!). On the 18th of June, the flight from Gdansk to Bergen costs, after conversion, $21.28 on Wizz air. From here, I would hang out for about 5 days, go see Flam and such, then hop a Norwegian Longhaul to JFK (direct from Bergen) or LAX, Orlando, Oakland, Ft. Lauderdale or Bangkok if you are extending this a bit longer.

The above does not include bag fees, or transport to and from the airport. It does add 6 countries to the trip though, for the price of about $130 USD. That seems worthwhile considering the fact that people spend a good $1000-1200 usually to get to Europe. Regardless, I think it is worthwhile, and a very marginal cost for how much extra stuff you get to see.

The options are endless with LCCs in Europe. Chances are, they operate the route that you want to fly. These routes can save a lot of time instead of traveling on the ground between far flung places. It is a great way to bum around the country, so it is worthwhile looking into. Not to mention, the experience of being sold lottery tickets at 6 AM on your flight in the hungover state sounds like a special kind of hell, but it does have a charm, I promise.

If you find any other ideas for LCCs, or itineraries that you think would be great, post ’em in the comments.

Next topic for Tramping Around Europe: Buses.

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