(Updated, June 12, 2015)
Long term, sustainable travel means you have to make your dollars (or euros or pounds) stretch as far as you can. When it comes to air travel, in the states our choices are pretty much limited to Southwest, JetBlue, and a couple of others that might be categorized as “budget” airlines. But in Europe there seems to be a much more comprehensive list of options. Here are the ones we’ve identified and bookmarked.
Note that, like here in the states, there are a couple more airlines that might be considered budget airlines that I haven’t listed: it’s just our bookmark list, not a comprehensive sampling. And I’m only including those airlines that obviously market themselves as low-cost.
An important tip! Be sure to read all the fine print and understand all the fees. Expect to pay extra for your luggage, including (on some airlines) your carry-on bags. Generally it’s better to pre-pay for any extras like luggage or meals. Watch out for “hidden” fees like getting charged to print boarding passes at the airport.
✈ Indicates an airline you should bookmark!
- Airberlin – Germany-based (duh) with great coverage all over Europe, but rarely the cheapest.
- AtlasJet – Based in Turkey, with decent coverage within Turkey and to London, and a few places in Eastern Europe and the Middle East.
- Condor ✈ – This German-based airline is part of the Thomas Cook airline network and offers not only great coverage across Europe, but crosses the Atlantic with flights to JFK, Baltimore, Las Vegas, and more. Not to mention, Condor has great coverage in the Caribbean and even Asia and South America. Condor might just be the first global discount airline; this is definitely an airline you should bookmark.
- Croatia Airlines – obviously concentrated in the Balkans, but with connections to major cities across Europe.
- EasyJet – we took EasyJet from Barcelona to Pisa once: it was an “ok” experience. Great holiday/vacation type coverage across Europe.
- Flybe – UK and Western Europe destinations mainly.
- Hop, by AirFrance – Great coverage in France, as you might expect, plus destinations in Italy and Prague.
- Jet2 – holiday-centric, with lots of beach and sun destinations.
- Livingston – Based in Italy, this airline has good coverage all around the Med, with a few destinations in the UK and Ireland
- Monarch ✈ – quite possibly our favorite to get to/from UK and the continent. Monarch has destinations across Europe and flies to the Canary Islands.
- Norwegian ✈ – great coverage all across Europe and one of the first of Europe’s discount airlines to fly across the Atlantic. They offer connections between Orlando, JFK, Las Vegas, Fort Lauderdale, and Oakland to Europe at “mid-week” prices. We haven’t flown them yet, but we’re keeping an eye on them.
- Onur Air – Turkey’s 2nd low cost airline (behind Pegasus), with connections from some major European gateways (Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Frankfurt, Paris, Vienna) and Istanbul (as well as connections from there to the Middle East).
- Pegasus ✈ – Turkey’s number 1 low cost airline, your best bet in and out of Istanbul and to the Turkish Aegean destinations like Bodrum and Alanya. They also get our award for the best safety video. If Turkey is on your travel wishlist, bookmark Pegasus.
- RyanAir ✈ – the best known of the European budget airlines. We’ve taken them a half dozen times or so before, even though they leave you feeling a bit “used”. Beware their fees (like most of the discount airlines), especially the luggage fees and be sure to print your boarding pass before you go to the airport. Play their game and you can save a lot of money.
- SmartWings – decent enough coverage across Europe, also going to Tel Aviv and Dubai.
- Thomas Cook Airlines ✈ – holiday-centric airline branch of the venerable travel company, they have good coverage to fun & sun sorts of destinations, plus a few US destinations (JFK, Vegas, Miami, and Sanford/Orlando).
- Thomson – Another holiday-centric airline with lots of destinations in the UK and lots all around the Mediterranean.
- Transavia ✈ – Amsterdam-based, these guys are probably our best low-cost experience to date: we flew them from Venice to Amsterdam once, but unfortunately haven’t flown with them since. They offer “sun and fun” type destinations across Europe.
- TuiFly ✈ – Another german-based low cost airline with a great global footprint. They offer transatlantic connections to Europe from Fort Lauderdale, Las Vegas, and Seattle, and they fly to South America, Asia, and (naturally) all across Europe.
- Vueling – Barcelona-based with good coverage across Europe; we’ve flown them only once, from Barcelona to the island of Ibiza. It was a good experience and we’d readily try them again.