The Best and Worst parts of Discount flying in Europe
There’s an abundance of options when traveling through Europe—buses, trains, planes, and the occasional boat ride. Most people opt for taking the EuroRail pass when traveling throughout Europe for more than a month, but travelers who are trying to see as much as possible on a time limit and restricted budget turn to discount airlines.
Discount airlines have become a gigantic industry popping up all over Europe and Asia. In my opinion, the most popular discount airline that provides the most cities to travel to is RyanAir. Based out of Dublin, Ireland, they run efficiently and without a hitch… most of the time.
Everyone always wonders how a company that offers such cheap fights make money. The answer to that is fees. Essentially the Spirit airlines of Europe, RyanAir charges a fee for items ranging from your carry-on bag, to large to ski equipment. Unfortunately, these fees all add up—eventually costing you more than what you bargained for.
If you’re going to fly with a discount airline, be smart about it. Follow these simple rules to avoid paying 3 to 4 times the cost of your flight.
ALWAYS PRINT YOUR BOARDING PASS
Seems simple enough, right? Forget this golden ticket and you could be charged anywhere from 15 to 40 euros depending on the season. I have witnessed this first-hand and it is a sad sight.
Let’s say you pay for a flight from Pisa, Italy to Budapest, Hungary for a mere 20 euros. RyanAir can charge you 20 euros to re-print your ticket—and now the cost of your flight has doubled.
Pro tip: Make sure all of your information in correctly on there!
MAKE SURE YOU CHOSE THE RIGHT DATE AND TIME OF YOUR FLIGHT
This one seems pretty obvious, but many times you are constantly booking multiple flights and trying to find your next adventure, you mistakenly click on the wrong date. RyanAir and many of the other discount airlines fly the same exact routes every single day, multiple times a day and for the same price, so it can get confusing!
First-hand experience… you do not want this to happen to you. Several things could happen when you arrive—there is no room on the flight, or there is room and they charge you an absurd fee for missing your flight and having to change your flight on the spot. A trip from Berlin, Germany to Amsterdam, Netherlands that cost me 35 euros ended up costing 180 euros because of my royal screw up.
PROTECT YOUR COOKIES
Discount airline websites have built in software that monitors your cookies and behaviors when visiting their website. So when you go and look up that cheap flight from Barcelona to Amsterdam for 25 euro and wait a few hours to make a decision, know that they’re watching you.
What I mean is that as you keep clicking, it will change the price based on your behavior. That 25-euro flight on Monday could be 40 euro by Wednesday if you keep checking it. Be prepared to book a flight quickly when you are searching for your next destination.
CARRY YOUR BAG ON YOUR BACK
Most travelers only travel with a large travel backpack which is the best way to ensure you will never have to part ways with it, (and that it’ll make it onto the plane!). At every discount airline there is a metal contraption that measures your bag size to see if it complies with carry-on regulations.
I am pretty convinced what their regulations are are not the true measurements of the metal box, but nonetheless, many people are forced to check the size in front of them especially if it is a bag that can be rolled on the ground.
Most of the time if it on your back and not engulfing you (making you look like the hunchback of Notre Dame) they’re not likely to ask questions. But if it does not meet the requirements… More fees! And the fees are a lot more than if you paid to check your bag online.
PREPARE TO WAKE UP EARLY OR ARRIVE LATE
They’re discount airlines for a reason, not some grand service with pillows and blankets waiting on your seat. With these airlines you truly get what you paid for.
Most flights are super early in the morning or pretty late at night—could be anywhere from 6:00 am to 11:00 pm—and because of this you are either up before the sun (or just never slept) or you are arriving in your city in the dead of night with no idea where to go.
Make sure to take this into consideration when planning your trip, don’t miss out on a fun night because you have to leave for your flight at 4 am. Also don’t waste your day sitting at the airport when you have a late flight because you are afraid of missing it. Plan your flight time accordingly, so that you may enjoy the city you’re in for the day.
BE CAREFUL WHEN BOOKING 2 FLIGHTS IN A ROW
Most discount airlines do not offer layovers. If you book flights in a way to create your own layovers (let’s say, Italy to London, then London to Ireland) and your first flight is delayed it does not matter to RyanAir.
Each flight is independent of each other and therefore you must book a new flight completely after you miss it. A group of 12 including myself attempted this miraculous feat to make it to Ireland for St. Patrick’s day.
Flight 1: Pisa, Italyà London. Then, 1 hour 5 minutes later, Londonà Dublin. We had to make it, it was our only option and with an hour time limit in between nothing could stop us. Until our flight was delayed by exactly 1 hour… leaving 12 college kids pleading with the RyanAir flight attendants to allow us to make a mad dash to our gate.
Luckily, after sprinting over a mile through London airport, all but 1 made it onto our flight. The one left behind? She forgot to print her ticket and they closed the gate on her.
SOMETIMES THE CHEAPEST FLIGHT ISN’T THE BEST
Most of of discount airlines do not fly into the main airport associated with that city. For example: If you’re flying to Florence, Italy, RyanAir’s option is flying into Pisa airport (an hour and 30 minutes outside of the city). However, they have buses that take you directly into the city for 6 euros.
But for many travelers, time is the most important asset and spending the extra 20 euros to land directly into your city is worth it. Some buses cost up to 20 euros per passenger and if you are flying into and out of that airport that will be an extra 40 euros per person—which quickly adds up.
Also, finding buses and trains could be the easiest and sometimes the cheapest route to a new country. This route may take a few hours longer, but you will have a nice comfy seat and room to stand up and walk around. Plus, you’re bound to meet some interesting people.