Budget Travel Planning

How to Score Cheap Inter-Europe Flights

Before moving to London, I’d traveled around Europe by train and plane to a few cities- London, Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam, Reykjavik, Berlin, Munich, Rome. I knew there were great deals to be found after scoring a $40 one-way flight from Munich to Paris, but I didn’t fully understand just how great those deals were, or how different flying between European countries was from air travel in the States.

Why are there such great flight deals to be found in Europe?

When Europe deregulated its airways in the 1990s, no-frills budget airlines became popular. Even though they’re ‘budget’, many fly the same routes as their mainstream competitors. And, the beauty of budget carriers is it’s easy and affordable to book one-way flights as part of a multi-city itinerary.


3 Tips for Finding Cheap Inter-Europe Flights 

  • Book in advance: Just like with long-haul flights, the best deals are often found months ahead. Sometimes, you’ll get lucky with a last minute deal- but that’s not the norm
    • At the time of writing this post, it’s late January and I’ve booked all of my flights through April for great prices, a few examples:
      • London to Marrakesh roundtrip for £90
      • London to Amsterdam roundtrip for £45
      • London to Riga (Latvia) roundtrip for £40
      • Stavanger (Norway) to London one-way for £30
      • ^Most of the above routes will 2x+ in price closer to my trip dates
    • Skyscanner is my go-to for searching inter-Europe flights. It can help you identify whether booking roundtrip or single flights is the most affordable option
  • Fly ‘fringe’ dates: Even if you book in advance, you’ll be likely to find better deals if you look at leaving Saturday morning (vs. Friday night), and returning Monday am (vs. Sunday night) for a quick city break
    • Leaving on a Saturday am and returning on a Tuesday am is how I managed to snag a flight to Marrakesh for less than half the cost of the Friday – Sunday night options
  • Skip the extras: With ticket prices so low, expect to be bombarded at every step with extra fee options- booking seats, carrying on more than one bag, priority boarding, booking with a credit card (vs. debit card), carrying an infant onboard and so on
    • The cheapest way to fly budget airlines is with hand luggage only (i.e. a backpack). If your trip is on the longer side and you need to check luggage, reserve in advance- many budget carriers up the prices to check bags closer to travel dates


4 Tips for Flying Europe’s Budget Airlines

  • Double check which airport you’re flying out of, and check train or bus timetables ahead of making your way to the airport: This is critical. Some cities have multiple airports, and if you’re flying one-way to each location, you may be flying from different locations. Trains & buses from city center to the airports are often the cheapest (and usually quickest) way to get there, but the timetables can be a bit odd- sometimes trains only leave every 20/30/40 minutes so give yourself enough time to get to the airport well ahead of your flight (I try to do 90-120 minutes to ensure I don’t miss my flight because of long security lines or any other delays)
  • Read the fine print closely:
    • Budget tickets are usually nonrefundable and nonchangable
    • Pay attention to baggage restraints (yes, there’s a good chance your carry-on or hand luggage will be weighed)
    • Most airlines require you check-in by a certain time before your flight, some are stricter than others in enforcement if you don’t do so
    • Look closely at requirements for boarding pass- some airlines (hi, Ryanair) require you to print your pass from home. If you wait until doing so at the airport, you’ll be charged upwards of £40
  • Every airport in Europe is different- at some, you’ll go through security in the beginning and then can buy food/drink as normal practice in the States before boarding. At others (Berlin, Prague, Vienna), you won’t go through security until you step on the plane, which means you can’t carry liquids (even ones you purchase in the airport) on board. In Vienna, you can at least buy a special kind of sealed water to take, and in Prague, there are vending machines between security and your gate in case you really want a beverage or snack. Whatever you do, don’t plan on purchasing food onboard- because airfare rates are so low, everything else has extremely high mark-up
  • Have your boarding pass ready when purchasing food/drink before boarding: This is one I still sometimes forget, but most stores- like drug stores or grab ‘n go shops will ask to scan your boarding pass as part of check-out. If you have it handy, just makes your life a bit easier and ensures you won’t be holding up the line


Bottom line: Low cost airlines can be amazing, especially for one-way journeys as part of a longer trip through Europe or a quick weekend trip. I’ve flown Ryanair, Aer Lingus, EasyJet, EuroWings, IcelandAir, Norwegian, FlyBe and WizzAir and never had a significant problem with any of them.

Yes, sometimes budget carriers are delayed, but I’ve yet to experience a delay longer than 1-2 hours. And, for what it’s worth, I’ve noticed delays tend to be more likely on late afternoon/early evening flights (no surprise, like in the States, a single plane makes several trips a day), so I try to fly early am whenever I can/am concerned about getting somewhere on time.

Are there times I upgrade to mainstream carriers like Swiss or British instead of flying budget? Sure, if the mainstream flight isn’t that much more than the budget carriers, or if I’m flying somewhere to connect to a long haul flight (often makes sense for multiple reasons- delays are less likely, better baggage policies, etc.)

All in all though, budget carriers (and Airbnb!) are the reason I’m able to travel so much around Europe. Even if a flight is delayed, I know once I get to my destination I’ll have a great time.


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