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Comparing Europe's top 4 low-cost carriers: Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2 and Wizz Air

Jan. 03, 2021
15 min read
Comparing Europe's top 4 low-cost carriers: Ryanair, EasyJet, Jet2 and Wizz Air
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Editor's Note

The post has been updated.

Everything comes with a fee. Legroom is limited. The rules about baggage are complex. But when it comes to Europe's low-cost carriers, who can resist those cheap, nonstop fares when traveling around Europe?

To help you choose the best budget airline for you, we put together a chart comparing four of Europe's top low-cost carriers — Ryanair, easyJet, Wizz Air and Jet2.

There's the Irish carrier, Ryanair, which flies to 200 destinations throughout 30 countries in Europe. Similarly, British carrier easyJet flies to several destinations in Europe, including Paris, Rome, Barcelona and more. Wizz Air is based in Budapest, though has recently opened bases in the U.K. and operates flights mainly to and from Eastern Europe, while Jet2, a British airline, also flies all around Europe from many airports within the U.K.

Of course, not every airline offers the same seat width, pitch or baggage allowance with its low fares. So, the next time you're looking to book an ultra-cheap ticket, you won't have to think twice — just look here instead.

(Photo by Anastasia Dulgier/Unsplash)
Check-in Requirements
Carry-on Baggage Allowance
Seat Width and Pitch
Checked Baggage
Seat Allocation
Priority Boarding
Fare Classes
Loyalty Programme
Fleet

Analysis

Check-in Requirements

Obviously, the clear winner here is easyJet, as the airline doesn't charge for airport check-in. In general, the best way to avoid paying extra is to check-in online ahead of time, either by printing your pass or using a mobile pass whenever possible. Since many of these airlines offer check-in options several days or even weeks in advance, you can do this before leaving for your vacation, making sure you're set for your return flight, too. With Ryanair, always confirm if you need or don't need the stamp if you're a non-EU/EEA citizen, just to be safe.

Carry-on Baggage

Although Jet2 wins here for having the largest free carry-on bag plus an included personal item, the most important takeaway from this section is to measure (and weigh, depending on the airline) your carry-on baggage ahead of time to avoid issues at the airport. Unfortunately, EasyJet is following in Ryanair's footsteps in February 2021 and lowering its cabin baggage allowance (another one bites the dust).

Planning ahead, organizing what bags you'll need and purchasing whatever carry-on bags (and checked baggage) you need during booking can help you avoid unwanted additional charges later. If you plan to invest in a new carry-on suitcase, take the carry-on measurements along with you to ensure your brand-new bag meets the requirements and won't end up costing you extra in the long run. If carry on baggage, checked baggage and seat selection is important to you, do the math. Buying a fare class that bulks these options together may be worth it than adding all the extras in at the end.

Seat Size and Allocation

These carriers don't feature business-class seats or economy seats that recline, so if you're extra tall, booking a seat with added legroom or a standard aisle seat is going to be your best bet. The airline with the smallest and largest seats is Jet2, and the size depends on the aircraft you're flying. You can always check SeatGuru before purchasing your ticket, using your flight number and flying date to determine which aircraft and which size seats you'll have. This may be a deciding factor on whether or not you choose to pay extra to select your seat.

Obviously, some of the lowest rates for seat selection don't sound like a massive investment, but who wants to pay extra to reserve a middle seat in the back? This may be an area worth the splurge, especially if want to sit next to friends and family during your trip or need extra space.

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Legroom on a Ryanair flight between Madrid (MAD) and London (STN). (Photo by Lori Zaino / The Points Guy UK)

Checked Baggage

Checked baggage very much depends on the route and season you're flying with some of these carriers. Our best advice is to decide what luggage you're planning to bring along and reserve it as soon as you book. None of these low-cost carriers include a free checked bag, and fees depend on both the weight of your luggage as well as the rate or season you're flying — so there's no clear winner here.

The most important thing to do is to weigh your bags before flying to avoid having to pay extra at the check-in desk if your bag is overweight. You don't want to get to the airport and be surprised or caught off guard. Carrying a small luggage scale with you is also a good idea for your return trip, especially if you plan to shop during your vacation.

Priority Boarding

Although Ryanair's priority line is sometimes longer than the regular boarding line, its priority-boarding-plus-carry-on package is one of the better deals. With this policy, the price includes the extra carry-on baggage as well as a chance to board first. Just remember, this is capped at the first 95 people to book it, so make sure to reserve it upon booking your ticket to ensure you're one of the lucky 95.

If you're a fan of priority boarding, Jet2 isn't the right airline for you, as it doesn't offer it.

Jet2 Airlines doesn't offer priority boarding. (Photo via Getty Images)
Jet2 Airlines doesn't offer priority boarding. (Photo via Getty Images)

Fare Classes

Each of these airlines seems to bundle some of the extras together, so it may actually be cheaper to buy the next-highest fare class instead of the lower one, and then having to pay to check a bag and reserve a seat. You should always check the costs carefully when booking to see which fare on which airline gives you what you want but also makes sense for your budget. Sometimes, the extras can end up costing more than the ticket itself.

Loyalty Program

None of these carriers belong to a true loyalty program that allows you to earn and redeem miles. However, if you find yourself regularly flying on either Wizz Air or EasyJet, especially for business, you should look into joining their membership programs. Doing so may save you money in the long run, despite the annual fee.

Fleet

While true AVGeeks could argue their preference for the A320 family or the 737 for various reasons, for the everyday traveler, it often comes down to what's inside the aircraft. All four of these European low-cost carriers arrange their cabins in an all-economy and 3-3 seating configuration, so it's best to consider pitch and seat width if you're looking to fly in comfort.

Well, as much comfort as you can find on a low-cost carrier. Bring that neck pillow along!

A Wizz Air Airbus A320. (Photo via Getty Images)
A Wizz Air Airbus A320. (Photo via Getty Images)

Bottom Line

There's no winner in the realm of low-cost carriers. As each airline has such specific fees and rules and those often vary by route or season, it's hard to select one superior airline. Plus, if checked baggage doesn't apply to you, or you don't care about seat width, then your favorite low-cost carrier may be quite different from your neighbor's. The main point is to decide what's important to you (such as a larger carry-on, an extra personal item, free airport check-in, cheap seat allocation) and pick the airline that offers you the most.

Whatever airline you choose, read the fine print ahead of time and know exactly what your fare covers (or, more likely, doesn't) and what parameters are attached to your ticket. After all, you don't want to have to pay a fee to print your boarding pass that costs more than the price of your seat. And you don't want to be denied boarding just because you're missing a stamp, either.

And before you book, always make sure to check all of your options -- including a comparison with a traditional full-service carrier. One of the reasons low-cost airlines are so enticing is the lure of extremely cheap fares. But they're not always the better deal when you factor in all the extras.

Featured image by Getty Images
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
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Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023