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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 for a holiday weekend?
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 216 destinations throughout 37 countries in Europe, plus Morocco, Israel and Jordan. Similarly, British carrier easyJet flies to several destinations in Europe, as well as Israel and Morocco. Wizz Air is based in Budapest and operates flights mainly to and from Eastern Europe — more than 500 routes to 134 destinations. Jet2, also British, flies to spots all around Europe from many airports within the UK.
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.
|Check-in Requirements||Travellers should check in online, print their boarding pass or download a mobile pass (when available). Otherwise, it costs either £/€55 to check in at the airport or £/€25 to print a boarding card at the airport. Those who’ve paid extra for seat selection can check in online 60 days in advance and up to two hours before the flight. Those with unreserved seats can check in between 48 days and two hours before the flight. Non-EU/EEA citizens must have their travel documents checked and stamped at the Ryanair Visa/Document Check Desk before certain flights.||No charge for checking in at the airport or printing a boarding pass, but it’s best to check in and print a boarding pass ahead of time — or use the easyJet app. Web check-in is available between 30 days and two hours before the flight.||Check in online between 14 days and three hours before the flight. If travellers don’t print their boarding pass before arriving or download a mobile pass when available, they must pay between €10 and €30 (or £8.50 to £26) at the airport, except at select airports where it’s free to check in, including Corfu, Palma de Mallorca, Zaragoza, Moscow, Marrakessh, and both Dubai and Tirana when flying to Budapest.||When booking, travellers must select between web and mobile check-in or airport check-in. If you choose to check in at the airport, you’ll be charged a fee starting at £12. Web check-in is available 28 days in advance of the flight.|
|Carry-on Baggage Allowance||One bag under the seat with a maximum size of 40x20x25 centimeters. Priority passengers (from £/€6 and up), can take one bag under the seat with a maximum size of 40x20x25cm, plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 10 kilograms and 55x40x20 centimeters. The extra service also includes priority boarding.||One bag with a maximum size of 56x45x25 centimeters. There is no weight limit. Travellers who have purchased an extra-legroom seat, FLEXI fare or hold an easyJet Plus card can bring an added personal item to place under the seat with a maximum size of 45x36x20 centimeters.||One bag with a maximum size of 10 kilograms and 40x30x20 centimeters can be placed under the seat. Travellers with WIZZ Priority service can bring one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimeters and an extra trolley bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimeters.||One bag with a maximum weight of 10 kilograms and maximum size of 56x45x25 centimeters, including any wheels and handles, plus one personal item (such as a handbag or laptop bag) as long as it fits underneath the seat in front. If the flight is full, your 10 kilogram bag may be put in the hold, but for an extra £2.50, you can guarantee that it stays with you in the cabin.|
|Seat Width and Pitch||43.2 centimeters (17 inches) and 76.2 centimeters (or 30 inches). No recline.||45.72 centimeters (18 inches) and 76.2 centimeters (30 inches). No recline.||45.72 centimeters (18 inches). Wizz Air claims its seat pitch is actually 76.2 centimeters (30 inches) but in TPG UK experience, we measured it as 73.7 centimeters (29 inches). No recline.||41.1 to 44.7 centimeters (or between 16.2 and 17.6 inches) and 71.2 to 78.7 centimeters (or 28 to 31 inches). No recline.|
|Hold Baggage||Each traveller can bring three bags weighing 20 kilograms each. Each 20 kilogram bag costs £/€25 if purchased during the initial flight booking or £/€40 if added online afterward. Rates at the airport desk are higher and vary based on route and season. Bags weighing more than 20 kilograms cost £/€11 per kilo (or local currency equivalent per kilo), capped at 32 kilograms. A new option to check a 10 kilogram bag is now available.||Each traveller can bring three hold bags at either 15 kilograms, 23 kilograms or 32 kilograms. Prices range from £6.99 to £37.99 for 15 and 23 kilogram bags if purchased online. An extra £12 for every 3 kilograms of weight is added until 32 kilograms. Prices to check bags at the airport start at £40 and up.||Each traveller can bring three hold bags. Rates are based on date of travel and if you paid online or at the airport. Rates range from €9 (£8) online for a 10 kilogram bag on off-peak travel dates to €120 (about £103.50) for a 32 kilogram bag checked at the airport.||Each traveller can bring three hold bags at 22 kilograms each. 22 kilogram bags start at £25.50. Additional weight is charged at £12 per kilogram up to 32 kilograms.|
|Seat Allocation||Standard seat selection starts at £/€3, and extra legroom or front seats start at £/€7. Children under 12 get reserved seats for free, but accompanying adults must pay. Flexi or Flexi Plus have seat selection included.||Prices for seat selection range from £1.99 for standard seats to £29.99 for front, extra legroom or overwing seats. FLEXI fares or easyJet Plus have seat selection included.||Seat selection prices range from €1 to €50 (or £1 to £43) depending on seat, season and route. Wizz Go and Wizz Plus fares have seat selection included.||When booking, special deal prices may be offered (think: 15% off seat selection and one hold bag). Standard seat selection runs from £7 to £18.|
|Priority Boarding||Prices start at £/€6 and up. The service includes extra carry-on luggage and allows you to board first in a special line. Priority boarding is capped at 95 customers per flight. Plus and Flexi Plus fares have this service included.||Speedy boarding is available to travellers with an easyJet Plus card, FLEXI ticket or an up-front or extra-leg-room seat.||If booked online, priority boarding is available for between €5 and €30 (or £4 to £26) depending on season and route. If booked at the airport, it’s €25 (about £22.50). This fare is also included with Wizz Go and Wizz Plus as well as Wizz Air Privilege.||Jet2 doesn’t offer priority boarding.|
|Fare Classes||Plus fares include standard seat selection, free priority boarding and one hold bag. Flexi Plus fares come with seat selection, priority boarding, free airport check-in, flexible ticket changes and one hold bag. Ryanair also has special family fares.||FLEXI fares allow changes to flight dates and times, plus a free 23 kilogram hold bag, dedicated bag drop, speedy boarding, Fast Track security at selected airports, a seat at the front of the airplane, an under-seat bag in addition to your cabin bag and a £7 (or currency equivalent) bistro voucher to spend on board.||Wizz Go fares allow a carry-on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimeters plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimeters, a 20 kilogram checked bag, seat selection, free airport and online check-in, priority boarding and priority check-in. Wizz Plus fares allow a carry on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimeters plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimeters, a 32 kilogram checked bag, premium seat selection, flexible changes and refund options, free airport and online check-in, priority boarding and priority check-in.||Jet2 doesn’t have special fares, but it does have instant deals, where the cost of seat selection and hold baggage is bundled together with a 15% discount or the cost of seats, meals and hold baggage for a 25% discount. Travellers can take advantage of these deals during the online booking process.|
|Loyalty Program||It’s still unclear how the myRyanair program will reward travellers.||EasyJet Plus costs £/€199 per year and includes allocated seating every time you fly, dedicated bag-drop desks, Fast Track security at select airports, speedy boarding, an additional cabin bag and more.||Wizz Air Privilege Pass costs €199 (£170) per year and includes seat selection, priority boarding, an extra cabin bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimeters in addition to the other cabin bag with a maximum size of of 40x 30×20 centimeters.||MyJet2 scheme is a free membership program where you can receive special deals and offers by email.|
|Fleet||Ryanair operates a fleet of more than 450 737-800s.||EasyJet primarily uses the Airbus A319-100, the A320-200 and A321-200.||WizzAir operates Airbus A320 and Airbus 321 aircrafts.||Jet2 uses mainly 737-800s.|
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 holiday, 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.
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. Planning ahead, organizing what bags you’ll need and purchasing whatever carry-on bags (and hold 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.
Seat Size and Allocation
As none of these carriers have business-class seats or economy seats that recline, if you’re extra tall, booking a seat with added legroom or a standard aisle seat is 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.
Hold baggage very much depends on the route and season you’re flying with some of these carriers and your best bet is to decide what luggage you plan to bring along when booking and reserve at the moment you book. None of these low-cost carriers include a free hold bag and fees depend on the weight of your luggage as well as the rate or season you fly, so there’s no clear winner here. The most important thing to do is weigh your bags before flying to avoid having to pay extra at the check-in desk if your bag is overweight.
Although Ryanair’s priority line is sometimes longer than the regular boarding line, the airline’s priority-boarding-plus-carry-on package is one of the better deals, as the price includes the extra carry-on baggage as well as a chance to board first. If you simply love priority boarding, Jet2 isn’t the right airline for you, as it doesn’t offer it.
Each of these airlines seems to bundle some of the extras together, and it may actually be cheaper to buy the next-highest fare class than simply checking a bag and reserving a seat. Check the costs carefully when booking to see which fare on which airline gives you what you want but also makes the most sense for your budget. Sometimes, the extras end up costing more than the ticket itself.
None of these carriers belong to a true loyalty program that allows you to earn and redeem miles. However, if you find yourself constantly flying on either Wizz Air or easyJet, especially for business, joining their membership programs may actually save you money in the long run, despite the annual fee.
While true AVGeeks could argue their preference for the A320 family or the 737 for various reasons, for the everyday traveller, 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.
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 hold 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 (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 photo via Getty Images.
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