The days of high plane fares within Europe are over, my friends, as are the days of having to spend two days on a train just to cross the continent cheaply.
Thanks to mroe than a dozen no-frills airlines and low cost carriers, you can often now hop a plane for considerably less than it costs than the train—and for bucketloads less than the former regular fare on most established airlines—while at the same time save dozens of hours on travel.
Cheaper, easier, faster—what more could you want?
Well, how about making Europe more manageable? No-frills are also opening up the "corners" of Europe to travelers—Spain and Portugal, Scandinavia, Greece—turning what were once epic journeys of two or three days on train and ferries into easy two- or three-hour flights.
You can fly to Paris from just about any country in Western Europe, Eastern Europe, or North Africa on a low-cost carrier.
In brief: a bundle. Let's take a hypothetical trip from Rome to Paris:
How can they do it? Well, "no-frills" means they cut a few corners—but not ones you'd really miss.
You can, of course, go direct to the lost-coast carriers' sites, or you can use a booking engine:
It has lots of smart features, such as letting you quickly check the cost one day earlier or later than your chosen dates (often you can save by flying on a different day), and listing both the "fare" (the airline's quoted amount for the ticket itself) as well as the actual "price" (the full amount you'll end up paying, once all the taxes and fees are added in).
It also allows you split your outgoing and return ticket to fly one-way on two different carriers, if that would be cheaper (essentially, you pick the lowest fare, regardless of airline).
The downsides: the search engine isn't always able to pick up sale fares, so you may be able to save by going direct to the airline. It also tacks on a small booking fee—though for all-in-one convenience of searching and booking, that fee might be more than worth it. I mean, are you really going to take the time to test out your itinerary at 50 different individual airline Web sites?
Momondo.com (www.momondo.com) - Momondo searches more than 600 airline sites, booking engines, search engines, travel agencies, etc.—which is two to three times as many sources as the competition. It even includes rail options so you can easily compare the time/cost of taking the train versus the plane.
SkyScanner (www.skyscanner.net) - Another one of the best airfare aggregators, combining a search of more than 75 no-frills airlines around the world with all the major scheduled carriers. You can even search from a given city to find out where you can fly, from how much, and on which airlines, then further focus the search to a specific city, or view a bar graph showing all available flight dates (the height of the bar indicates the price of the flight on that date). No booking, though.
Mobissimo (www.mobissimo.com) - In addition to canvassing the major European airlines, this metasearch engine (a.k.a. airfare aggregator) searches dozens of no-frills airlines in Europe.
These new airlines—currently, Ryanair and easyJet are the largest no-frills, with the widest route networks and most bases—forgo such frills as meals, movies, and free booze (all of which are nearly extinct on old-fashioned carriers for short flights anyway).
However, since almost all inter-European travel is short haul, who's going to care about getting a snack instead of a meal, or paying for your drinks, or missing in-flight entertainment? You're on the plane for two to three hours max—barely time to get to cruising altitude, munch on whatever cheap snack you brought onboard, and read a chapter or two of your novel.
Seating on a no-friller is generally a first-come, first-served free-for-all familiar to anyone who has flown Southwest. You're guaranteed a seat, of course; that's not an issue. But if you're particular about getting aisle/window, or want to be sure you and your companions get to sit together, show up early enough.
Most no-frills also shave costs on the end of operations that you don't really see (flying just one model of jet, so that maintenance and parts costs are easily contained, that sort of thing).
They also tend to fly at less popular hours, since those "slots" at the airports are cheaper (or, more frequently, those are the only slots the airports—long in the pockets of the major airlines—will grant them).
One of the big savings on no-frills balance books comes from the fact that they fly largely out of secondary airports at or near major cities (in London, out of Luton or Stansted rather than Heathrow or Gatwick).
Is this a problem? Not to my mind. In fact, in some cases it can be a major benefit, as I outline two tips down. First, however, let's deal with Paris's "third airport": Beauvais
Most low-cost carriers to Paris actually do land at either Charles de Gaulle or Orly—Paris's two main airports.
However, Rynair and some others (Wizzair serving Eastern Europe; Blue Air out of Bucharest; Air Moldova) use Beauvais airport—which is admittedly a pain.
Aéroport Paris-Beauvais (www.aeroportbeauvais.com) is actually 90km north of downtown Paris.
There is no rail service betwen Beauvais and Paris, so you have to take a shuttle bus (tickets.aeroportbeauvais.com).
This takes 75 minutes and costs €15.
The bus terminal in Paris for pick-ups and drop-offs is Pershing Parking on bd. Pershing just off the north end of Porte Maillot square in Paris (Métro: 1 to Porte Maillot or RER C to Neuilly-Porte Maillot; walk around the left side of the Palais des Congress convention center; the bus station is across the street).
Buses to Paris are timed to arriving flights.
Buses from Paris to Beauvais airport leave 3 hours before scheduled flights.
(Don't even bother with a taxi to Paris; it would run you €150)
Note that some flights also land at the Ventry airport in the Champagne region near Disneyland Europe, but that hardly counts as "Paris."
OK, Beauvais aside, I love secondary airports.
Almost all major airports are well outside town to begin with, and even with the ones that have special high-speed rail links into town, you're looking at anywhere from 20 to 60 minutes to get out there.
So what's an extra 10 to 20 minutes to go all the way out to some secondary airport the no-friller uses when you're saving literally hundreds of dollars on the fare?
This can also be a godsend to folks with a quirky itinerary in mind, allowing you to make an otherwise inconvenient flight from, say, County Kerry in Ireland to London, or London to Ancona in Italy.
What's more, smaller airports are often more convenient. With its long lines, crowds, and sheer size, I have never gotten out of Heathrow in less than an hour and a half. However, on a no-frills flight from Barcelona to London's Luton airport, the plane taxied right up to the arrivals gate, I walked down the staircase, across 50 feet of tarmac, and through the doors.
I glided past the smiling passport clerk and waited at the luggage belt immediately beyond for but a few minutes before my bag trundled its way out on the belt.
I checked my watch as I exited the airport and crossed the sidewalk to the bus that would take me to downtown London. Time from stepping off the plane to boarding the bus: 12 minutes.
Beat THAT Heathrow!
Well, Ryanair will treat you badly and charge hidden fees for just about everything (whiel still remaining, on the whole, inexpensive), but other than that, yeah, you can trust them.
Will they suddenly go out of businesss? Well, new low-cost airlines pop up monthly while others fizzle and fail. Some of the biggest and most famous—like Ryanair and easyJet—are monstrously successful and seem here to stay. Others can vanish—but I wouldn't worry to much about that.
After all, a decade ago who coudl have predicted TWA would disappear—or two decades ago PanAm or Eastern—and look what happened to them. (And remember: US Airways, United, Air Canada, Delta, and American have all been in, or flirted with, bankruptcy in the past decade).
Most no-frills have strict (on some, draconian) baggage weight limits and charge exorbitantly steep fees if you go over—not only for your checked bag, but for your carry-on as well. (Ryanair is the worst; they're actually mean about it.)
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