Well, after traveling almost every week for the last 6 months throughout Europe, I think I can say we have been on quite a few European budget airlines! I have been impressed with the quality and spoiled by the amazing deals out there. I will say that price-wise, American budget airlines have a very long way to go if they ever want to compete with European prices. We are spoiled–especially when I see that it can almost be more expensive to fly the 500 miles from Reno to LA than from LA to London (emphasis on the almost). So, I’m going to share what I’ve learned about the European budget airlines we have been on bellow.
First I’ll start with AirBerlin. I really do like this airline! You can have up to 2 carry-ons (so our roller bags and laptop bags work) and they pass out coloring books, crayons, a really cute blow-up airplane, and a pin to the the kids. They are very family friendly, which I like, and you can purchase food and drinks on the flight.
Secondly, the absolutely cheapest flights I’ve seen are through EasyJet. If you are looking for super cheap, get you from here to there with only one carry-on, they are your airline. We have flown them once, not knowing about their baggage policy–thankfully they checked our bags for free as we were running super late–otherwise we were going to have to pay $50 per bag to check! With the 6 of us traveling, I do avoid flying with them because we do have all of our bags and if we pay the extra to check our bags with them, it ends up being more expensive than other airlines.
–Update– We have flown them more since this was written because they really are the cheapest budget airline with the most flights throughout the EU and The UK. You can pay anywhere between £25-35 extra for each checked bag up to 23 kg. Since our bags average about 10-12kg each, we only pay for 3 and the airline has been kind enough so far to allow us 2 bags per each payment so we are able to check all 6 bags for the price of 3. For this I thank you, Easyjet.
Thirdly, we have flown RyanAir. This airline has come a long way since I was in college! Now, you can bring up to 2 carry-ons–so they end up being an option for us. As Americans we do have to check-in at the main ticket counter and that closes at most airports 2 hours before the flight leaves. This means we have to get to the airport much earlier than with other airlines. We have been lucky, though, because there have been a couple of times where we’ve been able to check in our bags at the gate, which makes boarding much simpler with all of our bags! Also, you have to print out your tickets before getting to the airport, so if you don’t have a printer, it will probably be cheaper to use a different airline, as they will charge you for printing out your tickets! This might be the only airline I’ve been on that doesn’t even have a holding basket on the backs of the chairs. Their safety instructions are printed on the backs of the chairs–which is…decorative. Also, with RyanAir, when you are booking your flight, if you have children, they will make you pay between £3-5 extra for the adult to choose your seat–up to 4 children per adult seat-choosing are free. Make sure you keep scrolling down for the cheapest seats as the website likes to keep you on the more expensive seats :).
Fourthly, we have flown TapPortugal. This has been my favorite airline to fly. They are very child-friendly, you can bring 2 carry-ons, their flight crew is very friendly, and best of all–you get free food! YES!
Fifthly, we have flown BritishAirways. They’re ok. They’re good at getting you from point A to point B. I think I would have liked them better had they offered the kids free food after being stuck on the airplane tarmac for 3 hours. They did hand out water–which, I guess was a kind gesture, but then because it was supposed to be only a 1 hour flight and we ended up being on the plane for close to 4.5 hours, the food they had to sell sold out so quickly, by the time they got to row 9 they were out of most of their food. I will say that I did appreciate them checking our bags at the gate for free. I do like them for the international US to Europe flights because they include the checked bags and food, but their prices are not always the cheapest.
Sixthly, we have flown Aer Lingus. I will say that the staff of these flights have been so wonderful! Best of all, on international flights you can check your bags for free although you do have to pay for the food and drinks on the flight.
Seventh, we have flown Vueling. This airline will let you check your bags for free, which is awesome! They do offer food and drinks for a price and if you have an American credit card it may not work in the air.
Eighth, we have flown NorwegianAir. These guys are the best for super cheap flights to and from the States to Europe! They have comfy seats, TV’s with movies and games in the back of each seat, you can have 2 carry-ons and their windows dim so you can sleep. You can pay extra for food, otherwise be sure to bring your own. You can order food when you are there, but it is expensive (especially when your kids keep asking for snacks and a small bag of peanuts is $6)! Be sure to bring headphones too otherwise you can buy them for $3.
Sunday we will be flying Thompson Airways, so I will be looking forward to sharing our experience with them. I do know that we can bring 2 carry-ons!
With every airline except RyanAir (because we couldn’t), we have chosen to not pay the extra to choose our seats. The airlines have been very good at putting our whole family together, of which I’m thankful for! I am also learning that some of the websites can be tricky in trying to make me pay extra for the choosing seats or checking baggage–so be careful when you press “book-it” and make sure to read what you are paying for!
I hope something I said is helpful to someone out there! Also, if someone has found something different (as I know things change all the time!) please let me know so I can update this information!
Update–we have flown a few more airlines since I wrote this so I’m going to add them here.
Thompson Airlines was friendly, you can carry on 2 bags (make sure they are carry-on size and weight though), you can purchase food and drinks on the plane and their seats are comfortable.
LOT is a Polish airline and I will say I am impressed! On their cheapest ticket, you get a checked luggage allowance of up to 23kg, free water, coffee, and tea and a small snack. The staff is very friendly, they hand out activity books for kids, and make traveling with children a very pleasant experience!
Jet2 is a U.K. Airline that will check your bag for free if and only if it weighs under 12kgs. Otherwise, you have to pay their checked luggage fees, which are never cheap on any airline! There is food for pay onboard and over-all I was happy with our experience with them.
Eurowings has 3 options you can book. The cheapest includes 2 carry-ons; the second, a bit more expensive includes 2 carry-ones, one checked bag, and a snack and drinks; the third option includes 2 carry-ons, 2 checked bags, food & drinks, and better seats. We bought our tickets through an online agency, so we ended up getting the second package without knowing it. Over-all, our experience with Eurowings was pleasant and we would definitely fly with them again.