A guide to budget airlines: The best & worst from the UK & Europe

A guide to budget airlines: The best & worst from the UK & Europe

    When searching for the best flight deals around, we pride ourselves in taking into account every aspect of a deal, and only recommending flights we would want to take ourselves. 

    Typically, that means few (if any) connections, good-quality airlines, and full-service carriers with meals & bags included. 

    That said, there's definitely a place in the market for budget airlines too - many of which fly non-stop routes that are either not covered at all by other full-service carriers, or simply offer a much cheaper option to popular destinations.

    By definition, a budget airline generally has lower fares and fewer comforts. The air ticket price covers only the basics and the add-ons are sold separately.

    Not all low cost airlines play by the same rules, though - some are more consumer-friendly, while others try to squeeze out every penny. 

    Our team of flight experts have put together this guide on the best and worst budget airlines flying from the United Kingdom & Europe.

    For flying Short Haul around Europe

    1. Ryanair: For all over Europe

    Ryanair Airline Logo

    This budget airline needs no introduction - headquartered in Dublin, Ryanair is known for making their tickets as bare bones as possible and then charging for upgrades. This lets them offer flights for astonishingly cheap prices - we're talking £1 for a one-way ticket!

    Ryanair fly from most UK airports, offering routes to a multitude of European destinations, including Spanish and French summer holiday destinations and lesser-known cities across the continent.

    Their checked bag fares may sting a little, but if you can make do with a 10 kg carry-on, they’ll regularly be the cheapest option, and they have many routes you won’t find covered by anyone else. 

    You can see some of their lowest fares using their cheap fare finding tool.


    Bag policy & fees:

    • Personal item included. Cabin bag (10 kg) upgrade comes with priority boarding, usually £20-£40 return
    • Checked bag (20 kg) is £36-£50 return at the time of booking or £80 afterwards

    Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

    • £10

    Seat selection:

    • Typically around £8 for a normal seat return, £30+ for extra legroom

    World budget airlines ranking:

    • 4th worldwide
    • 1st in Europe

    Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

    • Manchester to the Azores
    • London Stansted to Marrakesh and Rabat in Morocco
    • Brussels to Amman, Jordan

    2. Easyjet: For all over Europe

    easyJet Airline Logo

    The well-known budget airline, easyJet, headquartered at London’s Luton airport, has expanded to dozens of countries in their 25-year history, and is now one of the largest low cost airlines in Europe.

    easyJet fly from all over the UK, including regional airports like Bristol and Liverpool. They currently don’t have any long-haul flights, but they have begun to partner with other airlines, offering connections to destinations like New York and Singapore through easyJet worldwide.

    easyJet also offer a convenient cheap fare tool to help you find some of their best available deals and a useful “Inspire Me” page.


    Bag policy & fees:

    • Personal item included. Cabin bag is £25-£50 return (up to £80 on holiday destinations)
    • Choose from a 15kg, 23kg or 26kg checked bag. Priced at £40-£80 return.

    Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

    • £7.95

    Seat selection:

    • £8-£15 return to pre-select
    • £30-£50 return for extra legroom seats up front, also includes a cabin bag

    World budget airlines ranking:

    • 7th worldwide
    • 3rd in Europe

    Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

    • UK to all over Europe and vice versa
    • London, Manchester to Egypt, Tel Aviv, Jordan
    • Germany, Netherlands to the Canary Islands

    3. Jet2: For beach & snow destinations

    Jet2 Airline Logo

    Headquartered in Leeds, Jet2 have become a popular budget airline for UK sun and snow holidaymakers. 

    Their departure airports cover most of the UK, including their home bases at Leeds, East Midlands and Birmingham - places which are often ignored by other airlines. Destinations include most of the popular southern European getaways.

    With a generous carry-on allowance, more spacious legroom and competitive flight times and fares, they’re definitely a good option if you prefer to bundle your travel arrangements rather than book everything separately.

    You can find a useful low-fare finder tool on their website. They also run a crazy ‘Bid for a Holiday’ scheme where the lowest unique bid can win up to a week in an exotic location!


    Bag policy & fees:

    • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
    • Checked bag upgrade is typically around £60 return

    Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

    • £7.60

    Seat selection:

    • £30-£40 return for a regular seat
    • £40-£60 return for extra legroom

    World budget airlines ranking:

    • 8th worldwide
    • 4th in Europe

    Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK:

    • All over UK to Cyprus and Turkey
    • Newcastle, Leeds, Glasgow to Madeira
    • London, Manchester to Innsbruck (over winter)

    4. Wizz Air: For flights to Eastern Europe

    Wizz Air Airline Logo

    Hungarian-based Wizz Air have been aggressively expanding in the last decade, and all signs suggest that that's going to continue. Clearly, they’re aiming to be a real competitor to budget airlines easyJet and Ryanair.

    Their base ticket prices are generally some of the lowest out there (and they get even cheaper if you join the Wizz Discount Club), but the devil is in the bag fees with them. 

    Like Ryanair, they do not include a normal cabin bag in their fares, however, they usually also charge a lot more to add one.

    Now that you know what to expect, they’re still one of the cheapest low cost airlines, particularly to many Eastern European countries. They've also started expanding their network into Asia, letting you book all the way to Abu Dhabi, and on to the Maldives from there.

    Watch out for inconvenient flight times and the aforementioned bag fees, though. They do have a low-fare finder if you’re flexible on dates.


    Bag policy & fees:

    • Personal item included. Cabin bag (10 kg) comes with priority upgrade, usually £40-£75 return
    • Checked bag (23 kg) upgrade is typically around £45-£70 return

    Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

    • £9.50

    Seat selection:

    • £16 for a regular seat, £30 or more for extra legroom return

    World budget airlines ranking:

    • 8th in Europe

    Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

    • London Luton to Iceland, Tel Aviv
    • Vienna to Abu Dhabi
    • Germany, Netherlands to the Balkans

    5. Norwegian: For the Nordics and the European islands Norwegian Airline Logo

    Norwegian has rapidly expanded in recent years to become the fourth-largest low cost airline behind easyJet, Ryanair, and Wizz Air. Headquartered in Norway, they became particularly well-known with their surprisingly cheap fares to North and South America.

    However, as a result of Covid-19, Norwegian have had to refocus their efforts on short-haul flights instead. These days they compete in the UK, with flights from Edinburgh, Manchester and London Gatwick. They also fly from Dublin. 

    Their short-haul options are dominated by Scandinavia, but they do also focus seasonally on sunny destinations such as the Canary Islands and places like Mykonos and Santorini.

    With cheap upgrade fees, Norwegian often makes for an attractive budget option. Look out for discounts offered by Online Travel Agencies on sites like Skyscanner or Momondo - they tend to be pretty hefty with this airline. Read our handy guide for more tips on booking with OTAs.


    Bag policy & fees:

    • Cabin bag (10 kg) is €20 return
    • Checked bag upgrade is around €20-€30 return
    • LowFare+ upgrade (cabin + checked bag) is around €40 return

    Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

    • €12.30

    Seat selection:

    • Starts at around €28 return

    World budget airlines ranking:

    • 18th worldwide
    • 7th in Europe

    Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

    • Iceland, Greek islands, Canary Islands, Cyprus

      6. Vueling: For Spain and southern Europe

      Vueling Logo Airline

      Spanish airline Vueling started in Barcelona and has been growing steadily ever since, with IAG (parent company of British Airways) taking ownership in 2012. 

      From there, growth skyrocketed, transforming it from a domestic budget airline into a network across Europe, primarily serving Spain, Portugal, France and Italy from northern European countries.

      They remain one of the best ways to get to Spain, with non-stop routes to smaller northern cities like Bilbao, Asturias & A Coruña from London Gatwick. The UK/Ireland options don't end there - they also fly to Paris from places like Glasgow, Newcastle, and Orkney.

      With reasonable bag and seat selection fees, they're a good option when their base fare is competitive on the route you're looking at. 

      Many prefer that they fly from Gatwick, rather than Stansted or Luton like other low cost airlines. They have a handy price calendar to see their cheapest dates to fly here.


      Bag policy & fees:

      • Cabin bag (10 kg) is £14-£32 return
      • Checked bag (20 kg) is around £50-£70 return

      Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

      • £11

      Seat selection:

      • £16-£20 return to pre-select
      • £40-£60 return for extra legroom or at the front

      World budget airlines ranking:

      • 6th worldwide
      • 2nd in Europe

      Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

      • Brussels, Berlin to Barcelona and Paris
      • London, Amsterdam to Rome and Florence
      • London to Bilbao

      7. airBaltic: For flights to the Baltics

      Headquartered in Riga, airBaltic are the flag carrier of Latvia and serve the Baltic countries in northeast Europe.

      Predictably, their routes focus on point-to-point services from Riga, Vilnius, and Tallinn to various destinations around Europe. Recently, they've also expanded by launching flights from Germany to more long-haul destinations such as Dubai.

      With an included cabin bag and reasonable bag prices to add on checked luggage, airBaltic can be an interesting budget option if they've got a sale running on their base fares.


      Bag policy & fees:

      • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
      • Checked bag upgrade is around €40-€65 return

      Meal Price:

      • Around €15 for a full meal

      Seat selection:

      • Starts at around €8-€28 return

      World budget airlines ranking:

      • 13th worldwide
      • 6th in Europe

      Noteworthy routes/destinations from Europe:

      • Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius to major European destinations
      • All over Germany to Dubai

        For flying Long-Haul from the UK and Europe

        1. TUI: For last-minute & Caribbean routes

        TUI Airline Logo

        German conglomerate TUI is the largest travel company in the world. Headquartered in Hannover, they actually own 6 different airlines in Europe, which operate semi-independently. 

        TUI's speciality is package holidays, as they own or have deals with many hotel resorts. They fly to destinations all over the world, including Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.

        TUI's biggest lure for deal-hunters is their last-minute fares. While many airlines increase prices for super short-notice flights (less than 2 weeks until departure), TUI likes to fill the whole plane by selling their last seats on the cheap. 

        This can be a great option for a cheap holiday away, although your choices will probably be limited to specific 7, 10, or 14-day trips.

        TUI routes from the UK and Europe fly non-stop, usually in modern 787 Dreamliners. They also include meals and, although checked bags are extra, their short notice flights are usually still a great deal once you've added them.

        You can see all of their last minute deals here.


        Bag policy & fees:

        • Cabin bag (5 kg) is included
        • Checked bag is £45-£70 return

        Meal Price:

        • A full meal is included

        Seat selection:

        • £76 for standard seats or £140 for extra legroom, return

        Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

        • London to Mauritius and Aruba
        • Birmingham, Manchester & London to Goa, India
        • Düsseldorf to Luxor, Egypt

        2. Eurowings: For flights to Cuba & Thailand

        Eurowings Airline Logo

        Headquartered in Düsseldorf, Eurowings is owned by the well-known Lufthansa Group and serves a more budget-friendly role in their portfolio.

        This means that they fly a number of non-stop routes to major German cities. They also operate a bunch of 1-stop flights to several Caribbean & Southeast Asian destinations. 

        Their fares to Havana are particularly competitive, especially if you’re able to pack light and fit everything within their 8 kg carry-on allowance. 

        These routes make Eurowings a budget airline to consider, but their extra fees can sting and make them less attractive overall if the starting fare isn’t stellar already.

        They have a low-fare calendar tool to find their lowest fares here.


        Bag policy & fees:

        • Cabin bag (8 kg) is included on long-haul flights. Otherwise, it costs around £35 return.
        • Checked bag (23 kg) is £40-£70 return
        • Checked bag, seat selection and meal bundle is £60-£80 return

        Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

        • £10, long haul flights have meals included

        Seat selection:

        • £10-£30 return

        World budget airlines ranking:

        • 12th worldwide
        • 5th in Europe

        Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

        • Havana, Punta Cana, Bangkok, Windhoek

        3. Icelandair: For flights to USA & Iceland

        Icelandair Airline Logo

        The Icelandic flag carrier (unsurprisingly headquartered in Reykjavík) helps to feed the tiny country’s tourism industry and take advantage of its conveniently-placed hub to offer 1-stop flights to Canada and the US.

        From the UK & northern Europe, they offer departures from all major hubs along with smaller cities such as Glasgow and Bergen.

        Their biggest selling point is the Icelandic layover, where you can extend your stop in the country by a few days en route across the pond. They also offer some bargain trans-Atlantic fares.

        Icelandair do include plenty in the base fare - in-flight entertainment, basic drinks and a blanket on sleeper flights.


        Bag policy & fees:

        • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
        • Checked bag is £90 return on trans-Atlantic flights

        Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

        • Around £11

        Seat selection:

        • Free

        Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

        • All over UK to Vancouver, Anchorage, Portland
        • Scandinavia to Iceland and North America

        4. WestJet: For flying to Canada & Hawaii

        WestJet Airline Logo

        Canadian airline WestJet (headquartered in Calgary) have become well-known in the UK since the launch of their non-stop flights to Canada from London. They also have convenient flights to Canada from Glasgow and Dublin.

        They stand out from the trans-Atlantic competition by frequently running sales and by sporting a very modern fleet (often Boeing 787s), especially on their London routes. 

        As they also operate flights to Hawaii from Canada, they can be a good way to get to the islands for much less than traditional airlines - and with just a single stop.

        With an included cabin bag and reasonable checked bag fees, WestJet is definitely a great budget airline for trips to Canada and onward. They also do have cheaper one-way tickets than other airlines. 

        Search their cheapest fares on their low-fare finder tool.


        Bag policy & fees:

        • Cabin bag is included
        • Checked bag upgrade is £70 return on trans-Atlantic flights

        Meal Price:

        • A full meal is included on flights from Europe and the UK

        Seat selection:

        • Starts at around £40 return, extra legroom is £80 return

          Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

          • London to Honolulu and Vancouver
          • All over the UK and Amsterdam to Halifax

          5. Air Europa: For flights to Cuba & Uruguay

          Air Europa Airline Logo

          Air Europa are the third-largest airline in Spain, headquartered in Mallorca, but using Madrid as their main hub. They have a big regional presence in Spain, but also connect to Central/South America and select cities in the United States.

          Their routes to Uruguay, Paraguay and Honduras stand out in particular, with few convenient alternatives on offer. They also fly to Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Cuba, where you see more competition from full-service airlines. 

          Air Europa routes from Europe tend to have just one stop in Madrid, but watch out for long layovers.

          Their base fares can be competitive, and bag fees are pretty reasonable. Beware that they do seem to purposely seat travellers apart to convince you to pay for seat selection. Not a classy move.


          Bag policy & fees:

          • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
          • Checked bag is around £80 return

          Meal Price:

          • A full meal is included

          Seat selection:

          • Starts at £20 return on short haul, double for long-haul, extra legroom starts at £40 or £80 for long-haul

          Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

          • London, Amsterdam, Brussels, to Uruguay, Argentina, and Cuba

          6. Scoot: For flights to SE Asia & Australia

          Scoot Airline Logo

          Singapore Airlines subsidiary Scoot launched routes to Berlin and Athens from Singapore in 2018, which connected Europe to Asia (and even on to Australia) entirely through low-cost airlines for the first time. 

          Their website and messaging have a tongue-in-cheek style - they even offer a feature called “Scoot-in-Silence”, basically a cabin with no children under 13. This could definitely come in handy when you’re looking for some shut-eye on a 12-hour flight!

          That said, Scoot is a super bare-bones airline, comparable to Ryanair, but for long-haul. Although they do offer Wi-Fi and power sockets (at a price, of course), there’s no in-flight entertainment screen, and even blankets come at a cost!

          Their fares are consistently quite low and so remain a good-value option all year round, while full-service airlines fluctuate more, according to demand. 

          With a checked bag upgrade coming in at around €120 return, you should definitely double-check their fares against bag-inclusive airlines first! You can find some of their lowest fares here.


          Bag policy & fees:

          • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
          • Checked bag upgrade is around €120 return

          Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

          • Around €7-€10

          Seat selection:

          • Starts at around €16-€30 return
          • Silent cabin is €70 return
          • Extra legroom is €180 return

          World budget airlines ranking:

          • 2nd worldwide
          • 1st for long-haul flights

          Noteworthy routes/destinations from continental Europe:

          • Berlin to Bangkok and Sydney
          • London to Singapore

          7. Pegasus Airlines: For flights to Turkey and the Middle East

          Pegasus are a Turkey-based low cost airline, focusing on point-to-point short and medium-haul flights to the Middle East.

          As far as flights to this region go, there's no beating Pegasus' fares, especially when compared to full-service carriers that often charge hundreds of euros more. You will have to stop in Istanbul if you're travelling further than Turkey, but layovers tend to be quick, lasting under 2 hours. 

          A definite plus for Pegasus is their inclusion of cabin bags, with cheap fees for checked bags and seats - it's refreshing to see add-ons that don't break the bank.


          Bag policy & fees:

          • Cabin bag (10 kg) is included
          • Checked bag is around €30-€40 return
          • Bag and seat selection upgrade can be around €40 on some routes

          Meal Price (Sandwich + Soft drink + Snack):

          • Around €10

          Seat selection:

          • Starts at around €24-€30 return

          World budget airlines ranking:

          • 10th in Europe

          Noteworthy routes/destinations from the UK and Europe:

          • London, Manchester to Antalya and Istanbul
          • Europe to all over Turkey
          • Germany to Dubai and Iran

          Final Notes

          Keep in mind that the prices listed above (especially those for bags and seat fees) are simple estimates based on average prices over time. Sometimes, we find bag fees that are much lower - or even free! - and we'll be sure to note that in our deals.

          Ultimately, it's difficult to judge a budget airline as 'good' or 'bad'. It all depends on the level of comfort you're looking for, their extra fees, and what kind of routes they serve. At the very least, we trust that this guide lets you make a more informed decision next time you fly. 

          . . .

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