Budget airlines have been around since a change to EU regulations made competition amongst airlines possible in 1997. The ‘big two’ are EasyJet and Ryanair, helped by outstanding marketing, a tendency to swallow the competition, and some remarkably low fares. But it is a crowded market – and that means more choice and lower prices. Some of the biggest operators are included in our list of UK and Budget Airline sites.
Unless you are committed to travelling with a particular company, it makes sense to make the most of all this choice on offer.
Another good place to start is www.whichbudget.com where the routes of scores of airlines are gathered together. There is nothing flash – in keeping with the subject matter – but well-organised and up-to-date information. The good news is that the reach of these ‘budget’ airlines is starting to extend beyond provincial Europe to the Middle East, North Africa and across the Atlantic.
The budget airlines frequently offer flights at amazingly low prices – often flights are advertised as free (plus applicable taxes, fees and charges!) To take advantage of these amazing deals, prepare to book well in advance. Perhaps as many (or as few) as ten per cent of the seats on any flight are offered at the lowest price, and are the first to sell. The prices steadily rise thereafter.
In other words, in the case of budget airlines you will not make a saving by leaving it until the last minute to book: quite the opposite.
To get the best out of these airlines, be prepared to alter your schedule in order to maximise your savings. Early or late departure times, or midweek flights, usually cost less because they are less convenient. Indirect flights can also work out saving you money, if not time. Your journey might take a little longer, but the savings can be considerable.
Extend that flexibility to the choice of airports too. There is a cluster of airports around London, for example, and one may have a better deal than the others. Most comparison sites allow you to search for flights from all London airports at once, rather than working through each in turn.
Unless you have a destination in mind, you can be even more flexible about the airport you fly to. In fact, whether you are looking for sunshine, culture or adventure, you can be flexible about the country to fly to as well!
Check the small print
Watch out for extras, sometimes hidden and sometimes not, that can make a bargain price less and less attractive. Airport taxes and credit card fees can start to add up. You should also budget at this stage for the cost of getting to and from the airports. Remember that budget flights can land at secondary airports farther away from your ultimate destination. It will take more time and money to get to where you want to go.
An early flight from your UK airport may force you to get there by car (and airport parking is expensive) if public transport isn’t up-and-running at that hour.
If things go wrong
A cancelled flight with a budget airline is going to leave you out of pocket. Whereas a scheduled, traditional carrier will find an alternative route home (or cover most of your expenses while you are stranded), the new budget operations do not offer the same level of service. And if you are left to buy a one-way ticket home, the chances are you will be forced to pay full-price, making a mockery of the very savings you made in the first place!
Making the most of budget airlines
The UK led the way in the development and use of budget airlines but other countries in and around the EU have caught on very quickly. If you can navigate your way round the internet, you can navigate your way around Europe too. There are cheap flights to be had from Budapest to Katowice, from Bari to Tirana, Copenhagen to Bordeaux. With prices set to stay low, the sky really is the limit.
Making last minute bookings can save you, however, that won’t always produce the saving you are looking for, and other companies recommend booking well in advance to get the best price. The budget airlines tend to advertise (and sell) the cheapest seats first; latecomers are left to pay more.