For those either living or travelling in Europe, there are plenty of cheap ways of travelling on a budget and finding low-cost flights. But what are the best ways to find cheap flights in Europe?

Europe has plenty of low-cost budget airlines. This means it’s almost always possible to find cheap flights when you’re travelling in Europe. Often though, you need to show some flexibility, and of course, be aware of hidden costs which can quickly make a cheap flight rather more expensive.


You’ve no doubt heard of Europe’s primary budget carriers: easyJet, Ryanair, Wizz Air, Norwegian and Vueling. These are all carriers which fully embrace the low-cost option. The advantage is they offer point-to-point flights and have large route networks. They primarily only fly within Europe, although some have expanded to Northern Africa and the Middle East. In the case of Norwegian, you can also fly transatlantic.

Then, of course, there are the legacy carriers. Most countries in Europe have a flag carrier. They’re usually more expensive than the budget options when you’re flying within Europe. This said, they can have their advantages and they’re not always necessarily more expensive.

Be aware of hidden costs

Finding a cheap flight when you’re travelling in Europe is always fun. Who doesn’t like a €10 flight to another country? But as with all good things, it’s often not as straightforward as it might first appear. With all budget airlines, you’re literally paying for a basic fare. That means you’re purely buying your place on the plane.

If you want a particular seat (or to guarantee you’ll be sitting together) you’ll need to pay. Taking a bag onboard means paying more. If you want a snack, or even a glass of water, that’ll cost you too. Basically, it’s only super cheap if you are prepared to take virtually nothing onboard, aren’t fussed about a middle seat, and don’t want anything to eat or drink.

Especially with Ryanair or Wizz Air…

Some budget carriers are worse for this than others, so you always need to be on guard. Ryanair and Wizz Air will charge you if you don’t check in online before your flight. You’ll also need to print off your boarding card, or use a mobile option. Without a boarding card you’ll be forced to fork out up to €55 at the airport. Yes, €55

Ryanair, Wizz Air and Norwegian also only allow you to take one small personal bag onboard if you buy the cheapest fare. It has to fit under the seat in front of you. If you try to avoid paying extra, there’s a high chance you’ll be ‘caught’ at the gate during boarding, and only allowed to get on your flight after paying an exorbitant fee.

If you’re travelling in a group, be prepared to pay if you want to guarantee a seat together. Some budget airlines are worse for this than others. In the case of Ryanair and Wizz Air, anecdotal evidence would suggest they deliberately split people up when they’re travelling together.

Don’t forget to check your airport location carefully

This one again particularly applies to Ryanair and Wizz Air. Imagine the scenario. You’ve booked a weekend trip to Paris. You’re arriving at 6pm, and have a romantic meal in the city planned.  You then find yourself landing at ‘Paris’ Beauvais–Tillé Airport. You might not have heard about this airport before. If so, have no shame. It’s located a huge 85km away from the centre of Paris. Yes 85km.

Now, if you’re not so worried about the time it’s going to then take you to get to the city (1 hour 15 minutes), you’re likely to still be concerned about how much it’s going to cost. You’ll need to pay an extra €17 for a single ticket to the city. Suddenly, that cheap flight ticket isn’t so cheap.

So, when you’re booking a cheap flight in Europe, make sure to check the airport location carefully. Otherwise, you might find you’re paying a hefty fee on top of your cheap fare to get to your final destination.

Sometimes it can be worth paying more

Unfortunately, many large legacy carriers such as Air France, British Airways and Lufthansa have started to adopt a more low-cost model. This means you’re no longer getting a checked bag included in your fare. Some carriers, such as Air France, KLM and Lufthansa still offer free basic catering as part of your ticket. Others, such as British Airways and Iberia, do not.

This said, it can sometimes be worth considering a legacy carrier if they’re not substantially more expensive once you’ve compared them to the real cost of flying with a budget carrier. This is especially the case if you happen to have elite level frequent flyer status with oneworld, Star Alliance or Skyteam. This is because, in most cases, you’ll then be able to benefit from free seat selection, free checked baggage and lounge access. This of course depends on your frequent flyer status and the airline you’re travelling with, but it is often worth considering.

Likewise, legacy carriers offer connections. This means you have a much larger number of destinations to be able to choose from. But of course, often you’ll just be wanting to fly directly from place to place.

How to find cheap flights in Europe

Firstly, when you’re booking cheap flights in Europe, it’s usually no more expensive (and much easier) to book with the airline directly. It’s rare to find significant discounts by using an online travel agency. Of course, there will be some exceptions – often more so when you’re flying with a non-budget carrier, but the savings tend to be small.

This means, by far, that the easiest way to find cheap flights is using Google Flights. It’s an easy, quick and intuitive way to find flights.  The advantage is you can quickly search from a number of origin and destination airports. You can also use the price calendar and price graph features to quickly see when you can get the cheapest prices.

Quick Tips:
  • If you don’t know where you want to go (hey, let’s embrace being spontaneous) use the Explorer Map. From the Google Flights homepage, choose up to 6 origin airports. Instead of inserting a specific destination, choose a region. So, for example `Europe’. You can choose some specific dates. Alternatively, when you’re taken to the explorer map you can choose flexible dates such as ‘weekend trips in October’.
  • Alternatively, if you do know where you want to go, be flexible. For example, if you live in London, consider which airports are easy for you to get to. Consider more than one so you get the best range of options. For example, Luton is for easyjet, Stansted is where you’ll find Ryanair.
  • Pack light. After spending years trying to avoid doing just this, I’ve now turned into the ultimate convert. Not only can it save you money, but it makes life SO much easier when you arrive. I recall some of my European trips with a 32kg suitcase in tow and I shake my head in shame.
  • Try not to be fixed with dates. Sometimes, this is unavoidable, but if you can be flexible, then do.
  • Book at the right time. This means not too early and (usually) not at the last minute. Usually I adopt the 6 week before rule. Of course there can be exceptions, but in general this is the best time.
  • And, just to reinforce, don’t believe the lowest price you see. Low-cost airlines deliberately attract your attention with super cheap prices. Calculate what you’re really going to spend with all the extras you need.
  • Some tools other than Google Flights can be useful. I really like this tool on Skyscanner. You put in your departure airport, and it shows you the cheapest places you can fly to.

Ready for take-off?

In brief, it’s all about being smart. Finding cheap flights in Europe is fairly easy to do. But it’s important to do it with all the facts. Don’t necessarily trust headline grabbing pricing, and take the time to research the real cost.

More importantly, be flexible, and be open. Features such as the Google Flights Explorer Map allow you to discover new destinations, often at prices far cheaper than you’d imagine. Some of the best trips I’ve been on are the spontaneous ones. And they’re usually the cheapest.

If you want to discover more about using Google Flights, check out our in-depth article or our video guide below.

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