While booking your main transatlantic flights directly from St. Louis to Europe through big American and European airlines is pretty much unavoidable, skip booking your inter-European flights through big American airlines in favor of cheap budget flights. Flying via budget airlines (as long as you pack light and skip pricey in flight food and drink service) is far cheaper than airfare with traditional airlines, and is often cheaper than travel via train, bus or rental car (gas is much more expensive in Europe than in the ‘Lou), especially if booked 4 to 8 months in advance.
After you book your St. Louis to Europe fare, via your favorite online travel site or St. Louis travel agent, get online and book cheap flights between cities with budget airlines like RyanAir, WizzAir, Vueling, and EasyJet.
You’ll find that if you’re traveling light when it comes to luggage, these airlines will save you loads of cash as compared to other airlines, and can even be less expensive than busing it across Europe. A quick example would be flights to London from Barcelona via British Airways as compared to flights to London via Ryanair. British Airways flights start at 81 euros each way for an economy flight. Ryanair flights start at 14.99 euros each way. That said, you arrive in London Stanstead as opposed to London Heathrow, and are likely to spend between 10 to 20 euros extra each way on transportation to the city center, but even so that’s more than 50 euros in savings each way. Here’s an example of a train versus budget airline scenario: Paris to Milan via Easyjet: starting at 32 euros each way. Paris to Milan via train with Artesia: starting at 30 euros each way, if you buy your ticket a few months in advance. But even if the train is marginally cheaper (2 euros is fairly marginal) isn’t your time worth something? Unless you absolutely must have the experience of over 7 hours at minimum travelling in train, the time you save taking the plane seems well worth the extra 2 euro investment, don’t you think? Read on for the skinny on the airlines that will get you around Europe faster and cheaper. Just think of it like flying Southwest from St. Louis Lambert’s Terminal 2 to Boston, without the free checked bag.
1. Ryanair-This low-cost airline has its headquarters in Dublin, Ireland and operates approximately 200 Boeing aircraft on over 1,100 routes across Europe, Morocco and Turkey from 45 airports. Just remember you get what you pay for, and since Ryanair is across the board one of the cheapest ways to fly in Europe, you’re paying for no-frills, very basic service. Ryanair gets you from A to B. Checking bags, checking in at the airport, customer service calls, assigned seats, and in flight beverage services are all extras, and you’ll have to pay for them. The best way to travel Ryanair is with plenty of patience, a small carry-on item, and your own snacks.
2. WizzAir -This budget airline from Hungary is headquartered in Vecsés near Budapest. If you want to get around Eastern Europe cheap, this is the airline for you, although be forewarned that it operates primarily out of secondary airports (usually older and further from cit centers). Some routes are seasonal (Winter or Summer only) and like Ryanair, all the services included on major mainstream airlines are extras that must be paid for. Customer support is far from a priority, with a 30 day estimated turnover for replies to customer emails. As when flying with Ryanair, keep your cool (some people will cut in line, and push and shove), travel light and bring your own food and entertainment.
3. Vueling – Based in Barcelona’s main airport, El Prat , Vueling has additional bases in Amsterdam, Bilbao, Madrid, Malaga, Seville, Toulouse and Valencia. Operating just under 50 aircraft, Vueling flies throughout Europe and the Western Mediterranean. Closely linked with Spain’s Iberia airlines, Vueling is sometimes pricier than other low-cost airlines, but has a better reputation for customer service than some budget companies, and flies as far east as Tel Aviv. Some routes, such as St. Petersburg and Moscow, Russia, are seasonal summer routes.
4. EasyJet – Headquartered at one of London’s secondary airports, London Luton, this British budget airline operates domestic and international flights between 118 European, North African and West Asian Airports. Unlike the other main UK budget airline, Ryanair, EasyJet mainly operates out of primary airports and tends to attract more business passengers because of the shorter commute times between its more centrally located airports that the city centers in their destinations. If you are mainly interested in traveling to major cities in Europe, and exploring the main tourist attractions and the city center, Easyjet may be the budget option for you.
Side note: To further facilitate inexpensive city-hopping within Europe on budget airlines, pick up the lightest-weight carry-on luggage available at St. Louis’ specialty travel stores, or even chain establishments like Target, Dillard’s and JCPenney. A good rule of thumb on packing light is travel-sized toiletries, and garments that you’re sure you can wear at least twice, two different ways.