The European airlines known as low fare or low cost airlines (LCAs to the trade) provide fantastic advance and last-minute air fare bargains on the continent, as well as to some African and Asian destinations. Europe's major air fare search engines are a cut above the rest, too.
Why We Love the Momondo Air Fare Meta Search Engine
Momondo, for example, is one of our favorites. This Denmark-based site has become increasingly popular in recent years. Rather than directly searching the airlines' pages, Momondo is a meta-search site. This means that it searches over 800 other travel deal sites (including European sites) and groups together the results to help you find the best deal. Momondo has been ranked the best by multiple reviewers including us, CNN, NBC, and The New York Times. Recently, the site has released an iPhone app, which allows you to search for cheap flights on the go.
The most intriguing thing about Momondo is its sophisticated and accessible design. It especially caters to travelers with flexible schedules — when you search for a flight, Momondo scans all the days of the month and displays the cheapest prices for each day on a graph. This and other practical design features are what make Momondo an intuitive site to use.
Momondo characterizes itself as smooth, savvy, and hip, and it shows through the site's latest feature: a series of "city guides" in which users submit and arrange locations based on "ambience colors." For instance, if you wanted a quiet educational time, you could search the museums in the cool greens. Classy urban nightclubs are in the hot pink section, while upper-class, elegant locales are in the purple. You get the idea.
Cheap Flights from the Major Air Lines, a New Industry
On a continent where fast, efficient and well-priced railroads have dominated regional travel for a century, cost is a huge factor in getting around. That's why a crop of European low cost carriers modeled on America's successful Southwest Airlines — but with incredibly cheap fares — took off.
Another reason is trust: strong consumer-oriented regulations are imposed by the European Union on airlines based within its purview. In the experience of one FTF staffer, they work. In this real-life example, when one of the biggest companies, Easyjet, was forced to cancel its London-Istanbul route due to a change in governmental air traffic rules, the company reimbursed all passengers for the cost of rebooking that route on any other available airline.
We admit that some of Europe's major airlines do a great job catering to families with young children, so don't overlook them when comparing costs. But, if you're ready to go the low fare, no-frills route, check out Europe's top budget airlines. According to a June 2011 Low Fares Airlines Report from the European Low Fares Airline Association (ELFAA) and York Aviation, "across the board, the share of passengers traveling with low fares airlines is set to increase up to the year 2020, rising from 38% to 53% for intra-European travel and from 43% to 60% for point-to-point." The LCAs have forever changed the travel landscape of Europe.
The Jones LaSalle Hotel Group studied its effect on behalf of the continent's hotel industry in 2006. According to their senior VP, Chris Martin, they found a "push effect" from the LCCs, that comes from sending new clients to new destinations they serve, causing these tourist destinations to grow quickly. Conversely, the LCCs "pull effect" decreased tourism to such gateways as Paris and London, whose residents are using LCCs to vacation elsewhere. Interestingly, a "derived effect" from the popularity of LCCs has generated substantial growth in the regions housing the secondary airports that LCCs typically use to keep costs down.
Who's Got the Cheapest Fares among the European Airlines
The pioneer and leader in the field is Dublin-based Ryanair, which claims to be "Europe's No. 1 lowfares airline" and is undoubtedly it's most publicity seeking, with PR stunts like 1 fares, fees for carry-on bags, and a suggested child-free route. Ryanair flies on 1,300 low fare routes from more than 44 European bases. With prices subject to change and other hidden charges that may possibly apply, always check their site for confirmation on prices.
EasyJet serves 550 routes between 130 airports in 30 countries, often through London's fun Luton airport. These guys know how to treat families, and provide great deals stocked with take-aboard meals at all their airports, seatback entertainment systems, wide seats and nice staff, all at bargain rates. And as noted above, they are trustworthy in making refunds when their service falls short of what's advertised.
The adorable bmibaby is British Midlands offspring – now part of Lufthansa — flying from East Midlands, Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff and Belfast City to 39 European destinations. Bmibaby, whose slogan is "the airlines with tiny fares" has been voted "Best No Frills Airline" by readers of London's Daily Telegraph and is loved for its irreverence.
There are more LCAs than we can cover. Today, ELFAA members include other smaller airlines such as Blue Air, Flybe, Jet2.com, Norwegian, SverigeFlyg, transavia.com, vueling and Wizz Air. Other notable European low-cost airlines serving limited routes include Smartwings, the German-based Germanwings, and the Holland-based Corendon.
Many low-cost airlines fly from Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, an ideal hub for discovering Europe. In the "Travel Agency Schiphol Travel Port" section of the airport's website you can book air tickets, hotels, holidays and rental cars, and check out the special offers sections for fares. VLM Airlines also offer reasonable fares for travelers to Europe's business capitals.
Our Favorite European Air Fare Search Engine: Fly Cheapo
No single search engine covers all low-fare European flights and routes, but Fly Cheapo comes close with its robust searching of Europe and the world's 42 airlines, 370 airports, 45 countries and more than 5200 routes. The site has an "Routes Index" section, updated every day, where routes from specific locations can be sorted by airline, airport, and country. In addition, a reader comments feature yields in-the-know tips from Europe's savviest travelers—Europeans. The home page also posts news about new routes, code share arrangements, and even advance schedules.
With a few of these sites added to your favorites page, there won't be any need to waste precious hours on the web looking for inexpensive European fares. Make sure to utilize as many of these travel resources as possible to find the best/cheapest airfare options available.
Cheap Fares For Non-Europeans
Families flying to a European destination and planning to travel around the continent should check out the EuropebyAir Flight Pass Program. Founded in 1998 in the Eurail model, it now faces stiff competition. As we go to press, Europe by Air has organized 20 Europe-based carriers into a flight coupon-type program serving 500 cities within Europe and beyond the continent. As in the past, many routes are available for a flat rate of US$99 each, plus tax and fees on paper tickets, per one-way flight and travelers get to make one change in reservations without additional fees.
FlightPasses are sold in countries outside of Europe; please check their site carefully for usage regulations.
Unhappy About your Europe Flight Experience?
Thanks to the Wall St. Journal, we've been made aware of a great resource to assist travelers who have been wrongfully bumped, delayed or otherwise mistreated on a European flight. The site EU Claim will help travelers claim their EU-monitored financial penalties against airlines that behave illegally, in exchange for a percentage of the winning award. Their online claim form is easy to fill out…
But of course, we hope your family will be delighted with their Europe Low Cost Airline adventure.
This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question, and stay up to date with current events to ensure a safe and successful trip.