Which European low-cost carrier is best for you: Ryanair, easyJet, Jet2 and Wizz Air
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Between limited legroom, complex baggage rules and fees galore, it’s easy to be intimidated by Europe’s low-cost carriers — but rock-bottom prices on nonstop flights can be hard to resist for a quick bank holiday weekend or summer getaway.
First, a little background on Europe’s most popular low-cost airlines. Irish carrier Ryanair serves more than 200 destinations in more than 40 countries. British airline easyJet also flies to several popular destinations in Europe, including Paris, Rome, Barcelona among their 1000+ routes. Wizz Air is based in Budapest, though has recently opened bases in the U.K. and operates flights mainly to and from Eastern Europe, while Jet2, a British airline, also flies around Europe from 10 different airports within the U.K.
While each airline offers low fares, not every flight experience will be the same. Next time you’re looking to book that ultra-cheap ticket, consult this guide first.
|Check-in Requirements||Travellers should check in online, printing their boarding pass or downloading a mobile pass (when available).
You can check in via the airline’s app, available for both iOS and Android. Otherwise, it costs either £/€55 to check in at the airport ( £/€30 if flying to/from Spain) or £/€20 to print a boarding card at the airport.
If you’ve paid extra for seat selection you can check in online 60 days in advance and up to two hours before the flight.
Those with unreserved seats can check in between 48 hours and two hours before the flight.
Non-EU/EEA citizens must have their travel documents checked and stamped at the Ryanair Visa/Document Check Desk before certain flights.
|No charge for checking in at the airport or printing a boarding pass, but it’s best to check in and print a boarding pass ahead of time — or use the easyJet app.
Web check-in is available between 30 days and two hours before the flight.
|Check-in online is available between 30 days and three hours before the flight for travellers that purchased a seat.
For travellers that don’t purchase an allocated seat, it’s available 48 hours in advance.
If travellers don’t print their boarding pass before arriving or download a mobile pass when available, they must pay between €11 and €35 (or £9 to £29) at the airport except at select airports where it’s free to check in, including Corfu, Palma de Mallorca, Zaragoza, Moscow, Marrakessh, and both Dubai and Tirana when flying to Budapest.
|Web and mobile check-in are free starting 28 days in advance up until five hours before the flight.
If you choose to check in at the airport, you’ll be charged a fee starting at £12.
|Carry-on Baggage Allowance||One bag under the seat with a maximum size of 40x20x25 centimetres is allowed.
Priority passengers (from £/€8 and up) can take one bag under the seat with a maximum size of 40x20x25cm, plus an additional bag with a maximum weight/size of 10 kilograms and 55x40x20 centimetres.
The extra service also includes priority boarding.
|Travellers can only bring one bag free of charge that must fit under the seat with a maximum size of 45x36x20 and a maximum weight of 15 kilograms.
If you paid for an upfront or extra legroom seat, or purchase a large carry-on bag (starting at £5.99 per flight), you can also bring one bag to fit in the overhead bin with a maximum size of 56x45x25cm.
|One bag with a maximum size of 10 kilograms and 40x30x20 centimetres can be placed under the seat.
Travellers with Wizz Priority service or fare classes such as Wizz Go and Wizz Plus can bring one carry-on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimetres and an extra trolley bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimetres.
|The airline allows one bag with a maximum weight of 10 kilograms and maximum size of 56x45x25 centimetres, including any wheels and handles, plus one personal item (such as a handbag or laptop bag) as long as it fits underneath the seat in front.
If the flight is full, your 10-kilogram bag may be put in the hold, but for an additional fee (starting at £2 per flight) you can guarantee that it stays with you in the cabin.
|Seat Width and Pitch||43.2 centimetres (17 inches) and 76.2 centimetres (or 30 inches). No recline.||44 centimetres (17.5 inches) and 72.5 centimetres (29 inches). No recline.||45.72 centimetres (18 inches). Wizz Air claims its seat pitch is 76.2 centimetres (30 inches) but in TPG U.K.’s experience, we measured it as 73.7 centimetres (29 inches). No recline.||41.1 to 44.7 centimetres (or between 16.2 and 17.6 inches) and 71.2 to 78.7 centimetres (or 28 to 31 inches). No recline.|
|Hold Baggage||Each traveller can bring three bags weighing 20 kilograms each. Each 20-kilogram bag costs between €/£20.99 and €/£59.99 depending on the route if purchased online.
Additional fees may incur if baggage is purchased via the Ryanair call centre, at airport ticket desks, during peak periods and on selected routes.
Bags weighing more than 20 kilograms cost £/€9 per kilo if purchased ahead of time online up to 3 additional kilograms or £/€11 per kilo (or local currency equivalent) if purchased at the airport, capped at 32 kilograms.
There is an option to check a 10-kilogram bag, priced at £/€12.99 to £/€35.99 if purchased online. If non-priority flyers need to check their carry-on trolley bag, it will cost £/€45.99 at the airport.
Customers travelling on the same reservation can pool their baggage allowance.
|Each traveller can bring three hold bags at either 15 kilograms, 23 kilograms or 32 kilograms each.
Prices start at £6.99 for a 15-kilogram bag and £9.49 for a 23-kilogram bag if purchased online (per flight).
An extra £12 for every 3 kilograms of weight is added until 32 kilograms. The prices to check bags at the airport start at £48 and up.
|Each traveller can bring up to six hold bags with weight limit options of 10, 23 or 32 kilograms. Each bag has a maximum size limit of 149x119x171 centimetres.
Rates are based on date of travel and if you pay online or at the airport. Costs range from €5(£4) online for a 10-kilogram bag on off-peak travel dates to €119.50 (about £100) for a 32-kilogram bag checked at the airport.
|Each traveller can bring three hold bags at 22 kilograms each. 22-kilogram bags start at £25.50.
Additional weight is charged at £12 per kilogram up to 32 kilograms. If you wait until the airport to pay for hold luggage, prices start at £45 per bag, per flight.
|Seat Allocation||Standard seat selection starts at £/€3 (rows 6-13, 18-33). Front seats start at £/€7 (rows 2 (A, B, C)-5).
Extra legroom seats start at €/£14.00 (rows 1, 2 (D, E, F) & 16-17). Childrens’ seats are available for selection in rows 18-33, free for up to 4 children per adult (note an adults must pay a fee of €/£4 to reserve their own seat).
Plus or Flexi Plus have seat selection included.
|Prices for seat selection start at £0.99 for standard seats, £7.99 for upfront or overwing seats and £12.99 for first-row seats per flight (first-row seat purchases also include one large cabin bag, a dedicated bag drop and speedy boarding).
The FLEXI fare class has seat selection included.
|Seat selection prices range from €4 to €35 (or £3.30 to £29) depending on seat, season and route.
Wizz Go and Wizz Plus fares have seat selection included, as does Wizz Air Privilege Pass.
|When booking, special deal prices may be offered (think: 15% off seat selection and one hold bag).
Standard seat selection runs from £7 to £18.
|Priority Boarding||Prices range from €/£8 to €/£32. The service includes extra carry-on luggage and allows you to board first in a special line.
This service is limited and can sell out, so purchase early if it’s important to you. Flexi Plus fares have this service included.
|Speedy boarding is available to travellers with an easyJet Plus card, FLEXI fare ticket or a first-row seat.||Wizz Priority costs €25 (£21) per flight and includes priority check-in, priority boarding, the free under-the-seat carry-on bag plus an additional carry-on trolley bag with a maximum weight of 10 kilograms.
The service is also included with the Wizz Go and Wizz Plus Fare classes as well as Wizz Air Privilege Pass.
|Jet2 doesn’t offer priority boarding.|
|Fare Classes||Plus fares include free standard seat selection, free airport check-in and one hold bag.
Flexi Plus fares come with seat selection, priority boarding, free airport check-in, flexible ticket changes, fast track security and one hold bag. Ryanair also has special family fares.
|FLEXI fares allow changes to flight dates, routes and times (within +/- 1 day), plus a free 23-kilogram hold bag, a large cabin bag for the overhead bin in addition to the free under-seat bag, upfront seat selection, dedicated bag drop, speedy boarding and fast track security at selected airports.
You’ll also receive a FLEXI Eat.Drink.Shop voucher valued at £10 (or currency equivalent) to spend onboard.
|Wizz Go fares allow a carry-on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimetres plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimetres, a 20-kilogram checked bag, seat selection, free airport and online check-in, priority boarding and priority check-in.
Wizz Plus fares allow a carry-on bag with a maximum size of 40x30x20 centimetres plus an additional bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimetres, a 32-kilogram checked bag, premium seat selection, flexible changes and refund options, free airport and online check-in, priority boarding and auto check-in.
|Jet2 doesn’t have special fares, but it does have instant deals, where the cost of seat selection and hold baggage is bundled together with a 15% discount or the cost of seats, meals and hold baggage for a 25% discount.
Travellers can take advantage of these deals during the online booking process.
|Loyalty Programme||Although Ryanair has hinted at loyalty programmes, the airline doesn’t currently have one.||easyJet Plus costs £215 per year and includes free seat selection every time you fly with the airline, dedicated bag-drop desks, fast track security at select airports, speedy boarding, an additional cabin bag and other perks.||The Wizz Air Privilege Pass costs €199 (£167) per year and includes seat selection, priority boarding, an extra trolley cabin bag with a maximum size of 55x40x23 centimetres in addition to the other cabin bag with a maximum size of 40x 30×20 centimetres.||MyJet2 scheme is a free membership programme where you can receive special deals and offers by email.|
|Fleet||By summer 2022, Ryanair will have over 505 aeroplanes. Close to half will be new 737-8200s.737-800s.||easyJet has more than 300 Airbus aircraft, primarily flying the Airbus A320CEO and the A319.||WizzAir operates 119 Airbus A320 and Airbus A321 aircraft.||Jet2 uses mainly 737-800s. The airline currently has 36 new Airbus A321neo aeroplanes on order.|
The clear winner here is easyJet, as the airline doesn’t charge for airport check in. But we recommend checking in online ahead of time, either by printing your pass or using a mobile pass whenever possible to avoid additional hassle and fees.
Since many of these airlines offer check-in options several days or even weeks in advance, you can do this before leaving for your holiday, even for your return flight. With Ryanair, always confirm if you need or don’t need the stamp if you’re a non-EU/EEA citizen, just to be safe.
Although Jet2 wins here for having the largest free carry-on bag plus an included personal item, the most important takeaway from this section is to measure (and weigh, depending on the airline) your carry-on baggage ahead of time to avoid issues at the airport.
Planning ahead, organising what bags you’ll need and purchasing whatever carry-on bags (and hold baggage) you need during booking will ensure you avoid unnecessary charges later. If you’re planning on getting a new carry-on, we recommend taking your airline’s carry-on measurements along with you to make sure it meets the requirements. That way, you won’t have to pay extra in the long run. If carry-on baggage, hold baggage and seat selection is important to you, do the math. Buying a fare class that bulks these options together may be worth it than adding all the extras in at the end.
Seat size and allocation
These carriers don’t feature business-class seats or economy seats that recline, so if you’re extra tall or need more space, booking a seat with added legroom or a standard aisle seat will be your best bet. The airline with the smallest and largest seats is Jet2, and the size depends on the aircraft you’re flying.
You can always check SeatGuru before purchasing your ticket, using your flight number and flying date to determine which aircraft and which size seats you’ll have. This may be a deciding factor on whether or not you choose to pay extra to select your seat.
Some of the lowest rates for seat selection don’t sound like a massive investment, but who wants to pay extra to reserve a middle seat in the back? This may be an area worth the splurge, especially if you want to sit next to friends and family during your trip or need extra space.
Hold baggage costs depend on the route and season you’re flying during with some of these carriers. Our best advice is to decide what luggage you’re planning to bring along and reserve it as soon as you book travel. None of these low-cost carriers include a free hold bag, and fees depend on both the weight of your luggage and the rate or season you’re flying — so there’s no clear winner here.
The most important thing to do is weigh your bags before flying to avoid paying extra at the check-in desk if your bag is overweight. You don’t want to get to the airport and be surprised or caught off guard with added fees. Packing a small luggage scale allows you to weigh your bag before your return trip, especially if you plan to shop during your holiday.
Although Ryanair’s priority line is sometimes longer than the regular boarding line, its priority-boarding-plus-carry-on package is one of the better deals. With this policy, the price includes the extra carry-on baggage and a chance to board first. This service is often capped at the first 95 people to book it, so make sure to reserve it upon booking your ticket to ensure you get it.
If you’re a fan of priority boarding, Jet2 isn’t the right airline for you, as it doesn’t offer it.
Each of these airlines seems to bundle some of the extras together, so it may actually be cheaper to buy the next-highest fare class instead of the lower one, especially if you plan to check a bag and reserve a seat. You should always check the costs carefully when booking to see which fare on which airline gives you what you want but also makes sense for your budget. Sometimes, the extras can end up costing more than the ticket itself.
None of these carriers belongs to a true loyalty programme that allows you to earn and redeem miles. However, if you find yourself regularly flying on either Wizz Air or easyJet, especially for business, you should look into joining their membership programmes easyJet Plus and Wizz Air Privilege. Doing so may save you money in the long run, despite the annual fee.
While true AVGeeks could argue their preference for the A320 family or the 737 for various reasons, for the everyday traveller, it often comes down to what’s inside the aircraft. All four of these European low-cost carriers arrange their cabins in an all-economy and 3-3 seating configuration, so it’s best to consider pitch and seat width if you’re looking to fly in comfort — as much comfort as you can find on a low-cost carrier. Bring that neck pillow along!
There’s no winner in the realm of low-cost carriers. Since each airline has such specific fees and rules and those often vary by route or season, it’s hard to select one superior airline. Plus, if hold baggage doesn’t apply to you, or you don’t care about seat width, your favourite low-cost carrier may be quite different from your neighbour’s.
When booking travel decide which things and add-ons are most important to you (such as a larger carry-on, an extra personal item, free airport check in, cheap seat allocation) and pick the airline that offers you the most. Sometimes the route will decide for you, especially if there are only one or two airlines that fly to your chosen destination.
Whatever airline you choose, read the fine print ahead of time and know exactly what your fare covers (or, more importantly, what it doesn’t cover) and what parameters are attached to your ticket. After all, you don’t want to have to pay a fee to print your boarding pass that costs more than the price of your seat.
As rules frequently change, confirm them again just before travelling, refreshing your memory on how much your carry-on bag can weigh and when you can check in if you haven’t already.
And before you book, always make sure to check all of your options — including a comparison with a traditional full-service carrier. One of the reasons low-cost airlines are so enticing is the lure of extremely cheap fares. But they’re not always the better deal when you factor in all the extras.
Featured photo via Getty Images.
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