For those living outside of Europe, the dream of traveling the continent can seem out of reach. Add children to the mix, and buying airfare for an entire family to visit several countries can seem exorbitant. While it can be expensive to get to Europe, there are increasingly inexpensive ways to get around once you’ve arrived.
For more than a decade now Europeans have enjoyed a wide array of affordable possibilities to travel from country to country inexpensively, through an increasing number of airline alternatives that generally connect major hubs across the continent. If you’ve ever dreamed of jet setting from London to the Mediterranean, from Berlin to the Pyrenees or from the Aegean to Paris, a low-cost carrier may have the right ticket for the right price.
Sound too good to be true? That’s because if you're not careful, it can be. Low cost carriers often have a variety of ways to add to the ticket price before all is said and done, driving the final price sky-high. That doesn’t mean you can’t still get a great deal and make the most of the low fares, just that you need to be aware of every add-on. My family of four traveled from Montpellier, France to Rome, Italy on a return ticket that cost around €85 per person, and the only extra fees we paid was the optional one for seat selection.
Consider the following before you book to make the most of those low airfares!
Booking in Advance
This can be crucial! Booking in advance can be difference between having to pay €365.00 for a round trip ticket from Paris to Athens for example when booking to fly out in a day or two, or €91 for the same route when booking to fly a month in advance. Most airlines generally allocate only a number of seats for those especially low fares, and when they’re gone, they’re gone. This applies mainly to high season travel. When traveling in the off-season, last minute fares can be inexpensive because airlines are trying to fill any leftover seats.
Although a number of low-cost carriers fly to many different destinations across Europe, some of the smaller carriers focus only on servicing specific hubs. Those airlines can often have lower fares because they have more flights going in and out of specific locations.
Many carriers are able to keep costs low by encouraging the consumer to do much of the work themselves. As such, consumers can often save money by choosing to book and check-in online. If traveling light (which is recommended), travelers can avoid the check-in line altogether. The bonus for those traveling with small children is less time waiting in lines and a smoother check-in process.
Online Seat Booking
Similar to most airlines, most low cost carriers charge a fee to choose your specific seat online. If you don’t mind getting assigned a seat at check-in, you can save up to €20 per seat. For families who wish to stick together, the added fee may be worth it for the peace of mind.
Carry-on and Checked Luggage
Most low cost carriers will allow you to bring one in-cabin bag, so long as it conforms to specific dimensions, often smaller than that of larger airlines. This is where the costs can really add up. Traveling with only carry-on luggage is recommended for weekend getaways, where the rest of your luggage can stay back at a base location. Checked luggage fees typically start at around €15 and only get higher from there. Fortunately, for those with very young children, most low cost carriers in Europe will still allow a stroller, car seat, and diaper bag at no additional charge, but be sure to confirm ahead of time to avoid expensive fees at the counter.
Gluten Free Meals
For those families who must work around gluten free sensitivities, it may be best to bring your own food on most flights. Fortunately flights tend to be short, and a few small snacks should do the trick. Unfortunately, the availability of gluten free meals is not widely available and can be hit and miss. Whereas EasyJet for example offers and advertises a range of gluten free snacks that can be purchased in-flight as of 2014; others may simply offer one or two items that are considered gluten free snacks, such as olives. Some other airlines state explicitly that they are not able to accommodate or provide gluten free meals or alternatives. Double check the airline website or call ahead to confirm their menu items and policies for food brought on board.
Check several websites and compare prices before booking to get the best price available. For a list of low cost carriers in Europe as of 2014, Euroflights.info has a list of both carriers and destination airports on their site.