Travel

New Budget Airlines Offer Low-Cost Flights to Europe

But be careful: Fares from cheap airlines may not be such a deal after you add in extra fees.

For as little as $200 to $400 round-trip, a handful of budget airlines will carry you from the U.S. to Europe and beyond.

The new breed of low-cost airlines is undercutting legacy carriers by flying newer, fuel-efficient aircraft, reducing frills and, in some cases, using smaller, less-convenient airports. Norwegian Air Shuttle, Iceland-based Wow Air and Level (a new long-haul carrier based in Spain) connect cities across the U.S. to locations across Europe. Norwegian is also increasing service to the French Caribbean, and Wow begins flying to Israel in September. AirAsia X carries passengers from Honolulu to Osaka and Kuala Lumpur.

But your excitement at nabbing a steal for your next vacation abroad may take a nosedive when you realize that these fares only buy you a seat—and not one you can choose, either.

For example, Wow recently offered a round-trip fare of $470 for a weeklong excursion from Los Angeles to Paris in September, with a stop in Reykjavik each way. That’s $230 less than the lowest fare we found from a full-service airline (which, incidentally, was for a nonstop flight). But when you add in checked and carry-on baggage (by upgrading to a higher fare bundle), the fare balloons to $682.

Still, for some travelers the à la carte approach is a plus. “I like the option to choose what I value and what I don’t,” says Scott Keyes, who rounds up international airfare deals for his e-mail newsletter, Scott’s Cheap Flights.

Do the math. Compare your options on a metasearch site, such as Google Flights or Kayak. If a low-cost carrier seems to have the best deal, head to its website to check for additional charges. For example, reserving a seat in advance could cost up to $45 each way for direct flights, and more for a connecting flight. Checking luggage can add as much as $70 to $80 if you prepay when you book your flight, or more if you wait until you get to the gate. (Wow also charges for standard carry-ons.) Pre-ordering a hot meal—still free on most international flights—can take a $40 to $45 bite out of your wallet each way, and drinks and snacks will cost you, too.

Upgrading to a fare that bundles seat selection, luggage, meals and more may make sense. For example, we found a nonstop round-trip flight on Norwegian Air from Providence, R.I., to Dublin in September for $255. Upgrading to a “LowFare+” ticket adds $70 each way but includes meals, seat reservations and one checked bag, saving you $35 each way over purchasing those extras à la carte.

When budget doesn’t fly. Think twice about flying a low-cost airline if you’re on a tight schedule. Because budget airlines offer fewer routes and typically lack a robust network of partnerships with other airlines, you could be stranded for days if a storm or mechanical breakdown grounds your flight. A full-service airline, on the other hand, could more easily reroute you.

If you’re flexible about where and when you travel, you can also wait for full-service airlines’ sale fares, which rival the prices of the low-cost carriers. “It’s common for places all over the U.S. to see fares to Europe in the $400s round-trip,” says Keyes, noting that airlines tend to offer these promotional fares in big cities at least four times a month; smaller cities might see a deal once a month. But you’ll need to book quickly. Sales on major airlines last an average of about 24 hours.

Most Popular

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer
Coronavirus and Your Money

Where's My Stimulus Check? Use the IRS's "Get My Payment" Portal to Get an Answer

The IRS has an online tool that lets you track the status of your stimulus checks.
February 19, 2021
The Current Plan for $1,400 Checks
Coronavirus and Your Money

The Current Plan for $1,400 Checks

Here's what you need to know about the stimulus check plan currently being considered in Congress for President Biden's COVID-relief package.
February 18, 2021
Want More Tax-Free Retirement Income? One Man’s Whole Life Decision
life insurance

Want More Tax-Free Retirement Income? One Man’s Whole Life Decision

Whole life insurance might not be something that’s on your retirement planning radar, but for this client, here’s how it served his need to control ta…
February 23, 2021

Recommended

What to Do When One Spouse Spends Too Much in Retirement
spending

What to Do When One Spouse Spends Too Much in Retirement

If one partner takes a less conservative approach to money, it can wreak havoc on a marriage. But the problem can be addressed by agreeing on bigger f…
February 10, 2021
A Golf Course Community’s Big Variable for Retirees
Smart Buying

A Golf Course Community’s Big Variable for Retirees

Golf club memberships can often be a separate, and hefty, annual fee at golf communities. Here's some guidance before you tee up your retirement move …
December 14, 2020
Don’t Buy This: Top 20 List of Things That Aren't Worth the Money
spending

Don’t Buy This: Top 20 List of Things That Aren't Worth the Money

Buyer’s remorse is real, and if you purchase any of these 20 items, chances are you’ll get to experience it firsthand.
December 9, 2020
Retirees, Get Ready for Virtual Video Visits for the Holidays
Smart Buying

Retirees, Get Ready for Virtual Video Visits for the Holidays

Tap into virtual video software, age-friendly gadgets, video apps and accessories to make seasonal gatherings safe.
December 4, 2020