Competing airlines mean cheap tickets for Europe travelers
Two days before his leave started, Shawn Kelly wasn’t sure how he was getting from Naples to Ireland for a planned 10-day vacation.
With round-trip tickets on United Airlines running around $390, the 23-year-old radiation health technician started searching discount airlines on the Internet where he found flights with Ryanair that took him to Cork for $150 — less than half the cheapest fare on a regular carrier.
“With two days’ notice I could go anywhere I wanted,” said Kelly, who has been stationed at the Naples Naval Hospital for more than two years.
As new discount airlines — serving destinations from the French West Indies to Istanbul — crop up every few months, the cost of flying around Europe has dropped to just a few euros, less than even some train and bus fares.
Germany is currently reaping the biggest benefits, as recent start-ups Hapag-Lloyd Express and German Wings began a price war based around their hub destination, Cologne’s Konrad Adenauer Airport, said David Kaminski-Morrow, who covers Europe for the London-based Air Transport Intelligence.
“In Germany all the new airlines have slashed fares,” he said. “It is hard to say how long it will last.”
German Army Sgt. 1st Class Stephan Mauritz, who is stationed with NATO in Naples, said he takes advantage of the current fares to fly from Italy to Cologne at least once a month to visit his girlfriend.
“It is easy, and it is cheap,” said Maurtiz, who has flown from Pescara, Italy, to Frankfurt on Ryanair and now takes HLX from Naples to Cologne.
The prices sound — and often can be — fantastic, but they also can be misleading, and services are cut to save on costs.
Discount airlines offer only a limited number of seats on flights for the lowest fares, making advance planning necessary for cheap travel, since tickets on the same flight can vary by hundreds of dollars.
“Other passengers are subsizing your fare,” Kaminski-Morrow said. “It can be expensive. The faster you need your ticket, the higher the price.”
And not all discount airlines give airport fees when quoting prices, which can raise the price.
For example, a 10 euro ticket from Rome to Frankfurt on Ryanair also carries a 17.03 euro charge for taxes, fees and charges. The total cost — 27.03 euros — is still cheap, but more than double the advertised price.
Going through the entire reservation process, without submitting a credit card number, will display complete prices and a breakdown on what fees are included.
Fares on some airlines, such as easyJet, include taxes and fees in the published prices.
Discount prices also come with discount services, Kaminski-Morrow said.
“When you pay 20 pounds to fly across Europe, expect that you get what you pay for,” he said. “It isn’t for people who want to be pampered.”
That means paying for everything from a cup to tea to a dry sandwich — if there is any food served at all; putting up with in-flight advertising; and elbowing your way to that coveted window seat since assigned seating is not offered.
Those who can put up with the inconvience can cut hundreds of dollars from a trip.
For now, HLX is offering 19.99 euro one-way fares to all of its destinations, and German Wings has set its lowest fares at 19 euros. Ryanair, one of the oldest discount airlines, uses Frankfurt-Hahn Airport (a former U.S. air base) as a secondary hub and has a 2.99 euro flight to London. EasyJet and bmibaby also have flights into the country.
Italy doesn’t have as many discount airlines with hubs, but both HLX and easyJet fly into Naples and Rome.
The cut-rate flights shouldn’t disappear anytime soon either since the budget airlines have created a whole new market for themselves, in addition to drawing travelers away from major airlines.
“People who couldn’t afford to fly before can. Why take a bus to Scotland when you can fly to Spain instead?” asked Kaminski-Morrow.
— Leah Bower is a news correspondent working from the Naples, Italy, bureau.
Check these Web sites:
• easyJetwww.easyjet.com Hub: London StanstedSample destinations: Copenhagen, Denmark; Naples, Italy; Athens, Greece
• Ryanairwww.ryanair.com Hub: Shannon Airport, Ireland; London StanstedSample destinations: Stockholm, Sweden; Dublin, Ireland; Oslo, Norway
• German Wingswww.germanwings.comHub: Cologne, GermanySample destinations: Istanbul, Turkey; Barcelona, Spain; Zurich, Switzerland
• Hapag-Lloyd Expresswww.hlx.com Hub: CologneSample destinations: Naples, Madrid, Nice, France
• Air Lib Expresswww.airlibexpress.comHub: Paris OrlySample destinations: Rome; Martinique; Venice, Italy
• bmibabywww.bmibaby.comHub: East Midlands, EnglandSample destinations: Prague, Czech Republic; Munich, Germany; Ibiza