In 1978, the deregulation of U.S. airlines began, leading to lower fares and the creation of low-cost carriers. The deregulation revolution moved to Europe in the 1990s, which allowed travelers to fly for “the price of a pair of jeans,” according to EasyJet, a low-cost carrier (LCC) based at London Luton Airport. Check these airlines for low-cost fares if you’re flying within Europe. You can even snag a cheap seat to Europe from the U.S. on some of these airlines.
1. Norwegian Air
This Fornebu, Norway-based carrier was founded in 1993. It’s the third largest low-cost carrier in Europe and flies more than 400 routes to more than 130 destinations in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East, Thailand, the Caribbean, and the U.S. For international flights, the carrier uses a fleet of new Boeing 787 Dreamliners. When booking a flight, Norwegian offers a low-fare calendar so travelers can get the best fares.
2. Wow Air
This Iceland-based low-cost carrier, the brainchild of founder Skuli Mogensen, began flying in November 2011. It currently serves 30 destinations across Europe and North America, including Baltimore-Washington, Boston, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Montreal, and Toronto. Routes to East Coast cities use narrowbody Airbus A321s, while the West Coast cities are served by widebody A330s. Passengers from the U.S. can schedule a free stopover in Reykjavik if they plan on traveling to Europe.
Based at London Luton Airport, this airline was founded in 1995 by Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, who wanted to offer an alternative to British Airways and other European flag carriers. The airline operates on more than 800 routes across 31 countries with a fleet of more than 250 Airbus jets. The carrier serves nearly 75 million passengers a year, with 20 percent being business travelers and more than 60 percent originating from outside of the U.K.
The granddaddy of European LCCs, this Ireland-based carrier was created in 1985 with one turboprop jet that flew between Waterford and London Gatwick Airport. A year later, it won approval to compete with British Airways and Aer Lingus on the Dublin-London route. It models itself as a more extreme version of Dallas-based Southwest Airlines, operating an all-Boeing 737 fleet and serving more than 100 million passengers a year. It is known as being extremely low cost, charging for everything from checked and carry-on bags to choosing seats.
5. Wizz Air
This Budapest, Hungary-based LCC was created in June 2003, launching its first flight almost a year later. One of its founders was the former CEO of now-defunct flag carrier Malev Hungarian Airlines. It currently offers flights on more than 500 routes from 27 bases with a fleet of Airbus A320 and A321 jets. It flies to smaller and secondary airports to offer lower fares and serves about 20 million passengers a year. It was named 2016 Value Airline of the Year by Air Transport World magazine.
This Exeter, U.K.-based carrier was formed in 1985 as Jersey European Airways. The airline was renamed FlyBe in 2000 as part of a rebranding. It calls itself Europe’s largest regional airline, with 232 routes serving 15 countries and operating a fleet of 76 turboprops and jets. It offers different levels of service on its flights, offering travelers who buy “All In” fares receiving free drinks and snacks, access to a premium lounge, free prebooked seating and priority check-in.
This Latvian LCC was founded in 1995 and is primarily owned by the Latvian state. It bills itself as a hybrid of LCCs and legacy airlines, offering flights in a network that spans Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, and the Middle East. This small carrier has a fleet of 25 turboprops and jets and carries about 3 million passengers a year.
This Barcelona-Spain-based LCC was founded in 2004 with a flight to vacation spot Ibiza. It currently serves destinations in Africa, Asia, and Europe and rivals Spanish flag carrier Iberia, serving nearly 20 million passengers. It is owned by International Airlines Group, which also owns British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, and flies a fleet of Airbus A319, A320, and A321 jets.
9. Pegasus Airlines
This Turkish LCC was created as a joint venture with Aer Lingus and other partners in 1990 as a charter carrier. After being acquired by another company in 2005, it started scheduled domestic flights. It flies a mixed fleet of Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s. It offers a single class of service and charges for seat selection, pre-ordered food, baggage, and tickets that allow for changes.