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Your Guide to Cheap, European Flights

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If you want to travel from city to city in Europe on the cheap, you should turn to Ryanair, Europe's quirky yet ridiculously inexpensive airline.

Europe's Schengen agreement has gotten rid of customs at the border, and with this ease of travel has come a number of low cost airlines. Ryanair is the most popular, in fact it is one of the largest airlines in the world based on number of international travelers. The airfare rates are often seriously reduced. For example, a recent search showed a one-way fare from Santander, Spain to Pisa, Italy to be €12. But one shouldn't confuse it with a normal discount airline you would find in North America. There are numerous quirks.

First off, everything is done on the cheap on Ryanair. That begins with the logo, which looks like they spent ten minutes and ten dollars creating it. Before boarding, you must check in online and print out your boarding pass on an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper. If you don't, they will charge you €60 to print your boarding pass. I know, ridiculous! If you are traveling while you make your booking, make sure you have access to a printer to print out your boarding pass.

Ryanair is often fastidious about baggage. They allow only one -- and they mean one -- piece of carry-on baggage, including any purse, laptop bag, etc. And they can be pretty tough about ensuring your carry-on luggage can fit into their size requirements. This can be a real hassle, as I learned on my first Ryanair flight when I had two bags (not knowing the rule) and was charged €60 to gate check the bag. All checked luggage (that you pay for in advance when you check in online) costs €15 or more, and extra fees apply for additional luggage over one piece. At different airports they can more or less fastidious about their carry-on rules (some even allow you to take an extra bag of duty free), but it's worthwhile planning ahead so you don't get hit with extra fees.

Another quirk is that they do not have assigned seats, so you must line up in advance of the opening of the gate to boarding to get a seat. When they allow you on board, everyone scrambles on to the plane like a herd of sheep and tries to get whatever seat they want. I would suggest that to make the whole thing more pleasant, you should upgrade to priority seating for only €5, or buy an assigned seat in one of the first two rows for €10. It is well worth it.

Other quirks include lack of seatback magazine compartments -- they hand you a booklet of in-flight reading. This must really cut down on airplane clean up times and lower their turnaround times. In fact, they claim to have the best on time record of any airline in Europe.

Other little quirks abound: The bulkheads are plastered with advertising; they have no in-flight entertainment; they constantly try to up sell you on their website and in the flight.

And be warned, while the fares are cheap, there are little extras that can bump up the cost of the fare, such as a €6 administration fee on all filghts, the cost of in-flight meals, etc.

Another big consideration is that they occasionally fly to airports that are nearby major destinations, such as the Milan airport, which is actually in the nearby town of Bergamo; or the Paris airport, which is really in the city of Beauvais more than an hour away.

If flying with Ryanair, make sure you know which airport you are flying into. In my experience, even though they fly into secondary airports, the secondary airports are well equipped to get you to the major city you intend to travel to. For example, when I flew into the Charleroi airport, they had half hourly buses for an inexpensive fare to get me into the center of Brussels, Belgium. Another handy airport is the Pisa, Italy airport, from which I took an hour long bus ride to get to the center of Florence.

Another major quirk is that Ryanair doesn't have its fares published on the popular airfare search engine www.kayak.com. That means when searching for cheap airfares on Kayak, the cheapest option -- which is often Ryanair -- doesn't show up. You can search their fares on their website www.Ryanair.com or you can use the discount airfare search engine www.edreams.com. Also note that Ryanair is not a connecting airline and takes no responsibility for missed connections or checking through baggage to other airlines.

All in all, it is a quirky but very inexpensive airline, and the leg room is not that bad at all considering how cheap the fares can be.

Other super discount airlines in Europe include the delightfully named Wizz Air which serves eastern European destinations, and Air Europa, which functions more or less like a regular airline.

Potentially the best thing from Ryanair, in fact, is its hotel search engine, which can offer deeply discounted rates in many cities, and can be found at www.RyanairHotels.com .

Happy Flying!

This article was originally published on Joel Garten's blog: The Beauty of Life.
Be sure to check out Joel's travel tips for Venice, Florence and Toronto!

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