Flying in Europe can look cheap, thanks to an abundance of low-cost air carriers, but hidden costs can undo those savings if you don’t read the fine print.
While European readers might take their cheap airfare for granted, American travelers will probably be shocked at how little it costs to fly. I studied in London in college and remember flying everywhere because it was cheaper than a bus. Ryanair out of Dublin is one of the most widely known, but carriers like EasyJet and Transavia also offer low-cost travel.
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The European Open Skies Treaty of 1992 blew the lid off the old system of air travel, where national government would restrict access to their airspace to expensive “flag-carriers,” such as British Airways or Lufthansa. The treaty enabled airlines to fly anywhere they wished in the European Union without government approval, and Ryanair was the first airline to adopt the model.
Flash forward to a multi-city European trip my future husband and I were planning. He wanted to go to as many cities as possible. We are Delta Diamond Medallion members, but they are expensive and don’t really fly city-to-city in Europe. I remembered my discount days and went to the Ryanair website. They don’t even advertise in the U.S., so I thought I was super clever.
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We planned a trip from Tuscany, Italy, to Haugesund and Oslo, Norway. I got a flight for 39 euros — around $50, based on the exchange rate at the time. We had to pack for a two-week trip in both hot and cold climates, and our clothes had to account for both. We over-packed, but who doesn’t? We get 75 pounds of luggage each for free from Delta from the U.S. to Europe.
In Tuscany, my husband proposed to me with a cake that said, “Will you marry me?” He gave me a one-of-kind sunflower (my favorite flower) cocktail ring. I was on cloud nine.
The next day, we were on our way to the PISA airport, each with our 75 pounds of luggage. We bought another suitcase because we wanted to buy souvenirs from this engagement trip.
This turned out to be a costly mistake. With Ryanair, you must pay for luggage in advance or it costs more. You have to print your boarding pass in advance or it costs more. Pretty much everything costs more; you just have to be aware of it. It costs for water, snacks and assigned seats. People who fly with Ryanair regularly know their restrictions. As a Delta Diamond member, I am used to no restrictions.
After waiting in the massive check-in line at Ryanair, I said, “I think my bag might be overweight, but I will pay what it costs.” The women checking me in literally started laughing.
I said, “What is the issue?”
She told me I had to pay the equivalent of $750 — with a debit card no less, as they would not accept credit cards. I starting crying. How could it be that much?
She and her friend, both laughing, said, “We are Ryanair.”
What if I didn’t have that money in my bank account?
“Forget it. I am not flying,” I said and went in search of other options.
I checked for Delta or Delta partner flights, but it was too late. We had no other choices in this little airport. We were stuck. Just like that, a $50 flight became an $800 one.
Just because a travel carrier advertises low costs does not mean you won’t be on the hook for a mountain of extra fees. Don’t forget to research all the applicable fees on top of the super cheap initial fare. I vowed to never make that mistake again. I didn’t let it ruin my engagement trip, but it stings when I remember the Ryanair staff laughing at me.
Click through to find out about 24 airlines with low baggage fees.
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