The best (and worst) budget airlines in the UK

Four budget airline planes lined up for boarding at Leeds Bradford Airport
Good value or hidden costs? Our Travel team has ranked the four main low-cost airlines - Bradley Caslin/iStock Editorial

They’re the airlines we love to hate, whisking passengers across Europe for low fares with incredible regularity – in theory, at least. But the reality of “budget” airlines, as all-too many of us know, can be fraught with hidden fees, confusing baggage allowances and copious delays.

However, not all budget airlines are created equal. In a bid to find the best carrier, we’ve compared Wizz Air, Jet2, easyJet and Ryanair on all of the key credentials. There is a clear winner – and loser – but do you agree? Have your say in the poll and comments below.

Best for routes and connections

Woman in a staw hat stares meaningfully at the monastery of Petra in Jordan
Low-cost carriers can still get you to more far-flung destinations such as Jordan - CreativeDream/iStockphoto

By passenger numbers, Ryanair is Europe’s largest budget operator: it flew more than 17 million people in October alone. Its last recorded fleet size is 565 (as of summer 2023), by far the biggest of our survey, serving more than 240 airports across 40 countries.

Ryanair is also the best-connected of the bunch. It flies from 21 UK airports, including lesser-served areas such as Newquay and Teesside, so we’re rating it top for UK range. Its routes include rarer low-cost destinations too, such as Jordan, Montenegro and Casablanca.

Currently operating from 18 UK airports, easyJet serves 155 airports across 36 countries. It is Europe’s second largest airline by passenger numbers (pipped by Ryanair), with a large fleet of 336 planes.

In March 2024, easyJet will open a new three-aircraft base in Birmingham, adding 16 new routes to its current tally of 1,024. For connectivity, it comes second place to Ryanair.

In third place is Wizz Air, which serves 73 destinations directly from the UK, plus more than 100 others via connections – including cities in North Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

There are 179 aircraft in the Wizz Air fleet, and it has hubs at London Luton and Gatwick. It flies from a further six UK airports: Glasgow, Birmingham, Newcastle, Aberdeen, Leeds and Liverpool, so has a fair regional coverage.

For routes and connectivity, Jet2 ranks fourth. It flies to over 65 European destinations from 11 UK airports, with a new base at Liverpool opening in March. Other hubs include Birmingham, Bristol, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Stansted.

It operates 119 aircraft, and is the UK’s third largest scheduled airline; notable destinations include Norway, Morocco, Cyprus and Iceland.

The winner: Ryanair

The loser: Wizz Air has a higher number of destinations than Jet2 – but the latter scoops Wizz on its choice of UK airports. It’s a tie

Best prices for Easter 2024

View of the Spanish port at Malaga from the Gibralfaro Castle
Fancy an Easter trip to Malaga? Here's what it might cost - Darren Robb/The Image Bank RF

Let’s say you want to fly from London to Malaga next Easter, 30 March to 12 April – hand luggage only. Which airline has the cheapest fares?

The price per adult offered by Ryanair currently starts from £262.86 (Stansted); easyJet £207.98 (Gatwick); Wizz Air £219.98 (Gatwick); and Jet2 £382.90 (Stansted). Prices were sourced directly from the airlines on Dec 1, 2023, and are inclusive of booking fees.

The winner: easyJet, for a decent £207.98 per adult fare

The loser: Jet2

Best for seat comfort

When it comes to seat width, our four airlines are pretty much equal. On Wizz’s Airbus A320 and easyJet’s Airbus A321neo, the seats are 18in wide. Opt for Jet2’s Boeing 737-300 or Ryanair’s Boeing 737-800, and you’ll miss out on 10mm: their seat width is 17in.

But when it comes to seat pitch, there’s a clear winner. This is the distance between any point on one seat and the same point on the seat in front – so is a good measure of not only leg room, but “headspace” and perception of roominess in the cabin. According to Seat Guru, and verified by the airlines, Wizz’s seat pitch is 28in, easyJet’s 29in, Ryanair’s 30in, and Jet2’s 31in.

The winner: Jet2

The loser: Wizz Air

Best for punctuality

If you boarded a flight anywhere this summer, chances are it was delayed or cancelled. Airport strikes, wildfires, air traffic meltdowns: which airline fared best against the odds?

The aviation analysts at OAG provided Telegraph Travel with data across more than half a million flights from June 1 to Sept 3, covering airlines departing from 48 UK airports.

Ryanair operated 91,897 flights, of which 31.8 per cent arrived or departed on time. For easyJet, 44.7 per cent of its 111,551 flights were on schedule, while 57.7 per cent of Jet2’s 38,986 services ran as planned.

The data from OAG suggested that Wizz Air managed to depart or arrive on time on just 7.8 per cent of its services. The airline contested the figure, insisting that “almost half” of departures and “almost 40 per cent” of arrivals were on time. It added: “The majority of delays were due to issues outside of Wizz Air’s control, such as the recent air traffic control fault, meaning these statistics are not an accurate representation of our overall performance.”

The winner: Jet2

The loser: A tie between Ryanair and Wizz Air

Best for hand baggage allowance

Empty EasyJet check-in desks at Stansted International airport near London in a typical orange color with billboards for baggage
Size restrictions for carry-on baggage varies quite considerably - ermingut/iStock

We compared the size and weight limits for free hand baggage, on a standard ticket.

Jet2: 56 x 45 x 25cm (total volume 63,000cm3); maximum 10kg

easyJet: 45 x 36 x 20cm (total volume 32,400cm3), “which needs to fit in our baggage gauge and under the seat in front of you”. Maximum 15kg

Wizz Air: 40 x 30 x 20cm (total volume 24,000cm3), and “must be placed at the feet of the passenger under the seat in front of them”. Maximum 10kg

Ryanair: 40 x 20 x 25cm (total volume 20,000cm3); no weight limit is listed

The winner: easyJet’s 15kg limit is the most generous weight – but for size, Jet2 is the best. Its volume allowance is more than three times the size offered by Ryanair

The loser: Ryanair

Best for checked-in luggage

Man and woman walk with two children while pulling large suitcases on wheels
Taking a long trip? The cost of checked-in suitcases can add up - Peter Cade/Stone RF

When you pay to bring a suitcase, there’s a sliding scale of fees. For ease of comparison, the following covers luggage weighing 20kg or more, booked at the same time as your flight.

With Ryanair, a 20kg bag costs £18.99 to £59.99, according to your route and travel dates – the lowest weight allowance of our four airlines. Excess baggage ranges from £9 to £11 per kilo, the cheapest fee in this comparison.

Jet2’s baggage add-on covers bags up to 22kg: costs vary, and it doesn’t quote a ballpark fee online if you don’t have a booking. According to mybaggage.com, the average cost is £21 each way. Excess weight is £12 per kilo.

Wizz charges between £8.25 and £87.11 for a 20kg bag, in peak season, with an excess fee of £12 per kilo. On easyJet, 23kg of hold luggage costs from £9.49 per item; excess weight is £12 per kilo.

The winner: The varying prices make it hard to compare fees, but easyJet’s baggage allowance is the most generous, at 23kg

The loser: It’s a tie: Ryanair and Wizz Air offer 20kg each. The latter’s upper threshold is the most costly, though Jet2 isn’t transparent about its fees unless you have a booking with them

Best for fines and fees

A printed boarding pass for an easyJet flight from Edinburgh to Geneva, held with a UK passport, with passengers preparing to board the flight in the background
Late change of plans? Flight changes can be costly - George Clerk/iStock

To change a name on a booking, Ryanair charges £115 per flight. To change your flights costs £45, plus any additional fare. To check in at the airport rather than on the app, Ryanair charges £30 or £55 if flying from Spain. Boarding pass reissue is £20.

Name changes with Jet2 cost £35; flight changes are £35, plus any additional fare. No charge for airport check-in or boarding pass print-out.

With easyJet, name changes cost £55; flight changes are £25 if more than 60 days before travel, or £49 if within 60 days, plus any additional fare. There is no charge for airport check-in or boarding pass print-out.

Name changes with Wizz cost £55; flight changes cost £36.50 to £46, plus any additional fare. If you want to check in at the airport, you can pre-book online for £11.50 per flight; airport check-in without pre-booking costs £35.50.

Be warned: in many instances, the above fees are higher if arranged via a customer services agent, rather than online.

The winner: Jet2

The loser: Ryanair

Best for priority boarding

An Easyjet plane at Zracna Luka Split Airport leaving for London Gatwick
Getting aboard first is about more than speed - Drew Stewart / Alamy Stock Photo

Jet2 is the only airline not to offer speedy boarding as an optional add-on. But if you want to board first (or at least be in the queue to board first), Ryanair’s priority access costs from £6 to £36, and includes two cabin bags.

Wizz’s package costs up to €58.80 (£50.62) when booked in advance, and includes priority boarding and check-in, plus a carry-on wheelie. To get “Speedy Boarding” on easyJet, you’ll need an easyJet Plus card (£215 annually), pay for a Standard Plus or Flexi fare, or add a large cabin bag to your booking – priced “from £5.99”.

The winner: There really isn’t much between easyJet and Ryanair

The loser: Jet2, for not offering the option

Best rated on Trustpilot

On customer review website Trustpilot, Jet2 is by far the best-rated of the airlines – scoring an overall 4.5 (“Excellent”) out of a possible five. It has five-star reviews from 72 per cent of reviewers; four stars from 14 per cent; and one star from 7 per cent.

“Pleasant and attentive cabin crew,” reads one verified Jet2 customer review. “Friendly and informative captain. Took off an hour late but we made up 25 minutes. Excellent.”

It’s a different story for the rest of the pack. Ryanair and easyJet both score 1.4 stars overall, and Wizz Air 1.3 stars (out of five). A total of 89 per cent of Wizz customers awarded it just one star.

“Robbery,” states a reviewer of one of the airlines. “I don’t understand why people still buy ticket[s] from that airline… [it] should not be allowed to operate in our society.”

The winner: Jet2

The loser: Wizz

Best rated by The Telegraph

In this year’s Telegraph Travel Awards, Jet2 was voted “best short-haul airline” – scooping the top spot for the second consecutive time. Almost 30,000 readers voted in the awards, widely praising Jet2 for its clear contact with passengers, and giving refunds without fuss.

Further down the table, easyJet took 10th place, Ryanair 22nd and Wizz Air came 23rd – the very last place. Wizz faced criticism from Telegraph readers for its slow refunds, last-minute cancellations and poor customer service.

The winner: Jet2

The loser: Wizz

The verdict: which is the best?

A Jet2 airplane descends into Corfu airport in Greece
Overall, one carrier stands head and shoulders above the rest - Markus Mainka / Alamy Stock Photo

Bravo to Jet2, which is rated consistently high for customer satisfaction, baggage allowance and comfort – while offering the lowest fees and fines among its peers. Our study suggests it doesn’t come cheap, though: in our fare comparison, it was the most expensive by £174.92.

At the other end of the spectrum, the wooden spoon goes to Wizz. It tallies three individual “loser” titles and three shared ones, and no “wins” to its name – thanks to hefty delays, terrible reviews, reportedly poor service and costly (yet measly) bag allowance.

A Wizz Air spokesman said: “This year, we have invested more than £90 million to improve our operations, including our customer service. Our customer data shows Wizz Air’s brand consideration ratio to be higher than our main UK competitor. We also perform better in customer service, refunds, ease of booking and information provided to customers.

“While there will always be situations outside our control such as weather and air traffic control problems, we still completed 99.16 per cent of our flights this summer which is a significant improvement from last year and in line with industry standards. More than 90 per cent of refunds and claims were also processed within five days.

“Regarding costs, ticket prices and costs for optional extras are clearly outlined on our website and app. We are an ultra-low-cost carrier and to keep our fares low, we offer optional add-ons at an additional charge, such as checked luggage or preferential seating. Unbundling products means that customers only need to pay for what they need and we can offer the most affordable and exciting travel opportunities.

“Optional add-ons are not required in order to fly, and we believe that customers should be offered the choice and flexibility to choose the right products for them.”

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