Upgrades Pay On Europe's No-Frill Carriers

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. ( MainStreet) -- Low-cost carriers are part of everyday life for most European travelers, and the combination of convenient schedules on key routes and low prices justify the otherwise reviled bare-basic amenities. But while many luxury travelers would sooner forgo the trip than face the epic boarding lines or cutthroat seating once aboard, some little-known upgrades by Europe's top frill-free carriers could make an otherwise grueling travel experience a lot more comfortable this summer.

EasyJet is an amiable entree to the European no-frill carriers. One of the pioneers in the business, EasyJet manages an easily navigable website with omnipresent specials, such as a Mallorca-London Luton flight for a mere £8.82 -- cheaper than the ride to the airport in most cases.
Some little-known upgrades on airlines such as EasyJet could make otherwise grueling travel a lot more comfortable this summer.

Those that can overlook less-than-convenient routes, often from commuter airports such as London's Luton that are often farther from urban centers, find great value in fares that often include all government taxes and free carry-on baggage. Checked baggage comes with a predictable £14-per-piece supplement. But EasyJet also offers perks, including Speedy Boarding that means you can be the first aboard the plane for prime front seats, and often the first to disembark. Costing a mere £11.50 per person, Speedy Boarding also offers designated check-in desks at selected airports to check bags faster and avoid the epic luggage lines at prime European hubs.

Despite its claim to be the world's favorite airline, Ryanair offers little comfort and fewer amenities and is a love or hate relationship for many travelers. But they still choose to use one of its impressively convenient 1,400 flights per day from 44 airports in 27 countries. Even in the frill-free airline world, Ryanair is an acquired flying experience, starting with the bright yellow and royal blue corporate colors requiring ocular adjustment on its glaring website or boldly colored cabin interiors. Forging new territory in cheap travel, Ryanair manages to always find a way to offer the cheapest fares to travelers, even if those plans compromise comfort. (Think of its one-time call for portions of its planes to be configured with vertical standing seats.)

Ryanair's perks mean its numerous routes across Europe often cost triple or quadruple what travelers find on similar branded airlines. But they can make a truly challenging travel experience a bit more palatable, especially for those accustomed to Business Class. For those willing to pay -- and believe us it's worth it -- there's reserved seating available on all Ryanair flights for a mere £10/¿10 per one-way flight. The upgraded seating option means exclusive access to Rows 1, 2, 16 and 17, which often come with added legroom typical of exit rows but otherwise offer the same dimensions as other seats. Flyers should keep in mind that Reserved Seating can only be bought online in advance of travel. Those simply looking to get on the plane first who have no need for reserved seating can opt for the cheaper Priority Boarding, which allows first-on boarding that can be bought the day of travel inside the airport at a Ryanair ticket desk or through the company call center.

Spanish budget carrier Vueling operates from a hub network in major cities throughout Spain, Europe and northern Africa. It started in 2004 with just two planes and today includes more than 17 Airbus A-320s. It's also one of the few budget airlines to allow pets aboard, providing they are of a certain weight and fit on the floor directly in front of your seat. Additional upgrades on Vueling include GO! Upgrades, which include dedicated check-in counters at key airports and priority boarding for ¿25. Those looking for even more of an upgrade can select front DUO seats that are unique in the frill-free airline segment: These front-row "jumbo" seats feature no middle seats next to them, extra legroom, free snacks and guaranteed space in the overhead compartment for carry-on. The price for DUO seats runs ¿60 to ¿70 per flight segment and are subject to availability, but those accustomed to Business Class will likely feel like it's the best money ever spent once you reach 35,000 feet.
Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.