Europe and the art of flying as close as possible to your choice of final destination – is it worth the additional cost to fly to a closer airport? Is there even an additional cost anymore?

These days few can ignore that the budget airlines are here to stay now and they still have the established airlines running scared. The likes of British Airways, Lufthansa and even Air France have had to slash their margins razor thin to be able to offer competitive prices to the young upstarts. In Air France’s case they are also competing with the ultra high speed TGV train network, which has forced even Easyjet to give up internal French routes due to being unable to compete on time or price factors. It’s possible that in a few decades maglev trains will link all city centres at speeds close to the speed of sound but until then the budget airline has a future in Europe. The problem for us consumers is figuring out exactly where they fly and how much it’ll really cost. The three below examples show why you shouldn’t rule out the normal airlines, and how you too can get the best value.

Consider three customers, all of whom live in London and are going away for Easter 2005 (which is Sunday 27th March).

Manuel is 25 and is going to fly next March to Rome on his own to join Pierre’s stag do before he gets married. Pierre and the rest of the guys on the stag do are all flying en masse together from Paris, but Manuel will have to make his own way there and back. He’s inflexible on dates; out of Heathrow to Rome on Friday 25th March and back on Tuesday 29th but any time will do. Comparing British Airways and Alitalia, Alitalia offered much lower at only £98 including taxes (BA was £129.60. Bizarrely a one way back from Rome with BA was a ridiculous £416.70).

Despite their dominance in the Italian market, the budget airlines were happy to beat British Airways’ price but couldn’t compete with Alitalia on this price. Using, the best option for Manuel at time of writing was out from Gatwick with Easyjet for £39.71 and back to Stansted with Ryanair for £57.54. Total price:- £97.25, but he’s using two different London airports, a problem if he wanted to leave his car at one of them.

If Manuel lives in the West of London, the extra cost and time in public transport would make it more than worth the additional 75 pence to fly with Alitalia. The Stansted Express is currently £13.80 one way and the Gatwick Express is £12 (although to be fair using Connex South Eastern takes only another 5 minutes to Gatwick and costs only £7.20). In contrast, Heathrow is easily accessible from anywhere in London via the tube; a zone 1-6 single fare is only £3.80 making it no contest to use Alitalia.

Peter is 43, married to Fiona and they have three children, Paul (9), John (7) and Mark (7). They don’t want a package holiday but are intending to go to Val D’isere for a weeks skiing, taking advantage of the school holidays, leaving any London airport on Friday 25th March and coming back the following Friday 1st April. Peter looked at transfer costs from Geneva and found that they were looking at a cost of €500 (£345) which is too much and is worrying. Bizarrely, a quick check of found him a medium sized saloon car for £257, which gives them additional flexibility of being able to go wherever they like.

Peter’s done some surfing and found quotes. Air France offered £898.75 and required changing in Paris, British Airways offered an astonishingly low £634 in total out of Gatwick whilst Swiss offered £868.75 direct from London City. Easyjet offered a sensible £704.90 direct from Gatwick. It has to be said that Chambery is only 87 miles from Val D’isere whilst Grenoble is 132 miles and Lyon is 143, but Easyjet stops its winter service that weekend, so whilst they can fly out there to several airports, they can’t fly back. Again, a scheduled airline beats the budget airlines, and a £70 saving is a £70 saving.

Sally is 24, a doctorate student specialising in Snaps (the Swedish liquor) and is due to visit her friend in Stockholm. Whilst there she’s going to the Wine and Spirits Museum for research, and being a big fan has acquired tickets to see the ABBA musical Mamma Mia at the Cirkus in Stockholm. She’s a student, so dates and times are fairly irrelevant as long as she’s there for March 29th, the date for her ABBA musical tickets. Playing around with dates via, it turns out the cheapest way out is Ryanair ex Luton on Sunday 27th March and back on Friday 1st April, giving a total of £68.91. The problem is that Vasteras is an alternative airport for Stockholm, some 60 miles from the centre, and it’s going to cost SEK 199 which is an extortionate £15.32 but the bus from Arlanda (the main Stockholm airport) is SEK 170. Still, it’s cheaper than the trains over there.

As for SAS and British Airways, even when playing around with dates neither can go lower than £98 into Arlanda. Even paying for the bus Sally would be into Stockholm centre for £14 less with Ryanair.

At the end of the day, it’s six of one and half a dozen of the other which circumstances warrant which airline. Budget airlines are not the be all and end all, but nor are the established airlines. If you’re able to do a bit of sniffing around, you can find some significant savings, which multiply fast if there’s more than one person flying. However, be very careful to check you’re absolutely certain you’re flying to the right airport. Frankfurt Hahn, London Stansted, Stockholm Vasteras, Milan Bergamo, Barcelona Reus are all significant distances from the city centres they supposedly serve and transfer is often time consuming as well as expensive. With flights so cheap these days, don’t rule out the cost of getting to and from the airport.