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Best airlines for a budget

Paris to Marrakesh and return for $85….Barcelona to Rome and back, $70….London to Milan, return, for four cents!

These are just a sample of the low airfares I turned up during a recent Internet search for travel across Europe and into North Africa.

Discount airlines are booming in Europe these days, and for medium and long-haul routes across the continent, they can’t be beat for timing and price. For cost-conscious travellers from North America, they open up a whole new world; jetting out to various exotic destinations from one European base at an affordable price. In many cases, it’s cheaper for North Americans to book an overseas ticket to one of the major hubs like London then book a discount airline on to their final destination, than it is to fly direct. There are some drawbacks, including a longer time in transit and the risk of missing a connection. But as long as you are aware of the potential problems and do a little planning, the results can save you hundreds of dollars, and open up destinations you never thought you could afford to reach.

How can you uncover these juicy airline deals? First, get yourself organized with a special folder in your Internet Browser so you can store all the information you find. Then start clicking away….

1) One-stop shopping. Visit www.whichbudget.com, a worldwide clearinghouse for information about discount airlines. Simply plug in the country and city you wish to depart from, and the site will list all the destinations to which you can travel using discount airlines, along with hotlinks to the airlines’ websites. Many results will show multiple carriers making the same run, so check out each one for the best deal. And save the ones you like in your Favourites folder for future reference.

2) Google It. Whichbudget’s website is comprehensive, but it may miss an airline or two. Don’t hesitate to do a search for something like “discount airlines france” to see what pops up. Add anything new you find to your Favourites folder.

3) Don’t Ignore the Big Guys. Any time you find a great fare between two points, make sure you check with the traditional airlines that may make the same trip. Aer Lingus, Ireland’s national carrier, converted itself into a discount carrier in the spring of 2007 to do battle with the more recent upstarts. In fact, Ryanair, the Irish airline that pioneered discount air travel more than a decade ago, tried to buy up its new competitor, but the offer was rebuffed