Finding Flights to Europe
Our European low-cost air guide is mostly concerned with getting around Europe. But what about getting to Europe from North America? We've got some ideas. Gather round, pay attention and then get packin'!
There are two keys to getting to Europe from North America without breaking the bank: flexibility and timing. Say it again. Flexibility and timing. Of course, these aren't the whole story, by any means, but they're crucial to getting to Europe inexpensively.
We'll also profile trans-Atlantic budget airline options, discount airfare sites, rate comparison tools, charter flight options, the travel agency option, air/hotel packages, travel by courier, and last-minute deal alerts.
Flexibility: Rethink Your Trip's Timeframe
The first key to getting to Europe cheaply is to be flexible—and this includes your timeframe. Try to begin your trip research before deciding on your exact dates. By prioritizing a cheap fare and devoting serious time to figuring out the best window for travel, you'll be able to take advantage of seasonal fluctuations.
And even if you can't be flexible about your travel period, you can still test out different fares on a range of days of the week, even at different times, to figure out the cheapest flight within a given time frame.
It's tough to generalize, but we've found that our flights are cheaper when they leave or return on Saturdays, Tuesdays, and Wednesdays.
Timing: Rethink Seasons
During high season, round-trip flights to Europe are expensive. End of story. High season, loosely speaking, stretches from June through August. Not only are flights between North America and Europe more expensive during this period, but they appear, if anything, to be getting more pricey.
This past summer, one EuroCheapo staff member flew from New York to Athens in mid-July and then back home from Madrid in early August. His ticket ran $1200, despite the fact that he flew both directions on a Saturday.
Another member of the office flew roundtrip from New York to London in May. London is traditionally one of the least expensive European destinations from North America, but even so, a $500 roundtrip was a real bargain.
Timing is everything in this example. May is before the summer season; mid-July through early August is the height of summer season. But consider May as a travel month. Much of Europe is warm and inviting. The most popular cities and the most engaging sites are not yet swarming with tourists.
And while you're at it, consider a wintertime trip to Europe. Traditionally, January and February witness the very best transatlantic airfare pricing all year round. Yes, it will be cold in much of Europe, but with low-season hotel rates throughout Europe (barring beach and ski resorts) you'll save money and appreciate Europe in the off season.
Here's a quick and dirty seasonal fare grouping. It's not scientifically tested, but it matches our observations over the past several years of travel.
Cheapest travel period: mid-January through March; mid-November through mid-December
Most expensive travel period: June through August; mid-December through early January
Shoulder season (mid-range fares): April, May; September through late November
Rethink Airline Loyalty: Trans-Atlantic Budget Airlines
The benefits accruing to your conventional airline just seem to get paltrier and paltrier. Your carefully harvested frequent flyer miles are less and less broadly usable, and you're understandably frustrated.
It may be time to question airline brand loyalty, which to the loyal Cheapos behind this air travel channel, has never seemed like less of a safe bet.
Utilize multiple booking sites before making a purchase. Compare Orbitz, Expedia, and Travelocity, as well as discount sites like Priceline and Hotwire (see below). Also take a look at aggregator Web sites like Vayama, and Kayak. These sites will help you determine how to locate the cheapest fare possible.
And, while we're here, try searching these same rate comparison sites for different airports. For example, the entire staff had to take a trip to Berlin and, after researching roundtrip fares in and out of Schoenefeld airport, we found that flying into Berlin's Tegel airport, but out of Paris' Charles de Gaulle saved us more than $300 per ticket. Hey, we're flex. And, we always love a good excuse to get to Paris.
Keep your eyes open for "incidental" legs of massive multi-stop journeys. Air India features, in season, some great fares on New York-London routes on planes that continue to India.
Cheap Transatlantic Hops: Virgin Atlantic, Aer Lingus
Office favorite Virgin Atlantic, while not exactly a budget airline, regularly offers very affordable flights between the United States and London. Meanwhile, Aer Lingus has offered some of the most affordable transatlantic flights we've seen.
Discount Airline Sites
Priceline and Hotwire in the US both offer discounted fares. Hotline generates routes with fare, layover, and duration information. The site will also suggest cheaper departure dates and cheaper departure and arrival airports, when applicable. Priceline provides a similar experience.
Seats on charter flights can be some of the cheapest around. We've been long time fans of French charter airline Corsair, which delivered one of our members from California to Paris roundtrip in the middle of summer five or so years ago for about $500. Corsair doesn't currently fly to the United States, but they do fly to Montreal and Moncton in Canada, and they continue to offer low fares.
With the advent of the Internet and the proliferation of booking sites, travel agents have become less and less essential to average budget travelers. That said, travel agents can be very helpful. To give one example, good travel agents will be able to help you locate flights at their lowest listed fares. Travel agents can also be extremely useful for navigating extensive and complicated itineraries and journeys to places off the tourist track.
Gate One Travel and Go-Today Travel both offer inexpensive air and hotel packages to Europe. The best of these packages cost around what you might pay for an air ticket alone.
Traveling as a Courier
Once upon a time, courier flights were a Cheapo's best friend, permitting last-minute ultra-cheap fares for flexible Cheapos. Typically, courier flights offer reduced fares in exchange for the courier's willingness to transport administrative materials. These days, courier flights are no longer quite as cheap as they once were. Most courier fares we've seen are priced at discounts of around 50 percent. Though no longer as cheap as they were, courier flights are nonetheless worth investigating, especially for people living in or near major transit airports.
Deal Digest Web Sites
Check deal digest sites like Travelzoo and Sherman's Travel to find deals, some of which are "last-minute." On Travelzoo, we once spied a promotional New York-Cologne roundtrip for under $200. While the majority of offers on these sites won't help you get to Europe on a dime, relevant deals do pop up from time to time.
Prioritize flexibility, keep timing in mind, train an eye on trans-Atlantic fares, and explore the other options we've laid out here, and you'll be able to turn up far better deals than the average traveler. Go to it, Cheapos!
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