Getting a Great Fare on Eurfirst Trip to Europe

Revised February 2019

There are many choices for air travel to Europe. What you will pay we be based on

  • When you are going
  • How long you are staying
  • Where you are going
  • Whether you arrive and depart from the same airport
  • How many other tourists are travelling during that season
  • How you buy your tickets
  • Whether you can be flexible on departure and return
  • Whether you can fly on a non-refundable ticket
  • Whether you are a student and can qualify for those discounts

In recent years, it is easier to find a bargain flight to Europe. Many low cost carriers have entered the market, making it possible to grab discount seats heading across the Atlantic. Our recent flight to Copenhagen from San Francisco was around $625, including seat selection which was about half of what we spent on our first ticket to Paris. With some careful shopping, you should be able to get a good airfare.

If you live near more than one major airport, search for flights from all the ones that are easily accessible. Carriers may be expanding into new markets and offering better prices than you'll find at the other airports in your region. And sometimes, if you are doing a MULTIPLE CITIES trip, landing in one city and flying home from another, you may find that you save money by starting at one airport and getting home at another; for example, you might fly from JFK to London, and then return from Frankfurt to the Newark Airport.

Your trip to Europe is a good time to use frequent flyer miles to upgrade to the next level of service. Check with the program to see what levels of upgrade are available. Again, you are trading other possible airline trips for comfort on the flight over. Whether that makes sense depends on your size, your need for sleep and how likely you are to use the miles if you don't use them for the upgrade.

Start your search for airfares at an online travel site. I start with Kayak and Orbitz, sometimes Cheapo-Air, but don't have any significant loyalty to any of the options because I can't say that one is consistantly better than the other. I search them all until I find a price that feels fair; but if all the prices are the same, I use Orbitz because of its rewards program and the quality of their customer service.

Your initial search will give you a general idea of the price of the tickets. Be sure to use a date that is close to the date that you would like because prices reach their highest in the summer and are the lowest during the dark days of winter. You may also want to sign up for alerts that notify you if the price of tickets drops.

Generally, you will save money if you leave and return midweek. This is one of the ways the people with flexible travel options can get lower fares.

If you have the option, you can save money on airfare by traveling in the spring or fall when fewer tourists are crossing the Atlantic. Even better prices are available in the winter season but the short days, limited hours at tourist attractions and cold temperatures make it a less pleasant time to visit. If you are committed to a specific season, you may still save money if you have some flexibility in your plans. Summer travelers will get a better deal if they can start their trip in late May or early June rather than mid-June. You may also want to see if you get a better price if you book a trip that returns after September 14, which will typically be less expensive than prime summer travel.

Generally, you are going to pay more if you stay in Europe for more than a month. Current ticket fares usually are based on a return trip scheduled in less than 31 days and you pay significantly more if you stay over a month during the summer. Checking current fares from my home town, air tickets were almost 50% more expensive for a six week stay than they were for a two week stay.

If you are going to more than one major city in Europe, you may find that you can save money if you opt for one major city rather than another. For example, if you are going to England and Ireland, you may find that it is cheaper to fly into Dublin than London--we started a trip in Liverpool and save $500 per ticket by flying to Dublin and then heading to Liverpool on RyanAir; we returned from Edinburgh to Dublin also using the budget carrier for a 45-minute, $20 flight. Depending on the number of people flying with you, there may find substantial savings between arrival airports. If you are asking a travel site to track air fares, sign up for more than one arrival location if possible.

PACKAGE TRIPS:If you only have limited time, you many consider a package that includes the cost of hotel rooms. We found that booking airfare and rooms early made it possible to stay in nicer hotels than we could have afforded if we booked them separately. It is important to note, however, that many airline travel packages require that you book all of your nights of lodging with them to get the break on the ticket price. That is fine if you are flying to Paris, London or Berlin for a week but if you plan to go wandering throughout Europe, these packages may not meet your needs. Orbitz lets you book rooms for only part of your trip so that if you are heading on to othe cities, you can just book your first night or two (or the night before departure home).

It is hard to say how far in advance you should purchase tickets. Sometimes the news will give you a clue: stories that fewer travelers were coming to the US in 2018 were reflected in weak ticket prices, so we didn't see significant price increases in the first three months we were tracking prices. We did, however, lock in those prices about 4 months before we left.