How to Get the Best Flight Deal to Europe
Many of our readers have posed questions to us related to how to get the best flight deal to Europe. Other FAQs include which European cities are best to fly into and when the best time is to buy tickets to Europe. Well, we’ve made an honest attempt to gather some all-encompassing answers from some of the most knowledgeable individuals on the subject. We went out and spoke with 5 travel industry experts and bloggers and asked them how to go about getting the best flight deal for travel to Europe. Through a kaleidoscope of viewpoints, there seems to be one bottom line…
Timing, Flexibility and Clever Travel Planning is Key…
Keri Anderson of Boarding Area’s Heels First Travel
Be flexible on dates and locations and start tracking flights now!
If you want to get the most bang for your buck, be willing to sacrifice the perfect itinerary and weather. Travel during the shoulder seasons (April through mid-June and September & October) and be willing to fly into any of the major European airports — London, Paris, Milan, etc — and take a low-cost carrier like RyanAir or EasyJet to the cities at the top of your list.
And let the fares determine your dates, be willing to jump as soon as you find something in your budget. You can use Google Flights to see the cheapest fares for several months and see less expensive options at nearby airports. And/or follow sites like Airfarewatchdog, The Flight Deal, Fare Deal Alert, and Exit Fares to be notified when great sales pop up.
I actually don’t suggest using miles, unless it’s using 17.5K Virgin Atlantic miles each way to get to London from the East Coast during peak times. Otherwise it’s usually an exorbitant number of miles with limited dates and you have to pay taxes and fees. For instance, an economy saver award ticket to Europe is 40-60K miles plus $400 in taxes and fees.
If people are earning most of their miles based on credit card spend, they’d probably be better off with a cashback card that earned at least 1%. For the trip above they’d have $400-$600 + what they would have spent on taxes and fees to travel on the dates they want.
Lori Zaino, Madrid-based European Correspondent for ThePointsGuy.com & Life and Style Madrid
Depending on what airport you plan to fly out of, get a co-branded card that works with the airline that hubs there. For example if you live in ATL, go with Delta. If you’re near SFO, United. Make sure to check and see if you can also a get a credit card with transferable reward points that could help like the Chase Sapphire Preferred, one for Citi ThankYou Points and Amex Membership Rewards.
It’s good to diversify but if you know you plan to fly Delta you can go at it from all ends with a co-branded card. One that transfers to that program and then also use shopping portals as much as possible to rack up points for your ticket.
Travel at random times for deals. You probably won’t get good fares around Christmas and Summer and award availability may be scarce and pricey. Traveling in March, November, etc. can be great times to get to Europe and you can probably find off-peak awards too.
Daraius Dubash of MillionMileSecrets.com
Flexibility is key, keep an open mind to where you fly into.
Be flexible on both the location and date of travel. Can’t find flights to France? Well, there may be flights to Italy or other wine destinations.
European Travel Tip from Greig: Once you’ve arrived in Europe, keep in mind that many countries have high-speed trains that offer affordable and efficient access to a vast network of cities. Just because you were forced to fly into a country that may have been your second choice, don’t feel restricted and remember there are other ways to make it to your preferred destination on a budget.
Rene DeLambert of Boarding Area’s Rene’sPoints.com
Plan way ahead and use points to pay for 70-90% of the trip.
Also diversify (meaning leverage status, points and rewards program benefits to get the best deals for different aspects of your trip). When you can let points pay for air, hotel, car AND driving you are way ahead!
Why pay out of pocket when you don’t have to?
Chris McGinnis, former travel correspondent for BBC & CNN, current author of Travel Skills and travel advisor for SFGate
My #1 piece of advice would be to avoid the “peak of the peak” summer season if at all possible. Peak of the peak summer generally runs from June 15 through August 15. Squeeze in your trip before or after that and you’ll save 30% to 50% on dollars or miles spent. A lot of folks don’t realize that there are windows of opportunity in early June or late August… they think summer peak is the full 3 months of June, July and August.
Chris also notes that Summer 2016 may simultaneously be both the worst and best Summer in recent history to travel to Europe. Given the emotional state of the continent following the series of terrorist attacks by ISIS in Paris, Istanbul and now Brussels, he says advanced bookings to Europe are taking a hit. This is evident based on recent hotel occupancy (down 15-25%) in major European cities and significant drops in flight and hotel searches for Europe across major travel search engines.
It’s going to be the least expensive summer in recent memory.
Just as the industry was recovering from the Paris attacks, the U.S. State Department issued a warning for Americans traveling to Europe from now through mid-June. While Americans will likely take trips that are already booked, it’s less likely that they’ll book new trips to Europe until time heals those wounds and we see the return of some sense of security. It’s not just Americans who are skittish about European trips– the big Asian market, especially first-time Chinese travelers, are probably holding off, too.
Europe is likely going to be very inexpensive– even during the peak July-August period. Prices for everything from transatlantic airline tickets and hotel rooms to t-shirts and cappuccinos will decline significantly for two reasons: weak demand and the strength of the U.S. dollar. Currently the exchange rate is hovering at around $1.10 per euro, down from around $1.40 two years ago. A weak European economy means weak demand for transatlantic airline tickets from the other side of the pond– and that could translate into bigger airfare discounts for Americans. Plus there is new low-fare competition from the likes of Norwegian Air and WOW Air. Keep an eye on summer fare sales on transatlantic flights, which usually start this month- I predict we’ll see some very steep discounts. It could get easier to redeem frequent flyer miles on European itineraries, too.
John DiScala of JohnnyJet.com
One of my tricks is:
Buy two separate tickets to Europe.
If you are traveling to a secondary destination like Sardinia in Italy it might be wise to break up the trip up into two separate tickets. Several years ago, I needed to get from New York to Sardinia. When I priced out the tickets directly to Olbia (Costa Smeralda Airport), the airlines all wanted around $2,000 and I couldn’t afford that. I then figured out that by buying two separate tickets — the first to London on a major airline and the second to Olbia on a low fare carrier, I saved over $1,000! Just make sure to leave plenty of time between flights (preferably a day), because most low-fare carriers usually depart out of secondary airports. And don’t forget to pack light because they have crazy baggage fees.