Dreaming of a summer trip to Europe? If so, here's the bad news: So is everyone else. Thanks to warm temperatures and school vacations, summer flights to Europe are in high demand -- and priced accordingly. But here's the good news: Relatively reasonable rates are available for travelers willing to take the time to seek them out.
With a little research and flexibility, you could save several hundred dollars on the price of a ticket. In addition to the following tips, the best advice we can offer is this: If an airline does happen to cut prices or offer a discount this summer, don't sit on it and wait for an even better fare. Whip your credit card out of your wallet and grab that deal.
1. Travel in late summer.
Aside from the rare last-minute bargain, airfares nearly always go up as your travel date approaches. As we noted in Want the Lowest Fare? Here's When to Book, the best time to purchase Europe flights is at least three months in advance -- so the later in the summer you can travel, the better.
Another reason fares are lower in late August: Many students and teachers are headed back to school, making for slightly lower demand.
2. Be super-flexible.
Unless there's a specific and unchangeable reason why you have to be in Europe on a certain day, be flexible on your travel dates. Use a flight search site such as Kayak or TripAdvisor Flights and select the "flexible travel dates" option. For example: When I searched for a flight from New York to Paris during the first two weeks of July, the difference between the lowest and highest prices was $271.
However, keep in mind the additional costs that may come along with an earlier departure or later return. Will you have to pay for additional hotel nights and meals, for example? Do the math to determine if leaving earlier or returning later would be worth it -- or if an earlier-than-planned return home would save you even more money.Top 25 Ways to Save on Europe Travel
3. Fly on a weekday.
For the aforementioned New York-to-Paris flight, the lowest-priced flight was on a Tuesday. Midweek flights tend to be cheaper across the board. Aim for Tuesday or Wednesday departures and returns.
4. Fly to a gateway city.
This rings especially true if you're planning to go to Central or Eastern Europe -- flying to Western European cities tends to be much cheaper, and then you can connect with flights on one of dozens of European discount airlines. (Learn more about international discount airlines.)
London especially is one of the most affordable hubs in Europe, with a plethora of no-frills airlines -- easyJet and Ryanair among the longest-running, most popular and best priced. Frankfurt and Amsterdam are two others.
Let's say you're planning to spend a week in Poland. Flights from Boston to Krakow in mid-July are priced at $1,172 including taxes and fees, but flying from Boston to London on the same dates is only $793. Using Skyscanner.net -- the best website to aggregate flights on Europe's discount airlines -- we turned up a rate of $105 roundtrip for Ryanair flights between London and Berlin (and that's expensive for Ryanair; we've seen rates as low as 20 bucks!).
Of course, there are a few caveats. Flights from the United States usually land at London's Heathrow International Airport, while Ryanair flies out of Stansted Airport 65 miles away -- so you'll have to connect via shuttle bus and plan on extra travel time. And the budget airlines tend to have much stricter luggage weight limits and smaller maximum sizes for carry-on bags than the big airlines.
5. Consider nearby departure airports.
As in the tip above, maybe it's worthwhile to consider other airports besides the one closest to your house. Could you save a hundred dollars by driving to Montreal for your departure instead of flying out of Ottawa?
6. Shop around.
Don't just visit one booking site such as Expedia or Kayak and call it a day. Such sites can be a useful starting point to get an overview of which airlines fly your intended route, but you should also check individual carrier websites as well as lesser-known sites such as Vayama.com (which specializes in international flights) and Momondo.com (an aggregator site that Frommer's recently deemed "the best place to find the cheapest airfares every single time").
7. Sign up for special alerts.
You probably already receive the weekly email blasts and special offers that airlines send out, but don't expect miracles from them; so many people receive them that it can be hard to nab a deal when it's available. Better yet is to track your desired flight paths through sites like FareCompare.com or Kayak.com.
8. Follow Twitter feeds.
Things change at a moment's notice in the fast-paced, algorithmically driven business of determining airfare, and Twitter is a good place to keep up with it. A few feeds we've been following lately to monitor airfare include: @airfarewatchdog (our sister company), @traveldeals, @farecomparedeal, @SecretFlying and @TheFlightDeal. (While you're at it, don't forget to follow IndependentTraveler.com on Twitter too!)
The operators of some Twitter feeds, like @airfarewatchdog, will even answer your specific travel questions, including suggesting routes and confirming if you've really found a good deal.
9. Buy a package deal.
Package deals that include lodging and/or rental cars can often save you money over purchasing all the elements of your trip individually, especially if you're flying into and out of different cities.
For example, a nine-night trip to Eastern Europe, including New York-to-Prague and Budapest-to-New York flights, nine nights' hotel, breakfast, train fare between cities and hotel taxes, starts at $1,309 per person through EuropeanDestinations.com. The flight alone costs $932 per person on Expedia; nine nights' worth of hotel accommodations would easily add up to more than $754 ($377 per person), even before you factor in train fare or breakfast.
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--written by Elissa Leibowitz Poma
Editor's Note:IndependentTraveler.com is published by The Independent Traveler, Inc., a subsidiary of TripAdvisor, Inc., which also owns Airfarewatchdog.com.