Vacationing in Europe used to be a luxury for the super wealthy. Those days are over.
Scoring Cheap Flights to Europe
Keep in mind that the more flexible you can be on dates and destinations, the better deals you will find. This is ALWAYS the case with buying flights. Those three factors are inextricably linked. Keep in mind that once you get to Europe, you’ll have access to trains, buses, car shares, and discount airlines galore.
Here are the Indie Travel Guru’s top 5 tips for getting a great fare across the pond.
Check Norwegian’s Deals Page
Norwegian Airlines’s low-cost fares will blow your mind, like their new service to Barcelona for as little as $189 each way.
To find the deals, go to norwegian.com, tell them you’re in the US, and then find the link that says “Show all destinations” under the heading “Good deals for you.”
Bam! Once you’re chosen your departure airport, you’ll see a whole list of destinations and some incredibly appealing prices (especially in winter, which is the cheap season for flying transatlantic). Don’t get too excited. Those are best-case one-way fares that don’t include a checked bag (although they do include all the fees and taxes that some carriers leave out of their advertised rates). Mentally add about $30 for your luggage and double the prices you’re seeing (which might be as low as $199 or even less!) to get a more realistic round-trip fare.
Pro tip: The default listing is “direct only”. If you’re willing to make a stopover, change that to “Both direct and transit” to get the most complete listing.
WOW Airlines is Winning Everything
The latest entry in the trans-Atlantic price wars is Iceland-based WOW Airlines, and they offer a one-two punch of fabulosity that will blow your mind. Pull up the website and you’ll immediately see one-way prices to places like Berlin and Paris from WOW’s US hubs in Boston and DC for super low prices. (At the time of this writing, I’m seeing $165–225). The prices include all taxes and fees, but only include one VERY small carry on bag (5kg or less). Upgrading to a large carryon will jump your rate by $48, and a checked bag can run nearly $70. So again, add at least $50 to the rates you’re seeing and then double them for round trip pricing. It’s still less than you thought you’d pay for a flight to Europe, right?
The other thing WOW offers, like other Icelandic airlines, is a free stopover in Reykjavik for up to five days. In fact, all Iceland-based flights have a layover in Reykjavik, so you might as well stay for a couple of days. Iceland is a country of frozen tundra over fiery lava, settled by Vikings and bedazzled by the Northern Lights. What’s not to love about that?
Super Flexible Search Tool
There are dozens of flexible flight planning tools on the web, including Google Flights and Skyscanner. Every traveler has a favorite, and mine is Kiwi.com (formerly Skypicker). Remember the rule that the more flexible you are on your destination and dates, the better deals you’ll get? This is a power tool for people who have total flexibility and want to know all the possibilities, but it’s also useful if you have a date range and destination in mind.
Open up the Kiwi website, set your departure airport, and start exploring. Try setting a range of dates for departure and a range of days for the length of your trip and see where the deals are. Set a destination and zoom in our out on the map to get prices to everything in that region. It’s a very powerful search engine that can generate almost infinite possibilities for you with just a few clicks.
Pro tip: Once you’ve found the cheapest combination of dates to a destination, try plugging that information into Expedia and into the airline’s own website, just to see if there are even better deals available.
Go Old School
It seems almost quaint now to use self-service travel agency websites like Expedia, but they’re still hard to beat. Once I find a magic combo of dates and destination on any of the above sites, I run it through Expedia and I often save $100 or more buying through Expedia. Why? Because they buy flights in bulk to resell, so they’re getting “warehouse pricing” on flights. If you’re buying round-trip tickets, you can also add on a hotel for your whole trip or just for the first night or two. At the very least, I can usually get a couple of free hotel nights this way, and at surprisingly nice hotels. Occasionally I’ve gotten the airfare AND hotel for less than the cost of the flight elsewhere.
I stick with Expedia because I’ve had good customer service experiences with them, and I love having all my itineraries in one place where I can find them. But there are other online agencies, like Orbitz and Travelocity, that are worth checking into as well.
There may be a place for a local travel agency in your planning. I don’t use them because I’m a nomad so the internet is my “local,” but you might want to see what they have to offer before you make your purchase.
Hit the Deal-Hunting Sites Early
Sign up for newsletters from Travelzoo, Groupon Getaways, and Travelation well before your trip. You’ll quickly learn what kinds of special rates are “typical” to your destination, so you’ll recognize a great deal when you see one. And you may just snatch a super bargain through the site, too.
Bonus Tip: Ground Transportation in Europe
The idea of a Eurail pass is romantic, but it isn’t always the best way to get around. Single train tickets, buses, ferries, low-cost airlines, and car shares are often a better deal. Use Rome2Rio.com or download the Rome2Rio app to quickly explore all your options. Rome2Rio can instantly connect you with websites where you can buy train, bus, and ferry tickets. (Note that the airfares given by the site are meaningless unless you put in travel dates. Ground transportation prices tend to be stable, though.)
Do you have a favorite tip for getting cheap flights to Europe? Please share it below!