How to find inexpensive European airfare

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Inexpensive European airfare is easier to find than you may realize. New airlines offer some great deals — but the best airfares we found came from an old-school travel resource many people overlook!

Before our trip, my husband and I explored several airfare options that could have worked for us. These may benefit you, regardless where you live. We discovered that the tools of a travel agent made our upcoming trip more affordable and less stressful. Plus, we booked on airlines we actually want to fly.

There are lots of routes to Europe! Which is best for you? Image: Erik Daugaard/Flickr Creative Commons

There are lots of routes to Europe! Which is best for you? Image: Erik Daugaard/Flickr Creative Commons

Strategy 1: Shop different airports.

Since we live in Hawaii, we usually book separate tickets: one from Kona to the West Coast, and continue on to Europe on a separate ticket. We priced fares to Europe from Los Angeles, San Francisco or Oakland, and Seattle.

How you may benefit from this strategy (even if you live in a city with nonstop service to Europe). San Diego and San Jose, two of the easiest cities for us to fly to from Hawaii, offer nonstop service to London. Unfortunately, only one airline offers this route at these cities. The lack of competition enables sky-high prices. For our dates,  tickets cost over $1,000. If you face a similar lack of competition at your nearest airport, look into alternatives. You might want travel to an airport with more competitive fares, whether by flying between cities via a cheap Southwest ticket, or by train or car.

Strategy 2: Consider the “new” ultra-low cost airlines.

In the past couple of years, two new ultra-low cost carriers have started flying to Europe from many US cities. Norwegian Air and WOW both offer rock-bottom pricing to Europe. The advertised deals we saw intrigued us — especially since WOW is based in Reykjavik (the darling destination of the moment) and allows a “free” stopover. But when we looked at the fine print, the extra charges added up. Waaaay up.

WOW Air seems cheap, but once you add in the extra charges the price adds up. Photo: Oliver Holzbauer/Flickr Creative Commons

WOW Air seems cheap, but once you add in the extra charges the price adds up to make you say, “oh, wow!” Photo: Oliver Holzbauer/Flickr Creative Commons

Both these airlines charge extra for seat selection and luggage (WOW even charges for carry-on, other than a small “personal item”). We added up the costs for WOW, and with baggage charges for each segment, we would of paid approximately $500 each in luggage (round –trip). That made us say “wow” indeed.

Norwegian also has pricey baggage fees and even charges for a soda.  Don’t assume you can get away with oversize carry-on bags. In our experience European airlines enforce size and weight limits more strictly, especially on the return trip where the European airport staff tend to follow the rules.

How you may benefit from this strategy: If you are able to go to Europe with only a small carry-on, Norwegian may be a fit for you. I don’t see how WOW would ever be a good fit for most gay cruise passengers unless you can live out of a bag that fits under the seat in front of you — or shop the discount bins at H&M when you land. However, I do have gay friends who regularly travel the globe with only small backpacks, so it’s doable for some.

Strategy 3: Shop the traditional carriers online.

Using services like Kayak, Expedia, and the airlines own websites, we did find some decent prices. We found that Delta had the best pricing, (out of Seattle) for outbound flights to London. Getting back from Amsterdam was a bit trickier, but I still found it under $1,000.

How this strategy may work for you: If you like to be in total control of the booking experience, and like to “shop” for prices yourself, there are decent deals to be found.

Virgin view from the sky! Flying this carrier to Europe allows us to collect Delta Skymiles and more. Photo: muffinn/Flickr Creative Commons

Virgin view from the sky! Flying this carrier to Europe allows us to collect Delta Skymiles and more. Photo: muffinn/Flickr Creative Commons

Our pick

Strategy 4: Use a travel agent.

Before booking the fares I had found, I turned to my husband who works as a travel agent for a corporate agency.* With a few clicks in his old-fashioned system, he was able to find all sorts of routings and options that none of the consumer websites revealed.

Ultimately, he found us tickets outbound on Virgin Atlantic (nonstop to London) and KLM/Delta on the return to Seattle (via San Francisco), for $614 each, round-trip! Because we have the Delta American Express card, our baggage is free. These airlines allowed us to pre-book our seats, and they allow traditional carry-ons, and include meals onboard the long-haul flights. With some of the money we saved, we paid to “upgrade” to the exit row on Virgin Atlantic, and the premium economy cabin on KLM. We will also earn Delta SkyMiles for all flights—not such a big deal but still worthwhile.

How you can benefit from this strategy: Find a good travel agent who knows their way around airfare bookings. Some cruise-focused travel agents may also have expertise in airfare, but don’t assume it; ask lots of questions! While there may be a ticketing fee, or perhaps a membership fee, the experience we had of finding this exceptionally low fare on traditional carriers made it worthwhile.

There is an additional benefit: the time you will save. The hours I spent searching for “cheap” airfares to Europe could have been used for more fun activities. By the time I turned to my husband’s expertise, I was frustrated with my various choices. Within an hour, he had found and secured the tickets we ultimately booked.

Europe cruises have never been more popular—whether sailing the Danube on a river cruise, bobbing around the Med on a GaySail itinerary, or floating about the Baltic on a large ship, there’s something to appeal to every LGBT traveler. And now you have more ideas on how to get to the ship!

KLM 747 in air—this is how we’ll get home from Europe. Photo: Caribb/Flickr Creative Commons

KLM 747 in air—this is how we’ll get home from Europe. Photo: Caribb/Flickr Creative Commons

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*Note: My husband researched our travel on his own time. He did not receive compensation or commission, nor did he have access to discounts any good travel agent could not access. I promised to buy him fish and chips in London.

 

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