How to Fly to Europe for Cheap!
You see them nearly every other day. Another killer flight deal to Europe.
Ireland in the low $300’s! Italy from $425! These deals almost sound too good to be true!
Well, sometimes they are. Because those cheap flights typically only run one or two specific routes. So you’ve got to be lucky enough to live in New York or Boston to take advantage of these flash deals, right?
There has never been an easier or cheaper time to fly to Europe. Take it from me: we live near a semi-small airport in the middle of the country. If we can fly our family of 3 to Europe for cheap, then so can you!
How do we do it? For starters, LOTS of research. Followed by patience and flexibility.
Here’s how to make these flight deals work for you, so you can fly to Europe for cheap too!
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1. Be Flexible
I can’t stress this enough: if you want to fly to Europe for cheap, you’ve got to BE FLEXIBLE. This means not only in when you fly, but where.
Flight deals tend to be clustered. One airline starts offering a cheap flight to Ireland, and suddenly 6 others have piled on starting a fare war and driving down the price. This is great for you, the consumer, but not if you’ve got your heart dead-set on Paris this year. So keep an open mind, and go where the deals are.
As far as timing, I find that it’s not always just the time of year that changes things. The biggest discounts actually occur by flying certain low-traffic days of the week. For example, flying out on a Saturday (one day after most people are flying out to start their vacay’s on Friday), or flying back on a Monday (again, one day after most are returning), will save you big bucks. So if you can afford an extra vacation day or two, it’s most definitely worth it.
So how do you find where and when the cheapest time to fly to Europe is?
2. Follow Travel Sites on Social Media
First off, if you’re not following travel sites on social media, how will you know when these awesome deals to Europe pop up?
Personally, I use Facebook for my “cheap flight alerts” alerts. I follow pages like Airfare Watchdog, The Points Guy, Scott’s Cheap Flights and InsiderTravel – all great sources that love to advertise cheap flight deals to Europe!
When you let others do all the research for you, it makes it easy for you to just sit back and “watch and see”. I might have an idea of when I want to travel (say, in September), and then I’ll wait to see if any airlines are offering cheap fares to a city I’m interested in. And, trust me, right now there is no shortage of cheap flights to Europe! I regularly see flight deals in the $400’s to European cities like Rome, Barcelona, Dublin and London![irp]
3. Use a Flexible Search Tool for Overseas Flights
Once you know where the cheap deals are, it’s time to research these deals for yourself. Because pricing will vary by day of the week, or even time of day of the flight, you’ll want to vet these deals to see if they’ll really work for you.
You know those $49 one-way flights to Iceland? Yeah…they usually come with a $400 return flight. Still a great deal, but you can see why it’s important to get the full picture before committing to a certain destination.
The best way to get specific information on these deals is by using an aggregate search tool like Skyscanner. The thing I love about Skyscanner is it gives you so. much. FLEXIBILITY!
When searching Skyscanner, the first thing I do is forget about using my home city (Omaha, Nebraska), but instead check flights departing from popular East Coast hubs like New York City, Boston, or even Atlanta or DC.
For my destination, I can either choose a specific city I’m interested (say, London) or “Everywhere”, which will yield me results of all the cheapest places to fly to in Europe. I also love that you can search by an entire month. So, instead of having to pick exact travel dates (and just guessing as to which day will be the cheapest), Skyscanner will tell me exactly which dates will be the cheapest to fly back and forth on a particular route.
This tool has been invaluable in finding the very cheapest flights to Europe. For example, flying back to the US from Italy on a Tuesday saved us nearly half of what we would have spent to fly back on Monday. That’s insane!
4. Pay for Domestic Flights with Points
Ok, so you’ve found a great deal from New York to Rome, but you don’t live in New York. Now what?
Here’s where it’s time to start travel hacking.
Remember awhile back how I said we didn’t pay for any flights last year thanks to our travel rewards credit cards? Well, here’s where those start to come in handy!
First off, when it comes to flying domestically, we almost always fly Southwest. Not only do they have awesome customer service and offer a great experience, but they have the best reward value for frequent flyer points of any program we’ve experienced.
When you’re booking flights with Southwest points, the cost of a flight (in points) varies depending on the dollar value of the flight. Now, this may seem like common sense, but take United’s points system for example. With United, many one-way flights within the US will cost you a standard 25,000 points, no matter when or where you’re going.
With Southwest, you can opt to take a less desirable mid-day flight with a connection, and get to the exact same place for nearly half the points (we’ve even booked some one-way flights during fare sales for as little as 5,000 points. That’s madness!) Having this flexibility has allowed us to stretch our points much further and book way more flights in the long run.
Now you might be thinking, “That’s great, but I don’t fly enough to have Southwest points to spend.” Not a problem!
Because Southwest is a travel partner with Chase and their awesome travel rewards credit cards, you can transfer your Chase points (which you accumulate through everyday purchases) at a 1:1 ratio to your Southwest Rapid Rewards program. You never have to take a single flight, and you could still have enough points to cover your entire family’s flight from, say, Minneapolis to New York and back.
So if you don’t yet have a Chase Sapphire Preferred or Reserve credit card, I highly recommend getting either one today![irp]
5. Get Creative with Connections
Now, all this sounds pretty simple, but in reality, it takes a bit of creativity to make it all work.
There’s a reason why an Expedia search for a flight to Europe will yield results at $1000+. They’re picking options for you with the best possible flight patterns, minimal layover time, and from well-known full-service airlines.
Flying to Europe on the cheap is a little less glamorous.
First off, when you’re booking two separate itineraries, there’s a good chance the timing isn’t going to be perfect. You’ll want to allow yourself plenty of time in between flight connections so that you have a buffer for delays or long customs or security lines.
Sometimes, you might not even be arriving at and flying out of the same airport. For example, when we came back from Italy, we arrived at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. Southwest only flies out of the smaller Midway Airport.
But knowing we could fly Southwest back to Omaha using very minimal points, we wanted to make it work. So, we took an Uber from O’Hare to Midway to catch our flight for that last leg of the journey. Yes, our Uber driver told us we were crazy for doing so (especially on a 3 hour time crunch), but we were prepared to put up with a little extra stress (and risk missing our last flight!) for the savings it brought.
You might explore similar options at DC’s two airports (Reagan and Dulles), or more likely, NYC’s La Guardia, JFK, and Newark airports (which we’ll be doing this fall on our way to London!)
And don’t forget about exploring domestic European flights too. You can find similar cheap deals by traveling budget or regional airlines once you get to Europe.
Ryan Air and Easy Jet, in particular, offer a non-glamorous way of travel, but one-way tickets between some cities start as low as $20! So it may be worth it to get across the pond to a big hub like London, and then bounce out from there on a cheaper carrier. These budget airlines often fly out of smaller, lesser-known airports (like London Stansted or Berlin Schoenefeld), so be sure to search by city, not airport, and factor in any extra travel costs between airports.
5. Lay it All Out
Check What’s Included (and what’s not)
If you want to fly to Europe for cheap, you will get what you pay for. Many of the airlines offering deep discounts are doing so because there’s also a cut in amenities. You might see up charges for everything from checked luggage to food service to pillow and blankets.
Be prepared and do your research ahead of time so there are no surprises. Figure in any extra costs for checked bags or grabbing dinner at the airport. For us, these are in-flight luxuries we are willing to sacrifice for the sake of a good deal!
Go Carry On Only
Hopping around from airline to airline (or airport to airport) is also the main reason we have switched to traveling carry on only. Yes, even with a toddler!
We just don’t have the time (nor do we want to hassle with) having to pick up our luggage in between stopovers. So that means everything we bring is carried with us: from mine and Matt’s carry on luggage to Evelyn’s travel bed and super compact stroller. It means minimalizing a great deal (we only pack a few days worth of clothes and do plenty of washing on our trip), but it also relieves a lot of stress about wondering if all our things will make it to our destination with us!
It means minimalizing a great deal (we only pack a few days worth of clothes and do plenty of washing on our trip), but it also relieves a lot of stress about wondering if all our things will make it to our destination with us![irp]
Allow Yourself Plenty of Time
Again, you’ll want to allow plenty of buffer time between connections, especially if flying multiple airlines. This has meant some extra long layovers and long travel days, but it’s all worth the extra wait time when Europe’s on the other end.
This is where our Priority Pass, a program which allows you to access to hundred’s of airport lounges around the world and comes as a perk of the Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card, has been amazing for us. It was a Godsend on our 7-hour layover in Newark, having a quiet place to relax away from the chaos of a busy airport terminal.
P.S. If you’re interested in the Priority Pass but don’t have a Chase Reserve card, you can become a member at 10% off using this link!
Don’t forget that on your arrival in Europe, you’ll be sent through customs, even if you’re just connecting. These lines can literally take 10 minutes or 2 hours…and it’s hard to know how long you’ll need in advance. The good news is you can almost always alert the customs agents if you’ve got a tight connection, and they’ll let you cut the line. Nonetheless, plan some extra time so you’re not stressing!
Figure in Extra Travel Costs
Lastly, all this running around takes not just extra time but extra money too. If you’ll have to Uber between airports, or if you’ll be landing in an airport that’s farther outside the city center, be sure to figure in those extra travel costs ahead of time.
6. Book it!
Once you’ve laid everything out and have a plan you feel comfortable with, it’s time to get it booked! This part always makes me so nervous, especially when booking a bunch of different flights at once.
When booking our domestic flights (Southwest), we always book directly through the airline’s website (by default we have to, since Southwest fares are not available on other aggregate websites). It’s better this way though: it’s much easier to make changes to your itinerary and complete special requests like those for child fares if you’ve booked directly with the airline.
For long-haul flights, we may either book through our Chase Ultimate Rewards portal or through the airline directly. When you book flights with Chase, your point values are worth 1.5 times more, so it makes more sense to book through them and use points if you have them. However, some budget airlines (like Norwegian) are not options through Chase, so for those cheap flight deals, we book directly through the airline’s website as well.
We always, always use our Chase Sapphire Reserve credit card to pay for our travels, no matter which website we’re booking through. This gives us extra travel insurance in case of canceled flights, lost luggage, etc., and also earns us 3x points on our travel purchases (more saving for the next trip!).
So here’s the bottom line. Flying to Europe for cheap can be tricky, especially if you don’t live in a big city like NYC or Chicago, but it is possible to take advantage of those flight deals with a little patience, persistence, and flexibility. You will get what you pay for. You’ll have to work a little harder to get there. But at the end of the day, you can fly to Europe for a few hundred dollars, even from Omaha, Nebraska!
What’s the cheapest flight you’ve ever scored to Europe?
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