It’s exciting to see another part of the world, and Europe is full of history and culture that’s well worth the long trip. But with high airfares compared to most domestic flights, Europe can often feel out of reach. Still, you shouldn’t rule out Europe as a potential budget vacation, since there are proven strategies you can use to find cheap flights.
In the past five years, I’ve booked three trips to Europe and paid less than $500 for round-trip airfare each time. It takes a bit of research, strategy, and patience, but I’m confident that you, too, can travel to Europe on the cheap. Here are the travel tactics I recommend, including using the right credit cards:
Book in advance
Prices tend to rise in the last three weeks before a departure date, so it’s best to book in advance, especially when traveling internationally. CheapAir’s annual study of 917 million airfares revealed that the best time to buy a flight to Europe is 200 days in advance. But you can find deals throughout the prime booking window, which is between 59 days and 10 months ahead of time.
Book on Sunday
Skyscanner analyzed data from last year’s bookings and found that the cheapest time to buy an international flight is on a Sunday at six in the morning. But this isn’t a hard-and-fast rule. I like to check the prices each day in the weeks before I plan to book, since you can sometimes see patterns in when the prices rise and fall for your destination.
Fly on Tuesday or Wednesday
CheapAir’s annual study also found that Tuesday, followed closely by Wednesday, is the cheapest day to fly on average. You should still check flight prices using a tool such as Google’s Flight Calendar to find the best price, since this is just a guideline, but know that it’s generally going to be less expensive to fly in the middle of the week.
Travel during off-peak months
July is peak season for traveling to Europe, so you’ll pay a premium if you choose to go in the middle of the summer. February is the cheapest month to travel to Europe but might not be the most desirable time to go, given weather conditions. You can also find great deals on flights to Europe in the fall and spring. Pay attention to festivals, sporting events, and other attractions that could drive up the price of a flight to your destination in certain months.
As an added bonus, if you travel during off-peak times, you won’t be surrounded by crowds of tourists, and you’ll find cheaper accommodations as well.
Choose less popular airports for arrival and departure
Some airports are more expensive on average than others. If you have a couple of choices of airports near you, be open to traveling a bit further to the smaller or less popular one, since you might find lower airfares.
You should also check multiple airports near your destination for the best deals. Just make sure you account for the added cost of train, bus, or rideshare transportation to your destination when determining the total price of your trip. When traveling to London, for example, you might find cheaper flights to Gatwick than Heathrow, and there are express trains from both airports that take you to the city.
Be flexible about arrival and departure times
Prices can vary greatly depending on the time of day you fly. To get the best price, be open to any departure and arrival times. Remember you can sleep on the plane no matter what time you’re flying — just be sure to pack a cozy neck pillow in your carry-on bag.
Get comfy with layovers
You might find that a flight with a long layover is significantly cheaper than a direct flight. If you think saving several hundred dollars is worth several extra hours of your time, go for the layover option. Then, to make your layover more pleasant, get a credit card with travel perks, such as airport lounge access. Plan to enjoy a meal at the airport, and bring entertainment or work with you if you’ll have a lot of time on your hands.
Hop around Europe
While getting overseas is expensive, flying from one European country to the next is actually quite cheap; fares are frequently less than $50. It’s a great strategy to find the cheapest flight to any European city and then hop on a plane to your dream destination.
Here’s an example of how it works. Let’s say you want to book a trip from Los Angeles to Rome in October. The cheapest round-trip flight we could find (as of August 2019) was $731. But a round-trip flight from Los Angeles to London cost just $395 for the same dates, and a round-trip flight from London to Rome within that time was as low as $66. That means you could save $270 on your trip to Rome just by stopping in London. The best part? You’d get to visit two incredible cities for less than the cost of one.
You can also opt to book the cheapest one-way flights you can find to and from Europe and travel in between those cities. Depending on how long of a vacation you want to take, you may be able to knock several cities off your bucket list for one low cost.
Do flight searches on multiple search engines
Google Flights is a great place to start looking, since the calendar and map are handy tools to find the best deals. But you should also take a look at sites like Expedia and even European sites like eDreams to locate the best deals. You can check an airline’s website directly, too. Just make sure you use a credit card with no foreign transaction fees if you’re booking in a different currency.
Set up price alerts
If you’re planning far enough in advance, you can set price alerts on apps and websites that will notify you when the price for your itinerary drops. If you find a great price, don’t push your luck and keep waiting, since fares might increase again as you get closer to your travel date.
Here are some tools you can use:
Check baggage policies
Know what you’ll need to bring with you and be sure to account for baggage costs in the total cost of your flight. While most international flights include carry-on baggage, checked bags are almost always extra. Review the policies and prices for your airline before booking.
Use your points and miles
If you’ve racked up enough points on one of the best travel credit cards, you may even be able to book a free trip to Europe! And if you’re a Chase Ultimate Rewards cardholder, you can use some sleuthing to stretch your Chase points even further.
Should you find a great deal on a travel website, you can often replicate it in the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal by inputting the same dates. And if you have a premium card, like the Chase Sapphire Preferred or Chase Sapphire Reserve, your points could be worth 25% or 50% more when you use the card to book a trip through the portal. The best part is that there are no blackout dates, and any flight available for cash via the portal can also be purchased with points.
So, where are you flying to?
With some patience, planning, and flexibility, you can find some seriously cheap flights to Europe worth bragging about. And if you’re not booking your travel with points, be sure to use your trusty travel rewards card to make your flight purchase so you can earn points toward your next trip!