As we’ve been starting to book our 2018 travel in earnest, I’ve been asked a couple times lately about how I find cheap flights within Europe. Today, I thought I’d talk about that here. I don’t pretend to be an expert — frankly, I think I pour more time into searching options than most reasonably can — but I want to share what works for us all the same.
For us, the most important thing we’ve learned to do in our hunt for cheap flights is to GET CREATIVE. Because our home airport is fairly small compared to big hubs like Rome or Milan, there aren’t as many options to choose from. As such, I’ve gotten into the habit of looking into a lot of possibilities. I generally ask myself the following questions if I can’t find a cheap flight from Catania:
- Is it feasible to fly from a different airport? Comiso, about an hour south of us, sometimes has options. We’ve also chosen twice to buy a ticket to Rome, then bought a separate ticket to get to the United States from there as flights from Rome are often so much cheaper and require fewer stopovers. I’ve considered doing this for times when there aren’t good options to get to a place I’d like to go, like Portugal.
- Is it feasible to fly into a different airport? Can I fly into Trieste instead of Ljubljana?Rome instead of Florence? Munich instead of Salzburg? Some airports are cheaper than others, and if the difference is big enough it can make sense to take a train or drive a couple hours to the destination from the cheaper airport.
I recently spent
way too much a lot of time trying to decide how to get to Scotland next year after determining the straight-forward Catania to Edinburgh routes were all either out of our price range or involved obnoxious long layovers. Some alternatives I considered included: a) flying into London and taking the overnight train, The Calendonian Sleeper, to Edinburgh or Inverness, b) flying into London and taking flights into Edinburgh and out of Aberdeen (tempting at $25 and $13 each), c) flying into Manchester, England, and driving four hours to Edinburgh or d) flying into Milan, then taking a direct flight to Edinburgh.
Option B was almost the winner, being surprisingly cheaper than the train option, but we ultimately chose to go waaaaay out of the box and combined our Scotland trip with our hoped-for trip to Berlin next summer. We’ll be flying directly to Berlin, spending a few days there, then flying direct to Edinburgh for $42 round trip each.
One word of caution: Make sure you do the math ahead of time and be very certain that a) you are actually saving money after paying for train or bus tickets and b) the savings are big enough justify the hassle that will come with going this route. Also, verify that your planned transportation matches up timewise; I was really into the sleeper train idea, for instance, but because of the timing we’d have had to spend more time than we wanted to in London to make it work.
Beyond that, I have a few more pieces of advice:
1. Set up flight alerts. If you have even the vaguest idea of going somewhere, I suggest setting up a Google flight alert on those particular dates and routes — plus the days immediately around when you want to travel. I currently have 37, many for different locations on the same weekends. It can be a little maddening during times when it seems like prices are constantly going up, but this way if an irresistible deal crops up you’ll be ready to pounce.
2. Sign up to get emails from all the low-budget carriers, and follow them on Facebook. It can clutter up my inbox a bit, but getting emails from low-cost carriers like Volotea, RyanAir and EasyJet ensures I’m aware when flights go on sale. These emails (and the flight alerts) also help me gauge what a good deal is; for instance, I’d like to go to the tiny republic of San Marino via the Ancona airport one weekend. Having seen Volotea tickets there for 30 euro before, I’m now waiting for them to come down to that again.
3. See a good fare? Swoop. The reason I’m waiting on those Ancona flights to come back down is because I didn’t swoop when I had the chance. Same goes for tickets to Amsterdam for the four of us for 270 euro in April (I’m honestly still kicking myself about that one). If you see a cheap fare, it is unlikely to last so make your decision fast.
4. Be flexible on your dates. If you need to go to a very specific place on very specific dates, there isn’t necessarily going to be a lot you can do to control the costs. If you are flexible with your dates, on the other hand, you’ll find you have more wiggle room. Consider flying late the night before you’d planned to go; it might be an extra night in a hotel room, but if you are traveling with the family that might cost less than a more expensive flight the next morning. Likewise, if you can squeeze out an extra day or two off work and fly home mid-week, you’ll tend to find things are a lot cheaper. Fridays and Sundays, in my experience, are the most expensive days to fly. Tuesdays and Wednesdays tend to be the cheapest, though Saturdays are also often reasonable.
5. Travel in shoulder season. Traveling in summer is generally going to be the most expensive option, but the weather can be just as nice and the crowds less bothersome if you choose to travel in the spring or fall.
I know that not all of these things are going to work for everybody, especially if you have limited time available because of work or the kids’ school. But if you have a more flexible schedule, going this route can help shave a lot of the transportation costs off a trip.* Happy hunting!
*Another possibility for saving money on transportation costs, of course, is also using credit card points to pay for it. I recently wrote an e-mail to a few friends about how a couple working together could get almost $1,500 in travel for $95 by just meeting the minimums on Chase Sapphire Preferred cards. I’ll probably post about that in the future, but if anyone wants any more information about that give me a shout and I’ll forward you the email.