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How to Find Cheap Flights to Europe

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Many people dream about spending a vacation in Europe, but fear that such an expensive undertaking may be out of reach for them. Actually you do not necessarily have to spend a fortune on your dream vacation in Europe. It really can be done on a tight budget as well, however, with careful planning and an extra effort to reduce transportation expenses as much as possible. Flying to Europe can be as inexpensive as flying almost anywhere else within the country if you keep the following tips in mind.

1. Travel during off peak time

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First of all if the time of year is not important to you, try to travel off season. Airlines base their fares on the following system: high season is in the summer when most people travel, then comes fall, shoulder season, and then winter season is from November to the end of March (except Thanksgiving and Christmas time). Lowest fares means lowest amount of travelers. You will find flights to Europe much cheaper during the winter months than you will during the summer. If you are concerned about sightseeing during this time, don’t worry as there is actually a lot to do in Europe during the fall and winter as well, with all of the wonderful wine festivals, skiing and so on. Another recommendation is, if at all possible, to schedule your plans around holidays, and not on them. The airports are at their busiest during holiday weekends such as Thanksgiving or Christmas. If you can depart for your destination even two weeks earlier, you could save a lot of money on airfare. The end of May is typically the start of a high travel season. This means a person traveling in early May could spend hundreds of dollars less on airfare then someone traveling just a few weeks later. Also, traveling close to the end of May excludes most low airfares from spring airfare sales, so an airline ticket to Europe in late May for between $500 and $600 will be actually a really good deal.

2. Be flexible

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The best approach to finding cheap flights to Europe is to be as flexible as you can with scheduling your travel dates. If you can keep some leeway in your schedule, then you will have the ability to book cheap flights to Europe if they are offered on certain days of the week. If you use an online airline ticket booking system, you may already know that the airfare can drastically decrease if you leave just one day earlier than you had planned. The opposite can also happen. You might find that extending your stay from a Sunday to a Monday, for example, could save you several hundreds of dollars for an entire family. Check different days and times. If your travel dates are flexible, check out Orbitz flight matrix first to see what days have the best deals. Once you know which dates are cheaper, try those same day combinations on the other sites.

3. Book early

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Book your flights as early as you can. Both domestic and international flights have airfares that steadily increase as the travel date approaches the booking date. Try to book your flights at least 30 days before your planned departure for international flights, and at least two to three weeks early for domestic flights. Start comparing prices just a few months in advance of the time you plan to travel, if possible. Of course, there is some risk involved, but if you book too far in advance, you may miss out on seat sales, but if you book too late, you may have to pay a much higher fare. You still have to make comparisons and move boldly when a deal presents itself. The best strategy is to book the best-value, fully-refundable fare early, then continue looking for something better to come up.

4. Search the major online travel agencies that offer international fares

Make sure to compare prices at all big travel websites such as Travelocity, Cheap Tickets, Orbitz and Expedia. You will find that their discounts will usually be much cheaper than what you can get on your own. After running a search on Orbitz, you can sign up for a service that will notify you once a flight that meets your target price becomes available.

5. Check the airlines websites

If you have found a flight you want on a booking engine like Orbitz or Travelocity, you can check if the same exact flight is offered on the airline own website as sometimes it’s better to buy directly from the airline itself. Often the best deals are offered directly by airline websites. In some cases you will have to sign-up with the airline and they will notify you via e-mail of hugely-restricted but incredibly cheap specials a few days before the flight. These include United, Southwest (the U.S. low-fare and efficiency leader)), Air France, BMI, KLM, Lan Airlines, Lufthansa, Swiss International Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic, Delta and Alaska Airlines. Check which airlines serve your destination country and run searches on individual airline sites.

6. Keep checking

Remember that cheap international plane tickets change from week to week, so if you can't find anything now, just try again in a week or so. It’s a good idea to check airfares often because prices do fluctuate all the time. Subscribe to Travelzoo Top 20, a weekly email alert that includes some of the best handpicked travel deals available during any given week, and check your email every Wednesday.

7. If you are a student, ask for a student discount

Check with the airlines and see if they have any special student discounts. Also you should check out Student Universe or STA Travel for discounted airfare. Almost every city that has a large college will have agencies that are set up just to handle special student discounts. If you are planning on traveling with a group, make sure you ask about group discounts. Most airlines will provide group discounts; however, they aren’t going to offer these cheaper prices unless you ask for them.

8. Check airfare prices from three nearest airports

Most sites have an option that lets you check nearby airports and, as a result, different airport combinations can yield very different prices. If your destination city has one or more major airports in the vicinity, look into the cost of the flights to the neighboring airports, but not only a city main airport. If the neighboring airport is a farther distance to the part of the city where you need to be, you can take a taxi for much cheaper than the flight would have cost. Even if you have a set departure city, it’s a good idea to check airfares from other major airports such as JFK and La Guardia, Atlanta, DFW, and O’Hare. There is a chance you can find a great deal to Europe and then find a low domestic airfare from your home airport to that departure city.

9. Check low cost transatlantic airlines

Some airlines can always be relied on to have the lowest transatlantic fares. There are exceptions, especially in summer, when the low-cost airlines work the law of supply and demand just like everyone else. So it is worth checking out the numerous low-cost airlines. Remember that many of the online travel search engines will not produce results from the smaller airlines and you may need to visit a number of different Web sites to find a wider variety of travel options.

10. Fly to gateway cities

Sometimes you can find the cheapest airfare to Europe by flying into a hub like London or Dublin and then transferring to a flight on a no frills airline to your ultimate destination. You can find dramatically low fares by flying the airlines that offer no frills flights. While you may not get a free cup of coffee on your flight, you will be happy knowing that you are paying the least amount possible for the trip. This can give you the flexibility of stopping over in the hub city for no additional cost and save you a considerable amount of money over flying direct, but you will be responsible if one airline causes you to miss a connection with a different airline.

11. Compare fares between various destinations before making your final decision

When planning your trip a good strategy is to look for cheaper flights into other cities or even countries. Traveling within Europe is very inexpensive by train. You may find that it is a lot cheaper to fly into Bologna and take a train to Venice than it would be to fly directly into Venice, for example. Or, if you find, for instance, that it is much cheaper to fly into Amsterdam than to Frankfurt and your final destination is going to be Frankfurt, you can save hundreds of dollars by flying into Amsterdam and taking the train the rest of the way. Not only will this save you a lot of money, but it will also make the trip a lot more fun.

12. Sign up for the e-mail newsletters that are offered by many airlines

Such e-mail newsletters will provide you with regular updates about seat sales, last-minute specials and service changes.

13. If you fly often, sign up for frequent flyer miles with each airline

Even if you book through a booking engine like Orbitz, you can still apply miles to that particular airline frequent flyer account. You might also find out about the opportunity to get a credit card (like the Delta Skymiles American Express) card that earn points every time you shop (many have double points for things you buy everyday). Those points tend to add up after a while and can be used to get upgrades or free flights.

14. If you need to book a flight to multiple cities, there are several strategies you can try

Most booking engines offer the opportunity to search flights using a “multi-city” or “3-way” option. You should try this first to get a baseline of prices. It’s also a good idea to break up the flight and look into airfares for one-way flights for each leg. You may find an attractive price on the main leg, but a high one on the connect. Try reversing the search, or book one leg at a time. And don’t forget to allow at least three hours between flights for international departures or changeovers. First of all, check Jetblue and Southwest for one-way tickets as these airlines treat all their flights as one-ways (even if you are booking round trip), so they often have very good prices. If you find that one of the legs of the flight is cheaper than the other, check Orbitz and Travelocity as a one way fare. This way you can book two separate flights using two separate sites and get the best deal on each one way flight. If you do book this way, make sure that each search was run within the last 10-15 minutes and book them close to the same time. You don’t want to take the chance that one reservation expires before you get a chance to book them both.

If you book a round trip ticket with an airline and do not make your first flight, you need to notify them if you are going to use the second half of the flight. Otherwise, they will cancel your entire ticket.

Some airlines will allow you to change your flight for around $50-100 to a different day if they have availability. So if you want to stay an extra day in New York City, it might only cost you $50 to extend your trip. Call the airline and talk to a customer service rep – they can often be rather accommodating.

15. Use the services of the travel agent

You may call a local travel agent to see if he or she can beat any of the fares you have found online. Sometimes travel agents will have access to international deals that are not available online. When booking through an agent, you should always specify that you want the lowest possible fare. Moreover, not every agent will be equally competent or motivated to find the cheapest ticket as the commission may not merit bothering much.

16. Do a lot of price-checking not only online, but by phone as well

Some airlines offer special discounts just for their online customers, while you may get the best deal on other airlines if you call and discuss all the fare options with a customer service representative.

17. Be bumped off the flight

Because airlines know that a certain percentage of passengers won’t be able to make their flight, they slightly overbook in order to maximize their revenues and operate more efficiently. Though sometimes the flight may be full and it may even happen that there are more passengers at the gate than seats in the airplane. In this case the airlines must deny boarding to some. Civilized airlines first ask for volunteers who, from the goodness of their hearts, are willing to give up their current seat for one on the next available flight. Since no one responds, they then offer a voucher for a free flight in addition to a seat on the next flight. They may also offer up to $500 cash. Bumping is more likely during high season, busy holidays, and on the weekends. If you want to be bumped, you should arrive early to put down your name at the top of the volunteer list, and don't check your bag.