Even with falling oil prices, flights to Europe from the US are still really expensive. It often seems like there’s no way around it. That’s where we come in. Our main expertise might be hotels, but we also know our way around low-cost airlines.
This past fall I was able to nab a fantastic deal on a flight to London from New York JFK for less than $300. Sound impossible? With a little bit of planning, a few hours of online searching, and a willingness to be flexible with your schedule and traveling habits, you could easily score the same kind of deal.
Wow! Airlines offers $99 flights to Europe
Norwegian offers $240 flights to Europe
Here are a few tips to help you get started:
The big players in the flight search industry like Kayak, Expedia and Hipmunk are essential tools to finding good prices on flights. Spending a few minutes on each can’t hurt and is a great way to get the lay of the land. Be sure to check out EuroCheapo’s flight search, too, as it’s powered by Momondo.com and offers some surprising deals through smaller European carriers.
But don’t forget to check out the official airline websites, as well. The rates might be the same that you’ll find on meta-search engines, but they offer cool features to help you find less obvious deals. For example, Norwegian has a helpful fare calendar where you can quickly scan through a few months of schedules to find the cheapest trips. Wow! Air shows a few days at a time, and you can scroll back and forth to see cheap flights around the date you chose.
Spend some time getting to know your low-cost carrier’s online home, and you’ll be well on your way to finding a great deal.
This might be the most important tip here. Make sure to start your search well in advance of your potential travel times. And we don’t mean a few weeks—try to reserve your tickets at least two or three months out or even earlier.
For example, if you want to fly to London in January or February of 2015, flights are still available on Norwegian for as low as $249 each way. However, if you want to head over in spring when things warm up, you’d be wise not to wait on booking those seats. As of December 8, 2014, you can still find one-way flights to London in May for as little as $248. That’s a fantastic deal for a late spring vacation to Europe, but you can bet that those prices won’t last long. Snag them now.
Granted, as a freelance writer, I had greater flexibility when planning my trip. However, even a little flexibility can usually go a long way when it comes to hunting down airline deals. Flying mid-week, for example, can almost always save you a $100 or more over weekend ticket prices–so if you can take an extra vacation day, go for it.
This doesn’t just mean that you have to leave midweek. For example, for my recent three-week jaunt around Europe this past fall, my plan was to start in London, and then hit Paris and Amsterdam on the way to a final week in Berlin for the Fall of the Wall 25 celebration. This gave me plenty of options when choosing my flights, as I could shuffle the order of the cities visited to find a deal. With a bit of patience, I was able to find a flight from NYC to London for a great price on Thursday night, getting into Gatwick on a Friday morning—just in time for the weekend!
We’ve talked about the stringent policies of these new budget carriers before in our recent article about $99 flights on Wow Air. But we’ll stress it again for any newbies to low-cost flying culture: Checked bags, meals, and even seat reservations can (and usually do) cost extra.
Fortunately, the price you’re shown on screen almost always includes taxes and airport fees. However, in almost all cases, the first fare you see is just the bare-bones flight. If you really need an aisle seat or plan on checking a bag, you’ll have to fork over some extra money.
Sometimes package deals on perks can be found. For example, Norwegian often bundles a seat reservation, meals and a checked bag into one fee. But this can still reach $50 or more, so a true Cheapo will go for the basic fare and pack lightly, bring along a sandwich or two and not mind where they end up sitting on the plane.
Here’s how much I paid for my ticket from New York JFK to London Gatwick on Norwegian Air. I flew on October 23rd on an overnight trip and booked the ticket in late July, almost exactly three months out. Cost of the ticket (including taxes and fees) was $298, but I opted to upgrade for an extra $50 to get two meals (including wine), a seat reservation (I love my window seats) and checked baggage to see if this experience was worth it. In the end, the food was only mediocre and I didn’t really need to check my bag, but I still enjoyed having the peace of mind that I wouldn’t be stuck in a middle seat or go hungry. It was nice to kick off my trip with a few extra perks, and a couple glasses of wine on your way to Europe never hurts!
Checked bag, seat reservation and food/drink: $50
Total cost: $348