Your plane ticket to Europe will likely be your biggest trip expense — and these days, there’s no such thing as a free lunch in the airline industry. (In fact there’s usually no lunch at all.) Because airlines offer fewer flights and sales, you’ll have to be on your toes to get the best deal. Before grabbing the cheapest ticket you can find, make sure it meets your travel needs with the best combination of schedule, economy, and convenience.
Where to Start
If you’re not using a travel agent, your first step is to research your options. While each airline has its own website, I prefer to begin my search with a site that compares my full range of choices.
Flight search engines compare fares available at multiple airlines, online travel agencies, or both, and then sort them by price. I’ve tested a number of them on a variety of journeys, both transatlantic and within Europe. Surprisingly, I’ve seen that the industry’s big sites — like Travelocity and Expedia — can miss good-value results that other sites turned up. Overall, Kayak has the best results for both intercontinental and intra-European flights on a combination of mainstream and budget carriers. (However, for cheap flights within Europe. Skyscanner has a slight edge.)
A couple of sites are better for flights to Europe than flights within Europe, and some nice features make their results easier to navigate. Hipmunk has a lively interface (with a cheery cartoon chipmunk) and a helpful timeline display of available flights, including layovers, to give you an at-a-glance rundown at your options (with an “agony” rating for each). Vayama specializes in international flights, and often finds cheaper fares that might not show up elsewhere — but beware that its customer service doesn’t have a stellar reputation for handling cancellations and changes.
Booking Your Flight
While it’s possible to book your flights on most search sites (they certainly hope you will, to garner their commission), I use them only as a first step. Once I’ve zeroed in on which airline has the best deal for my trip, I check the airline’s own site to compare fares. You can avoid third-party service fees by booking direct, and airlines may offer bonuses (such as extra frequent-flier miles) to those who book direct.
On the other hand, search sites occasionally beat the fares on the airline’s official site, sometimes by using “mix and match” journeys to connect the legs of a single trip on multiple airlines. (However, these trips can be difficult to rebook in case of a delay or missed leg — review the schedule carefully, watching out for very tight connections or extremely long layovers.)
For maximum peace of mind, it can be best to book directly with the airline, which can more easily address unexpected problems or deal with rescheduled flights. If you do wind up buying tickets through a third-party site, make sure you carry their phone number with you — you’ll need to speak to a person if you have a problem.
Buy your tickets at the right time (to the extent possible). Airfares flex like crazy, but in general it’s wise to start looking for international flights four to five months before your trip, especially if you are traveling in spring, summer, or fall. Good deals on travel during winter (November through March), can usually be purchased a month or so in advance, with the exception of winter breaks and holidays, which require even earlier booking. Year-round, it’s generally cheaper to book midweek.
All that said, knowing the best time to buy is still a guessing game, though you can improve your chances by taking advantage of some tech tools. Google’s Flight Explorer shows the best prices to your destination in an easy-to-read graph, which you can tailor to your time frame. Several search sites, including Kayak and Expedia. offer similar price-trend graphs.
Be ready to buy. Given how erratic airline pricing can be, you want to be ready to pounce on a good fare when you see it. Waiting to talk with your travel partner could cost you a good fare. As you delay, dates sell out and prices generally go up. Figure out in advance what constitutes a good fare, then grab it when you find it. Long gone are the days when you or your travel agent could put several different reservations on hold while you made a decision.
Consider flying into one city and out of another. Since it rarely makes sense to spend the time and money returning to your starting point, this can be very efficient. For most “multicity” flights, the fare is figured simply by taking half of the round-trip cost for each of those ports, though you’ll likely save money by using the same airline for each segment.
Be sure of your dates before you book. Changing or canceling your ticket can be very expensive, as airlines can be very aggressive about change fees, with most charging around $250 per ticket per change. Unexpected circumstances can happen to anyone, so understand your ticket’s change policies before you buy. (While nonrefundable tickets are cheaper and the most restrictive, even certain types of business and first-class tickets have penalties for changes.)
If you need to alter your return date in Europe, call your airline’s European office. If you absolutely must get home early, go to the airport: If you’re standing at the airport two days before your ticket says you can go home, and seats are available, they may just let you fly.
Pick a seat as early as possible. Most airlines let you choose your seat when you book, and most charge extra for roomier seats. If seat assignments aren’t available at booking, ask about the earliest possible date that you can call to request your seat (for example, 90 or 30 days before your flight) — and put it on your calendar. Larger or taller travelers may find it worth the extra cost for the extra legroom afforded by “Economy Plus” seats (or whatever your airline calls their intermediate class between Economy and Business). For pointers on which seats are best on specific airplanes, see SeatGuru .
Review your ticket information carefully when you book. Double-check your dates, times, destinations, baggage allowance, and exact spelling of your name. Confirm that the name on your reservation exactly matches the one on your passport, which can be an expensive hassle to correct later. A simple second look can give you a chance to fix any mistakes and save you enormous headaches down the road.
Here are some additional ideas for finding lower fares online:
Comparison-shop “air plus hotel” promotional deals. Some airfare aggregators and airlines offer “getaway” deals: For one low price, you get a round-trip flight to a European city as well as a few nights’ lodging. Given Europe’s high accommodations costs — especially in big cities — this can be a good value, though you can expect to be put up in a soulless business hotel.
Sign up for low-fare Twitter and/or email alerts. Many airfare search sites — as well as the official airline sites — will email and tweet automated updates about low fares for specific routes. Airfarewatchdog is a free service that does a particularly good job of finding the cheapest fares across multiple airlines (including those that don’t show up on most search sites), and limits their alerts to flights that actually have seats available. The similar FareCompare also tweets alerts specific to your home airport.
Consider budget European airlines. A few of Europe’s low-cost carriers have flights between the US and Europe; these don’t normally show up in the search results of most US-based airfare comparison sites. Check this list for carriers that serve your European destination, then find out if they serve any US airports. Be forewarned that passenger reviews of these carriers’ trans-Atlantic flights are mixed regarding their legroom, onboard services, and overall comfort — all of which are more important on a long overseas flight than a quick intra-European hop. Do your homework before committing to a lengthy flight on one of these carriers.
Use any scheduling flexibility to your advantage. At certain times — such as the point at which shoulder season turns into peak season (and vice versa) — shifting your flight by one day could save you hundreds of dollars. And consider that fares are generally a bit cheaper for travel Monday through Thursday than for weekends.
If your travel dates aren’t set, you may be able to score a great deal. Check out the take-what-you-can-get airfares from websites such as lastminute.com or Last Minute Travel. Airfarewatchdog and Travelzoo keep track of the latest deals (though Travelzoo lacks a flight-search function).
“Bidding-for-travel” sites like Priceline and Hotwire are also worth checking. But you’re just as likely to stumble upon deals on the airlines’ own websites — particularly if you sign up for their email alerts. Be aware that deeply discounted fares generally have serious restrictions; for example, you can’t always choose the time of day to fly. But the savings could make it worthwhile if your travel dates are flexible.
Plan a one-direction trip, such as London to Amsterdam to Madrid. Then buy an open-jaw ticket where you arrive in London and return home from Madrid.
Look into a surface-sector ticket if you’re traveling some of the legs of your trip via surface transport.
Icelandair has some great airfare deals if you fly via Reykjavik. Aer Lingus offers deals for flights to Europe via Dublin or Shannon.
Europe is well connected by planes, trains and buses. It is easy (and cheap) to take trips between major cities in Europe, especially if you start or finish in the UK, Ireland, Germany, or France—all countries where low-cost carriers fly extensive routes.
Trains run throughout mainland Europe and, since the Eurotunnel, also connect France to the UK. Check out www.raileurope.com for tickets and advice as well as interactive route maps.
Buses (coaches) are readily available and a much cheaper way of traveling. However, they are typically a lot slower and often more uncomfortable than trains. Eurolines is a good low-cost coach operator to check.
If you’re driving, consider renting a diesel. Diesels often get better mileage and are a great deal in countries that subsidize diesel. Drive on the left in Ireland and the United Kingdom, and keep the speed below 130 kmph (80 mph) on the Autobahn.
Even if you’re planning on traveling independently, check out tours as many (such as a 1-day city or 14-day country tour) can be combined with independent travel.
Why you should take a flight to Europe
For history, fine arts, winter sports, beach resorts, modern cities, and charming villages, book a flight to Europe. Whether you're heading to rich and sultry areas, or rough and rugged territory, travel around Europe is easy.
The changes in Europe's landscape and climate are as dramatically diverse as the attractions. Book cheap international flights to Europe during the hot, dry summers along the Mediterranean or experience the midnight sun in Scandinavia. Trips to Europe allow travelers to explore historical sites, museums, cities, country villages, or retrace your ancestry. Maybe you prefer shopping, lying on a beach, scaling a mountain, or backpacking through remote villages. Which is better, a remote chalet or a vibrant resort? Perhaps there’s a country you’ve always wanted to visit: England. France. Portugal. Spain. or Ireland. Or maybe you just want it all.
The possibilities are endless when you book airline tickets to Europe. Whether backpacking for a year or just popping over for a long weekend to soak in a thermal spa in Iceland or catch the theater in London, you’re bound to have an excellent time.
Mediterranean summers are hot and winters mild. In central and northern Italy and France, the climate is more temperate with humid summers and cold, damp winters. Spain and Portugal can be very hot and dry in summer, with cold and wet winters. Winter in Madrid and Spain’s high central region can be quite cold. Central Europe has a temperate climate with four distinct seasons. Summers are hot to warm and winters cold with temperatures below freezing. Snow can fall as early as mid-September in the Alps, and the ski resorts start opening in November and remain open until April. A continuation of the Gulf Stream (North Atlantic Drift) keeps the climate in Scandinavia, the UK, Ireland, and Iceland fairly mild. Iceland’s climate is close to that of New York, and Scandinavia is more like New England or the Great Lakes region in the U.S. In the UK winters are cold and wet with occasional snow, and summers generally warm with showers. Most Europeans are on vacation in August. Some shops and attractions are closed in the cities, and the beaches and mountains are mobbed. Check your favorite travel website for tips on peak and off seasons.
Getting around Europe
Europe is very well connected by planes, trains and buses. There are regular flights between major cities, especially from busy airport hubs in the UK, Germany or France, where low-cost airlines offer cheap flights around Europe.
Trains run throughout mainland Europe, with the Eurotunnel connecting the UK to France.
Buses (coaches) are a cheaper alternative, however, they are typically much slower and often less comfortable than trains.
If you’re driving, consider renting a diesel car, which often gets better mileage. They can be a good deal in countries that subsidize diesel. The UK and Ireland operate left-hand traffic but in the rest of Europe they drive on the right.
If you’re traveling independently, it is still worth checking out tours (such as a one-day city or 14-day country tours) that can be combined with your itinerary.
Europe Travel Information
England’s scenery, villages, trendy cities and Scotland’s golf courses draw visitors to the UK. Reminders of the past and legends are everywhere, including paths of King Arthur and Merlin in Wales and Vikings and St. Patrick in Northern Ireland .
Ireland has produced some of the world’s greatest poets and writers and remains a retreat for golfing, fishing, and hiking. The cities are young and vibrant; the countryside is peaceful and wears its scenery, ruins, and monuments with grace.
Germany’s cities are leading cultural, financial, and educational centers, and include two of the greenest cities in Europe. From modern to Middle Ages architecture, world-renown exhibits and performances, and the all-time best Oktoberfest, Germany is a country of many facets.
France is a land of variety: over 400 types of cheese, 25 languages and dialects, prehistoric caves, and the Louvre. France offers sumptuous beaches, bustling cities, quiet villages, and mountain resorts. And the cuisine is as diversified as the country.
The passion, culture, history of Italy —one of the few countries everyone knows something about. Whether your ideal vacation is soaking up the arts, visiting Vatican City, hiking, or luxuriating in a spa, you can find it in Italy.
On the Iberian Peninsula, step back from Spain’s beaches to find fascinating sights and charming towns. The world now comes to explore Portugal with its modern resorts and towns where old traditions remain the way of life.
The Netherlands has a rich history as a world power; Luxembourg has dense forests, medieval castles, and Battle of the Bulge memorials; and Belgium is a feast for connoisseurs and gourmands.
Austria has the regal buildings and culture from its days as the heart of the Hapsburg Empire. The country’s hospitality and cuisine make it a year-round destination, topped only with its winter sports, historic cities, and cultural institutions
Europe is truly a cultural melting pot comprised of many countries, each with their own unique traditions, heritages, and lifestyles. Many young people, especially American youth, consider it something of duty to visit Europe at least once while they are young, with backpacking treks still being a highly popular tourist adventure. Whether it is traveling to beautiful Paris with its luxurious coffee shops and famous Eiffel Tower or to Germany’s wild and crazy Oktoberfest festival, there is so much to see and do in this wonderful space.
Cheap Flights to Europe
To say Europe experiences a high volume of flight traffic is a sheer understatement, as the United Kingdom’s London Heathrow, France’s Paris-Charles de Gaulle, and Germany’s Frankfurt Airports collectively transported 200 million domestic and foreign passengers alone in 2013. These figures are comparable for the Netherlands, Turkey, Spain, and many of the other international airports scattered throughout the continent. Direct flights to Europe from the United States can be reserved via Delta, United, American Airlines, British Airways, US Airways, Lufthansa, Air France, KLM, SAS, and SATA (among others). International tourists can choose from Turkish Airlines, jetBlue, Qatar Airways, and Korean Air for their airliners.
You made it to Europe….now what?!
Unless you have an unlimited budget and time on your hand, chances are you will need to make multiple trips here and/or prioritize where you want to go. A few places in Europe always top the list. Paris is one such city; the City of Lights and Love is majestic and full of life. The dining is world class and the sights incredible, enough said!
Amsterdam is full of coffee shops and lined with brick streets, which also intertwine with a network of canals. It also boasts some of the best art museums on the planet. Who could forget London, where English culture, pubs, and amazing Sunday food markets await! Berlin, Barcelona, and The Greek Islands are just a taste of what Europe has to offer as well, so get to planning!
You can save a lot of money on food in Europe by eating at local shops and purchasing meals from street vendors instead of restaurants. Have a clear travel plan in order to avoid looping back and spending extra cash on train tickets. A Eurail Pass is a great way to save hundreds on travel expenses.
The Euro is Europe’s primary currency, though some countries have yet to adopt it. Official languages vary, but English is spoken almost universally as a second.