Of course the best way to travel to Europe is to fly and it is recommended you fly non-stop whenever possible. Eliminating connections is the best way to avoid delays and spend more time doing the things you want to do rather then sitting in an airport terminal. Flying over long distances can delay your arrival because of bad weather, strong headwinds, etc. This may cause you to miss your connecting flight and then the challenge of getting a flight to your final destination could result in a day’s delay. Remember, unless it’s the airlines fault for your delay they do not pick up the tab for the hotel. Then there is always the possibility of your bags not making the connection and waiting a day or two for them to show up at your final destination.
Airlines will sometimes run good specials out of east coast cities like Boston, New York, Washington DC, etc. However, they may not be into your preferred European city destination. The other issue is the additional cost of flying into the east coast from the rest of the US. Some low cost fares can also have two or three connections, saving you some money but taking a lot of time. The extra money is well spent if you get to have more time at your destination, So…rule of thumb…use non-stop flights whenever possible.
Searching for Flights…
Several factors may determine what type of flight you can ticket and its cost. If a flight is ticketing quickly the airline will hold its price or even go up. The airlines will lower cost if they are not filling seats quickly on a given flight. Airlines want every seat filled so they will motivate the traveler to buy on a flight that needs passengers. This is why the factors below come onto play for flight cost and availability.
Your Departure Airport
Larger airports typically have lower costs because several airlines are competing for your business. When it comes to international flights the competition isn’t quite as good. The there are more flights to Europe from Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, Newark, New York, San Francisco. Taking a domestic flight out of your closest airport to one of these may save you money but, not time.
The Time of the Year
The high tourist season, June to August typically have the highest rates. However, over that last decade, late Spring and early Fall rates have narrowed the pricing gap. Also the Christmas markets have gained popularity with travelers raising the cost in conjunction with high holiday travel domestically in the US.
The Departure Day
Some days can also have lower cost than others. Usually the middle of the week Tuesday to Thursday will have slightly reduced cost. Again due to fewer travelers on those days as business travelers and weekenders tend to fly more on Mondays and Fridays
The Departure Time
Many flights to Europe will depart from US airports in the late afternoon to evening hours. That will make the majority of the flight time over your night period. Depending on your airport destination, flights will land late morning into the afternoon.
Days Prior to Departure Americans Make Air Travel Reservations
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce: International Trade Commission, Air Travelers (SIAT) Survey Data on U.S. Residents Visiting Overseas Countries.
1 – 3 Days
4 – 7 Days
8 – 14 Days
15 – 30 Days
31 – 60 Days
61 – 90 Days
91 – 120 Days
Farecompare has a very handy tool on their web site called a “Where-to-Go Getaway Map”. Simply click on the link below and open the page. When the page opens you will first see a map. Go ahead and enter your nearest departure airport on the top of the page in the box on the left. You may also use airport codes like, LAX for Los Angeles or ORD for Chicago O Hare. In the next box to the right scroll to the month you want to travel. In the last box enter a currency you want to use to purchase. Use the sliding bar to enter a dollar amount you do not want budget over. You can also apply filters to the type of activity,a specific airline, popular destination and price per mile. Use the inactive map to navigate over Europe and view your cities of interests. You can zoom in or out by using the plus and minus buttons at the lower right of the page. Click on the rate amount above the city and box opens with the lowest rate featured. Click on compare airlines and a drop down box appears with other airlines comparisons. You can shop their rates, numbers of stops. ➾ farecompare.com Where-to-Go Getaway Map
You can go to web sites like ➾ Kayak.com and ➾ Airfarewatchdog.com and set up flight alerts. If you know your exact route and when you are traveling, set up alerts and when their is a change they will notify you immediately.
You can use one of many online aggregate web sites that search multiple airlines at one time. Just type in your departure city and date along with your destination city for a round trip or one way ticket. Some web sites allow for multi city searches, this allows you to search for an “open jaw” ticket, described below. Whatever you do make sure you read everything carefully. Some low cost tickets can have several stops before you arrive at your destination. Don’t spend 2 ½ days of travel on your vacation just getting there. When you make a selection on some of these sites they will take you right to the airline web site where will you finish booking your ticket. Others will book your ticket for you just like a travel agent. Be mindful that some discount carriers may not appear on these web sites. Once you have found an approximate date and destination you can also check on the airlines web site and compare if they have a lower price. If you do not book your ticket at an airline’s web site you may be losing some benefits on any program you are enrolled in as member, whether it is an airline, hotel, car rental, etc. Make sure you read everything careful and confirm you’ll be receiving credit on your airline miles, etc. when booking through a non-airline site.
Stitching is when you fly through another airport to get to your final destination. Certain routes on airlines can be more costly because they are more heavily traveled than others. An example is finding a flight from Atlanta to London. The non-stop fee is $1275 but, it is only $825 from New York a difference of $450. Fly a low cost airline to New York for $328. and save$122. You need to decide if flying into New York is worth saving the money for the extra time. Stitching also allows you to lay-over in a city like New York a few days for extra enjoyment. This can also come into play when flying in and out of Europe. Flying into Milan may be less than flying into Rome. If you plan to fly open jaw reverse the arrival and departure cities and see if the fare goes up or down. If it is less than your original plane think about reversing your trip agenda. Are the dollars worth saving?
This is where two or more airlines share the same flight. Each airline publishes it’s own cost and flight number. As an example you may book a flight with American Airlines to fly to London but, it is an actual a British Airways plane and operated by them. When you arrive at the airport you will check in and board at British Airways not American. Sound a little confusing, it’s really not. Make sure you compare cost at each airline because one may be less than the other, even though it is the same plane flying to the same destination. You can also redeem or collect your American mileage with this flight, even though it is British Airways, as long as you booked it through American.
You may also want to fly, what they call “open jaw”. Let’s say you’re going to Italy and you fly into Venice. After visiting Venice you go onto Florence then and Rome. Instead of going all the way back to Venice, just fly back home out of Rome. This will save you time and money by not traveling back to the arrival airport. In fact it may even save you money on airline ticket. If you shop wisely a that return flight from Rome may be less then the return from Venice. Try reversing your trip by flying into Rome first then outbound from Venice. Amazingly one may be less then the other.
Most web sites have options to select a round trip, one way or multi-city ticket, when searching for flights. Select the multi city option and type in your departure and destination city first, then make another entry for your for your return city back home. It will search and provide you with your choices. Remember to try several choices for your inbound and outbound flights.
You may not be able to find a non-stop flight from your nearest airport to your European destination or a return non-stop flight home. In that case you will have to make a connection or a layover and preferably in a European city. Why, because with International flights you can have a layover in the city of your connecting flight for as many days as you wish without increasing the cost on the same ticket. It is possible that the cost may even be less if you layover in a city, especially with an airline that operates its home hub. This works out great if you’re connecting flights in London, Paris, etc.
Let’s say you’re going to Berlin from San Francisco and there aren’t any non-stop flights available. You’ll need to fly through a connecting city, most likely London or Paris. Whether going or coming back, you may layover for a day or more. Claim your baggage at the airport as you normally do and depart into the city. Stay over a few nights for some rest before your long flight home or see some more sights.
* In 2014 several International Airlines stop offering tickets with layovers while booking tickets. When searching a flight use the multi city mode and you may find a ticket with a layover. If you want to layover make sure you can book it with the airline carrier otherwise you will have to book separate one way segments, which could be more costly.
Arriving in European Airports
Most of the time you will be flying into one of the major European airports listed below. Even if it not your final destination city, you will most likely be flying into one of these airports where you will make a connection to your final arrival city. The following are Europe’s largest and busiest airports that serve as hubs for the major international flights. While some fights from the US arrive at other airports, those listed below have highest number of flights to and from the USA.
London Heathrow Airport
Paris Charles De Gaulle Airport
Amsterdam Schiphol Airport
Adolfo Suarez Madrid Barajas Airport
Barcelona – El Prat Airport
Munich Franz Joseph Straus Airport
London Gatwick Airport
Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport
Rome Leonardo Di Vince-Airport
Paris Orly Airport
Oslo Gardermoen Airport
Stockholm Arlanda – Sweden
Warsaw Chopin Airport
Reykjavik-Keflavik Intl. Airport
Hillingdon, London, England, UK
Kelsterbach, Frankfurt am Main, Germany
Barajas, Madrid, Spain
El Prat, Spain
Erding & Freising, Germany
Crawley, England, UK
Okęcie, Włochy, Poland
British Airways / Virgin Atlantic
KLM Royal Dutch Airlines
Lufthansa / Condor Flugdienst
Iberia Airlines / Air Europa
French Bee / Transavia
TAP Portugal Air
LOT Polish Airlines