Tourists from all over the world visit Europe to enjoy its rich history, unique cuisines, stunning scenery, historic monuments and some of the world’s finest art collections. According to Eurostat, Europe was the most frequently visited region in the world in 2017, claiming just over half (51 %) of the 1.32 billion international tourist arrivals.
While it’s possible to travel around Europe on a shoestring (by trading hotels for hostels; fine dining for food trucks), getting there eats up a big chunk of the travel budget. The good news is that there are times of the year – and even days of the week – when flying costs less.
Travel During Off-Peak Seasons
Like most touristy places, Europe has peak travel seasons – when airfare is at its highest – and off-peak times, when it’s possible to find better deals on airfare (and, possibly, on your other vacation expenses as well). The summer season, which runs from late May/early June through the end of August, is when many families are available to travel, and is the busiest and most expensive time to travel to Europe.
The busiest air travel route between the United States and Europe is New York to London. At the time of writing, which was October, a search on Kayak.com for tickets out of New York (JFK) to London (LHR) for the following year shows fares jump from a low of $400 in May to $700 to $900 or more in June and July, a drop in August to around $400 and then an increase to $600 for September. Please keep in mind: Airfare prices fluctuate constantly, and you may not be able to reproduce these results when you shop for tickets.
The late fall and winter months – from mid/late October through mid/late March – are often the cheapest time to fly. Cold weather, of course, is partly to blame, but a winter vacation to Europe has its benefits. In addition to the cheaper airfare, Europe has some of the best ski/snowboard resorts in the world (Méribel, Zermatt and St. Anton am Arlberg, to name a few). Leave the ski resorts, and you can experience Europe’s other top attractions without the company of thousands of other tourists. December is the exception – when families reunite or travel together for the holidays –, and you can expect to pay a premium for flights.
Pick Your Days
Trying to save money by traveling on a certain day of the week can be hit or miss with flights to Europe. It’s often cheaper to fly mid-week, on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in particular, but sometimes you can get the same mid-week fare on a Saturday. The length of your stay can make a big difference in price. Plan on a Saturday night stay-over to get the best fares.
Google Flights, as well as some other online airfare aggregators (including Kayak and Travelocity), have flexible travel date searches, so you can see fares for a specific date and see fares for the surrounding dates. Using Kayak’s flexible date search and the same JFK to London plan, we found that a 10-day trip departing on April 11, 2018 (a Thursday) would cost around $405. If you have flexible dates, you may be able to save money by adjusting your depart/return dates. It is definitely worth checking the surrounding dates if your trip permits.
How Far in Advance?
Plan ahead – but not too far ahead. If you wait till the last minute, fares tend to be high, but they can also be high if you book too far in advance. Because airfares to Europe fluctuate so much (often, it seems, quite randomly), it can be helpful to sign up for price alerts that send email or text fare updates for routes that you specify.
The Bottom Line
You will probably pay the most if you fly to Europe during the summer when everybody else wants to go. You can find cheaper rates by flying during the winter (except for December) and by having flexible dates. Fares to London are sometimes among the lowest fares to Europe.
Once you reach Europe, you can book flights on discount airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair to hop from city to city or purchase a Eurorail pass – a ticket that lets you travel by train throughout 24 countries in Europe. For more information, see The Cheapest Way To Travel To (And In) Europe, Best Ways To Purchase Cheap Airline Tickets and How To Fly To Europe For $100 (Maybe).