[Rick Seaney is the CEO and cofounder of FareCompare, and columnist for Investopedia. The views expressed by columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Investopedia.]
If it’s been years since your last trip to Europe, you may think airfare will be your biggest expense. Not these days, not in most cases, thanks to lots of transatlantic carrier competition, which means rock-bottom fares.
Sure, summer is always on the high side, but there are cheaper options like traveling in late summer. And that’s what’s so great about Europe this year. You choose what to pay—from cheap, cheaper or cheapest—by choosing how and when to fly.
- As you go from summer to late fall, prices drop and drop—usually. If you can, compare several dates to find the best deal. And remember that flying on weekends generally costs more.
- Flying in November instead of in August can save a family of four $1,000+.
- Fares to Europe are higher on international holidays such as Christmas and New Year's, but not on American holidays like Thanksgiving.
- If you're not determined to go to a particular city or country, test a variety of destinations to see where you can get the lowest fares.
1. Europe Deals: Cheap, Cheaper, Cheapest
This is actually a fun exercise, comparing prices to your destination in three distinct travel periods: early August; then, late August through September; and, finally, October/November. Most of the late fall deals we show are in November mainly because it provides such a contrast with what you’ll pay for U.S. fares at Thanksgiving. Some fun examples to get you started, and all of these fares are round-trip prices found July 18.
Dallas to Barcelona
- Fly early August: $824
- Fly mid-September: $690
- Fly November: $588
Not bad, huh? More good news: September has another price dip for some departure cities at the very end of the month, when this Dallas-Barcelona trip drops to $627. Another example:
Boston to Paris
- Fly mid-August: $508
- Fly late September: $353
- Fly November: $359
In this case, the November flight is actually a few bucks more, which is why I say flights later in the fall are often cheaper, but not always. Plus, airlines are constantly tinkering with fares; if demand suddenly perks up, so will prices. Another example:
New York to Madrid
- Fly mid-August: $692
- Fly late August: $325
- Fly November: $216
Doesn’t get much more rock-bottom than $216 round-trip to Europe. Yet another example:
Los Angeles to Prague
- Fly mid-August: $1238
- Fly late August/early September: $792
- Fly November: $531
Prague is not one of the traditionally cheaper European cities, so this represents an especially good value. One more example:
New York to Rome
- Fly late August: $702
- Fly late September: $552
- Fly late November: $450
If you travel as a family of four, flying in November instead of August can save you $1,000+.
2. Watch for Pitfalls
Big international holidays generally mean higher fares; Christmas and New Year’s is a prime example. But this can change; fares for Oktoberfest used to mean more expensive tickets for Munich in late September and early October but so far, we’re not seeing much in the way of price hikes—yet.
As for Thanksgiving, it only means higher prices in the U.S. so it won’t affect fares to Europe. In fact, you might even save money by flying to Europe instead of flying cross-country to Grandma’s house! Check this example, where Grandma lives in New York:
- Los Angeles to New York at Thanksgiving: $703
- Los Angeles to London in late November, $376
With fares this cheap, take Grandma along.
3. Find the Deals
Be flexible: Our instinct is to fly weekend-to-weekend, but most of the best deals to Europe have weekday departures and returns.
Compare, compare, compare: Go to an airfare comparison site so you can see all the offerings. Even the cheapest discounter does not have the best ticket price every time.
Look for cheaper destinations: London, Paris, Scandinavia, and Spain are particularly cheap right now, with honorable mention going to Dublin and Rome. But you know what? Fly where you want. This advice will still help you save, and there is no sense in paying more than you have to.