How to Book Cheap Flights
Here you are, planning your trip. It always starts with finding the best flights to Europe. It's kind of the necessary evil of any trip overseas. Well, let's make the booking flights online easier by showing you how to book cheap flights. There are lots of travel tips out there, telling you when the best time to book flights is, what are the cheapest flight booking days, and how to book a flight. I'll show you all that, plus some extra travel tips most don't share.
Flights to Europe can be expensive, depending where you are flying from. If you can find a flight deal, saving even $300 between two people can pay for a lot of meals, groceries, accommodations, admissions, and even transportation.
Finding flight deals can consume you. The best flights to Europe, doesn't always mean cheap flights to Europe. So don't always get caught up looking for the best flight prices. Dollars do matter for sure, but so does convenience. Let's get into how to find cheap flights.
"Always know your standard flight prices to and from your destination."
Below I have links to some great companies. If you book anything through some of the trusted travel partners I work with, I may earn a small commission from a qualifying purchase - at no added cost to you! That helps keep this page going (and fuels my coffee addiction) so that I can keep helping others make their Europe dream a reality with great content. For that, I thank you!
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How to find cheap flights
Finding the cheap flights to Europe can be tough. We've probably all been there, price watching every day hoping to catch that flight deal of a lifetime. It can happen, but don't bank on it. If you are planning a trip to Europe, start by knowing what the average price is from where you live to where you want to go. There are certain destinations that are generally cheaper to fly into than others. Find out which they are, and start planning from there.
Flying to Europe - Save by City
When you are planning your trip to Europe, one way to find cheap flights, is to consider what city you will fly into. Look at the cities or countries you want to fly into. Europe is nice and compact. This can allow you to find the a cheaper flight route and make that your starting point. Here's some examples of flight prices from Toronto, Canada:
Flights to Western Europe
If you plan on visiting mostly Western European countries like England, France and the Germany, then it would make sense to start your trip in London. Once you are on the ground there are cheap ways to get around Europe. Also you can find cheap flights within Europe that might surprise you. The savings between landing in London versus Frankfurt would be $400 for two people or $1600 a family of four ! That extra money can go a long way on a trip.
Even within a country you can save. Flying into Munich, Germany (at the time of my search here) was $194 per person more expensive than Frankfurt.
Flights to Eastern Europe
Heading to Eastern Europe is generally more expensive for flights (not for staying and traveling around). As you can see, you could start in Vilnius and drive or take a train to Warsaw, Prague and then Vienna, saving you $160 per couple. I stayed in a hotel in Vilnius for $30 a night. $160 in Eastern Europe can go a long way.
Convenience versus Price
If you are willing to sacrifice convenience, you can definitely find cheap flights. Things that will bring the price down of your overall cost are:
- More stops
- Longer layovers
- Overnight stays
- Stops in out of the way cities
- Longer overall travel time
If you are okay with some inconvenience, you can add a day trip into your plans. Maybe you want to check out Stockholm, Sweden for the day. Just do some research on how far away the airport is from the city and how to get there. If it's an overnight stay, it doesn't save you money if it's going to cost you a couple hundred dollars for a hotel.
Imagine I was going to fly from my home to Frankfurt. Here is the difference between convenience vs price.
Those are the extremes at each end of the spectrum. So it's for you to decide what's most important to you. Cheap flights aren't not always the best flights for you. This is a cautionary tale about booking flights online. Each website for booking flights will have it's fine print, and it's really important to read it. Later I'll show you what to look for and how to book cheap flights. Flight prices fluctuate daily and even hourly. So is there a best time to book flights?
Best Time to Book Flights
Ah, the age old questions. When is the best time to book flights? When is the cheapest time to fly to Europe? What is the best day to fly to Europe? Let's consider the answers to these questions more like guidelines. Once you learn how to book flights online, you'll start to find your favourite flight booking sites, and be able to see the trends on some of the better ones.
You could drive yourself crazy waiting for the perfect time for the absolute best price. Start with deciding on your budget. Pick the highest price you are willing to pay, and know you won't go over the price. When you start toying with the idea of going to Europe, start looking at flight prices throughout the year and familiarize yourself what it costs on average to get to Europe from where you live.
Best Time to Book a Flight to Europe
The optimal time for international flights seems to be roughly between 225 days and 150 days before your trip. (7.5-5 months, 32-21 weeks) with the best deals around 171 days (5.7 months/24 weeks). Keep in mind, it is a supply and demand business. Certain routes are more popular and also sell out faster.
There are also some theories out there about the cheapest flight booking days. There may be some validity to it, but the benefit will not be a big as what day of the week you decide to fly or if you book within the 225-150 day window.
The biggest thing you can do is know your prices. Then you can decide on a budget. After that, picking your flight becomes more about the day you travel on and what airport/country you fly into.
Don't Book Too Early
Booking a flight too early might save you the stress of knowing you have a flight booked, but it won't save you too much money. Six months ahead of time will be average pricing. How much more could it be? Well, it really depends where you have to fly from. I've saved myself $200-$300 dollars. May not seem like a lot, but that can pay for a lot of things on your trip. One thing to do is search the route you want to fly and see what the average/normal price is for that route and time.
Then check it daily, to get an idea what the trends are. From there you can decide on a "buy" price on it. Decide what price you would like to pay, then when it hits that price book it. Some sites will have a price alerts you can subscribe to. It will send you an email when the price reaches at or below the price you have set.
Don't Book Too Late
Never book a flight too late. Last minute deals don't really exist in the airline world. Booking to close to departure will cost you more than booking too early. This is the most expensive time to book. As a general rule, avoid booking 14 days or less prior to departure. Think about it. Ever heard of airlines overbooking? There will be fewer options closer to flight time. And even if there are empty seats available, there is more than enough demand that the airlines can set a higher price knowing that someone will be willing to pay it. Let it be someone else.
Cheapest Time to Fly to Europe
Best Months to Fly to Europe
In the following graphic, you can see what the cheapest time to fly to Europe is typically and which is the most expensive time to fly to Europe.
May and September are the transition months. Mid-May the prices will start to go up, Mid-September the prices will start to come down. December is generally offseason, with the exception starting the week before Christmas until approximately a week after New Year's being a peak time.
Personally, I like to go in May-June and September-October. The weather can be quite nice already/still, the crowds are much less than in summer, and you can still find cheaper flights. To me, that's a win-win.
Best Day of the Week to Fly to Europe
Sometimes we are at the mercy of our jobs, or children's holidays and can't pick the cheapest month to go. Flights price vary depending on the day of the week also. Tuesday, Wednesday, are generally the cheapest days to fly on. It slowly starts ramping up towards the weekends. Picking what day of the week to fly on is much easier, and generally can be worked to accommodate any schedule.
Now this is all just a guideline. Sometimes you can find a cheaper flight on a Sunday over a Monday. Some flight booking sites have calendars that show you what the prices are like by month and day of the week. Being flexible with when you leave for your flight to Europe can save you the most money often. As you can see by the following example, Wednesdays are on average the cheapest flight booking days, where as the high spikes are Saturdays. Keep in mind this changes depending on the month also. You'll see less variation in the high season.
Cheapest Flight Booking Days
What are the cheapest flight booking days? Those days seem to be gone. There were theories out there that booking on Tuesday after 12:00am had the best prices because that's when they released flights. Don't drive yourself crazy chasing these deals. Booking flights online seems to be more consistent with supply and demand. Summer months are high season, that you can bank on.
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Booking Flights ~ Your Options
Oh here it is. Booking a flight can be the most stressful parts of planning a trip. We always want to find that deal. Where is the best flight booking?
- Should I use a travel agent?
- How about directly to the airline?
- What about travel sites?
The answer is yes. What?! That's not that answer you wanted? Well, it bodes true, depending on who you are. We'll cover each and talk about the pros and cons. From there you can decide what is best for you. So let's get started!
"Always read the fine print."
My parents love travel agents. It's worry free booking. You tell them where you are going and when you want to go. They will find you flights, packages, tours, insurance, you name it. You put it in their hands. Travel agents are experts on travel. They can recommend places to go and things to do. Potentially, they might price match if you find a better deal. They understand the fine print and the rules and regulations and will make sure you have the right visas and give you some advice for your destination.
One of the things travel agents really do well is looking after you, before and during your trip. They are legally responsible to let you know of changes to your flights, whereas if you book for yourself, you are responsible for that. If you run into an issue with a flight or hotel, give them a call and they will take care of things. They should know when the deals come out and when to book. Insurance issues, they will help you out. Travel agents will work hard for you. If you don't have time to look for flights, accommodations, car rentals, then maybe this is for you. Often you'll use them to put a package together for you. Overall your price could be more.
Booking Flights Online
Being your own travel agent can be tough, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. It offers you the ability to create your own one of kind adventure that matches your personality, and not just some cookie cutter vacation package. Is there that magical way to find cheap flights?
I am here to show you it doesn't have to be difficult. You have to be very aware of what you are looking at, and if you just start whipping through different travel sites you may get caught going for the "best price".
Always read the fine print. I'm sure 99% of the time everything runs smoothly, but the 1% time it doesn't, it could cost you dearly. It could cost you a new flight and a lot of stress and grey hairs. If you do your homework, and book things right, you should be just fine. Let's look at the different ways to find cheap flights.
"...what is the best flight for YOU."
There are three main options.
Booking Direct with the Airline
Direct with the airline is pretty simple. Plug in where you want to go, when you want to go, pick what you like and book. Well, that sounds simple! Slow down and Ctrl Z there for a second. This may be a good option if you are going directly, for example, Toronto to Frankfurt or New York to London. They do allow extras like priority booking, paying for luggage in advance, whereas flight booking sites don't always. You probably will get the best price, but there are a few drawbacks.
If it is a direct flight, are there other airlines that are cheaper? You can spend a lot of time comparing to see who is the best. Consider how many air carriers that fly out of an airport. If you want to check them all you might find the best price. But is it cheaper to fly into Munich rather than Frankfurt? Now your search has doubled.
What about if your local airport doesn't fly internationally? This means you will need a connecting flight, and that airline may not have those flights. Now you have to book your own connecting flight. This can get tricky, especially finding those well timed connections. Maybe this is where a flight booking site comes in.
Cheap Flights Within Europe
Be careful when booking cheap flights within Europe. While the flights are cheap, they end cost can be very different if you aren't careful. Some discount airlines in Europe like EasyJet and Ryanair end up being connecting flights or go to smaller airports. For example, Ryanair charges £15-£60 for checked baggage, charge £15 to print your boarding passes if you haven't printed them off in advance, £50 if you check in at the airport. That's £125 ($211 CAD/$159 USD) in extra fees for a flight that could cost you £30. Yikes.
Omio (formerly Go Euro) is a great site to see flights within Europe. It also compares trains and buses for the same route.
So always read up on each airline's policies in regards to the "extras". Fine print people, fine print. What happens if your first flight is delayed and you miss your connection? Will the airline you booked through help you out? It depends on your connections. Finding out at the airport if they do is the wrong time. You may not be able to reserve seats either. Do your due diligence and find out what you are covered for.
Flight Booking Sites
Flight booking sites are great. I'm sure we've all looked for cheap flights on one at some point or other. You can add a car rental, accommodations, and many other things. They are kind of like an online travel agent...but they do lack the support of a real travel agent. The advantage is they help you filter through all the options. You can see all the prices and dates, you can set filters for all kinds of different options.
You can search one way, return, and multi-city tickets. I could spend days on these (and I do), searching for flight deals. Most of them have the option to subscribe for price alerts. This is awesome. So even while you are searching for a deal, you can get an email telling you that there is a flight under your targeted price.
There's even an A.I. robot that can help you price watch after you have booked. Read about it at the end of this post.
Things to Watch For
Sometimes on these sites when you are looking for flight deals, you get the 'urgency' "5 seats remaining at this price!" warning, which if you are price shopping for flight deals to Europe will make your head spin. This is where the fine print comes in. Is baggage included in the price? What about meals?
One thing to watch for is warnings like this one. Some flight booking sites, book two one-way flights. Imagine them as two completely items. If you have to make any change to one portion, it doesn't necessarily mean then changes will happen to the other ticket. This doesn't mean you shouldn't book it, it just means be aware of what it means. Some people book two one-way tickets intentionally on their own.
Read the Fine Print
Read all the policies that these sites have. Read reviews and get to know what their custom service record is like. Negative reviews will always be detailed accounts of what went wrong. Positive reviews will be short and sweet. If you see reviews bringing up the same shortcomings, then it will start to paint an accurate picture.
I've some reviews where people are complaining when they have booked online, made a typo so the ticket information is incorrect. The company's policy clearly states that name changes are not possible or may for a fee. So people are upset when they have to pay extra, yet it was their mistake to begin with. Now this is where customer service comes in. Some companies may help you out, other just follow the policy.
The moral of the story is, KNOW THE POLICY. I know it sucks, you may have to read a lot fine print, but in the end there will be less surprises. Don't forget, these are third party companies.
Flight Booking Aggregator
If only there was an option for both flight booking sites and airlines. Well, there is! Flight booking aggregators. They scour the web for the best prices, whether offered by an airline or flight booking site. Great! This solves all your problems. Well not necessarily.
If you find what you are looking for great. A few of them can open up endless windows for you to go through from all the different booking portals. Some are definitely better than others. So find ones that are easy to use and where you know what you are getting.
Essentially, you don't often book through them directly. We will be redirected to a flight booking site or direct to the airline. So like mentioned earlier, get to know the companies you want to use.
They are a great place to start because they show you everything from many flight booking sites, and direct with the airlines.
What are the best travel sites to book flights on?
Before You Search Online for Flights
Ultimately, you have to decide what is the best flight for YOU. Everyone has different things they are willing to deal with on a trip. I love airports. Yeah, I know I'm weird. I could hang out at an airport all day. So for me a 4 hour layover to save a couple hundred dollars is worth it. I'd even take advantage of a full day stop over in a city I want to explore. I get a day in the city, save money on my flight, it's win-win.
Now that's me. You are different. You might just want to get there. Inconvenience will save you money when it comes to finding flights deals to Europe. So you have to weigh your options. The more specific of a flight you want, the more the price goes up.
1. Get to Know Your Prices
So you plan on booking cheap flights from the US to Europe. How do you know if it's a deal if you don't know the standard prices? Check several sites. Start with an aggregator like Skyscanner, Momondo, or Kayak. They will show you everything from direct with the airlines and flight booking sites like Kiwi.com, or Expedia, for example.
Take the time to watch flights prices for a bit.
2. Be Flexible on Dates
This can make one of the biggest difference when you go to find cheap flights. A couple of sites have great tools to help you do this. They will show you the flights prices on a variety of days in an easy to read calendar or graph before showing you the flights available. Other sites let you use flexible days once you are on flight listing page with a "+/- 3days" type of feature. Use these. It will give you an idea on the best days to fly on.
Changing your departure or arrival date by a day or two, or even which week you choose to fly can make a big difference, if you can swing it.
Momondo has a nice graph where you can see the difference between your chosen date, and the days around it for that week.
3. Consider Other Cities/Airports
Depending where you live, flying to and from certain cities or airports could help you find cheap flights. For example, from where I live, it is $295 cheaper to fly into London than Paris. That's because there is one airline that flies the London route much cheaper than any other airline. Consider your whole trip when look to book cheap flights. Where you land and and depart from can make a difference.
A great website is Omio (formerly GoEuro.com) to look for transportation within Europe. Not only do they find cheap flights within Europe, they also search for buses and trains and compare the prices for you.
Keep in mind, trains generally can only be booked three months in advance. The flights within Europe also may not include checked baggage or have an extra fee for that. The advantage of the train, is that it brings you to the heart of the city. Buses are super cheap, but take much longer. Weigh all the options and go with what works best for you.
A lot of airports in Europe are outside of the major cities. Meaning it could cost you extra just to get into the city from the airport.
Some cities have smaller airports that that may be worth looking into. Good practice is to search "All Airports" for the major cities. Just make sure that you know which airport the flight is going too.
For example, Munich has the main airport that most international flights fly into MUC. Smaller regional flights might go to Memmingen Airport (FMM), which is almost two hours by bus to Munich. Last thing you want to do is get to the airport and realize you are 2 hours away.
This may or may not make your flights cheaper. It is worth playing around with though. Especially if you are planning your trip to include visiting other cities or countries. Depending where you are flying to and from, it can make a big difference.
How to Book a Flight
Where to Book Flights Online
Top Flight Booking Aggregators
Top Flight Booking Sites
(formerly Go Euro - Trains, buses, flights - within Europe)
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1. Go Undercover
The first step is clear your history, and go incognito. Everything you do online is leaving tracking cookies on your computer. That's why when you look up something in Amazon, next thing you know, you are seeing it in ads everywhere on other websites. Same goes for flight booking. Word on the street is, that prices will go up if they see you coming back and checking often.
Personally I've tried verifying this phenomenon, but it's really hard to know. Flight prices change hourly. So the best bet is, clear your cookies, and go incognito just in case.
2. Check Your Currency/Website
Believe it or not the flights and prices you see can vary if you have different currency set or even which site you are on, like .com versus .ca. You may see flights on one that you won't on the other. Keep in mind, some websites may charge you in certain currencies that aren't your home currency.
What does that mean? If you are putting the payment through a credit card, the payment may not go through immediately, and the banks will adjust the exchange rate depending when the purchase goes through. This is why you might see a different charged price than what you saw on the site at the time of booking. Again, read the terms and conditions of the site you are booking through.
3. Choose Your Airports/City Wisely
Like I mentioned earlier, look at other airports and ensure that you know which airport you are flying into.
For example, London, UK has six airports! Gatwick (LGW) is south of London, Heathrow (LHR) is West of London. If London is your destination maybe it doesn't matter which you fly into. If decide to continue to Glasgow, you may fly out of Luton (LTN) or Stansted (STN).
From where I live, if I wanted to go to Glasgow, flights would go through Dublin, Ireland. It's about $100 more than going to London. I could fly into London and spend a day or two there, then find my way to Glasgow. Omio (formerly Go Euro) shows me I can take a bus for $17 (11 hours), train for $44 (5 hours), or fly for $58 (1.25 hours $78 w/ checked bag). I don't save a lot of money with the flight, but I do save a bit and get a couple days in London. Or I can head the other way to Paris for about the same. Essentially getting more trip for the same money.
Europe is nice and compact, so look at your overall trip and play with different options.
4. Choose the Dates That Save You Money
Look at the Skyscanner calendar here. Would you fly on the 31st for $590 or the day before for $307? Maybe you shift your trip a week back to save $336. That's just the outbound flight. That's a big savings!
You can also see by the calendar that May is a shoulder season. You can see how the prices start getting more expensive towards June. Consider May-June and September-October when traveling to Europe. There are also less tourists during this time than in the summer high season months. Kiwi.com
5. Consider the Departure, Arrival, and Travel Time
Along with knowing what the average cost is for flights to and from your destination, know the average travel time of each leg. From my home to Frankfurt is on average 12-13 hours with one stop. That can cost me between $1100 and $1400 depending the time of year. Oh look I just found flights for $795! I'd be saving between $305-$605, wow! Oh....wait....it's 54 hours travel time there and 46 hours back with 3 stops. No thanks.
Most sites give you the option to select a time of day you want to depart or arrive on. Expedia, Orbitz, Travelocity and FlightHub will give you the option to select Early morning, Morning, Afternoon, Evening. Whereas, Momondo, Skyscanner, Kayak, and Kiwi.com will give a slider to choose anytime.
Often you will notice that the cheapest flights will be much longer overall travel times. You could always throw your luggage in a locker or check it and go explore the city if the stopover is long enough.
When booking your own flights online be very cautious with layover times. An hour and a half in between connecting flights may seem like a lot. I wouldn't go much less, especially if you are unfamiliar with the airport. Check if you have to collect your luggage, or if it goes through to the next flight. This can make a difference. If your first flight is delayed by even just 30 minutes and you have to grab your luggage and get to your next flight. So check those layover times!
6. Number of stops
This is one of the most overlooked opportunities to save money/stretch your dollar is a stopover. You can really create a unique trip if you think outside the box. Stops will often be cheaper than a direct flight. Sometimes adding a stop versus direct, can save you money but cost you some extra travel time. If it gives you a day to explore another Europe city, then maybe it's worth it.
Flying to Europe Through Iceland
If you are flying from North America, Icelandair and Iceland also offers stopovers in Reykjavik for up to 7 days at no extra cost while flying to Europe. It's a way to promote tourism to the small island country. You could spend a week touring around and camping Iceland as part of your adventure!
7. Read the Flight Details Carefully
Flight booking sites will show you every crazy combination. Some sites will default their searches to the cheapest flights available. Others (and what I prefer), to the "best" flights. Best flights, means the best combination of price and travel time. That's what you want. So change the filter to that.
If you go for the cheapest flight prices, just look closely at the details. How many stops? How long are the stopovers? Are they all flights? Yes, some flight booking sites might slip in other forms of transportation. Do you want your itinerary to look like this? But hey, it could save you $600! Hard nope.
Pay Attention to Alliances
Another thing to watch out for is airline alliances, for example Star Alliance. So when you see on a flight listing, "Operated by Air Canada." even though it's listed as Lufthansa, that's an alliance flight. Sometimes the price can be different even though it's the exact same plane and route. If you have a preference of a certain airline, know that the "operated by" is the airline whose plane you are on, with their amenities and service.
Look at the example below. Three different listed airlines, three different prices. Might as well pay the Air Canada price. It's $45 cheaper than the Croatia Airlines. I even checked the price direct on Air Canada's site and Lufthansa's. Air Canada's was the same price, direct on Lufthansa's price was $100 more, than the one listed here. Oh the games they play.
8. Check the Baggage Allowances and Costs
Baggage allowances and costs vary from airline to airline. One airline will include carry-on bags but not checked bags. Another will charge for every bag. These are all specific to the airlines, not the flight booking pages. Some flight booking pages do a good job showing you what is included, while other you won't know until the payment page. Nowadays, you don't get much for free anymore. This means the price you see will never include luggage. You may have to go to each airline individually to see what their costs are. Some sites will allow you to pay for luggage or upgrade options when you go to pay. The fee is usually per flight or direction. Paying at the airport can be a lot more, so it's a good idea to pay for it in advance.
Beat the Baggage Fees!
Beat the baggage fees with this fantastic carry-on bag from Standard Luggage. It's 35L and expands to 45L if needed.
Lockable laptop pocket, water resistant exterior, backpack straps, shoulder straps, this piece of luggage does it all.
As you can see, the price of baggage can quickly bring the price up. People started trying to avoid the checked baggage fee by becoming expert packers. The airlines are starting to fight back with fees for cabin baggage too. So make sure you know what is included. Also, airline to airline the size allowances are different. Check what they are so you don't have any surprises at the airport.
Just look at the example above. The Standard Luggage carry on bag pays for itself in two flights.
Want to know your airline's baggage allowances?
9. Read the Booking Sites Terms and Conditions
One thing people don't do every time they book online is read the terms and conditions before they book. This will save you a ton of frustration. Everyone has different rules. Things like if you need to make changes.
Fill Things Out Right!
Make sure when you go to book, fill everything out correctly. Double check the names for the passengers. If your passport says Brian and you typed Brain, you aren't getting on the plane. If you catch the mistake after you've submitted, that's when the terms and conditions matter.
I've read a lot of reviews of flight booking sites. You'd be surprised how many people have entered names incorrectly by mistake and get mad at flight booking site for not fixing it. Sorry my friend, you made the mistake. It sucks, but it doesn't mean they won't follow their written terms and conditions.
It could cost you dearly, so take your time.
Compensation for Flight Delays
Flight Delay, Cancellation or Overbooked Compensation
Sometimes things can go wrong. It's happened to me. I spent two days stuck at the Frankfurt Airport. My plane left Munich, and made it somewhere over the Atlantic around Iceland when the announcement came from the pilot that we were heading back to Munich due to a hydraulic issue. About an hour after flying back, they decided Frankfurt was closer. That's where my two day adventure began.
I learned a lot from this experience. The airline paid for our hotels, gave us toothbrushes, and paid for our meals. This is something they are obligated to do by law. The next day we spent all day at the airport in a line up as the airline tried to get everyone out.
When I got home I sent the airline an email to see if I could be compensated more. I sent this beautifully crafted email (which it didn't need to be) explaining what happened. They responded quickly offering me €600 cash or €900 credit towards another flight.
EU law requires airlines operating in/to Europe to provide compensation to people experiencing delays, cancelled, or overbooked flights, for anything that is within control of the airline. This includes mechanical issues, and airline strikes. Now there is a company that can help you too.