With most entry requirements for Covid tests lifted and the US dollar roughly equal to the euro for the first time in 20 years, now may seem like the right time to plan a holiday to Europe. People are traveling more now than they have since the start of the pandemic, but many are facing higher costs of flying.
According to travel booking site Hopper, the costs of domestic flights in the summer of 2022 are up 34% and international flights are up 2.5% compared to summer 2019, with the average fare of round trip which now costs $383 and $912 respectively. Hopper attributes the price increases to rising jet fuel costs, increased demand and lower seat capacity (airlines plan to fly about 2.4 million people a day this summer, compared to 2.9 million in the summer of 2019). But don’t despair: a cheap getaway is still within reach.
Next month, I’m flying from New York to Lisbon to Barcelona to Split, Croatia to Paris and back to New York, all for $712.48. My secret? Google Flights.
The cheapest flights come when you have a lot of flexibility about when and where you want to go. Here’s how you can get cheap flights too.
If you just want to travel and are flexible about dates and destinations:
When you visit Google Flights in your web browser, you’ll automatically see the standard flight booking format, but the secret sauce is in the “Explore” tab on the left. From there, you’ll want to change “round trip” to “one way” (trust me you’ll find better deals that way) and enter the city you’re flying from (if you live in a smaller city, too we recommend checking the major airports nearby – sometimes the flight price is worth the extra travel). The default search parameter is flights within the next six months.
Then click on all filters and scroll down to “price”. I usually adjust the slider up to $300, but that part is up to you and your budget. Under “Travel mode”, select “flights only”. For your own sake, I also recommend that you select “1 stopover or less” under the Stopovers category and filter the flight duration to be less than 15 hours. But those preferences, of course, are entirely up to you and what you’re willing to put up with.
Let’s go through an example. Let’s say you want to leave New York and you want to go somewhere in Europe for less than $200 one way. If you use the method described above (including the filters of one stop or less and 15 hours or less), you’ll see several flight options pop up. As you expand, more options will likely appear.
Well, look at this. You could fly from New York to Barcelona for just $170 one way. Click on the destination you are interested in and then click on “Show flights”. It will then show you the date, time and airline for that price. If that date doesn’t work, without changing any of the filters, click on the date listed in the top right corner and a calendar will appear that will likely show you comparable prices for other dates.
So if the default date of October 17th doesn’t work for you, maybe earlier or later in October might. Again: This option is best for people with more flexibility.
If your dates are not so flexible, but your destination is:
Obviously, many people can’t just travel whenever there’s a good deal, so here’s what you can do if you want to travel during a specific month or week.
Follow all the above steps, except click on “Travel in the next six months” (as seen in the first image) and change it to the month you want to go, or if you have a specific date/week in mind, click on “specific dates” in the upper left.
Let’s go through another hypothetical journey. Let’s say you live in Houston, you’re off work the week of September 19th, and you want to take a week’s vacation somewhere.
Departing on that specific date, you could fly to Mexico City for $59, Montego Bay for $87, or New Orleans for $32, just to name a few options. You can also fly to New York for $73, where you can take advantage of cheap flights to Europe the next day if you plan to travel that far. If you left New York the next day, you could get to London, Amsterdam or Geneva for about $200.
If you have a destination in mind but are flexible with dates:
If you have a specific destination you want to go to, but have flexible dates, I recommend doing something a little different.
Instead of looking at flights from where you live, look at flights from where you want to go. For example, say you really want to go to Santorini, Greece. Fill in the information in the same way as described above, but change the departure location to read Santorini instead of your hometown.
Now, you can see that there are generally cheap flights between Santorini and Venice, Rome, etc. (again, more results if you zoom in, this is filtered for flights under $50). Knowing that London and Rome are the biggest hubs included and generally have more affordable flights from the US, you can plan a trip to London and then add a $40 flight to Santorini.
So let’s say you’re flying out of Baltimore. You could fly from BWI to London in the last week of September on new discount airline PLAY for $232 and then take a $38 flight to Santorini on September 28 with easyJet.
For cheap return flights to the US, follow the same process. Choose your destination, whether it’s your home airport or the nearest international hub, and check where it’s cheapest to fly back from.
When I booked my Europe trip, the cheapest flight back to New York was from Paris, so it’s my last stop. Most of my itinerary focused on flight prices, and if you’re thinking about a multi-stop trip, I encourage you to play around with Google Flights and see where you can go for less.
Yes, there are some cheap flights, but use the filters to avoid long layovers and flights booked on multiple airlines (it’s rarely worth the risk of missing a connection or canceling your flight). However, when it comes to long flights, these can be really fun if you plan for them.
My day in Lisbon is actually a 13-hour layover on the way to Barcelona. If you want to spend a day in a different city during your travels, a stopover can be a great way to fly there for essentially free. For example, you could fly from San Francisco to Rome on October 12 for about $400 with a one-day stopover in Calgary or Lisbon.
Finally, keep in mind that some of these cheap fares will end up charging more for baggage, seat selection, and other options that are included in the price of other flights. Pay attention to the refund and rescheduling policies. When it comes to low-cost carriers, it’s usually not worth opting for their most basic fare; you want something that will protect you at least a little bit if your flight is canceled or you have to reschedule.