France was the world's top tourist destination last year, and of course Paris remains one of the most popular and heavily visited cities in the country. And while Paris is a tourist draw all year long, late spring is, in many ways, the ideal time to visit the City of Light.
France's "tourist season" begins in May and runs through early September, but crowds don't peak in Paris until late June or July. That means if you're planning a trip to Paris this year, your best bet is to travel sometime in May or early June when you can take advantage of warm weather (generally in the mid-60s and 70s) and smaller crowds. In addition, museums and attractions begin offering extended summer hours in May, leaving more time for sightseeing into the evening.
I regularly report on the best sales offered by the major airlines, but I've also heard from many readers who have a specific destination in mind and want to know when to fly even when there isn't a sale. Today I'll take a stab at addressing this for one of our most asked-about cities.
Some general tips
You can apply certain general tips to just about every European destination. So, before I talk about Paris in particular, let's take a minute to quickly refresh on the "basics."
Maybe you've heard of the June 15 "rule" (which says, basically, that flights to Europe are cheap until mid-June, when they skyrocket and remain high until Labor Day). This may have been true at one time, but these days it's more of an urban legend than a hard and fast rule for planning your trip. In general, May flights are cheaper than those in June, but in my research I didn't notice any across-the-board fare increases on June 15.
One rule you can count on is that traveling midweek (Monday through Thursday) is generally cheaper than flying over a weekend. If you must fly on a weekend, look to Sunday for the best price. That's not to say you'll never snare a good deal for a Friday or Saturday departure, but the chances aren't great.
Also be sure to include a Saturday-night stay in your itinerary. Without exception, every notably low fare I found included a Saturday night. Finally, stay more than five days if you can. Shorter stays tend to have higher prices. Six- to 18-night stays were among the lowest-priced itineraries I found.
Best days to fly to Paris in the spring
May flights are generally cheaper than flights in June. I used New York as a starting point for my searches, and found the best prices to Paris for travel between May 6 and 22. I also found less expensive fares in early June (between June 2 and 8) and for a June 14 to 29 itinerary. My recommendation: If you have some flexibility for when you go, use these date ranges to start your search.
The best days to fly vary by airline. I found the lowest prices on Icelandair and United, but the dates for which the fares were available differed between carriers. If you have flexibility in your schedule, play around with travel dates over a two-week period, and vary the potential length of your stay. One extra (or fewer) day can mean a difference of a hundred dollars or more in airfare. Using airlines' flexible search tools is an easy way to experiment with dates.
Is it too early to book?
Although the major airlines are still promoting their winter Europe fare sales, that doesn't mean you shouldn't starting looking for deals on spring travel. Just be aware that you won't find specifically marked spring "sales" just yet. I generally recommend booking within three months of your departure date, so if you're traveling in late May or in June, it probably won't hurt to wait a few weeks before you book.
Locating the lowest fares can be a bit like picking the proverbial needle out of a haystack, but there are several booking tools that can make the process easier.
- SmarterTravel.com's price-comparison tool can check more than 40 providers' websites for the lowest airfares on given dates.
- Many airlines' websites have flexible dates searches that will check for fares on given departure and destination dates, as well as one to three dates on either side.
- Orbitz' FlexSearch will find the cheapest prices on weekends and/or date ranges.