The Deal Detective is SmarterTravel.com’s resident bargain hunter, Kate Hamman. She’s always on the lookout for new travel deals and invites you, dear reader, to submit your own questions.
Grad Student Budget Emily writes, “Hi! Love your column. I’ve been looking since January for affordable fares to Paris from Portland, OR. Though all the news reports and web sites report the airlines are in “tough times” and are offering good fares, I’ve yet to find anything under $1,500. I have the restriction that I need to go in June and return in July; I know that “high season” lessens my chances of a good fare. But when you quote the summer prices from the east coast, you often have prices of $800 to $900, at the high end. Does coming from my neck of the woods really make that much difference? Thanks.”
Though it may not seem that way to some of you frustrated bargain hunters out there, it is true that many airlines are offering lower fares to Europe this summer. Heck, United, Delta, and Northwest are even greatly discounting award travel to the Continent these days. That said, finding affordable airfare can still feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. It takes a certain amount of patience and a touch of finesse. And being really flexible with your dates helps, too.
Emily is also right that departure cities play a role in how much your overall airfare is going to cost. It’s typical for fares to Europe to cost less from the East Coast than the West Coast. But don’t despair. You can still find deals that will get you there without emptying your college savings fund.
For instance, I priced flights from Portland to Paris departing in June and returning in July for $900 (including taxes and fees) per person with Delta. You can do the same by using a flexible search tool, such as the ones offered by Expedia and Travelocity. The benefit of a flex search is that it does all the hard work of finding the cheapest days to fly for you.
Once you’ve found a price that fits in your budget, don’t wait to book. It may be gone before you have time to blink. If you’re not confident in your ability to know when you’ve found the best price, check a site like Farecast, which monitors fares and gives you an idea of if and when you should book based on historical price averages.
As for seasonal savings, you’ll find spring and early summer sales almost everywhere right now. Delta is offering flights from New York City to Europe starting at $298 round-trip for travel through June 26, Aer Lingus has flights to Ireland starting at $238 round-trip for travel in May and June, Virgin America is offering flights to London starting at $312 round-trip for travel through May 24, and Lufthansa has flights to Europe starting at $388 round-trip for travel through June 15. As we often prove with our coverage of airline sales, a sale price isn’t necessarily the lowest price available—but it is a good indication of routes that may be getting less traffic than the airlines would prefer.
You might be able to save by flying into a major hub like London and then purchasing a cheaper flight to your final destination from one of the low-cost carriers like Ryanair, which offers one-way fares starting at €6.70 (about $8.86 U.S.; check current exchange rates with XE.com) for travel across Europe. If you want to take the legwork out of planning, companies like go-today.com or EuropeASAP offer several types of vacation packages that bundle airfare, hotel, and transportation. It’s also important to compare prices religiously to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Another thing to keep in mind is that even if you don’t find a dirt cheap flight, you can still save money once you land. Since the current exchange rate is better than it has been in years, you’ll be able to take advantage of spending less on everyday items. You can also skip paying a lot on food by having a hearty prix fixe lunch and then stopping at one of the street vendors for dinner (this little tip saved me a fortune and I still ate like a queen while I was visiting Paris). Plus, as a student, you might be able to cut corners with an international discount card. And if you don’t mind bunking with other travelers, hostels are definitely a great way to save money and meet new people.
I wish you the best of luck in your pursuits, travel and otherwise. And I hope you find a flight that will fit into your college budget.
Now for all of my other readers who have recently planned or booked a trip to Europe, do you have some cost-cutting tips for Emily? Do you live on the West Coast and know some insider secrets to finding a great deal for travel across the Pond? Please share with everyone any and all suggestions below.
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