6 Ways to Save Money on Summer Flights to Europe

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6 Ways to Save Money on Summer Flights to Europe
Sean Gallup/Getty ImagesTourists sit outside on the main square among half-timbered houses in Quedlinburg, Germany.
By Cameron Huddleston

Thinking about taking a European vacation this summer? If so, you won't be doing your wallet any favors by heading overseas during the peak travel season. That's right, summer is the most expensive time to go to Europe because so many tourists head there at that time.

The cheapest time to visit Europe is November through March, says SmarterTravel.com executive editor Anne Banas. Even Europen vacations in early fall and late spring are more affordable than in the summer. But don't despair. If a summer vacation to Europe is what works best for your schedule, there are ways to avoid paying an exorbitant amount to get across the Atlantic.

Book your flight as early as possible. Ideally, you should book a flight to Europe 11 months before your trip to get the lowest fare, says Jeff Klee, CEO of CheapAir.com, which monitored fares for more than 4 million flights in 2013 to determine the best time to book flights. But that doesn't mean you'll pay top dollar for a summer flight to Europe if you book now. Just make sure you purchase tickets at least six weeks before your departure because fares will dramatically increase after that point, Klee says.

If there are still more than six weeks before you plan to travel, Banas recommends signing up for fare alerts from Kayak.com or Airfarewatchdog.com to be notified when the price drops on the flight you want to take. Although prices typically rise as the departure date for a flight nears, airlines occasionally release some seats back at the lowest fare level, Klee says. Also sign up to receive emails from the airlines about fare sales and follow them on Twitter (TWTR), where some airlines announce limited-time sales, says George Hobica, founder of Airfarewatchdog.com. If you see a good price on a flight you want to take, don't hesitate to purchase tickets.

Fly on a Tuesday or Wednesday. These days tend to be the cheapest days to fly to Europe; whereas Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the most expensive, Klee says.

Check several travel date combinations. The price of flights also can vary significantly throughout the month. So if you don't have to travel during a specific week, use the flexible date option at Kayak.com to find the dates with the lowest fares.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%Consider lesser-known airlines. Norwegian Air Shuttle has had a sale on flights to Europe from a few U.S. cities, Hobica says. Many of the low fares have been snapped up, but you might be able to score one if you act quickly. Other lower-cost carriers include German airline Condor, Icelandair, Turkish Airlines and XL Airways France.

Choose cheaper hubs. If you don't have your heart set on a particular European city, choose one that's cheaper to fly to. Klee says that Dublin, Ireland, is the cheapest European city to fly into, on average, this year. Flights to Milan are at least $200 less than flights to Rome. And flights to Brussels, Belgium, are cheaper than flights to other Central European cities, Klee says. Copenhagen, Denmark, and Oslo, Norway, are the least expensive cities to fly into in Northern Europe, Hobica says. The map at Google Flights shows the average price of flights from a departure city of your choosing to cities around the world to help you pinpoint the least expensive European cities to which you can fly. And see 8 Great International Vacations You Can Afford for our low-cost destination recommendations.

If you really want to visit cities that are pricier to fly into, such as London or Paris, you still might save by flying to a cheaper hub then hopping on a low-cost regional airline such as Ryanair, or taking the train to your desired destination, Banas says.

Don't neglect business class. Airlines typically have sales on business-class seats on summer European flights, Hobica says. Sometimes business-class fares drop below the price of economy tickets, he says. Typically, though, the prices on these discounted seats still are a few hundred dollars more than economy fares. But if you're going to be taken to the cleaners with a pricey flight to Europe, he says, you should do so in comfort by paying a little more for the better seat. Look under fare specials on airlines' sites, sign up for their email alerts and check their Twitter feeds for these deals.


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6 Ways to Save Money on Summer Flights to Europe
Before you book a room, call the hotel itself (the specific location, not the chain's 800 number) during business hours to see if the hotel will match or beat rates you've found online. Sometimes they'll throw in extras such as free Wi-Fi, breakfast or late checkout. This gives you maximum flexibility because you usually don't have to pay in advance, plus you won't need to deal with a third party if something goes wrong or you come across a cheaper alternative.  
Some hotels charge a resort fee that may not be included in an online quote. Others charge for Wi-Fi, breakfast or use of the gym. In a city center, parking can cost $35 or more a day. To avoid unpleasant surprises, always ask about which fees are included and how much they'll cost you.
Many small hotels don't want to pay search site commissions and therefore they don't participate. When you call them, you're often talking to an owner or manager who is empowered to offer a discount. TripAdvisor (TRIP) is a good site to use to identify these small hotels, but you should go directly to the hotel to make reservations.
If you're traveling with a family or planning a longer stay, look into renting an apartment or house. You can find listings at HomeAwayFlipKey and VRBO, among other services. Many of these lodgings charge a cleaning fee, so keep that in mind when you're calculating total costs. But with a kitchen you may save on food because you can cook some meals.
On a road trip, pick up the coupon books at rest stops and convenience stores. Those coupons, offered by the owners of individual franchises, often beat the national deals advertised on the chains' websites.
This doesn't work at the height of the tourist season, but often times it will get you the best deal at hotels that start the day with plenty of empty rooms. If you just show up, you can also see the room before you commit. Several apps, including Hotel Tonight, cater to travelers looking for a room on the fly.
If you book with a service that requires payment in advance, read all the fine print. And make sure you know how much it will cost if you have to cancel.
In Europe particularly, tourist offices offer room-finding services for same-day rooms. Even in the United States, some cities, such as Newport, R.I., get a list every morning from local hotels of rooms they want to sell for that night. "Think of this as an old-fashion version of Expedia.com, only a real-life person finds the accommodations that is right for you ... at the right price," says Andrea McHugh, marketing and communications manager of Discover Newport.
Sites such as BetterBidding.com allow you to find out what other travelers have paid at HotWire and Priceline and can sometimes identify the "mystery" hotels that keep their name and location secret until you book.
Groupon (GRPN), LivingSocial and other deal-of-the-day services offer travel deals, but most of the time you must act quickly to snag one.
If you're traveling to just one destination, look for a deal that includes hotel, airfare and car rental, which may be cheaper than buying these components individually.
Many credit cards offer points equivalent to several nights' hotel stays just for signing up, plus you can earn points when you use your new credit cards. "Using hotel points for free stays is the best deal in the travel industry," says Kevin Barry, who publishes Frugal Mouse, a website about traveling to Disney parks. "Last fall I went on a two-week vacation to Europe. ... One hundred percent of our hotel stays were covered by hotel points, and we stayed at very nice locations."
That means fall in Florida and summer in the Caribbean, winter in Europe, weekends near convention areas and weekdays in resort areas.
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