Top tips for finding and booking cheap flights in Europe
Planes and Flights series: Top tips for finding and booking cheap flights
Recently a lot of people started asking me both offline and online about travel advice and booking cheap flights. Albeit I am not an expert, I’ve decided to gather some of my observations about finding and booking cheap flights around Europe and hopefully help someone with their travel plans.
This article will also be the first of the new series on the blog called “Planes and Flights series” where we will discuss everything from flying anxiety to the weird things you don’t know about planes. So stay tuned for more soon.
Flights in Europe usually last just a couple of hours so I don’t really see the need to splurge on first-class tickets, expensive carriers and fancy meals. I would prefer to find cheaper flights and spend the rest of the money on travelling longer and seeing more places. I guess it all comes down to priorities.
I have to mention that even with all the low-cost companies, sometimes it is just not possible to avoid spending a few hundred bucks on a flight – for example around Christmas.
Note: Keep in mind that while most of these tips work in general, they are collected from personal experience around Europe.
It is only natural to start with a list of the most popular low-cost companies in Europe as they totally changed the way we travel and the opportunities we have. Let’s face it, this February Ryan Air had 1 euro tickets for a bunch of destinations. It is a crime not to take advantage!
– Wizz Air – Ryan Air – Easy Jet – WOW Air – Pegasus – Eurowings – Norwegian – Niki – Transavia
Follow their rules
Low-cost companies are also known as “no-frills” which means you won’t get anything fancy. Things that are usually not included in the ticket: luggage (apart from the carry on), meals and drinks. Apart from that, you have to consider where the airport is located because a lot of the low-cost companies land in far away airports that are sometimes an hour drive away from the city. Read the terms and conditions to avoid being surprised at the end. Most of the time you will have special rules about the luggage, you will have to print your ticket before hand etc. If you don’t follow their conditions, you might need to pay more than the actual ticket in extra charges. But don’t worry, usually things work just fine. We’ve never had problems so far. Just be a bit reasonable and cautious. After all, you get what you paid for.
Most popular websites you can start your search from are listed below. They provide you a way to look for direct and connecting flights, book flight and a hotel together or just give you an idea which companies fly to your desired destination. The websites have tons of different options including but not limited to cheapest flights of the month, deals, notifications and alerts when prices drop (or rise) and cheapest destination according to your starting point. In other words, they could be your best friend while booking and everyone who travels often start their search with them.
Browse by your budget
I’ve recently discovered that Kayak has an option to search the available flights from your city based on your budget. You pick the month you want to travel and choose from the available destinations on the map that are in your budget.
Check the airport website
If you have no idea which companies fly to your desired destination, check their main airport’s website and you will quickly find a page with list or map of all the companies that serve this airport usually with links to their websites so you can find your tickets as fast and easy as possible.
Clear cookies and browse on incognito
If you feel like you’re going insane staring at the screen and the prices changing, this might be the problem. Supposedly companies are tracking your searches so when you search a flight often they want to give you a little push and scare you that the prices are going up. There’s a good chance that once you clean up your cookies or open an incognito window, the prices will be back to normal. I’ve heard this a lot of times and dismissed it as a rumor until the price on a certain website started changing and after clearing my data it returned back to the original cheaper price.
The change in price might have other explanations – companies change prices at a certain time of the day, places are all booked up, someone just reserved a seat, etc.
Follow the general rules
- Mid-week tickets are usually cheaper.
- If there are more options, the tickets for early morning and late evening flights will probably be cheaper.
- 4- 6 weeks in advance is usually the optimum time to book your tickets. At least, that’s what my experience so far has shown.
- Try not to fly on holidays.
Most of the flight searching websites have the option to choose flexible dates of +/-3-5 days. You should definitely take advantage of that option and choose between the prices. Also, a lot of the websites have pages showing an infographic of the prices for the whole month based on your search criteria.
If you want to go straight to your destination and you don’t want to waste a minute, this is probably not the right solution for you. But if you don’t mind landing in a close by city or country then keep reading.
Skypicker is a great website which allows you to choose the radius around your departure city or arrival destination, then works some magic and finds you the best solution. This way instead of flying from Sofia, where I live, I can choose a flight from Plovdiv (Bulgaria), Skopje (Macedonia) or Thessaloniki (Greece). Depending on the prices and which option is the most comfortable.
Consider a bus/train and a flight
Which leads us to the next advice. Sometimes it is much cheaper to fly to a nearby city or even a country and then take a bus, rather than fly to your desired city. The thing is that bigger cities have more airlines flying to them, thus more routes and more low-cost companies. For example, flying to Berlin and then taking a bus to Poland sometimes can be much cheaper (if you’re going to the west side of Poland though).
So if the prices are too high for your city of choice – take a look at the map and check some of the cities and countries that are close enough.
If you decide to consider this option, you may need to look for the possible connections yourself, because a lot of the time connections with low-cost companies doesn’t appear on the search websites, or at least not all of them. Flying from Poland to Bulgaria through Sweden (or Italy for that matter) apparently doesn’t make much sense for the search engines. But it makes total sense for me. And for only 20 euros for the two flights, it was a sweet deal!
Free trip with a layover or connecting flight
The idea above may sound only like a way to save money, but you can turn it into a new adventure! If you do land in a different city and then you have to take a bus or another flight, you might have a free day at an unexpected location. A long layover is like a free trip. For some cities, it is enough to have 7-8 hours or even the morning to walk around and do some sightseeing. Even if you are at an airport in the middle of nowhere – you can find something interesting to do. Check our posts about layovers in Nykoping, Sweden and Frankfurt, Germany.
Send your luggage
Most of the airlines will charge you a lot for an extra normal size suitcase or if it is not included in the price. If you have return or connecting flight, these fees will add up, making the ticket not so cheap as you expected. If you still want to take advantage of the low-cost tickets but don’t know what to do with the luggage, consider sending it with a courier. There are a lot of express couriers around Europe and most of the time it can be way cheaper than paying the extra taxes of the flight fare. This option doesn’t work for vacations of course. But if you have to go home or you’re going to work and study abroad, this is probably the best you can do. Also, carrying your heavy suitcase or 2 of them can be exhausting especially if you have connecting flights and long layovers.
Error fares are basically a glitch in the systems that can happen because of human or machine mistake often because of wrong currency conversion or omitting the fuel charges. Mistakes happen and there are sites dedicated to finding them and providing information to travelers. For example, I received an e-mail today about an error fare providing return tickets from Brussels to China for about 80 euros. Sweet right? You have to act super fast, though. If you are interested in that type of offers, you can subscribe by e-mail or follow on facebook some of these sites: secretflying, fly4free.
Holiday Pirates – apart from error fare this website also posts cheap flight + accommodation combinations. They track when prices are low and organize a plan for summer vacations or weekend getaways at cheap prices for you, so you can just go on the websites provided and book. It is not a search machine but organized more like a blog giving you all the information and steps you need to book unexpected vacations that won’t damage your budget. They have different versions of the website for the different countries.
Different airports have different taxes and landing fees that influence the final price of your ticket. That is why low-cost companies usually fly to smaller airports that are sometimes a bit far from the city. For example, UK has one of the highest taxes in Europe with Heathrow being one of the most expensive airports in Europe to land a plane on.
Ask local friends
If by any chance you have a local friend in the destination you’re headed, start from there and ask for advice. There’s a good chance that your friend will have more experience flying to and from their home country so they might offer you cheap airline, route and connections. Or they might tell you it’s better to travel by a very cheap bus.
Check even more tips and tricks for your European budget travelling from our blogger friends at Fotostrasse.