When I first started this blog post, I thought I was going to write about planning your first trip to Europe (written for Americans), but it evolved into something else. Perhaps I’ll have to write another blog post on planning a trip to Europe, but for now, I’m going to focus here on buying airfare. I’m not going to get technical and talk about credit cards, using miles or points, or anything remotely like that. This is actually a pretty simple way that can save you hundreds of dollars for just one airline ticket.
One place I like to start is Google flights (flights.Google.com). The thing I like most about Google flights is how flexible it is with searches. You can put in any city in the US and for example, “Europe” for destination and see how much flights cost to some of the most popular cities in Europe. A map will be generated with prices for around 15 destinations in Europe. For example, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Dublin the end of June is as low as $671 round trip, but on that same day, a flight from New York City (JFK) to Rome is $1475. If you’re flexible about where you’re going, you can end up paying half or less for your flight.
Again, being flexible can help save you money if you’re flexible with your dates. You can scroll through Google flight’s calendar and see how prices fluctuate over time. That same flight to Dublin that cost $671 the end of June drops to $360 for a few dates in August, or goes to as much as $1088 for a four-day vacation the week of July 4th. I suggest you play with the dates and it could easily save you hundreds of dollars per ticket.
It seems like there are a dozen websites where you can compare airfare. You could spend hours going to them all, but in the end I’ve found they all pretty much give you the same information as Google flights, and I just prefer the platform Google flights uses. If you like Hipmunk, Momondo, or Expedia (or something comparable) better, by all means use them along with Google flights, but I really don’t feel you need to go to six different comparison sites like these, so choosing one will save you time.
Once you have a specific flight, go directly to the airline to make sure it’s the same as what you’re seeing on Google flights. So that flight to Dublin that’s $360 in August is with Wow airline, a budget carrier based in Iceland, which is notorious for adding extra fees. When I clicked the link through Google flights to purchase through the Wow Airline website, that same flight cost $199.99 to get there and $179.99 to get back for Wow basic ($379.98 for round-trip), which includes your flight ticket and one personal item, slightly more than $360 shown on Google flights. One carry-on bag costs $49.99 each way if purchased with the ticket or $69.99 if purchased at check-in. Each checked bag costs $67.99 each way in advance or $79.99 at check-in. Let’s go with one carry-on bag, so that adds another $99.98.
If you want to choose your seat, that will be another $4.99-$6.99 for each segment of your flight for budget standard seats, $9.99-$19.99 for standard plus seats, on up to $99-$249.99 for the “BigSeat- Extra wide seats with plenty of legroom and WOW premium service” with price variances based on if you’re flying to/from New York or Reykjavik. The main thing here is you’re paying extra for that seat from New York to Reykjavik, from Reykjavik to Dublin, from Dublin to Reykjavik, and from Reykjavik to New York. $4.99-$6.99 might not seems like that much, but when it turns out to be $23.96 for each person for all four segments, just to be able to choose a budget standard seat, it adds up. Meals are also extra with Wow airlines, with most ranging around $12-$14 for lunch items (salads, pizza, sandwiches).
Not even choosing seats or buying a meal onboard, your ticket will be $629.96 after taxes and fees with just one carry-on bag. This is a far cry from the $360 that showed up on Google flights. Still, it is cheaper than the next-expensive flight with Aer Lingus for $984 round trip. The Aer Lingus “smart” fare does include a carry-on and checked bag, complimentary meal, and seat selection.
I love playing around on Google flights and often check flights around the world (domestic and international). If I have specific dates in mind to a specific place, I’ll set up a price alert through Kayak to track the price for a flight so I can wait until the price drops and buy my tickets then. Contrary to popular belief, there is no magic date you should buy airfare before flying somewhere. Generally speaking, if you buy international airfare (especially more so than domestic) several months in advance, you will pay less than if you wait a month before you want to fly. Airfare is one of the most volatile things I’ve ever seen when it comes to price increases and drops, which is one reason I like Google flights calendar so much, because you can see that volatility in pricing day by day.
What about you all? Do you use Google flights or some other search engine to research airfare prices?