With most Covid testing entry requirements lifted, and the U.S. dollar roughly equal to the Euro for the first time in 20 years, now might seem like the right time to plan a vacation in Europe. People are traveling more now than since the beginning of the pandemic, but many are facing higher costs of flying.
According to the travel booking site Hopper, domestic flight costs in summer 2022 are up 34% and international flights are up 2.5% compared to summer 2019, with the average round trip fare now costing $383 and $912 respectively. Hopper attributes the price increases to rising jet fuel costs, increased demand and lower seat capacity (airlines are scheduled to fly about 2.4 million people per day this summer compared to 2.9 million in summer 2019). But don’t despair: a cheap getaway is still within reach.
Next month, I’m flying from New York to Lisbon to Barcelona to Split, Croatia to Paris and back to New York — all for $712.48. My secret? Google Flights.
The cheapest flights appear when you have a lot of flexibility about when and where you’d like to go. Here’s how you can score cheap flights too.
If you just want to travel and are flexible about the dates and destinations:
When you visit Google Flights on your web browser, you’ll automatically see the standard flight booking format, but the secret sauce is in the “explore” tab on the left. From there, you’ll want to switch “round trip” to “one way” (trust me you’ll find better deals this way) and enter the city you’re flying from (If you live in a smaller city, I also recommend checking major airports near you — sometimes the price of the flight is worth the extra commute). The default search parameter is flights within the next six months.
Next, click all filters and scroll down to “price.” I usually adjust the slider to up to $300, but that part is up to you and your budget. Under “Travel Mode,” select “flights only.” For your sake, I also recommend selecting “1 stop or fewer” under the Stops category and filtering flight duration to be under 15 hours. But these preferences are of course, totally up to you, and what you’re willing to endure.
Let’s walk through an example. Say you are flying out of New York and want to go somewhere in Europe for less than $200 one way. Using the method outlined above (including the one stop or fewer and 15 hours or less filters) you’d see several flight options pop up. As you Zoom in, more options will likely appear.
Well, look at that. You could fly from New York to Barcelona for just $170 one way. Click the destination you’re interested in and then “View flights.” Then, it will show you the date, time and airline of that price. If that date does not work — without changing any of the filters — click on the date listed in the upper righthand corner and a calendar will pop up that will likely show you comparable prices for other dates.
So if the default date of Oct. 17 does not work for you, maybe earlier or later in October could. Again — this option is best for people with the most flexibility.
If your dates aren’t as flexible, but your destination is:
Obviously, a lot of people can’t just travel whenever there’s a good deal, so here’s what you can do if you’re looking to travel during a specific month or week.
Follow all the steps above, except click on “Trip in the next six months” (as seen in the first image) and change it to either the month you’d like to go, or if you have a specific date/week in mind, click “specific dates” on the upper left.
Let’s walk through another hypothetical trip. Say you live in Houston, are off from work the week of Sept. 19 and want to take a weeklong vacation somewhere.
Leaving on that date specifically, you could fly to Mexico City for $59, Montego Bay for $87 or New Orleans for $32, just to name a few options. You could also fly to New York for $73, where you could then take advantage of cheap flights to Europe the next day if you’re up for that much travel. If you flew out of New York the next day, you could get to London, Amsterdam or Geneva for about $200.
If you have a destination in mind but are flexible with the dates:
If you have a particular destination you want to go to, but have flexible dates, I recommend doing something slightly different.
Instead of looking at flights going from where you live, look at flights leaving where you want to go. For example, say you really want to go to Santorini, Greece. Fill out the information the same way as previously outlined, but switch the departing location to read Santorini instead of your hometown.
Now, you can see that there’s generally cheap flights between Santorini and Venice, Rome, etc. (again, more results if you Zoom in — this is filtered to flights under $50). Knowing that London and Rome are the biggest hubs of those listed and generally have more affordable flights from the U.S., you could plan a trip to London and then add on a $40 flight to Santorini.
So, let’s say you’re flying out of Baltimore. You could fly out of BWI to London the last week of September on the new, discount airline PLAY for $232 and then hitch a $38 flight to Santorini on Sept. 28 on easyJet.
For cheap return flights to the U.S., follow the same process. Choose your destination — either your home airport or nearest international hub — and see where it’s cheapest to fly back from.
When I booked my Europe trip, the cheapest flight back to New York was from Paris, that’s why it’s my last stop. Most of my itinerary was centered around flight prices, and if you’re considering a multi-stop trip, I encourage you to play around with Google Flights and see where you could go for less.
Yes, there are some dirt cheap flights out there, but use the filters to avoid long layovers and flights booked across multiple airlines (rarely worth the risk of a missed connection or flight cancellation). However, on the issue of long layovers, these can actually be fun if you plan for them.
My day in Lisbon is actually a 13-hour-long layover on the way to Barcelona. If you want to spend a day in a different city during your travels, a layover can be a good way to fly there essentially for free. For example, you could fly from San Francisco to Rome on Oct. 12 for about $400 with a day-long layover in either Calgary or Lisbon.
Lastly, keep in mind, some of these cheap fares will end up charging more for baggage, seat selection and other options that are included in the price of other flights. Pay attention to refund and rescheduling policies. When it comes to low-cost carriers, it’s usually not worth it to opt for their most basic fare; you want something that will at least somewhat protect you if your flight is canceled or you need to reschedule.