Low-Cost Airfares to Europe
Four money-saving methods for securing discounts
How to get a low-cost airfare to Europe? Let us count the ways. There are numerous methods, some complicated, some straightforward and some, frankly, a bit odd, for saving money on airfare. We've created a partial road-map below and we suggest that you read through all four methods before trying any. Good luck!
1. Saving money by being "flexible" in your choice of departure dates and destinations
Airhitch (airhitch.org) is the 35-year-old organization (it started in 1969 as a campus organization!) that will help you literally hitchhike your way across the Atlantic in either direction, any time (even at the peak of the summer travel season) for a remarkable $165, plus taxes and fees (the total comes to $210) provided you are flexible with the exact date of your departure and the exact European city where you'll start your trip. Still listening?
In actual fact, Airhitch says, it turns out that Airhitchers are able to get rides across the Atlantic more than 99 percent of the time, often right to their preferred destinations and on their preferred dates. And if it doesn't, Airhitch insists, what does it matter? How important is it, really, to start your trip in Amsterdam rather than Brussels, Dusseldorf rather than Frankfurt, on September 18 rather than September 17? (especially since, due to the European Union's revolutionary overhauling of intraEurope air-transport, fares within Europe are dirt-cheap these days, often cheaper than the bus!)
Think like a traveler, not a tourist, Airhitch recommends, and you'll find those variances to be inconsequential--at least if you are traveling just for the sake of traveling and not for some specific extrinsic purpose (like hooking up with a guided tour or going to a wedding or visiting Aunt Minnie). When you sign up for Airhitch, shortly before it's time to fly, you'll go through a "flight-briefing" that helps you optimally manage your departure based on spot availability. The flights are rated from "A" to "F", with an "A" rating meaning as great a likelihood of boarding as if you actually held a confirmed seat, and "F" a less than 10 percent chance of being able to get on board. It's up to you to read the data, with the help of the "Airhitch Online Staff," and get to the airport, find the flight, and board it (which is sometimes easy, sometimes a huge headache, but is always made easier thru guidance from the AOS right thru the process).
What else should you know about Airhitch? First off, you don't pay anything until after you board your flight. This leaves you free at any time leading up to actual boarding to "shop" elsewhere for a "better deal," without penalty. Embedded in the cost of Airhitching, which is not paid until after you board, is a non-refundable $29 registration fee, but even this fee can be waived, if you ultimately decide not to Airhitch, if you simply share with the AOS the details of whatever alternative method you decided on instead of Airhitching. So essentially, you are completely free to change any aspect of your trip, as long as you keep the AOS informed, without costing you an extra penny. The airlines will have no record of you in their computers and it is highly likely that they will not do anything to you in case you change your mind about anything at all. The only downside of this unique and radical method of boarding aircraft is the need to be relatively flexible and patient, but if you are traveling purely for the sake of traveling, that's pretty necessary anyway!
2. Searching the web
If you're not an adventurous Air-Hitch flyer, then your next best course--in our view--is to follow a four-step procedure on the Internet for finding low-cost transatlantic fares. This multi-part formula goes as follows:
Step One: First ascertain the lowest published airfare for the transatlantic route in which you're interested by accessing one of the "BOT" search engines which compare the offers of such sites as Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia with those of the major airline sites. Among the many new "BOT"s, and tend to be the most thorough in their search capabilities. Write down the lowest price they show for the date and European city in which you're interested.
Step Two: Then turn--ta dum!--to Budget Travel Online, click on and call up the phone numbers listed (many of these companies you might have already looked up online, but calling sometimes results in a cheaper price). Sometimes the fares over the phone undercut what you can find on the Web, sometimes they don't. If they do, write down the price they offer. And then....