Dreaming of a European holiday? If you want to be sipping an Aperol Spritz on the Mediterranean seaside, wandering the narrow streets of an old town, or cruising the Alpine slopes on skis, you’re not alone. International flights to the old continent are packed full – trust me, I just got off of one.
And we know that many full flights mean very few cheap flights, which is a real bummer for those of us in search of a good deal for our next trip. Flight prices seem to be at an all-time high when it comes to crossing the Atlantic, and that’s if you can find seats on the flight you want at all.
While the best times to buy flights to Europe will depend a lot on your destination and vacation plans, there are certainly some tips and tricks to finding more affordable airfare. Frequent travelers know all about travel hacking and flight trackers, but is there more of a science behind finding cheap fares?
As someone who crosses the pond regularly, I have a fair bit of experience in finding the best time to book flights, and I’m obsessed with the data, tips, and tricks that get me the best deals. Read on to see my take on when and how you should be booking flights to Europe.
The Prime Booking Window for Cheap Flights to Europe
You’ve probably heard that the cheapest day to book flights is Tuesday – while that’s totally false, there are indeed a few factors to consider in terms of when exactly to buy airline tickets. Firstly, you need to consider when the travel will actually take place; then, there’s an important timeframe for buying tickets before then.
That timeframe is at least 3 to 6 months before your intended date of travel. If you wait any longer than that, your chances of getting a decent flight deal rapidly decrease. And in some cases, you may even want to consider booking even further out than that – the summertime high season is one that I find is best booked as far in advance as possible.
Now that that’s out of the way and you know how far in advance you should be looking let’s get into the prime times to actually travel – the other component to finding airfare deals. Before you hit Google Flights, know these important periods and how they’ll affect your final price.
Summertime High Season
Without a doubt, the summer months are Europe’s busiest – especially for coastal countries like France, Italy, Spain, and Greece, but also for city breaks and mountain escapes. The warm sun and sea bring hundreds of thousands of vacationers, but they certainly do not bring cheaper flights. As I mentioned, this is one season for which I would start searching for my airline ticket even more than 6 months out.
The highest of the high season happens in July and August. Avoid those months if you want to miss huge crowds, higher ticket prices, and more expensive hotel rates. My top tip is to travel just outside of this season if you can – early June and late September are ideal for weather, crowds, and budgets.
Spring Break & Easter
The March and April school breaks in America are ideal times for families to travel. Luckily, European flight prices don’t skyrocket as a result, but you might notice slightly higher fares as a result. Plus, the Easter holiday is a popular time to travel for Europeans.
The spring is a great time to visit destinations that are warming up and blooming with flowers, like the Netherlands, where Keukenhof Gardens fills with tulips. The whole country of Spain celebrates Easter for a full week with parades and festivities, while the Greek Islands begin to come out of hibernation – you might want to visit Santorini before the masses take over.
See Related: Best Gardens in Europe to Visit
Holiday Season & Christmas Markets
Just like everywhere else in the world, the few weeks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s are not a good time to find the lowest prices in Europe. However, it’s a great time to visit the continent, and with proper advance planning, you can minimize costs.
Most cities host Christmas markets – if you haven’t heard of that concept, it’s when squares are lined with decorations, lights, and booths of vendors selling tasty treats and souvenirs. Christmas markets are beautiful and quintessentially European, so be sure to consider this period. My favorites include Budapest, Vienna, and Monaco.
See Related: Best German Christmas Markets for Festive Goodness
There are all kinds of fun things happening in Europe year-round, and they will certainly drive up prices to the destinations that they’re held at. Think of Oktoberfest for Munich, tulip season in the Netherlands, the Grand Prix in Monaco, and the famous Cannes Film Festival in the French Riviera.
Along with observing the advance booking window, you can combat inflated prices to your destination by flying to and from somewhere else. For example, one of my favorites to mention is using the three airports of Milan, which are often very cheap, to access the French Riviera – it’s just a few hours away via an inexpensive and comfortable train ride.
So, when is the cheapest time to visit Europe? While deals can be had year-round, the lowest prices are consistently found in the off-season. These are the weeks and months that surround the above-mentioned high seasons.
Fall and Spring are good ways to describe the low season in general, but it can differ by destination. The Greek Islands will definitely be in low season any time that’s not June, July, or August, as will most Mediterranean rivieras. On the other hand, Alpine destinations like Switzerland and Austria are slower in between ski season and summertime but no less beautiful or culturally enriching.
Cheap European Flights: Fare And Route Examples
Let’s take a look at some example fares across the Atlantic. I searched some popular routes for one-week-long, round-trip tickets during August and November, along with an alternative that could be cheaper. It’s amazing to see the difference between high season, low season, and an alternative arrival airport – but, as always with airfare, your results may vary! These examples are for demonstration purposes only, and you’ll need to do your own searches for reliable fares.
|Route||Summer High Season||Fall Low Season||Cheaper Alternative Example|
|New York to London||$639 (American/British)||$444 (TAP Portugal)||Dublin ($439 – Aer Lingus, High Season)|
|Los Angeles to Paris||$1345 (Air Tahiti Nui)||$630 (Aer Lingus)||Barcelona ($848 – American, High Season)|
|Chicago to Munich||$1313 (United)||$676 (Aer Lingus)||Budapest ($845 – Swiss, High Season)|
|Houston to Rome||$1190 (Delta/Air France/KLM)||$751 (Turkish)||Milan ($920 – United, High Season)|
|Las Vegas to Madrid||$1289 (American)||$789 (American)||Barcelona ($849 – American, High Season)|
Cheapest Destinations in Europe
While you can’t always manage to find a cheap flight, you can definitely limit what you pay when you get to Europe. One of the best ways to do that is to travel to a generally cheaper destination, where things like food and hotels are wallet-friendly. Here are some of the most popular destinations on the continent that don’t break the bank:
- Portugal: One thing that’s always struck me about visiting Portugal is how insanely cheap Uber is there for some reason. I stayed at the Sheraton Porto Hotel & Spa, which is not exactly walking distance from anything, and never paid more than 5 Euros for an Uber to town.
- Croatia: New to the European Union and the Eurozone, Croatia and its many islands are beloved by travelers for their beautiful scenery and low prices. Dubrovnik, Split, Krka, and Plitvicka Jezera National Park are my favorite spots there.
- Hungary: With a unique culture, language, and history, Hungary is a popular place to visit and one of the cheapest in the Schengen Zone. Budapest is the main attraction, but don’t hesitate to go further into the countryside to get off the beaten path.
- Greece: Yes, if you stay on the caldera in Santorini, you will pay a pretty penny for your Greek holiday. But selecting a less-visited island, or at least staying in a non-Instagram-famous town, reveals the same scenery and beaches for a lot less money.
Of course, we’re being very general here – you can find very expensive places to visit within these countries. You can also find cheap places to visit within more expensive countries, like rural Ireland or southern Italy.
Tips for Finding Cheap Fares to Europe
We did a whole guide on how to find cheap flights, and all of them apply to getting across the pond! It is essential to combine the best time to book flights with the best practices for finding them. Here are a few of our best tips.
Use the Right Tools
Be sure you’re signed up for a cheap fare finder, like Going (formerly Scott’s Cheap Flights), our favorite. With this trick up your sleeve, you won’t even need to do any searching to find great deals, as they pop up in your inbox every time someone on their team finds one, leaving you to just decide whether to book.
In all likelihood, you’ll be doing some searching, though. Sites like Momondo, Skyscanner, Booking.com, and Google Flights make it easy to perform a flight search with the exact parameters you need, including adding checked luggage, restricting layovers, and excluding budget airlines. Just remember that the more filters you use, the harder it becomes to find a cheap flight!
You might also find success in finding cheaper flights if you use a Virtual Private Network (or VPN).
A key benefit of using your favorite flight search tool is being able to set up price alerts. Every time a fare you’re watching significantly drops or rises, you’ll get a mobile notification or email. Sites like Momondo and Skyscanner can even use past data to tell you if they think it’s the best time to buy or not.
While you should use these alerts to plan ahead as far as possible, you can also use them to get the best price even after booking. Nowadays, change fees are largely gone. So if a price drops, rebook your ticket – you’ll get a flight credit to use for next time!
Flexibility is Key
Perhaps the most important tip of all, no matter what tools you’re using or what prices you’re tracking, is to be as flexible as you possibly can be. The departure date, return date, connection preferences, and even the destination, plus more, should all be negotiable in a perfect world. The ability to shift one or more of these can have a profound effect on the ability to find good deals.
Search for flights with flexible dates, and use the low-fare calendar offered by most sites. Search multiple airports at multiple destinations at once, and check the “include nearby airports” box. And try to limit the filters available in a search.
What factors influence the cost of flights to Europe?
We did a whole piece on the many factors that influence the price of airline tickets and why they are constantly changing, but in short, almost all of them boil down to supply and demand. For European flights, more people want to fly in the high seasons like summer, on popular routes to big cities like London and Paris, and on more convenient direct flights – supply and demand factors like these lead to higher prices.
How far in advance should I book my flight to Europe?
Unlike domestic flights, which have a sweet spot of 1 to 3 months in advance, your best bet to buy tickets for international flights is at least 3 to 6 months in advance. For the very high seasons, like July, August, and the holiday season, even further in advance than that is likely to get you the best prices.
What is the peak season to travel to Europe?
Visiting Europe is exceptionally popular in the July and August high season, especially for beach destinations, which leads to the highest ticket prices. The Christmas holiday season, new year, and other major holidays are, of course, other peak times.
Alpine and snowy destinations like Switzerland and Finland remain high-priced in the otherwise less-expensive winter season. For the best deal, focus your travel plans around these high seasons.