Trains used to be the go-to low cost method for vacationers and college students making their way around Europe. Nowadays budget airlines have knocked rail travel out of the top spot. Airports are arguably less picturesque than the rolling hills of the countryside, but time and money saved are the trade-off. So how do you find the deals?
As island-based countries, residents of and visitors to Ireland and the UK have even more reason to be thankful for the plenitude of discount airlines available. There are also sites like Parking4less where you can find good deals if you need to leave your car at the airport. With major international hubs in both Dublin and London, departing for the rest of the world is easily done. Searching for a wallet-friendly flight price can be completed online without breaking a sweat.
The basic options for deal hunting fall into three categories:
- travel agency
- flight search engine site
- going directly to an airline's website
The advantages of using a travel agent often include: personalized attention from someone whose whole job is to make your trip enjoyable, liaison service to airline offices should something go wrong, and advice from a professional who can share tricks and tips for making your journey comfortable and low-stress. Flight search engine sites – Kayak, Expedia, Skyscanner, etc. – are able to display price comparisons very quickly. Not all have the ability to include additional legs of a journey beyond simple one way or return prices, though some do. Going directly to an airline's website can sometimes net a cheaper price, but be cautious about the claims on their home page. Sometimes the "deal" in bright, flashing numbers is a base price and does not include taxes or fees.
Flowers along La Rambla in Barcelona.
When I have the time, my preference is to use a travel agent. When I'm in a rush to purchase tickets (which is the usual scenario) I use Skyscanner. There is no additional charge for using the site and the prices are usually inclusive of taxes and fees. Sometimes the fares listed have sold out, however, leading me to search directly on airline websites.
Not all of Europe's discount airlines fly to where I live in Cork, Ireland, so I will occasionally check for flights out of Dublin or Shannon. If I'm planning a very big trip, checking for flights out of London is another good option, since quick hops to the UK are often quite cheap.
My list of usual suspects for discount European flights:
Another advantage of using a local travel agent is that you can pay with a credit card from your own country. (Some flight booking sites allow this, as well, while others have their own country requirements.) I only mention this because when I had an American bank account, I was absolutely unable to book a flight with Wizz Air. It's possible they have updated their system since then, but I can't be sure since I've switched over to having a European account.
As far as customer service goes, Vueling is my discount airline of choice. They are relatively new and don't always have the routes I want, but if I have the option to pick between them and any of the others, Vueling wins every time. They don't try to sneak in extra fees, you are not bombarded with audio advertisements throughout the flight, and the staff are genuinely helpful. It's definitely still a budget airline, but being treated with respect and kindness makes it feel like luxury!
Morocco is a hop, skip, and a jump away from London by plane.
Other quick tips for saving money:
- Travel only with carry-on bags if possible, but be sure to check up on size and weight requirements lest you find yourself smacked with an additional fee at the gate.
- Before booking your ticket, check the transportation options between your destination airport and the city to which you are traveling. Some "deals" lose their financial advantage once you factor in bus or train costs.
- Bring an empty water bottle with you and fill it up at a drinking fountain or sink once in the terminal. You can't take a full bottle through security and purchasing beverages inside the airport or on the plane means paying ridiculous amounts.
- Eat at your home, hostel, or hotel before setting out for your journey. Airport food is pricey and not always appetizing. Bring snacks to tide you over in case of delays.
- Some airports have free wifi, but many do not. Research your departure and transfer airports in advance to check the options. Many US airports, and a few European ones, offer the ability to use Skype credit to get online – much cheaper and less time consuming than signing up for a "day pass" when you'll only be online for 30 – 60 minutes.
- Get on the mailing lists for your favorite airlines. Occasionally a promotion will come up that suddenly makes it possible for you to take that trip you've been dreaming about – or simply inspires you to spontaneous adventure!
Now is a great time to be alive! Adventure is within easy reach. You have the tools, so get on a plane and get moving!