It’s been a while since I planned a trip of a week or more out of the country. Airfare to Europe has been low priced recently. 2008 was the first year since 1996 that my wife and I did not vacation in Europe. Those fuel surcharges were just too much. Seeing a $400 fare with $500 in taxes and fees tacked on made for a lot of wasted hours searching flights.
Step # 1: Get airline tickets, and the hotel planning will follow.
My budget constraint is about $2,000 and I want 8 nights in Europe. I may not be able to finance a European vacation for two on $2,000 if I pay for both airfare and hotels, but in personal economics you need a travel budget to project your travel costs and then make appropriate compromises to stay within the budget.
Look for value. Do not book a 7-segment flight to Europe to save $30 unless you are doing it for miles. The more connections you have, the increased probability you will miss a flight, and possibly lose an entire day of your vacation in Europe.
From San Francisco, I look first for a nonstop or one-stop in Los Angeles. San Francisco and Los Angeles do not have frequent major storms most of the year and the chance of missing your Europe flight are low.
San Francisco to Chicago flights in winter or summer can result in a night spent at a Chicago Airport hotel due to weather delays.
Every year for the past decade there have been airfares at $400 all in for west coast to Europe. The travel class is economy, the routing may not be convenient with two connections on route or an overnight in exorbitantly priced London or New York City, but it sure is cheap travel. In years past these flights were available briefly for one of two days each month at really low all-in cost.
2009 is abundant in low fares. All kinds of low airfares for global travel to Europe, Asia, and Australia/NZ abound over the past three months. Unfortunately, I am locked into the Easter week holiday of the school schedule when prices tend to be a bit higher. Airfares to Europe are relatively low out of San Francisco. I am looking at fares for April 10-18 and see offers like these:
All fares shown include total airfare with taxes for travel April 9-18, 2009
· San Francisco (SFO) – Frankfurt (FRA) $475 Northwest
· San Francisco (SFO) – Dublin (DUB) $547 American ($523 for 7 flight segment itinerary)
· San Francisco (SFO) – London (LHR) $557 Continental
· San Francisco (SFO) – Brussels (BRU), Belgium $600 Delta
· San Francisco (SFO) – Rome (FCO) $624 American
· San Francisco (SFO) – Paris (CDG) $686 American
· Monterey (MRY) – Frankfurt (FRA) $642 American
· Monterey (MRY) – Brussels (BRU) $730 American
· Monterey (MRY) – London (LHR) $760 US Airways
· Monterey (MRY) – Dublin (DUB) $818 Continental
· Monterey (MRY) – Rome (FCO) $872 American
· Monterey (MRY) – Amsterdam (AMS) $930 Continental
· New York (JFK)-Amsterdam (AMS) $450 Delta
· New York La Guardia (LGA) – Rome (FCO) $390 American
· Los Angeles (LAX) – Rome (FCO) $613 American
Europe is low-cost right now. If you can get to New York airports cheaply, then $400 all-in gives you options to fly to many cities in Europe. West Coast has some bargain spots like Dublin, London, and Frankfurt, yet getting to places like Paris and Rome for around $650 during Easter week is a really good airfare deal relative to the past few years.
A person flying American Airlines to Europe from the west coast will earn over 10,000 redeemable miles. AA miles can be exchanged for Hilton HHonors points at the rate of 1 AA mile = 2 HHonors points. Fly American to Europe and you can convert 10,000 of your earned miles for 20,000 HHonors points ($200 value). That is a good rebate on one $600 flight ticket for someone who may not have use for 10,000 AA miles.
The airfare is low, but unless I plan to sleep in youth hostels I need to budget lodging expenses.
When airfare looks like a deal too good to pass up, my advice is consider your hotel stay options before booking your cheap flights. I have canceled tickets more than once when I bought a great airfare and then realized I just couldn’t justify spending the money for the room rates hotels were charging.
Priceline doesn’t go everywhere I want to go.
And couch-surfing was something I was happy to move beyond many years ago.
Part 2 of European Vacation Travel Planning is a look at hotel affordability.