Ticketing strategy for cheaper summer and Christmas flights to Europe

As traveling teachers around a school year work schedule of summer and holiday weeks available for vacation travel means I have developed strategies for minimizing the price of international airline tickets during peak travel seasons.

A ticketing strategy I use as a frequent traveler to Europe over peak season travel times in summer and holidays is book round trip flights between San Francisco/San Jose, California and Europe starting from a city in Europe, most often Stockholm, Sweden for the cheapest ticket prices.

Over the past three years I have flown round trip tickets starting in Amsterdam, Bergen, Copenhagen, Salzburg and Stockholm. These are all cities where I purchased round trip tickets to San Francisco or San Jose, mostly paying upper $300s to low $500s round trip. The difference between originating my travel from Europe to California is not necessarily lower than cheapest ticket prices available from California to Europe. The main benefit of starting in Europe are more dates around holidays available for travel at low fares.

Cheaper Christmas 2018 tickets to Europe

Here is an example of how I can book a ticket from San Francisco to Europe at Christmas 2018 for about 25% lower ticket price than the cost to fly from San Francisco to Europe at Christmas.

This year I am looking for a ticket from Europe to San Francisco SFO/San Jose SJC, California departing in late June or early July and returning to Europe for Christmas. I don’t particularly care which city in Europe I fly from or to since intra-Europe flights are generally available between most cities for under $50 one way.

I booked a round trip ticket from Copenhagen to San Francisco in early January to get home from London and Prague after my Christmas 2017 trip. That ticket puts me back in Copenhagen in June.

My strategy does not always work for significant savings since airline ticket prices are unpredictable. Summer 2018 is unusual with tickets from San Francisco/San Jose priced in from low $400s to low $500s for travel to Oslo and Stockholm in late June and July. These tickets are normally in the upper $600s to $800.

This year I made the wrong choice since I could have flown back to Copenhagen for Easter at an even lower price than I paid to fly back to Copenhagen in June. Turns out Easter week airfare is sky high to fly from California to Europe, while June/July fares are low priced this year. No Easter trip to Europe this year is planned for my travels.

United Airlines

San Francisco SFO – Zurich ZRH – Oslo OSL – ZRH – SFO

$547.01 round trip  Sun July 1 – Mon July 16

SFO-OSL $540 UA Jul1-15

Cheaper Christmas Holiday Travel

I purchased a round trip Copenhagen-San Francisco ticket last November for CPH-SFO in January and SFO-CPH in June 2018. I do not have a ticket from Europe back to California in summer 2018 yet. The reason I have been waiting several months to buy a ticket back to California in June/July is I want a round trip ticket that flies me to California in summer and back to Europe in December for Christmas vacation 2018. That booking window only opened in the past three weeks.

Google Flights calendar Dec2018

Delta Airlines/Air France $495

Stockholm ARN – Paris CDG – San Francisco SFO – CDG – ARN

3,959 SEK ($494.04 USD) Wed June 20 – Mon Dec 24

ARN-SFO $495 DL Jun20-Dec24

ARN-SFO $494 DL Jun20-Dec24

This Europe originating ticket strategy has saved me hundreds of dollars on several holiday travel trips over the past few years. Europe to USA round trip tickets may not be as useful a ticketing strategy in 2018 with lower airfare from USA to Europe much of the time than ticket prices from Europe to USA.

United Airlines  San Francisco SFO – Zurich ZRH – Stockholm ARN – ZRH – SFO

$624.91 round trip Mon Dec 24 – Fri Jan 4

SFO-ARN $624 Dec 24-Jan 4 UA

SFO-ARN $625 Dec 24-Jan4 UA-2

 Flying San Francisco to Stockholm for Christmas 2018 is $625 round trip today, while flying Stockholm to San Francisco in June and back to Stockholm at Christmas is $494 round trip.

That leaves an extra $130 cushion on the price of a ticket back to California in January 2019.

The best part of this ticketing option is the Swiss operated flight from Zurich to San Francisco is a United Airlines codeshare. I can earn 50% flight miles towards Aegean and Star Alliance Gold elite with Aegean Miles+Bonus frequent flyer program. Swiss Economy K does not earn Aegean miles.

About Ric Garrido

Ric Garrido of Monterey, California started Loyalty Traveler in 2006 for traveler education on hotel and air travel, primarily using frequent flyer and frequent guest loyalty programs for bargain travel. Loyalty Traveler joined BoardingArea.com in 2008.

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  1. “The best part of this ticketing option is the Swiss operated flight from Zurich to San Francisco is a United Airlines codeshare. I can earn 50% flight miles towards Aegean and Star Alliance Gold elite with Aegean Miles+Bonus frequent flyer program. Swiss Economy K does not earn Aegean miles.”

    Miles earning with Star Alliance FFPs is based on the operating carrier, so unfortunately booking a UA codeshare on an LX operated flight in booking classes T, E, L, or K will earn you 0 miles with A3 Miles+Bonus.

  2. Hi there: thanks for the article. I also live in the Bay Area (South Bay) and travel to Europe annually to escape boredom, using around summer. What’s the best strategy/timing for buying discount Biz class tickets? I see ex-Europe tickets to the US on sale all the time, but rarely do I see anything affordable in the reverse direction. Departures from the west coast are even more difficult. Thanks and have a great week!

  3. @Clifford79 – Looks like LX K class goes to my SAS account then for 25% miles. Another arctic Norway award flight for 10,000 SK miles round trip seems to be in my future.

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