I like travel simplicity. One of the theorems I proved to myself once again this past week is too much choice is not necessarily a good thing when it comes to travel decisions.
This post is a basic tutorial on how I used Google Flights to find low airfares for my three Europe trips in September, priced at under $1,500 all-in flying American Airlines, British Airways, Air Berlin and US Airways.
Several readers asked me this week to expand on how I found a flight from Los Angeles to Europe for under $700 in September 2015 and flights between Norway and San Francisco for under $400.
After studying airfares this past week, I centered my travel plans to fly 30,000 EQM and complete an American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum elite challenge with qualifying flights based around flying two separate round trip tickets from Bergen, Norway BGO to San Francisco SFO. These tickets were as low as $371 round trip for September 2015 dates and allow me to fly back to the USA two times during five weeks of travel. SFO is 110 miles north of my home in Monterey, California.
How did I find airline tickets from Norway to California for under $400?
There are no secret websites or email alerts that turned me on to low fares from Scandinavia to California. Hours of searching airfares and trying various routings eventually led me to low fares in Bergen, Norway to San Francisco.
What initially caught my attention was knowing that Copenhagen had the lowest round trip ticket price from California to Europe for travel in September at $700 from Los Angeles. Looking for places to fly from Copenhagen revealed that flying back Copenhagen to San Francisco was only $550 round trip CPH-SFO, whereas, the SFO-CPH ticket price was $1,100+. A day later in my airfare searches, I checked airfares to San Francisco originating in Bergen, Oslo and Stockholm. I found fares around $400 from each of these cities. Two tickets from Bergen to San Francisco were purchased before I even purchased my ticket from California to Europe. That is how I found my low-fare tickets.
Here is a Google Flights tutorial to help you find low fare tickets.
Finding lowest fare to Europe
Google Flights is where I start.
1. Set up Google Flights with your departure city and dates. I generally choose a 7-day trip starting on a Tuesday or Wednesday, since these days of the week are most likely to have lowest fares.
I insert SFO San Francisco as the starting airport and search round trip.
Tip: Search One Way or Round Trip fares?
International searches from USA are best searched as round trip, unless you are only looking for one-way tickets. Norwegian Air and WOW and Icelandair offer one-way fares at same discount price you would pay as part of a round trip USA-Europe fare. For example, one way might be $450 SFO – Dublin and $400 Dublin to SFO on these low cost carriers. You can buy the $450 one-way or the $400 one way ticket or both. Buy both and you have a $850 round trip ticket SFO-DUB.
A real price example is fly SFO-DUB in October on Icelandair and the one-way ticket price is $538 via KEF, Reykjavik, Iceland. Aer Lingus will fly you for $494 from Los Angeles to Dublin in October. Icelandic, Norwegian and WOW will fly you one way to places in Europe for far less than a major airline carrier.
Most carriers like American, Delta and United will publish a one-way fare for USA to Europe route that is far higher than 50% of the round trip fare. One way fare is often higher than a round trip ticket.
For example, a one way ticket SFO-DUB on Delta is $785 for October 20 departure.
Round trip fare is $860 to fly October 20 on Delta and return between November 2 and November 5. The $860 ticket includes the same flight segments as $785 one-way fare. The return DUB-SFO is only $75 more than the one way ticket price. That is why I generally search round trip fares on Google Flights when flying from USA to international airports.
Dublin, Iceland and Scandinavia have become the dominant European low fare hubs for transatlantic travel.
Tip: When searching USA domestic or Intra-Europe, search one-way fares. When searching USA to Europe or anywhere international, search round trip fares. (But take a look at one-way to see if there are any deals. Sometimes the major carriers have a good one-way fare deal.)
Tip: When airfare is very high for round trip tickets, then you might find a better deal checking for two one-way tickets.
The Google Flight map defaults to USA and I scroll the map to look at Europe.
From SFO, prices for Wednesday September 2
- $879 Dublin, Ireland
- $918 Gothenburg, Sweden
- $936 Stockholm, Sweden
Those are all high fares for September.
I can try a few different dates and select a few cities.
First, I will examine Dublin, Ireland for low fares.
$867 is a fare on United. US Airways has a fare for these dates at $879. Google Flights Tip shows an $879 fare with American Airlines departing one day earlier on August 31.
Two Google Flights features to know
1. You can filter Google Flights search results to a specific airline or alliance. I used this feature frequently when searching for oneworld alliance routes in planning my AAdvantage elite challenge. The airline filter tab is below the date.
2. You can see a calendar of fares by clicking on the date.
These two features of Google Flights are powerful tools for finding low fares overall and filtering airline fares to your preferred alliance or specific airline, if that is an important factor.
The main point in this fare search is seeing the lowest fare in September for San Francisco to Dublin round trip is $866. That is not a low fare in my opinion.
This is the same problem I found when I searched this past week for low fares from San Francisco to Europe. I ended up checking Los Angeles, where lower fares are to be found.
I think fares will drop to under $700 round trip in the next two weeks for travel from SFO to some airport in Europe. I couldn’t gamble on that event, so I went to LAX for searches.
Google Flights: Los Angeles to Europe Sep 1-9
- Copenhagen $641
Copenhagen jumps out as the low fare to Europe. No other airport shows a price under $1,000. I have not filtered airlines, so I need to enter CPH to see which airline and then check the fare calendar to see if there are other dates with even lower fares.
Google Flights calendar shows in the bar graph that flying the day before on August 31 is even cheaper than $641.
- $616 Los Angeles LAX – CPH Copenhagen, Denmark on Air Canada.
Since I am searching for OneWorld fares, I set the airline filter to oneworld to see how their fares compare.
- $929 LAX-CPH Mon August 31 – Tue Sep 8 to fly American Airlines and Air Berlin.
- Google Flights Tip: Thu Sep 2 – Thu Sep 10 $805 fare.
Now click on the August 31 date to see a fare calendar bar graph.
- Eureka! Google Flights fare calendar filtered for OneWorld Airlines shows the second and third week of September has $655 round trip flights LAX-CPH departing on Wednesday and Thursday.
Tip: My searches were for a 7 to 9 day trip in the screenshots above. Once I find a low fare departure date, Google Flights fare calendar shows the round trip fare for returning on other dates.
I click September 9 date on calendar with $655 fare. This is what Google Flights returns.
Google Flights inserts Sep 17 since I initially started searching with an 8-day trip length. The calendar shows me the round trip fare for other dates 30 days out. Besides Sep 17, I can get a $655 fare with a return on Sep 13, Sep 18 and Sep 27. There are eight other dates in September with $693 fares.
I went through this process to find my ticket to Europe. The LAX-CPH $693 fare is the same fare I booked. The reason I am flying out of SNA Orange County is the $693 fare from LAX was not available during the first week of September and I realized that I needed to start my flights in early September to complete three round trips to Europe before the October 9 deadline for my American Airlines AAdvantage Executive Platinum challenge.
Also, the $655 fare is flying Air Berlin from Dusseldorf to LAX. Air Berlin flights do not count for my AAdvantage challenge. British Airways, Finnair and Iberia are eligible carriers.
- $693 Los Angeles LAX – CPH Copenhagen, Denmark
- American Airlines and British Airways
- Wednesday, Sep 9 – Saturday, Sep 19
- Note: this itinerary includes overnight transit in London on return leg.
Basically, the scenario shown here is the same I went through when booking my flights to Copenhagen earlier this week. I booked a ticket with an overnight transit in London, but with better hours than an 8:50 pm arrival with 9:45 am departure. My overnight itinerary has me landing at LHR London Heathrow at 1pm and flying out to Bergen the next morning. I will have an entire evening to hang out walking around London. I avoided the evening arrival for a London overnight, since that would not give any time to sightsee, unless late night clubbing is your thing.
Two more points to make before I end this basic tutorial for using Google Flights to find low international airfares.
1. My ticket to Copenhagen starts in Orange County SNA and returns to LAX. In my searches on Google Flights, I received a tip that I could fly on a lower fare departing from Orange County. The round trip fare from Orange County was $704 to $715. I found that the fare dropped to $693 if I departed from SNA and returned to LAX. I then found that the fare dropped even more if I had an Air Berlin segment from Dusseldorf DUS – CPH Copenhagen. My ticket flies American Airlines SNA-ORD-DUS and British Airways on the return CPH-LHR-LAX. The Air Berlin segment is only 400 miles and did not matter for EQM purposes in my AAdvantage elite challenge. The fare dropped from $693 to $673 for my ticket.
2. This tutorial ended with finding a low fare ticket of $693 LAX-CPH flying September 9 to September 19. Once dates are set, I want to check the Google Flights fare calendar again to see what other options are around on those dates.
Since I am searching oneworld alliance for low fares for EQM, I look at the Europe map again for Sep 9-19.
- Madrid $813
- Barcelona $840
- Brussels $942
These cities can each be searched to see fare calendar to look for lower fare dates.
- Madrid drops to $772 Sep 13-22
- Barcelona is $810 Sep 14-24
- Brussels is $912 as low fare.
Also, my search is filtered to oneworld airlines. Drop the filter for September 7-17 and I see there are several other airports in Scandinavia with fares under $700 round trip from LAX.
- $595 Air Canada LAX-CPH
- $653 United LAX-BLL Billund, Denmark with all but final IAD-LAX segment on Lufthansa flights. BLL has low cost carrier flights to many airports around Europe.
Copenhagen is still the lowest-priced destination from California flying a major carrier in September. Norwegian Airlines has low one-way flights to Copenhagen, Stockholm and Oslo, if you want to get to Europe and take advantage of low cost flights currently available from Scandinavia to the USA.
Loyalty Traveler – Oneworld American-British Airways Scandinavia to California under $400 round trip fares (July 30).
Here are two other posts I have written as basic guides for using Google Flights.
Google Flights Map reveals the airfare deals (April 19, 2014) – Beginner level Google Flights strategy for finding low airfare from my local airport to USA destinations.
Google Flights Tutorial for Delta and Skyteam $400+ fares to Europe into April 2015 (January 6, 2015) – Beginner level tutorial on using Google Flights for finding USA to Europe low cost flights.