Articles on the ‘best day to buy a ticket’ are a joke. Cut to the chase. The best day to buy a ticket to Europe is when the fare is low and that can happen any time 24/7. A more predictable strategy for finding low airfare to Europe is having knowledge of which airports tend to have low fares far more frequently than other airports in Europe. That strategy of where the Europe airline ticket discount fares are most prevalent is the point of this article.
There is no best day or time of day to buy an airline ticket. Anyone telling you otherwise does not buy many cheap airline ticket deals to different places. The best time to buy an airline ticket is when there is a low airfare to a place you want to go (or a place you had not thought of going until you see an incredibly low airfare). Predicting the lowest airfare is like gambling on the stock market without insider information. That fantastic deal of the year today (based on knowledge of airfares the previous 12 months for that destination you periodically check throughout the year hoping to find a deal) might be discounted even more tomorrow with an additional $200 off today’s great ticket deal. Or that fantastic deal might be gone in 2 hours, not to return for months, years or ever.
“When is the best day to buy tickets?” is the wrong question to ask. More importantly to find deals is know where there are low fare airports.
I love traveling around Europe. I’ve been to a few places in Asia and South America and they are interesting to me, but I have no deep desire to travel extensively there. I prefer spending my time in European countries. The great fluctuation in airfare to Europe is one reason why I study airfares from California each day to Europe and other places around the globe. I have a good sense of what a normal airfare range is to many places around the world, so I can quickly recognize when and where there are real discounts and deviations from the normal airfare. Those are the deals I post on Loyalty Traveler.
To share this in more concrete detail, here is my informal quantitative assessment for which airports in Europe are most likely to have a low fare deal from California. This is informal mental analysis based on observations this past year.
Los Angeles or San Francisco to Scandinavia is high probability low airfare
The average low airfare from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Europe is around $550 to $700 round trip for Scandinavian airports in Denmark, Norway and Sweden during discount airfare sales with major airlines. American and Finnair frequently discount Helsinki too. Dublin is the other airport in Europe most frequently discounted. Barcelona and Madrid are two more airports in Europe with periodic fare discounts to $600-$700.
The main thing to know is from an airport in Scandinavia, Ireland or Spain, the cost to get to wherever you want to be in Europe is most likely available for under $200 round trip. This means you can travel from LAX or SFO to anywhere in Europe for about $600 to $800 round trip by flying LAX or SFO to a low fare Europe airport and ticketing separate flights to your destination. This makes sense when a ticket SFO to Paris is $1,000, yet a ticket SFO-Stockholm ARN is $525 round trip and a round trip ticket from Stockholm to Paris is $125. Stockholm is expensive if you need to overnight, but you can handle that and still come out a couple hundred dollars ahead. (Stockholm ARN tip – buy Choice Privileges points).
How many days can you find these low fares to buy a ticket?
My informal estimate from daily airfare observations this past year studying LAX and SFO fares indicate one or another or multiple airports in Scandinavia on sale from California for $700 or less round trip for about 9 months of dates this past year. The lowest priced airport moves around between Stockholm ARN, Oslo OSL and Copenhagen CPH and some weeks SFO has the lower fares and other weeks LAX and sometimes both California airports have sales.
What I mean by this is out of the last 365 days, a ticket from San Francisco or Los Angeles to Stockholm, Oslo or Copenhagen was probably available and easy to find for $700 or less about 275 of those days. Again this is my informal guess from daily observations. Outside of Scandinavia, low fare tickets to Europe are a gamble.
Checking SFO to Stockholm today shows Star Alliance has more dates at low fare for $683 round trip in May and low $700s Sep-Nov. Delta is in the $730 range and American is high $700s. Similar fares for Oslo and Copenhagen (higher) with all three airlines are found.
Bergen BGO, Gothenburg GOT, and Billund BLL are also common Scandinavian airports for American, Delta and United low fares. My assessment is the major carriers are fighting Norwegian in Scandinavia, yet I have not seen any real impact on London fares, despite Norwegian flying LAX-LGW nonstop at some very low prices outside of summer months. Norwegian has limited seat availability for LAX to London compared to major airlines.
Dublin is the main European airport outside of Scandinavia with most dates offering low fares at $700 or less. Dublin low fare dates are a distant second to Scandinavia. On more dates than not you can find a deal from LAX or SFO to Stockholm, but there are only probably around 50 dates of the year when Dublin ticket prices are low from California. Scandinavia at a discount has become a given. Ireland at a discount is something that happens periodically and generally available for several consecutive days before the sale expires.
Checking today shows $700 round trip flying LAX-DUB nonstop with Ethiopian Air. No great sales with big three AA, DL, UA today.
Airfare sales to Barcelona and Madrid were probably available around 30 days this past year. These sales sometimes last a few days, but the more prevailing trend is a deep discount to fares in $500s and $600s for a day or two at most.
Checked this route today and from LAX Aeroflot will fly you to Barcelona via Moscow in the fall for $664 to $698 round trip. AA, DL and UA all want $1,000 to $1,300.
A ticket like San Francisco to Barcelona has dropped to under $700 a few times in the past year, however, these fares generally only last one or two days at a time and sometimes only a few hours. That is why it is important to follow airfare deal websites regularly if you are looking for an opportunity to buy discount tickets. Most days I publish low airfare deals I find and often they are gone within hours. Since I generally do not troll other airfare deal sites to copy their finds, many of the deals I publish are seen here on Loyalty Traveler first and will not necessarily be found on airfarewatchdog.com, The Flight Deal or Secret Flying.
All the Rest of Europe
From California there are hardly ever big discounts to most European airports. When they happen, the sale period generally lasts less than 24 hours in length. It can be months in between these low fare sales for places like France, Germany, Italy and Greece, unless you are willing to ticket with Aeroflot or Turkish Airlines. Those two airlines offer the most frequent airfare discounts to Europe of all the major airlines for places outside Scandinavia.
Flights to the UK hardly ever go on sale. I will be watching California closely over this next year to see if low fares in the $400 to $600 round trip range from Norwegian (LAX, OAK, LAS) and WOW (LAX, SFO) for flights to London may be the catalyst reducing fares to London from American, Delta and United, and their partner airlines in late 2016-early 2017.
My knowledge base is rooted in San Francisco and Los Angeles airfares. Other cities, especially New York, Boston, Chicago and Miami may have better fares or more options to Europe than California.