My wife is an elementary school teacher in a traditional school calendar meaning her two biggest work breaks in the year are summer vacation and the Christmas-New Year holiday break. While she gets nearly 12 weeks of vacation period, her biggest blocks of time available for international travel, mid-June and July and the Christmas-New Year holiday season, coincide with peak airfare dates for the year. Over the past several years I have used a ticketing strategy to mitigate the high prices airlines charge for travel from California to Europe in summer and the Christmas-New Year holiday seasons.
Europe to USA ticketing
Since Kelley tends to have at least three trips to Europe each year, we can start our travel flying from a city in Europe to San Francisco with return flights to Europe in 4 to 6 months to complete a round trip ticket. The primary reasoning behind this ticketing strategy is it generally saves several hundred dollars in ticket costs starting in Europe compared to flying from California in late June-July and at the beginning of the December holiday season. At the least, it does not cost more. There is generally a much larger window for low fare booking opportunities for Europe-California tickets than the typically short window to book low fare summer and Christmas tickets from California to Europe in late June and flights departing the weekend before Christmas.
In the past few years we have started round trip travel from London, Amsterdam, Vienna, Rome, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm to Bay Area airports.
Summer 2017 we flew London LHR to San Jose SJC on a $557 Finnair coded flights operated by British Airways purchased through KissandFly.com, the U.S. outlet for a European based online travel agency. Our tickets took us back to London on December 24, 2017.
Kiss & Fly ticket Stockholm – San Jose (American/British Airways)
$556.69 round trip
- June 23, 2017 Stockholm ARN – London LHR – San Jose SJC (British Airways operated flights from Europe to San Jose)
- Dec 24, 2017 San Jose SJC – London LHR – Stockholm ARN (Flew AA to London and did not fly last segment. Stayed in London several days, then flew to Prague).
United Airlines ticket Copenhagen – San Francisco
$526.86 round trip
- Jan 5, 2018 Copenhagen CPH – Toronto YYZ – San Francisco SFO (Air Canada operated flights)
- June 10, 2018 San Francisco SFO – Zurich ZRH – Copenhagen CPH (United to Europe and Swiss to Copenhagen)
SAS Scandinavian ticket Oslo – San Francisco
$476.55 round trip
- April 2019 Oslo OSL – Copenhagen CPH – San Francisco (Scandinavian)
- summer 2019 San Francisco – Copenhagen CPH – Oslo OSL (Scandinavian)
Expedia ticket for United Airlines operated flights
$694.47 round trip
- summer 2019 Stockholm ARN – Newark EWR – San Francisco (United Airlines)
- December 2019 San Francisco SFO – Frankfurt FRA – Stockholm (United Airlines, Lufthansa)
Average Ticket Price (4 round trip tickets) = $563.65 round trip for travel SFO/SJC to Europe in peak summer and December/New Year holiday season.
Pervasive low cost one-way flights from London, Copenhagen, Oslo and Stockholm to destinations all around Europe means it generally costs us under $100 one-way to travel anywhere in Europe we want to go during our trips. For example, my tentative itinerary for this summer priced four intra-Europe flights for travel from Oslo with flights to four other cities including Stockholm for our return to San Francisco at less than $150 per person.
While my latest $695 Expedia purchased ticket is about $100 more than the lowest fares available on the same dates through American Airlines or Lufthansa, the advantage of United operated flights for us is we earn over 12,000 redeemable miles in our combined Aegean Airlines Miles + Bonus account. My Aegean/Star Alliance Gold membership also means on the flights booked as a United Economy Light international fare includes Business Class counter check-in, Star Alliance lounge access at all airports and a free checked bag. Lufthansa Basic Economy does not provide free checked bag to Star Alliance Gold members, but our intra-Europe LH flight is not an issue since we start the trip checking in on United Airlines in SFO.
United Airlines flight miles on my latest Expedia ticket also meets my Aegean Miles+Bonus requalification for Gold membership through 2020 based solely on 24,000 Tier Miles through Star Alliance flights without the need to fly 4 Aegean flight segments during the next 12 months.
There are deals to be found flying traditional ticketing starting in California for summer and Christmas, however, my close examination of airfare patterns the past several years indicates these low fare deals generally only last a day or two when they appear.
Last Christmas 2018 we flew from San Jose to London for $536.13 round trip on an American Airlines ticket I purchased in late October 2018. That was a good price, however, a lousy 2-stop itinerary each way. We ended up missing a flight connection in Fort Lauderdale on our return from London and spent two days in Florida, while my wife missed two days of work.
At least if we miss flights returning home after New Year’s 2020, we will be stuck in Europe and not Florida. And I have seven months to locate the next ticket fare deal to get us back to California in January 2020.
Applicability to other international destinations
While I have used this reverse ticketing strategy several years to find lower fares for summer and Christmas travel to Europe, I have not given much research using this strategy for travel to other regions like South America or Asia/Pacific. There have been great fares to Australia for travel this summer with lots of ticket sales around $500 round trip, but I was unable to replicate the reverse ticketing strategy deal for flying to Australia in summer with a return from Australia in the first week of January.