In this post I’ll cover how to choose a flight and the best websites to search for fares. Whenever I start planning a trip, I start with the following criteria:
1. Are my travel dates fixed or flexible?
2. Do I have an airline preference?
3. What’s more important, cost or comfort?
After looking at A LOT of travel search engines, these are my two favorite websites to search for airfare:
1. Hipmunk: The little flying squirrel is super cute, but what I LOVE most is the layout of information. I’m such a visual person, so reading a diagram is much easier than a bunch of words. I also think the sort options are hilarious; “agony” is one of the criteria. Ha! Yes, the least amount of agony when traveling is definitely desirable.
2. CheapFareGuru: This site has some of the cheapest options I have found, as low as $1300. I also like the layout of this site; it’s nice and clean and easy to find information. I like how all of the airlines and airfare are displayed along the top. This is one of the sites that I’ve found that has lower prices than the airline’s site, unlike other search engines like Priceline, which are always the same.
Back in the day….in 2003 when I was a broke college student having Euro withdrawals after studying in France for a semester, I got a ticket for Spring Break on Virgin America from San Francisco to London for only $350!!! Now fat chance if I can find a plane ticket from California to Europe under $1500. But that’s not stopping me from being Italy bound this fall!
I’ve been following fares to Rome since December 2014 and signed up to receive email updates in price drops from airfare watchdog and Lufthansa, which is really never because prices have hardly dropped in the past 5 months. I’ve noticed that Lufthansa usually has seasonal sales a few months out. Right now all of the deals are for travel dates in the spring and summer. I suspect within a few months they will have sales for the fall. However, only certain arrival and departure cities are included in the seasonal sales, and you never know if your cities will make the list. My friend who travels abroad fairly often says that she always finds the best prices 2-3 months before her departure date, so I think I’ll continue to monitor prices for a few more months before locking in.
Last weekend I spent my entire Saturday scouring the internet for the best airfare. The cheapest flights I have found were around $1200, but those involved obscenely long hours of travel on obscure airlines. The most reasonable flights in terms of convenience and comfort (shortest travel times and least amount of layovers) were about $1500. Extra comfort on a 15-20 hour journey is definitely worth $300 more, in my opinion.
When searching for a flight, it helps narrow down your choices if you have an airline preference.
In the past I have flown Air France, Virgin Atlantic, and Lufthansa to Europe. Air France was the worst experience because it turned into a 24+ hour flight due to a measly half inch of snow in Paris and resulted in staying overnight at Charles De Gaulle… (story to come). Virgin Atlantic was by far my favorite in terms of entertainment and comfort. However, Lufthansa has been my trusty go-to for its great customer service and professionalism (they changed my flight and gave me a $400 voucher!). I swear one flight from Germany to San Francisco was as smooth as glass; there was absolutely zero turbulence and the landing was just perfect! My seat mate and I looked at each other when we landed wondering if a flight that perfect had actually happened…it was the best flight either of us had ever been on. She said that she usually flew Alitalia, but would never fly them again!
I would love to fly Virgin Atlantic again, but they’re only really cost and time effective from the U.S. if your destination is London. I don’t live in a city with an international airport, so I’d have to get a ticket to an international hub and then another ticket from London to Rome. Tickets within Europe are usually cheap on airlines like EasyJet, but they usually fly from Gatwick, Luton, or Stanstead, and Virgin Atlantic arrives at Heathrow. After a 10+ hour flight, the last thing I want to worry about is transferring from one busy airport to another…not to mention trying to coordinate flight times so there’s no long layover…maybe I would have been willing to put up with that as a penny pinching college student, but one of the perks of being a working adult is being able to pay the price for more luxurious and convenient travel options.
Lufthansa and United are both part of the Star Alliance network, so it is easy to find a seamless itinerary from my hometown to Rome. I love Lufthansa’s door-to-door planner. It shows all of the routes they fly to your destination from your departure city, the duration, and the days of the week that route is available. It also shows the fares for 2-3 days before and after your selected dates to get the best price if you are flexible in your dates. I have found much better flight options using this method rather than the search engine on their homepage.
I have never flown an American carrier internationally, mostly because I’ve heard rumors of horrendous service. However, I am very tempted to try American Airlines because I can be in Rome from my hometown with ONE layover in 15 hours, versus two layovers and 18 hours on Lufthansa for the same price. Hmmmmmm….decisions, decisions.
What is the best airline you’ve flown to Europe?