How to make flying to Europe in the summer make sense

Some friends of mine asked me the other day about flying to Europe in summer and I realized I’d not yet written anything about that. The short answer is: No. Don’t go. You should not go to Europe in midsummer.  Between June and August, Europe is overrun with tourists, and everything is more crowded, expensive and not as nice The weather can be either drearily wet or annoyingly hot and humid. That’s the sad truth to the thing, but if for some reason you find you have to go then, there are things you can do that will make it a lot easier to deal with.

Graveyard at the Rock of Cashel, Tipperary, Ireland.

 

1. Do not fly into a major hub. The horror. Do not fly directly into Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle or Rome. No. Stop. Go back. Fly into lesser known airports like Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Oslo, Zurich and continue from there.

2 Fly on off-days. If possible, always fly on a Tues, Wed or Friday. Those days are usually much cheaper than weekends and you’ll benefit from having slightly less crazy connections in whatever airport you are flying through.

Russia. St. Petersburg. Tour boat and the Church on Spilled Blood

3. Keep an eye open for Business-class fare sales. Business travel wanes during the summer and there are often really good business-class fare sales that bring down the cost of a business class flight to the same as coach. So you’ll still be spending the money, but enjoying a much more leisurely and enjoyable flight.

4. Take advantage of Iceland Air’s stopover program. For little more than regular coach fare in Economy you can fly via Iceland to almost anywhere in Europe. So on top of whatever you were planning on doing in mainland Europe, you can spend a few days coming or going in Iceland, hiking among waterfalls, viewing glaciers and enjoying some endless twilight evenings.

Screen Shot 2015-02-23 at 8.56.56 AM

 

5.  Suck it up and pay. You know what? You can’t always get a deal, and that’s okay. Your comfort and sanity is worth more than having a convoluted 2-stop itinerary to France with long layovers and many opportunities for missed connections and luggage gone AWOL. But if you do pay full-fare economy, make it count. From the western US, a round trip economy flight to Europe gets you nearly half way to the 25K miles needed for a round trip domestic economy award flight (make sure the flight code of your flight earns 100% miles, which for full fare economy it probably will), so choose carefully. Fly on an airline for which your home airport is a hub – look into flying their partner airlines and crediting the miles to your main domestic account.  Also, try not to have connections within the US (summer thunderstorms often cause delays). So make your first flight nonstop to Europe and connect within Europe from there. Whatever you do, a 9am flight leaving Saturday is the one flight to NOT take. It will be a zoo.

You’ll notice the one thing I did not suggest here was to use miles. You can, but you have to be clever, persistent and flexible to get that to work. Everyone wants to use their miles to do two things: Europe in summer and Hawaii any time. Don’t fall into the trap of being one of them.

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6 comments

  1. 1) Book in advance and you’ll be just fine.
    2) Frankfurt and Amsterdam “less known airports”? These are the numbers 3 and 5 on Europe’s busiest airport list (Rome is 8th by the way)!
    3) The major destinations in Europe are crowded in the summer, yes. Avoid the tourists traps like Venice, Dubrovnik or Barcelona and you’ll find Europe a treat in the summer as well. And do dare to take a step outside the center, I guarantee that even Paris or Prague are charmingly tourist-free once you leave the main grub (they’re big cities you know).

    1. Most Americans don’t fly in to FRA or AMS actually. Frankfurt has a huge intra-Europe business of course, but it’s more Americans are likely to route through large American hubs like Atlanta or Newark before arriving in Europe at their final destination. Course it really depends on where you’re flying from, the US is so huge that some airports are only served by a few airlines that fly directly to Europe, if any. For instance from San Francisco only KLM (and Delta codeshare) flies nonstop to AMS. To FRA its only United and Lufthansa. There are 4-6 separate airlines (not codeshares) depending on the season that fly to London nonstop.

      1. Still, I find it peculiar to call these huge hubs “lesser known airports”. Its a matter of what’s important to you when you book a flight. Is it price, direct flight or going to the airport of your choice? Usually if you can score 2 out of 3 its an achievement.

      2. The audience for this blog is primarily Americans. For Americans, FRA is lesser known for one big reason: it’s not seen as a big tourist city so people don’t view it as a destination they way they would Berlin (even though Berlin has such a smaller airport), or Munich (though they are a big hub). The context of this post is trying to find cheaper ways of getting to Europe in summer. To give you context, a flight to London that might cost $800 in March goes up to $1800 in July — the difference is incredible. To fly from the west coast of the US to anywhere in Europe in summer is nearly impossible for less than $1200 per person. So if you’d rather pay $1200 then you can take Iceland Air, instead of flying KLM for $1600.

      3. Yes, I get it. A flight to Frankfurt from NY is about 900 Euro in July. By the way, Norwegian flies from JFK to Gatwick, London for about the same price in July as well. So with a bit of research, and by booking in advance, it sure is not necessary to break the budget on the flight. But I agree with you that not being stuck on flying to Paris or Heathrow is a good starting point.

  2. OMG You’re right! I can’t believe I forgot to mention Norwegian. They fly from Oakland (across the Bay from San Francisco) and a few other US cities and do have great deals.

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