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branderson925 Dec 13th, 2017 09:27 AM

Planning a Trip from DC to Anywhere in Europe (Budget Friendly)
Hi there. I apologize in advance for the vague topic. I want to surprise my girlfriend with tickets to Europe for Christmas. We live in Washington, D.C. and have both been to Europe individually but have often talked about exploring together. I studied in Firenze for 6+ months and her in St. Petersburg for about the same time. We are extremely OPEN to going to most places in Europe so long as we can find a good deal. I would totally utilize the cheap fares on Wow Airlines but I don't think the lady will be very keen on it. I was wondering if anyone had some advice for slightly better airlines (less baggage fees, more comfort) that have deals from the DC Area (IAD, DCA, BWI) to really anywhere in Western or Central Europe. I know she will be surprised and excited to go anywhere in Europe so that's sort of the easy part.
Potential places of interest: London, Paris, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Milan, Rome, anywhere in Spain, Warsaw, Oslo, Budapest, Amsterdam. As you can see, we are not super set on a place. We have etched out potential backpacking plans in the past to do themes, our first trip together does not have to be a particular region.
I know this is vague but would appreciate the help. I have been looking through sites like Kayak, Adioso, GoogleFlights to try and find something of good value. I know it requires lots of diligence and painstaking searches but I was hoping for some guidance. I would like to book the trip for mid-March so we can be in Europe for her birthday. The trip would be 8-11 days roughly. I know some of the places of interest will be quite cold and limited on hours of daylight in March but that is still find as long as we can find a deal.

Thanks so much in advance!

Kathie Dec 13th, 2017 09:36 AM

If you are looking for budget-friendly, cross Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen off your list.

branderson925 Dec 13th, 2017 09:45 AM

Those are some of the cheapest places to find flights to. I've read more than few articles listing those places (as well as actual airline sites) as cheaper tickets from the U.S.

I should have mentioned it's a little over a week so we don't have to go to the cheapest cities. We will just be staying in hostels, only going out for one meal a day.

Christina Dec 13th, 2017 09:58 AM

To be honest, you just need to look at or or somewhere and get flight quotes. Actually, try as kayak has gotten annoying with all the prices listed that aren't real airline prices. The biggest thing is probably date/time of year. Of course places farther away cost more, also. IN general, the cheapest places to fly to from DC are London, Paris, Dublin, Amsterdam and Frankfurt, in my experience. But on some dates you can find just as cheap to other locations.

Cost of the city is a different thing, as sometimes places are cheaper that are going to be more expensive to fly to (like Prague).

Forget extra luggage fees, the bottom line of the cost for the ticket plus luggage is all that matters, not how the line items work out.

For some other cheap airlines, look at Condor and Norwegian and Icelandair. Condor flies to Frankfurt out of BWI, I believe. Icelandair used to fly out of BWI but I don't think it does any more. Turkish Air is often pretty cheap, also, but then you are routed through Istanbul so takes up a lot of time.

mid-March is a reasonable time to go. Checking some random places in mid-March (couldn't find a cheap one to Spain, although I thin it would be good at that time), Paris seems the cheapest. YOu can get a nonstop flight on United or Air France to/from Paris from IAD for less than $600 RT. YOu can't beat that. Condor doesn't fly until May out of BWI, though.

Sassafrass Dec 13th, 2017 10:02 AM

Look at XL airways France. We have flown with them from NYC to Paris and to Provence. We drove to NY.

If she is willing to stay in hostels, then do not overlook Wow, though with add ons, they are not always the bargain they seem.

Se what Turkish air has from Dulles. It is a great airline and sometimes has great rates. You would not have to stay in Istanbul if the current political climate bothers you. You could head to other parts of Turkey.

Go to TravelZoo for some good package deals, or for ideas.

March is not that far off. Why not plan the trip for May, when the weather will be beautiful and give her the tickets on her birthday? Personally, I would prefer nice weather.

No need to backpack. You won't be sleeping on park benches.

tuscanlifeedit Dec 13th, 2017 10:05 AM

I got an email yesterday mentioning fares under $600 from various US cities. Good luck.

Sassafrass Dec 13th, 2017 10:57 AM

Very aware these ideas are not what you asked about, just throwing it out for your consideration as a great gift.

If it does not absolutely have to be Europe, look at Costa Rica for a week or so. There is a great offer on Travelzoo's top 20 right now.

In March, some of the Caribbean islands are perfect. Hiking, sightseeing, interesting food, swimming, snorkeling, etc.

Even consider a Caribbean cruise in March. Affordable, great weather and lots to do if you choose a good itinerary. We are taking a cruise in March, out of San Juan, to Antigua, St Kitts, St Thomas, St Lucia and Barbados. Inside cabins on a mid-size, quieter ship, Jewel of the Seas, is under $400.00 plus tips and taxes.

If you are into nature and hiking, look at The Azores.

By March, parts of Spain has better weather than further North and costs less.

Fussgaenger Dec 13th, 2017 12:39 PM

Don't exclude Wow yet. $340 base fare for DC - Frankfurt, just for example, on Mar. 7-17. Other airline options are $600 plus. You won't save €260+ each if you have to pay extra fees, but you MIGHT save around $100-150 each, which will go a long way toward the rest of your trip in these major cities. Exercise your powers of persuasion if she balks.

PalenQ Dec 13th, 2017 12:45 PM

Get a copy of Let's Go Europe book - great for low-cost accommodations coverage and for budget travelers in general. For trains check; and If doing wide-ranging long trip on trains check out railpasses -most of which are 20% off if bought before the end of this year.

Kathie Dec 13th, 2017 02:07 PM

In my experience, the airfare is not the biggest expense in travel. So while you need to consider airfare, you also need to consider the cost of lodging, local transport, food, admission fees. For instance, London has lots of wonderful museums, and many of them are free. In contrast, Paris' wonderful museums all charge admission fees.

Gardyloo Dec 13th, 2017 02:39 PM

The gold standard for airfare search engines is the ITA Matrix - . You can use their month-long search function to find good prices, and their link with Google Flights (Google bought ITA a couple of years ago) makes booking quite easy. I just glanced for March and I can see round trips to Amsterdam on American Airlines for $454 some days, for example.

Another resource that takes a little more effort is to keep looking at this board on Flyertalk - . This is where airline wonks post "finds" in cheap fares. You need to have a basic knowledge of airport and airline codes, but it's not hard to get a handle on things. Note it's not just Europe, either - look at fares to Asia in the sub-$500 range.

PalenQ Dec 14th, 2017 08:42 AM

In contrast, Paris' wonderful museums all charge admission fees.>

But to minimize museum costs: on Sundays many are free or half price and with a Museum Pass if visiting several costs can be kept low. Louvre and many major museums free (and super crowded) first Sunday of month.

marvelousmouse Dec 14th, 2017 09:07 AM

I haven’t flown with wow. But have with Norwegian. Norwegian is fine, comfort wise. Iceland air is probably friendlier service wise. Look, they’re all airplanes. I don’t consider flying economy in any airline comfortable. You might as well be uncomfortable for half the money.

Agree with Kathie that the airfare is the least of it. And your lady would probably rather spend a few hours in an airplane uncomfortable than mulitiple nights in cheap lodging. So I’d go cheap on the airfare and throw the extra money towards lodging- which is easily equal or greater than your air ticket.

Sassafrass Dec 14th, 2017 09:31 AM

I agree about saving on airfare and spending more on lodging.

If March is an absolute must time, a private balcony cabin on Jewel of the Seas just dropped to $400.00 for March.
Wish I had waited to book. Would have saved a lot.

branderson925 Dec 14th, 2017 09:45 AM

Thanks for the insight everyone. The most helpful tool is the ITA Matrix. I want to buy cheaper flights now so they are set in stone and I can continue to save and see where the budget is as far as better accommodations. We are very low frills travelers (on the ground) but uncomfortable flights really get to my girlfriend.

The cruise is interesting and there are some good deals but we would still have to incorporate the flight to San Juan which is a minimum $300/pp for something not on the top of our list.

I will keep looking on. Thanks sincerely!

NewbE Dec 14th, 2017 09:52 AM

This is a really helpful thread in general, thanks to all who contributed.

Totally anecdotal comment: friends of mine who have splurged in an effort to get a comfortable flying experience have generally been disappointed; friends who have bought cheap tickets have been satisfied with their bargain.

Flying has the potential to really suck no matter how much you pay, so I am with those who say save on airfare when you can.

Dukey1 Dec 14th, 2017 10:09 AM

I'm sorry but as much as I like using ITA Software I would not call any site a "gold standard" that does not list Icelandair flights to Europe

NewbE Dec 14th, 2017 10:27 AM

Is Icelandair like Southwest--not included in online TA sites?

marvelousmouse Dec 14th, 2017 12:18 PM

I don’t think so? I’m pretty sure that’s how I found the Icelandair flight last time.

OP- what’s your girlfriend’s idea of comfort? Checked luggage? Leg room? Food service? I thought wow was like norwegian. Norwegian has really cheap stripped flights and then it’s got slightly more expensive tickets that include luggage, food, seat choice. But as far as actual seat comfort goes, they’re all about the same. To get more comfortable seats, you’d have to go up in class regardless of airline. And then you’re looking at a lot more money. FWIW, be careful when booking with any airline. United is now offering fares that are stripped as well.

I guess I think we need to know what your gf considers unacceptable to give you appropriate feedback...

Gardyloo Dec 14th, 2017 12:31 PM

<i>I'm sorry but as much as I like using ITA Software I would not call any site a "gold standard" that does not list Icelandair flights to Europe</i>

It does, and covers WOW and Norwegian too. It <i>doesn't</i> include Southwest, since part of Southwest's scam plan is to stay away from the GDSs for fear people will have an easier time comparing prices.

yestravel Dec 14th, 2017 12:58 PM

I haven't read through this thread so sorry if I repeat something already given. Skyscanner
is good for searching for low priced flights. Momondo
also show fares and refers you to OTAs who have the cheaper fares. Friends just booked $350 round trip on UA IAD to Paris. She used Skyscanner and than an OTA.

NewbE Dec 14th, 2017 01:34 PM

<FWIW, be careful when booking with any airline. United is now offering fares that are stripped as well.>

Very true! We booked one and were annoyed to discover no assigned seats. NBD on that trip, but lesson learned.

Sassafrass Dec 15th, 2017 09:29 AM

SW does not matter to the OP, but it might to others and to suggest SW runs a scam is not true. No matter where you look, even if they were on the same site, you cannot compare SW with WOW and Norwegian. It is apples to oranges.

WOW flies from the US to Europe. SW is a domestic airline. It does not fly to Europe.
Norwegian flies to a few Islands, Europe and other places from the US. SW does not fly to those same places.

SW flies all over the US and some places in the Caribbean.
WOW and Norwegian do not fly within the US or to any of the places SW flies.

SW rates are clearly posted, as are any restrictions. Their web site is straightforward and easy to use, day by day or month by month. It is also easy to see which days of the entire month are cheaper if you have a choice. All flights are priced individually by category, so easy to figure out total. Luggage included.

Some domestic airlines, you have to look carefully at add on for luggage. You have to search for the RT that meets your needs coming and going and it takes awhile. The low fare quotes on some of the web sites is for multi-stops and layovers, plus add on the luggage, etc. it is no longer cheap. Of course, the good thing is, if you don't check luggage, you are not paying for it.

I have traveled a good bit domestically the last two years and IME, SW from my city has been the lowest cost every single time, since it includes luggage. They also give you full credit for any flights you cancel, good for a year. I still check other airlines going the route I want, but usually find I might just as well have looked only at SW.

NewbE Dec 15th, 2017 10:09 AM

I like SW, too. I think Gardyloo's viewpoint is an outlier.

Gardyloo Dec 15th, 2017 10:56 AM

Not trying to pick a fight, and I probably shouldn't have used the word "scam," because obviously it's not. My view is that Southwest's marketing is masterful and has managed to convince many people that they're cheaper than other US airlines, and that things like free bags enhance the bargain. In reality, Southwest's prices are often NOT the cheapest on given routes and on given days, but because they only sell through their own site, customers are discouraged from doing the sort of price comparisons they can do on the likes of Expedia or Kayak.

Anyway, just my view. Of course Southwest (their symbol is WN, by the way, not SW) doesn't fly on intercontinental routes - yet, although they're expanding their network in North and Central America slowly.

NewbE Dec 15th, 2017 11:25 AM

< In reality, Southwest's prices are often NOT the cheapest on given routes and on given days,>
I agree 100%.

<customers are discouraged from doing the sort of price comparisons they can do on the likes of Expedia or Kayak. >
That may well be Southwest's goal, but I don't obey :-) Comparison shopping airfares is essential!

We fly domestically 3-4 times a year. I always check SW. It's the cheapest about 30% of the time, in our experience.

NewbE Dec 15th, 2017 11:31 AM

Should have added, it obviously depends on where you're flying from and to.

PalenQ Dec 15th, 2017 11:38 AM

limited on hours of daylight in March>

not that limited as there should be 12 hours of daylight in mid-March everywhere.

marvelousmouse Dec 15th, 2017 11:39 AM

I think it might depend on where your local airport is. Can’t remember if gardyloo is pdx or sea like me- but I’m inclined to agree that southwest is never the cheapest. When you add in luggage, you might be talking about a savings of $10 which isn’t much, and doesn’t apply to me most of the time. Their sales are always deceptive too (again, out of sea). So scam isn’t the right word, but I agree about the marketing and comparison bits.

PalenQ Dec 15th, 2017 11:55 AM

Air fare of course affects expenses but so do other factors - like where you go - northern Europe significantly more expensive that say Portugal or Greece or eastern Europe/Balkans. And accommodations - airbnbs can save tons over hotels. Food- self-catering places like airbnb and flats can save tons or having to eat at restaurants which in Europe are IME more expensive than here.

Cheap flight ain't everything, but a combination of several factors makes a trip more affordable or less.

Sassafrass Dec 15th, 2017 02:11 PM

Yes, and SW has been great when things happened. Their attitude and customer service has been outstanding. When I had to change flights for five people last year at the last minute. They worked it out, no change fees, no problem. When DH got sick and I cancelled the day before the flights, they gave me full credit towards future flights. They automatically gave me several hundred dollars when I volunteered to give my seat to a family who needed an extra one.

danlev Dec 16th, 2017 03:12 PM

PalenQ's suggestion of using Airbnb is a good one, and let me take it one step further. Do research online and find small places that are both high on charm and that have inexpensive Airbnbs. As I recall, Reims, Modena and Padua might be examples. Padua is 30 minutes to Venice by train. Oh, and Haarlem is 15 minutes to Amsterdam. Etc.

StCirq Dec 16th, 2017 05:48 PM

PalenQ gets it right on many counts. We live in Europe and travel around a lot to many different destinations. I suppose peope would call us cheap travelers, but we manage to go all over and have a marvelous time and eat and drink and sleep well without busting a budget. We have senior discount cards on SNCF, frequent-user cards with the Accor hotels, and other perks. It's not hard to get low-cost accommodations in Europe.

PalenQ Dec 17th, 2017 08:30 AM

Amsterdam is very festive from Dec 26 thru New Year's - one of busiest times of year there as folks come from all over Europe for some reason.

PalenQ Dec 17th, 2017 08:31 AM

Before booking airbnbs in cities like Paris, Amsterdam, etc check on the legality of such places with local tourist offices - these places are cracking down on some that are illegal.

branderson925 Dec 19th, 2017 06:50 AM


Regarding daylight that was regarding Scandinavia in particular Stockholm. I could be wrong by 12 hours of daylight in mid-March doesn't seem to align with my memory of trip to Stockholm in April of 2012.

I could be wrong.

This thread has been super helpful.

Thanks friends!

PalenQ Dec 19th, 2017 07:15 AM

Stockholm in mid-April would have more hours of daylight than places farther south.

branderson925 Dec 20th, 2017 09:40 AM

Right, but what about March?

Coquelicot Dec 20th, 2017 10:31 AM

will help you compare daylengths for different cities for the same day. On March 15, day length in Nice is slightly longer than in Stockholm.

PalenQ Dec 20th, 2017 12:28 PM

slightly with a big S - March 21 or a day earlier or later sees everyplace on Earth have the exact same amount of daylight - that's why they call it the equinox. From then until June 21 or so days get longer the more north you go.

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