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Planning a Trip from DC to Anywhere in Europe (Budget Friendly)

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Dec 13th, 2017, 10:27 AM
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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!
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Dec 13th, 2017, 10:36 AM
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If you are looking for budget-friendly, cross Stockholm, Oslo and Copenhagen off your list.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 10:45 AM
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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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 10:58 AM
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To be honest, you just need to look at kayak.com or expedia.com or somewhere and get flight quotes. Actually, try skyscanner.net 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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 11:02 AM
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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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 11:05 AM
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I got an email yesterday mentioning fares under $600 from various US cities. Good luck.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 11:57 AM
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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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 01:39 PM
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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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 01:45 PM
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Get a copy of Let's Go Europe book - great for low-cost accommodations coverage and for budget travelers in general. For trains check www.ricksteves.com; www.budgeteuropetravel.com and www.seat61.com. 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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 03:07 PM
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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.
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Dec 13th, 2017, 03:39 PM
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The gold standard for airfare search engines is the ITA Matrix - http://matrix.itasoftware.com/ . 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 - https://www.flyertalk.com/forum/mileage-run-deals-372/ . 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.
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Dec 14th, 2017, 09:42 AM
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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.
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Dec 14th, 2017, 10:07 AM
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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.
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Dec 14th, 2017, 10:31 AM
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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.
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Dec 14th, 2017, 10:45 AM
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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!
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Dec 14th, 2017, 10:52 AM
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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.
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Dec 14th, 2017, 11:09 AM
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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
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Dec 14th, 2017, 11:27 AM
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Is Icelandair like Southwest--not included in online TA sites?
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Dec 14th, 2017, 01:18 PM
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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...
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Dec 14th, 2017, 01:31 PM
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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

It does, and covers WOW and Norwegian too. It doesn't 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.
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