One of my favorite memories of Christmas 2016 was surprising my family with the news that we were planning a trip to Europe (Switzerland, specifically) for summer 2017.
I spent the better part of 3 years saving to buy tickets and by late November of 2016, I had enough for 4 tickets to Europe during the summer, which is when the prices are highest. My savings account for those plane tickets had $6,000 in it, which did make me physically ill to think about spending.
But I was prepared to spend it because my husband’s sister and her family live in Geneva, Switzerland and have lived in Europe for over 10 years, with our last visit to see them being 2007. We very much want to see where they live, and we want to give the cousins the opportunity to play with each other in one of the world’s most beautiful settings (the Alps!). My husband has saved up 3 full weeks of vacation time, and we have a place to stay in Europe, and we just needed to get over there. It has to happen in summer because that’s when we can be away from home for so long without a school issue, and it’s when our family over there can also go do a big vacation to the mountains. If you don’t have to go to Europe in the summer, then planning a trip during the off-season is probably one of the quickest ways to save big bucks on your airfare, FYI.
Here are a few things I did that worked out really well for our peace of mind and our savings account as we shopped for transatlantic flights. I hope these help you!
No Such Thing as Saving Too Early
Summer happens to be when everyone wants to go to Europe, and so the prices for airfare are usually around $1,500 per ticket, with very little movement down. So I saved and saved and saved some more. My first tip for you is if you want to go to Europe in the summer and you are buying several tickets, start saving NOW. Even if you want to go 5 years from now, you are not saving too soon, I promise!
When the picture above was taken, on Christmas Day, the tickets themselves had not been purchased, but we planned to buy them in early January. Prices had been around $1,250 which was slightly lower than we were expecting, and we were glad for that. But they were not changing much at all.
Keep A (Digital) Eye on Prices
How did we know the prices weren’t changing much at all? We were tracking the prices. There are several free tools out there to help you get alerts when prices change for flights that interest you. We used Airfarewatchdog.com and it was very helpful in the beginning to reaffirm what my sister-in-law already told us, which was that summer airfare prices rarely (if ever) change much at all, except for as your date gets closer, and then of course you can expect fares to go up even more. We were watching 10, 9 and 8 months out and kept seeing fares between $1,200 and $1,600. Honestly this helped me to make peace with the reality of the price and to feel comfortable making the purchase once we were ready.
Only because we were already spending gross amounts of money in December did we not purchase the tickets before Christmas. And that decision ended up saving us THOUSANDS. Why? Because the airlines SLASHED prices two days after Christmas this year. I’m not sure if it was a random fluke or if this is actually common practice in the days following Christmas when most people are all tapped out, financially, and the airlines need to do something more extreme to boost sales that week. Either way, on December 27th we got a notification that there were tickets available to Europe in July with prices as low as $635.
The Price Isn’t Everything
Because we had the money already set aside we were able to pounce on this unheard of deal, and we were even able to be a bit choosy about which flights we took, opting for the airlines, airports, and flight schedules that were the most child-friendly. You see, when traveling with kids, you need to think about factors beyond just the ticket price. My sister-in-law shared with us her favorite airlines to fly across the Atlantic (British Airways and Lufthansa) and her favorite airports to hang in with kids (Amsterdam was her top pick and Heathrow airport also has a great play area). She also helped us think about strategic timing to help the kids adjust more easily. From the states to Europe try to fly overnight so they will sleep some, and coming back start earlier in the day with the goal to arrive in the states in the evening. So armed with this information, we started comparing flight options and ultimately picked a British Airways overnight flight with a layover in Heathrow, noting that this airline had an additional flight to Geneva 1 1/2 hours after our connection would leave, giving us a buffer if our transatlantic flight was delayed or if customs proved to be a nightmare and we missed our connection. These tickets were $850 each including taxes, and they were the right pick even though there were technically even cheaper flights.
Investigate Your Credit Card Rewards
If you are already very aware of what rewards you are eligible for with your credit card(s) this may not be much of a light bulb moment for you. But I have been using the same credit card since 2012 for almost every single purchase I make except for bills, and I have NEVER even so much as glanced at what rewards I was eligible to redeem. I finally thought to investigate them about a month ago when I realized that we were, in fact, about to spend $6,000 on plane tickets and I was desperate to see if I could possibly get that number down. Just because I had the money set aside didn’t mean that I was excited about spending it! I was PUMPED to learn that I had enough points saved to cover an entire roundtrip ticket (thanks to giving my credit card a good workout every month for 4 years without touching the rewards…airline tickets cost TONS of points, y’all!).
Of course every credit card is different, so you’ll need to investigate exactly how redeeming your points works, but I was pleased to see that when we searched for airfare through our credit card reward system we were seeing the same great fare rates that my husband found through the alert system he was using. While it seemed to me that I had enough points to purchase 2 tickets I couldn’t figure out how to make that work and so, not wanting the prices to change on me before I figured it out, I just got one ticket booked for free and paid for the rest on the spot, spending $2,450 out of pocket, which is less than we spent going to Disney World! When you expect the bill to be more than double that price, you will gleefully pay it! 🙂
So by saving up, getting a good feel for what the prices are like, making use of credit card reward points that were just sitting there, and jumping on an awesome after Christmas sale, we were able to pay for the largest expense we will have for our European summer vacation, and for significantly less than we anticipated.
I hope this helps you snag a great deal and fulfill a dream you might have to take your family to Europe and have the trip of a lifetime! Stay tuned for more posts all about the planning we are doing to make our trip to Europe affordable and fun.