By Air Europe Get There Guides Places Practical Travel

Get There Guide: Flying Cheap From the U.S. to Europe

September 13, 2015

So, you want to get from Hilton Head Island, South Carolina to Warsaw, Poland, do ya? No? Well, maybe it’s just us then. But on the off-chance that one or two more of you are looking to plot a similar course (or just hoping to spend the least amount of money possible) to get from the U.S. to Europe, we wrote this Get There Guide just for you! As for the recounting of humorous incidents that occurred on our journey? Those are just freebies thrown in to make sure you keep reading all the nitty-gritty details and don’t just look at the pictures. (#HonestyIsTheBestPolicy)

HOW WE GOT TO THERE

After guilt-tripping both sets of parents about the fact that this was their last chance to spend quality time with us for the next few months, we all hopped in the car from our home on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina and took a 40-minute drive to the international airport in sweet-as-a-peach Savannah, Georgia (airport code: SAV).

From there, we hopped an easy, super inexpensive Jet Blue flight to JFK in New Yak (or however they say it up there). Over the course of our seven-hour layover in New York, our laptop flew off the x-ray belt, we paid incredibly expensive prices for things like sushi with unknown ingredients (pickled seaweed? banana pepper? hard pineapple?) and dry sandwiches, and we encountered the OMC, or “open mouthed cougher,” who immediately gifted his cold with severe congestion to Karley. On the bright side, we enjoyed sitting next to a table of Jamaicans listening to Bob Marley, which helped us remember that “every little thing is gonna be alright,” and that international terminals are an adventure in and of themselves.

Finally, we boarded an overnight Norwegian flight (complete with extra leg room!) and woke up to the gorgeous mid-century modern design of the Oslo airport. Three pastries and another lengthy layover later, it was time to board our final Norwegian flight to Warsaw.

Extra leg room? Yes, please.

WHY WE CHOSE THIS ROUTE

First things first: we weren’t in a rush. Sure, there are routes from SAV to Europe with fewer connections and shorter layovers. But there’s a price tag attached to convenience, and the dollar amount was more than we wanted to pay. For that reason, we chose to look for flights from major international airport hubs (specifically, New York) when scouting sweet deals to Europe. Working out how you will get to those major hubs requires a bit more effort, but can be much more cost effective than letting a search engine route your international flight all the way from your home airport.

PS: If you rely on a flight search site when booking your trip, many times these sites will generate the “cheapest” routes based on a single airline and/or that airline’s affiliates. Most of the time, these sites will also miss combining the cheapest flight options for each leg of the trip (yes, even the “hacker fares” listed on Kayak are not always comprehensive or the most economical option). Creating your own piecemeal itinerary definitely takes more time, but can often be the cheaper option. Here’s an example, using Kayak, of the price differences we encountered when booking our trip.

One-way ticket: Routing from home airport to international destination

SAVANNAH >> WARSAW
major carrier + affiliates

to_warsaw

TOTAL COST: $738

One-way ticket: Routing from major hub to international destination

SAVANNAH >> NEW YORK >> WARSAW

transport to major hub: $64

international ticket: $295.50

TOTAL COST: $359.50
Savings: $378.50

A few words of caution: Piecing together flights like this really works best if you are a carry-on only passenger because airlines will not automatically send your checked luggage to the other airline(s) taking you to your final destination. Theoretically, you could still do this while checking luggage, but this would require going back through security…major pain. Next, and this might sound basic, but DO NOT BOOK TIGHT LAYOVERS (all caps totally necessary). Even if you are traveling carry-on only, it can take longer to switch between flights and/or you might run into issues such as not being able to get your tickets until you arrive at the airport (looking at you, Norwegian). A few hours in between flights should suffice.

While three flights and couple of lengthy layovers isn’t exactly tops in anyone’s travel book, it was no big deal for us considering the fact that we were headed to Europe for 2.5 months. What’s more, traditional round-trip tickets schedule travelers to depart from the same airport they arrive at. We wanted to work our way through Eastern and Central Europe from top to bottom, so beginning and ending in Poland wouldn’t have made sense. Ending our trip in Italy, however? Perfetto. (We Google translated that, so don’t judge us if it’s not, well, perfect.)

Planning a multi-leg flight itinerary with a low-cost carrier (like Norwegian) shows off how, well, “low cost” they really are. For those unfamiliar with the term or the airlines that fall under this umbrella, the designation is basically synonymous with “no frills.” For example, Norwegian does not provide passengers with the typical free-drink-and-peanuts combo, and other add-ons (including seat reservations) are available only at an additional fee. The most infamous of these carriers is Ryanair, which charges for everything from using a credit card to pay for your flight to not printing your ticket in advance.

That being said, if you are willing to deal with a few minor inconveniences, you get the huge bonus of flying into one city and out  of the other for very reasonable prices. For most of the low-cost carriers the cost of each leg of the trip equals the total of a round-trip flight. This stands in contrast to traditional airlines, where the cost of a one-way ticket to your location and the cost of a one-way ticket back from your location will not necessarily equal the cost of one round-trip ticket, making multi-leg itineraries more expensive with traditional carriers. If that all sounds like gibberish, see below for a visual example using our cities of arrival and departure.

Major Carrier: Multi-city trip to Europe

least expensive multi-leg ticket | Aer Lingus*
flying into Warsaw and out of Rome

TOTAL COST: $645

Low-cost Carrier: Multi-city trip to Europe

one-way ticket to Warsaw | Norwegian


one-way ticket from Rome | Norwegian

TOTAL COST: $582.60
Total savings: $62.50

*Note: This Aer Lingus rate is actually GREAT, but note that you’ll only land great prices like this if you’re flying from major hubs to Europe. Also, the dates we used when generating this example are firmly in the “off season” – if you’re traveling in the high season, your savings are likely to be much more drastic..

While this may not seem like a huge amount of savings, those extra dollars add up when you’re traveling as a pair. Also, keep in mind that the dates we selected (in real life and for example-giving purposes) are in the off season, meaning they only get higher from here! Finally, if you’re brand-loyal, you can most likely expect higher rates regardless of the season (unless of course you are balling out and have millions of frequent flyer miles). Here’s the cheapest flight we found via Delta, just for kicks.

Obviously your savings would be much higher in this scenario – as in $327.40 higher. Not too shabby!

THE BOTTOM LINE

  1. Always check the prices of flying out of a major hub
  2. Check the flights offered by low-cost carriers that don’t show up on all search sites (Southwest, Ryanair, etc)
  3. Don’t assume you’re getting the best price by limiting your itinerary to one airline and its affiliates

Happy travels!

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