Hello! I am looking to go on the Eastern Europe tour September 2020 and just wondering how far out people are booking their flights? Also what an average price from the West coast looks like (we are in Oregon). Any advice would be greatly appreciated!`
There are a lot of discussions and recommendations for optimal airfare pricing. e.g. https://media.hopper.com/articles/how-far-in-advance-should-you-book-your-flight
Beyond pricing, here are a couple of thoughts regarding when to buy.
Since most of us looking for economy pricing buy non-refundable tickets, hold of until you are confident on your travel plans. That includes go-nogo decisions, extra time before or after a tour etc. You only have 24 hours to change your mind on dates and specifics.
If you are using milage awards, capacity controled "saver" awards in particular, book early when tickets are being realased (11 months?). Keep in mind that if you book tickets way in advanced, schedules will likely change. Be perpared to challenge the airline if they change connection from good to either too tight or overly long layovers when schedules are changed.
Where in Oregon? Flights are cheaper and connections better departing PDX compared to MFR. We depart from the SF Bay Area airports for some flights for cost and reliability reasons. Fog delays are a problem for SFO and MFR. Of course traveling to a departure airport away from home adds time and cost.
I start monitoring fares (usually daily) once I know my starting and ending points and approximate dates. After developing a feel for typical fares on the routes I want (with acceptable layovers, etc.), I try to buy on a dip in price. Since I usually start looking at least six months before my trip and live in a fairly competitive market, I have a chance to catch a short-term fare drop. The story may be different from other origins, and when you have challenging destination (as you do), there may be few, or no, bargain opportunities.
It has seemed to me that prices of the best routings seem to climb faster than prices of the flight combos you do not want--the ones with 7-hour layovers, for example. The more obscure the destination, the more I'd be nervous about that.
Do as suggested and start looking now, open jaws and round trips. Likely there will be some good fares in the next few months so be ready,
I don’t think Icelandair serves Eastern Europe so that’s out, and Condor will have stopped service by mid-September.
A “good” fare is probably about $1200 although sometimes $600 is possible (not every year).
Don’t dwell on the exact route you think you want/need. Remember that flights within Europe, even one-way fares are crazy cheap. I suggest you hit skyscanner and search “everywhere” and see the many surprising fares from your home airport to Europe. Maybe you find a fare to, say, Spain, for cheap, grab it as you can likely get to where you want to get to from Spain for next to nothing.
Google Flights is a useful tool for learning what each airline offers in routes, as well as prices. You can track specific flights, which will help you learn the "typical" prices for your flights. The default fares are normally basic economy, so plan to add about $120 if you want to check a bag both ways and make advance seat reservations.
You will likely want to book a "multi city" flight-say, into Prague/home from your final tour stop.
One of the best pieces of advice I received about flights is to make your connecting flight in Europe (rather than, say, on the US East Coast). You are much closer to your destination and typically have more options to get there if there is a glitch along the way.
I fly put of PDX. Last year I booked tickets to Europe five months in advance; this year I found great airfares seven months ahead of time. I personally prefer Delta's PDX-AMS. route; connecting in Amsterdam is a breeze and airport staff is very helpful if you encounter a problem (yes, I know this from experience:)!).
Once you make your resevation, don't look back! Just focus on preparing to enjoy a marvelous time in Europe!
Thank you everyone for your helpful advice! All very useful and much appreciated!
I just noticed someone said that Iceland Air is out. We did the Eastern Europe tour last month. We flew Iceland Air to Munich, then went to Cesky Krumlov for one night before ending up in Prague (the start of the tour) for one night before the tour started. On the way back, we went from Lake Bled to Salzburg by train, spent three nights there, then took the train to Munich for our flight back to Denver.
I like Iceland Air's prices, and the planes are fairly comfortable, but I don't like the fact that ALL of their flights go to Reykjavik. It's a lot of hassle having to change planes in that tiny airport.
If you are going to follow Jay MN's advice, of getting the cheapest fare to Europe and then booking a separate ticket to your final destination, make sure you are aware of all the issues and risks involved. Here's a good summary: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Travel-g41707-c207311/Newton:Massachusetts:Connecting.On.Separate.Tickets.html
I'm not saying you can't do this, particularly if you are going to a place that has poor or expensive connections from your home airport (I did this going to Sicily). But do be aware of ALL the issues and costs. For instance, if you're going to need a night in an airport hotel to avoid missing your flight, be sure to add that cost into the calculation.
Also be aware that "average prices from the West Coast" don't exist. Prices are VERY origin and destination specific. So, a great fare from LAX won't help you, unless you want to get to Los Angeles before your trip anyway. Of course, if you do have a way to stay cheaply and/or easily in a major West Coast hub (Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver), do be sure to check prices from there as well. Leaving from one of these cities may be cheaper than leaving from Oregon - or it may not be. Again, the only "rule" for airline fares is that there are no rules. The airlines set the fares using very complicated algorithms, and computers, not people, are doing much of the fare setting.
My favorite example: a few years ago, I was looking in March for airfares to Europe from New York in May of that year (so, "too late to get a deal" according to most advice). I found it was $349 from New York to Zurich, nonstop, on a choice of airlines. Not a typo - three hundred and forty-nine dollars! Then I looked at fares from New York to Geneva. It was about $1200 nonstop; the cheapest connection was about $650 with an 11 or 12 hour layover in Casablanca (Royal Air Maroc was having a sale), and the cheapest flights with decent layovers were about $700.
So, why was Zurich so cheap? Why was Geneva so much more expensive than Zurich? Your guess is as good as mine.