My husband and I are planning a trip to Europe (Munich, then several towns in Austria, Italy, and London). This will be our first time traveling overseas as a couple ( we each had an experience over 35 years ago, as college aged students). We plan to leave mid July 2020 and return the second week of August. How soon in advanced should we book an international flight and flights within Europe?
There is no need to by flights this far out. Just check pricing for your favorite routes and keep monitoring. You will then get a feel for what is a good and bad price. I would check all the main carriers using their direct websites. I go to Europe every July and I would like to think I have this airline pricing thing down - but its very tricky! Sometimes you will get great deals by booking early, and at others time, you can get good deals 3 months before your trip. For this past July, I brought a ticket to London from Chicago in April through KLM. Not my usual carrier, but the flights were Virgin and Delta and considerably cheaper than going through Delta direct. I would advise you to always buy tickets through the main carrier websites. Do not purchase through a third party (Expedia, Priceline) but by all means use them as search engines for routes and pricing. Also check different airports. From the midwest you will likely need to connect somewhere like Chicago or Atlanta. Connecting flights can make pricing go up considerably especially if you are flying into some small local airport. You may save yourself a lot of money by driving to a larger airport and a more competitive market. Don't forget insurance. If you buy the airline insurance when you purchase tickets it does not cover much besides the flight. Look for travel insurance, through a company like Travelguard. They will wave pre existing conditions if you purchase the policy within about 2 weeks of your initial down payment. So keep that in mind when you do decide to purchase your airline ticket. Also, one last note about a late July/August vacation to Europe. Around July 20th, All European schools begin their summer vacation. Accommodation will be higher and tourist attractions busier. Also for the last two years in July, there has been a heat wave in Europe - so air-conditioning maybe something you will want to consider for hotels.
To add to the very thorough reply above: if you use Google Flights to search for airfare, it gives you a range of typical prices for the flight you're looking at. Very helpful when you have no idea about price.
As for accomodation, it is key to book far ahead at that time of the year. Definitely try to book by May, and don't hesitate to do so, say, around Christmas this year. Otherwise, the best accomodation will fill up.
I agree with the above comments and would add that I would book my hotels or B&B's in the next 6 weeks if you know where you want to go. You will be surprised by how quickly places book up, especially in Italy. I have had excellent results using the RS guidebooks when seeking places to stay. I always book directly with the hotel since I had some bad experiences with booking.com several years ago and I find the prices are just as good. I book my flights way ahead of most people because I find that the prices are usually better when the flight first opens up for booking and I like to pick the seats where we'll be sitting, you would be surprised at how fast the good seats get taken on a flight. (I used seat guru)
Are you driving or using the train/metro system? That will have an impact on where you stay due to parking access or how close you are to the train station. Lastly, I would recommend you read/listen to the articles and videos on packing light on the RS site, this one single piece of information has made our trips so much more enjoyable and easy.
I suspect you are not, but if you are using airline miles to book your flights, that is the only reason to book them this far in advance. The free flights fill up very quickly. Otherwise I would probably wait until January if I was paying the cash rate. I also agree with others who say there is no penalty to booking hotels this early as long as you book a refundable rate. That way you can get exactly what you want and if the price drops you can always cancel and rebook but usually what happens is the price rises .
Don’t forget to clear your “cookies” after searches. I clear mine all the time on my iPad. My husband doesn’t. We have researching flights to London for next April and I get lower flights popping up while he gets the more expensive airline and flights.
For flights within Europe, and long distance trains, look about 3-6 months in advance (Jan-May 2020).
Flights go on sale ~6 months in advance, different airlines have different policies.
Trains are much the same for those routes where there are advance-purchase discounts, tickets on sale 3-6 months in advance.
For many local train routes there is no discount for advance purchase, and in some cases it is not even possible.
By 1 month before departure prices will be creeping up for both planes and trains.
For European Airlines (mostly) and trains (always), prices only ever go up, never down, so buy as soon as you can.
Although transatlantic airline fares go up and down a lot in major markets, I'm not sure that's the case if you aren't flying from one of the competitive international gateways. I'm lucky to fly out of a big East Coast airport and have generally done very well by tracking prices at this time of year and jumping on a bargain offering during the fall. Once I know my arrival and departure airports and the rough timing, I try to check fares every single day. Deals may come and go within 24 hours or even less. There may or may not be similar buying options from January on. You just never know.
One pattern I've observed is that as you get closer to departure time, fares for the best routings (fewer connections, most reasonable layover times) seem to rise much more rapidly than those for the less-attractive options. The difference might be just $100 in the fall but $500 or more by the time March or April rolls around. In addition to the longer overnight trek, having to make an extra connection can mean you pay more in seat-selection fees. I'd advise people flying from more challenging airports or to more unusual European destinations to try to get flights nailed down early.
However, you really need to have the basic outline of your itinerary nailed down before you pay for flights. A lot of first-timers have a very over-optimistic idea of how fast they can cover their planned destinations. It's best to deal with that problem before buying airline tickets into Paris and out of Athens two weeks later (just as an example; it all depends on what the traveler want to see along the way, of course).
Generally speaking, fares for intra-European flights (and for express trains) head ever upward as other travelers snap up the cheapest tickets. Tickets go on sale at different times; this especially applies to train tickets.
Thank you so much for your responses! I will start monitoring sights like Google Flights and Kayak.com to get an idea about the cost of flights. We hope to first fly into Munich, Germany. I noticed on Kayak that there is an option to check "multi-city". I am wondering if that is a good option since we want to fly into Munich for 3 nights, then take the rail/train to Linz, Austria for 5 nights (where our foreign exchange student lives) and then take the train to Salzburg for a couple of nights and then go to Vienna. Would it be worth it to take a rail/train back to Munich in order to fly to Vienna?
Multi-city is the option to choose if you want to fly into one city and home from a different city. You'd do that rather than buying two one-way tickets, typically much more expensive. Although you can use that option if you want to include other, mid-trip, flights, it is usually cheaper to buy those separately.
I don't think it would be a good idea to return to Munich in order to fly to Vienna. That would probably take longer and cost more.
No need to fly from Munich to Vienna, you can take a train from Salzburg to Vienna. The section from Salzburg to Linz is quite scenic.
I see now you were thinking of going Linz-Salzburg-Vienna. Geographically Linz is between the other two, so it would be much more convenient to rejig your dates and do Salzburg-Linz-Vienna.
Thanks acraven for your advice! I will look into that! Thanks Philip, but we have to stay in Linz during a certain time frame that is why I listed Munich to Linz to Salzburg to Vienna. Our exchange student's family is hosing us in Linz.
In that case I would look into a route from Munich to Linz to Vienna, then back to Salzburg, and fly out of Munich again. Likely to be cheaper, and barely more train travel (just an extra Salzburg - Munich ride which is both cheap and fast).
balso: We are also planning to go to Italy, so we were thinking about taking a train from Vienna to Venice and not worry about going back to Munich (I wasn't sure on the "multi-trip" if we had to fly out of the same airport that we flew into, but after looking at Google Flights and Kayak.com, more closely, it looks like one can fly in and out of a multitude of airports). After staying in Venice for a couple of nights, we plan on taking the train from Venice to Rome with an afternoon stop-over in Florence. We will stay 3 nights in Rome. Our final flight will be from Rome to London (we have a nephew in London with whom we will stay for a few nights, before heading back to the States). Do you have any suggestions about any of these places or modes of transportation?
With that overall plan, you could book flights into Munich and out of London, with a separate one-way flight from Rome to London. Those flights are quite inexpensive, especially when booked well ahead.
There is a direct train from Vienna to Venice once a day, taking 7 hours 40 minutes. Book this about 3 months ahead on OeBB (Austrian site) or Trenitalia (Italian) to get the best price. You can see the routes and schedules for all European trains on Bahn.de, but you need to go to the individual national train website to book.
smckissick, are you flying out of KC or Wichita? I will just note that for the last three years or so, Delta has had some great fare sales to Europe from KC right around the Thanksgiving holiday week. They just popped up and were gone in a few days. You can't count on it, but worth keeping an extra eyeball on fares at that time.
Any way you could fly into Vienna first?
Lola: Thank you for the good information! I will definitely look at the OeBB Austria website or Italy's Trenitalia site.
Stan: Thank you for the information about looking during the Thanksgiving holiday week! I am looking into flying either out of KC or Denver (I may check Wichita too, but thought the others would be cheaper).
Thanks everyone for your great ideas! Feel free to tell me more.
"I wasn't sure on the "multi-trip" if we had to fly out of the same airport that we flew into"
No, multi-city is when you DON'T want to fly out of the same airport you flew into. For instance, Kansas City to Munich, and Rome to Kansas City, all on one ticket, is an example of a multi city itinerary. Some websites call this "multiple destinations," and another name for this is "open jaw" - they all mean the same thing. Some airlines hide it on their website (United has it under "Advanced Search" and not next to the Round Trip and One Way options).
You don't even have to return to the same US city, if you don't want to. For instance, you can fly Denver to Munich, then Venice to Kansas City. Multi-city all on one ticket is usually MUCH cheaper than two one-way tickets. Even if it is a bit more than a simple round trip, you save time and money not backtracking.
Start looking at flight options now, so you'll know a good price when you see it. Then, you can pounce (prices can change in an hour). To learn who flies from a particular airport, look at that airport's Wikipedia page. Don't forget to allow enough time for a connection, particularly on returning to the US. You have to go through US immigration and customs at your first US airport, regardless of your final destination, unless your last European airport is Dublin or Shannon in Ireland.
To find flights within Europe, use Skyscanner: https://www.skyscanner.com/
As said above, flights between the US and Europe can fluctuate, but flights within Europe only go up in price.
Harold: I was also wondering if I can add another flight to a "multi-city" ticket. Like Kansas City to Munich, then Rome to London and then London to Kansas City?
Pretty sure you can add multiple flights -- the United website has an "add another flight" page. Pricing for intra-Europe flights may be different from the low-cost airlines, though.
" I was also wondering if I can add another flight to a "multi-city" ticket. Like Kansas City to Munich, then Rome to London and then London to Kansas City?"
Yes you can. But it's not always the best deal. You have to check prices and flight options doing this, then check the price of the intra-European segment by itself on Skyscanner.
One reason it's likely to cost more to put the intra-European flight on the same ticket as the transatlantic flight is that the European budget carriers are not likely to cooperate with United, Delta, etc,, so you'll probably be limiting your options for the intra-European flight to full-cost airlines.
I'm also not sure the budget carriers get all their flights pinned down and into the database as far ahead as dome travelers like to book their transatlantic flights, but that's just a vague impression I have.
In any case, it's always a good idea to price out all viable options.