I fly to 4 European cities for $700. Here’s how you too can get cheap travel with Google Flights

With most Covid testing requirements lifted and the US dollar roughly equal to the euro for the first time in 20 years, now might seem like a good time to plan a European vacation. People are traveling more now than they have since the start of the pandemic, but many are facing higher travel costs.

According to travel booking site Hopper, spending on domestic flights in the summer of 2022 increased by 34% and international flights by 2.5% compared to the summer of 2019. The average round-trip price is now $383 and $912, respectively. Hopper attributes the price increase to rising jet fuel costs, increased demand and fewer seats (airlines are expected to fly about 2.4 million people a day this summer, compared to 2.9 million in summer 2019). But don’t despair: cheap vacations are still available.

Next month I fly from New York to Lisbon, Barcelona to Split, Croatia to Paris and back to New York, all for $712.48. My secret? Google flights.

The cheapest flights come when you have a lot of flexibility about when and where you want to go. Here’s how you can get cheap flights too.

If you just want to travel and are flexible about dates and destinations:

When you visit Google Flights in your web browser, you’ll automatically see the standard flight booking format, but the secret is in the “explore” tab on the left. After that, you’ll want to change the “round trip” to “one way” (trust me, you’ll find better deals) and enter the city you’re flying from (if you live in a smaller city, I also recommend checking the major airports near you — sometimes the price of the flight is worth the additional trip). The default search option is flights within the next six months.

Next click on all filters and scroll down to “price”. I usually adjust the slider to $300, but that part is up to you and your budget. Under Travel Mode, select Flights Only. For your sake, I also recommend selecting “1 stop or less” in the “Stopovers” category and filter the flight duration to 15 hours. But these benefits, of course, are entirely up to you and what you’re willing to put up with.

Let’s consider an example. Let’s say you’re flying from New York and want to go somewhere in Europe for less than $200 one-way. Using the method described above (including the filters “one stop or less” and “15 hours or less”), you will see several flight options. As you zoom in, more options are likely to appear.

Well look at this. You can fly from New York to Barcelona for just $170 one way. Click on the destination you’re interested in, then select View Flights. It will then show you the date, time and airline of that price. If that date doesn’t work – without changing any of the filters – click on the date in the upper right corner and a calendar will appear which will probably show you comparative prices for other dates.

So if the default date of October 17th doesn’t work for you, maybe earlier or later in October. Again, this option is best for people with the most flexibility.

If your dates aren’t that flexible, but your destination is:

Obviously, many people can’t just travel when there’s a good deal, so here’s what you can do if you’re planning to travel during a certain month or week.

Follow all the steps above, except click on ‘travel within the next six months’ (as shown in the first image) and change it to the month you’d like to travel, or if you have a specific date/week in mind, click ‘specific dates’ on the top left.

Let’s take another hypothetical trip. Let’s say you live in Houston, have no work on September 19th, and want to take a week off somewhere.

Leaving on the same day, you can fly to Mexico City for $59, Montego Bay for $87, or New Orleans for $32, just to name a few options. You can also fly to New York for $73, from where you can get cheap flights to Europe the next day, if you’re up for such a long trip. If you flew out of New York the next day, you could get to London, Amsterdam or Geneva for around $200.

If you have a destination in mind but are flexible about dates:

If you have a specific place you want to go but have flexible dates, I recommend doing something a little different.

Instead of looking at flights that depart from where you live, look at flights that depart from where you want to go. For example, say you really want to go to Santorini, Greece. Fill in the information as described before, but change the departure point to Santorini instead of your hometown.

Now you can see that there are generally cheap flights between Santorini and Venice, Rome, etc. (again, more results if you zoom in – this is filtered to flights under $50). Knowing that London and Rome are the biggest hubs listed and tend to have more affordable flights from the US, you can plan a trip to London and then add a flight to Santorini for $40.

So, let’s say you’re flying from Baltimore. You can fly from BWI to London in the last week of September on the new discount airline PLAY for $232, then catch an easyJet flight to Santorini for $38 on September 28.

For cheap return flights to the US, follow the same procedure. Choose your destination — your home airport or the nearest international hub — and see where it’s cheapest to fly back from.

When I booked my trip to Europe, the cheapest flight back to New York was from Paris, so this is my last stop. Most of my itinerary focused on airfare, and if you’re planning a trip with multiple stops, I suggest you play around with Google Flights and see where you can go for less.

Final tip:

Yes, there are very cheap flights, but use the filters to avoid long layovers and flights booked with multiple airlines (it’s rarely worth the risk of missing a connection or flight cancellation). However, when it comes to long stops, they can be fun if you plan them.

My day in Lisbon is actually a 13 hour layover on my way to Barcelona. If you want to spend a day in another city on your trip, a stopover can be a good way to fly there for virtually no cost. For example, you can fly from San Francisco to Rome on October 12 for about $400 with a one-day layover in Calgary or Lisbon.

After all, keep in mind that some of these cheap fares will result in baggage fees, seat selection and other options that are included in the price of other flights being charged more. Please note the refund and rescheduling policy. When it comes to budget carriers, it’s usually not a good idea to go with their cheapest fare; you want something that will at least somewhat protect you if your flight is canceled or you need to reschedule.

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