How To Get To Europe On The Cheap (a mini travel guide)

Over the past few years we have made four trips to Europe and have researched the process extensively.  It turns out that getting to Europe is actually pretty cheap.  Before I had ever traveled there, I always thought the idea of planning a trip was a little daunting.  I knew that lots of airlines flew to lots of different European cities, but how was I to know what was the best and cheapest way?  Whenever I looked at sites like Orbitz or Expedia, flights were always $1000 bucks or more.  But eventually we learned enough through trial and error that I think we’ve got a pretty great system down.   

It really boils down to this:

there are two European cities that are far cheaper to fly into than just about any other. 

And they are Dublin, Ireland, and Oslo, Norway.  At this point I’m sure the first thing to pop into your mind is “Great, but what if I’m not planning on going to Dublin or Oslo?”  I get that, but it turns out that once you’re in Europe -- domestic flights within the EU are ridiculously cheap.  Like, cheaper than trains even.  

I don’t know what the deal is, but their airline regulations are way different than in the U.S. and flights there are cheap like nothing we’ve experienced over here.  For example, here’s some current prices on Ryan Air, one of the popular budget airlines over there: Oslo to London $12.29, Dublin to Rome $32.00, Oslo to Berlin $7.16!  You get the idea.  It doesn’t matter what your final destination is, just get to one of these two cities, and then it’s practically pennies to get anywhere from there.  And sure, you can still fly direct to London or Rome if you want, but you’ll pay literally hundreds more dollars.

Now that we have the two destinations worked out, lets talk airlines.  Lots of airlines provide service to these two cities, but in order for you get the best deal you have to fly on Aer Lingus to go to Dublin, and Norwegian Air to go to Oslo. 

So how do you choose? 

Well, research both and see who has the best prices for the window of time you are traveling.  And get on the email list for both because they regularly send out specials.  In terms of travel experience, both airlines are great and each has its own advantages.  In general, you will probably find that Norwegian Air is a bit cheaper, but Aer Lingus should not be overlooked.  Here are some other things that differentiate the two:

Aer Lingus is well established and has been flying these routes for a long time.  They use Boeing 767's, the service onboard is great, the staff have fun Irish accents, and the price is better than just about any of the other major carriers out there.  You get great in-seat entertainment options, and there is also a power outlet to plug in your own devices as well.  One thing we like about these jets is that the outer seat rows are set up in sets of two instead of three, so as a couple, we get a whole row just to ourselves.  Furthermore, Aer Lingus is part of a larger partner network of several different international airlines, and as such, you can fly out of 70 different US cities without purchasing a separate ticket.

Meanwhile, Norwegian Air is a known domestic European budget airlines that just recently started doing long-haul international flights with the same budget mindset.  In some cases, their prices are almost half of what Aer Lingus charges, but they only fly out of 5 US cities and they’re all on the east and west coasts.  So if you live somewhere in the middle of the country you have to factor in the cost of getting to either coast as well which may or may not make Norwegian Air the cheaper option.

Check out our podcast on European travel planning

Another thing that applies to any airline is that the more flexible you are with your dates, the more money you can save.  When pricing tickets for both airlines, don’t just pick an arbitrary departure date and see what the price is -- instead look at the calendar.  Both airlines have a calendar you can pull up to see what their prices are for every day that month.  The prices can vary by hundreds of dollars from one day to the next.  It is seriously worth your while to do this. And don’t forget to check the price calendars for Ryan Air and Easy Jet as well so you can factor in the short domestic European flight at the end of your journey and coordinate the best overall price.  

In general, from the west coast -- a round-trip ticket to Dublin will run you around $800 and a round-trip ticket to Oslo can be as cheap as $560 if you're not checking a bag and want to bring your own food.  Prices will be even cheaper still from their east coast hubs. 

However, the one very cool part about Norwegian Air is that they are using the brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliner jets.  If you don't know about these, you should.  They are the commercial jets of the future.  Here are a few reasons why you should care:

  1. They are lighter, faster, and use less fuel, so they are cheaper to operate, cheaper to fly on, and will get you there in less time.
  2. They have much larger windows that are higher up so you can easily see the horizon all the time, and they don't use regular slide-down screens.  Instead you push a button and the fancy hi-tech glass just suddenly turns an almost opaque white.  Actually there are five different shade settings for your comfort.  
  3. They are better insulated and thus quieter.
  4. The cabin is pressurized to 6000ft instead of 8000ft like all other commercial jets.  This means less jetlag and wear on your body.
  5. They have state-of-the-art air filtration and humidity control systems so you're less likely to catch your neighbor’s cold or smell their farts when flying.  

In addition to these awesome base features of the new jets, they also feature great in-seat entertainment systems and power outlets for your personal devices.  They do however only have rows of 3 seats, so if there's two of you, you'll have to sit next to a stranger...

So in the end, both options are compelling and should be considered.  And while you’re at it, go ahead and check out Dublin or Oslo since you’re gonna be there anyway.  Both places are super interesting and a lot of fun.  

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