Cutting the cost of airfare to Europe

One of the biggest mistakes that Americans make while planning a trip to Europe, in summer or any season, is myopically focusing on a specific route. You want to visit Amsterdam, so you search only flights to that airport. Or you want to visit Glasgow, so you neglect to look at a map and consider, maybe, Inverness.

Or you only look at a particular airline and ignore some of the under-the-radar discounters such as XL Airways, Condor, Wow, Norwegian and Thomson.

Finding flights to Amsterdam are $1,500 round-trip this summer? Singapore Airlines recently had New York to Frankfurt for $799 round-trip nonstop. And Frankfurt to Amsterdam is just $106 round-trip on KLM this summer. Or take the train. It’s just four hours.

Indeed, Frankfurt is one of the cheapest European gateways. recently sold Providence (yes, Providence, Rhode Island) to Frankfurt for late August travel for $734 round-trip, nonstop.

Flights to Glasgow $1,200 round-trip? Aer Lingus recently listed July fares to Inverness for $777 round-trip, summer travel, from Chicago and Boston among other gateways.

Rome too pricey? How about Milan instead? It’s one of the cheapest airports to fly into this year, and Emirates recently had a two-for-one sale from New York, even in business class for $1,898 round-trip, summer travel.

Paris on United too high at $1,200 in early September? XL Airways recently sold New York to Paris for $543 round-trip for most of September (and spring travel as well).

And keep in mind that fares fluctuate all the time. Literally hour by hour and there’s no best time to find a low fare. A San Francisco to Stockholm $694 round-trip fare on American popped up on a Sunday not long ago. By Tuesday, it was gone. Ditto an LA to Denmark $641 round-trip July fare on Lufthansa and a San Francisco to Stockholm for $627 round-trip, peak July travel, on SWISS and Lufthansa. So sign up for airfare alerts by email and you’ll discover these deals before they evaporate.

If you do decide to fly from or into a cheaper destination and travel onward from there, do not set yourself up for failure by arriving at 10 a.m. and scheduling an onward journey to your intended destination that day. If your flight is canceled or delayed, you’ll be out of luck. Instead, consider the “positioning city” as a bonus stopover. Explore the Black Forest for a day during your Frankfurt layover. You’ll still save money and get two destinations for the price of one.

If it’s cheaper to fly from Providence to Frankfurt than from, say, New Orleans, sure, take a cheap Southwest Airlines flight to Providence but don’t expect to leave onward on Condor that same day to Frankfurt. I’ve heard too many heartbreaking stories of people missing their connections.

Bottom line: Armed with an atlas and your favorite airfare search engines, you can save hundreds by focusing first on crossing the Atlantic and using other flights, train trips, or other modes of transportation to get to your final destination. And look at connecting cities as a great way to break up a long trip and see two destinations for less than the price of one.