Save on Airfares and Train Travel

This is part of a series on “Traveling in Europe: 10 Travel Lessons.” To read main article, click here.  

Some tips for saving on Airfares and Train Travel

travel lightKnow your budget, plan, and be flexible.

Do your research so you have a sense of what your expenses will likely be, and add more for contingencies… you will need it. In addition to comfortable travel within the constraints of your time and budget, don’t skimp on experiences you want to have. You will likely not pass that way again, and €10, €20 or even €100 should not deter you from missing an adventure you’ll later regret.

While I’m in favor of everyone having travel experiences – getting out of your comfort zone, learning first-hand about other cultures, experiencing places that have captured your imagination – with the exception of young people who relish the challenges of backpacking, hosteling and traveling cheap, by a certain age, it’s no fun to feel fearful about pinching pennies when you travel. These articles on saving are intended to help you be a savvy traveler by saving where you can and being creative in your choices while acknowledging that traveling costs. How much is up to you.

• Air and train fares are usually less if booked well in advance. A study by claims 54 days in advance for international flights is optimal… unless it isn’t. Experts recommend about 2 months out and, of course, not peak season. Fact is, no one knows. Airfares are often lower on Tuesday and Wednesday departures. Different routes can offer great savings, and some airlines are simply cheaper. It is crazy-making and you can rest assured there are no two people on the flight who paid the same price. I like to track airfares at and sign up for their alerts. I avoid the middlemen like Expedia, Orbitz, etc. because I find their sites annoying and see no reason to book with them when the airlines will give you the same fare.

To save money on airfares, consider also:cheap airfares to Europe
– Nearby airports to your departure and destination (or even far away ones if you’re flexible and planning various stops within the continent).
– Starting and ending your trip at the city of least expensive international fare offerings.
– Using air miles if you have them. If you don’t, get yourself a credit card that offers miles and use it exclusively for everything you can, paying off monthly to avoid interest charges while racking up miles for future travel, hotels, rental cars, etc.

• Discount airlines within Europe can present great deals – much cheaper than rail – but the restrictions, baggage cost, getting to and from outlying airports may mitigate savings. This wikitravel page lists many discount airlines in Europe, but not all. My favorite is Spain-based Vueling, with its decent luggage allowance and hub at Barcelona’s main airport (in contrast to Ryan Air which uses Girona’s airport, an hour north of Barcelona, and charges absurdly for every pound of baggage over 15lbs).

• Another, more unusual way to get to and/or from Europe is a cruise… and “repositioning cruises” may offer the best value. A friend has recommended her trips, via, to cruise from Ft. Lauderdale to Venice and again from Ft. Lauderdale to Barcelona, 11 days starting at $500 per person, including everything you’d expect on a luxury cruise (alcohol extra). These originate from the US in the spring and return in the fall.

Therefore, if you want to take advantage of both directions, it may mean applying for a longer stay visa (from one of the EU member country embassies or consulates before leaving your country) so as not to violate the 90 days maximum of a tourist visa, or you’ll need to leave the EU for 90 days and return to your cruise port to catch your ship back to the US.

• You can save on EuroRail Passes and other tickets by purchasing online from North America. Train travel off-peak is cheaper than during commute times or national holidays. Be sure that your ticket – whether bought in Europe or prior to arriving – is refundable should there be a strike, major delay or you change itinerary.

• In London buy an Oyster Card for discounted Tube and bus travel; in Paris buy your Metro tickets as a “carnet” (10 tickets). I assume that all cities have their discounted equivalents of daily, weekly and monthly transportation passes. Cards like the Oyster also offer discounts on entry to attractions and other transportation.

• City Passes, which can save you big-time if you plan to do a lot of sightseeing, are usually available at tourist offices or online. Here’s one website: I also recommend the hop on-hop off buses in major cities as a good first-day orientation to a new city.

• Tours: Walking, biking, sailing or even motored tours can be a great way to experience and learn more about a place, and maybe make a new friend or two. There are many tours offered through each tourism office (usually linked on the tourism board website). You may also enjoy “unique experiences offered by local insiders” at Vayable.

• For many more money-saving ideas, I recommend global nomad ‘ book, “How To Travel the World on $50 a Day.”

If you have more ideas and experiences, please leave your comments at the blog!