Let's talk about finding the cheapest airfares to get you where you want to go. I have decided to address this subject even before we talk about where you might like to travel, because the cost to get to a destination can have a great impact on your choice of destination. If it costs about the same to get to Kansas as Paris, which would you choose?
I think the best way to go about this is to tell you how we ended up with flight arrangements for our current trip. When originally planning this trip, we knew that we wanted to visit our favorite island in the North Sea, near Denmark. We also wanted to visit family in Hamburg, Germany. Finally, we wanted to experience the Alsass region of France, and decided to do so by bicycle. So, how to tie all of that together and keep the travel costs as low as possible?
#1. Use multiple search engines
I use several sources to look at airfares. First I use www.kayak.com for several reasons. It searches several travel engines. On the left hand side of the page format, when it gives you prices, it also tells you the trends on the pricing for your destination, (ie: going up, buy now, going down wait a few days, etc). Once I think I have found the best price available, I also check www.travelocity.com and www.expedia.com before committing.
#2. Travel at off peak times
As far as timing, we wanted to go sometime early July and return in August. The best prices for flights leaving the US in early July are on July 4th, as most Americans stay home to celebrate the holiday. Leaving then saved us almost $200 per person. Otherwise, try to travel during the week rather than Fridays or Mondays.
#3. Consider alternate airports
So, start with departures from the closest airport to you and arrivals at the closest airport to your destination. The kayak site allows you to also check airports "close by" at the same time, and it will list the flights by price, regardless of where they depart. For example, the closest airport to us is Philadelphia, and kayak will also check flights from Newark and La Guardia. Be careful about flights that are cheaper from one of the other airports. If the savings from La Guardia or JFK are only $100 per person compared to the costs from Philadelphia, it is not worth it because it will cost more than that in ground transportation to get to the other airport, and wil l take longer.
#4. Think outside the box
In the case of our current trip, our desire to visit several places complicates the search for cheapest flights. The desired destinations are quite a distance apart, so where do we fly to? First, decide the order of your trip. We decided to do the bike trip in France first, then Hamburg, then the island to the northwest of Hamburg, then return home. The closest major airport to our first destination is Frankfurt, Germany. So I first tried round trip Philadelphia - Frankfurt, assuming we would use the excellent train system in Europe to reach our other destinations.
Next I tried the "multiple destinations" option, trying Philadelphia - Frankfurt - Hamburg - Philadelphia. Turned out that option was significantly more expensive. What about round trip Philadelphia - Hamburg? Also more ex[pensive that round trip Philadelphia - Frankfurt. But don't give up yet? The best price, by far, was round trip Philadelphia - Frankfurt. But how to get from Hamburg to Frankfurt to come home? I checked one way flights from Hamburg to Frankfurt as a separate trip, and that turned out to be by far the cheapest method. So we ended up buying a round trip ticket on US Air Philadelphia - Frankfurt, and a one way flight on Lufthansa from Hamburg to Frankfurt, all for less than $1,000 per person ( a very good price in summer season). The lesson here is, don't assume the computer will find the best route and price for you. When I asked the site for a trip from Philadelphia to Frankfurt and Hamburg to Philadelphia, it gave me a price of over $1,200. But, when I broke the flight up into Philadelphia to Frankfurt and return, plus one way from Hamburg to Frankfurt, the total price was $988. The search engine obviously did not consider Frankfurt in its options to go from Hamburg to Philadelphia.
#5. Consider all the travel costs
We checked train connections and costs via the internet, but did not book. Instead, Renate worked with a ticket agent for the train system when we arrived on Frankfurt, and again, with careful searching of specials, timing of trains, etc, we were able to get a very good price for our travels between destinations.
Overall, by searching hard, we are spending less for airfares and trains to get to all of our destinations than the first three or four price quotes for airfare alone.