Each week we invite a respected member of the travel community to bring their experiences, advice and tips to Fly.com readers. This week we welcome Sean Keener from BootsnAll. Sean co-founded BootsnAll, and grew it organically since 1999 with no outside investment. BootsnAll is now one of the largest community travel websites in the world.
Visiting Europe during the summer is a common travel item on many to-do lists regardless of the year, but this year in particular, even more people are going to be flying to Europe to attend the 2012 Olympics in London. That means one of two things for those with Europe in your summer plans — either it’s a bonus special event taking place during your trip, or it’ll be even harder to find a decent price on airline tickets.
Actually, that second thing is pretty much a given — whether you’re an Olympics fan or not.
The higher cost of traveling to London in the summer shouldn’t deter you from going, however, especially if you like the energy of a city in the midst of celebration. Special events like the Olympics draw people from all over the world, and it’s like the whole city is putting on a show. This makes it an excellent time for indie travelers to be social, make new friends, and — for instance — learn how to cheer for the athletes in as many languages as you can collect during your trip. Planning a trip to London during the Olympics can be an exciting adventure trip, if you embrace the opportunities presented.
Unless you had a storehouse of frequent flyer miles that you’ve already cashed in for a cheap or free roundtrip ticket to London, budget travelers will need to be creative when planning European trips this summer in order to save money. If you’ve got a bit more time than money to play with, that helps — but even with a standard American two-week vacation you can still save a bit on a flight with a few simple tips. Whatever you do, do it quickly — procrastination won’t do you any favors when it comes to finding better deals on flights to London this summer.
Check All London Airports, Not Just Heathrow
London is one of the cities that’s fortunate to be served by multiple airports. Specifically, there are five airports in the greater London area that travelers can choose from. The one most are familiar with is Heathrow (airport code: LHR), but Heathrow rarely offers the best prices on overseas flights from North America. The other two large airports serving London are Gatwick (LGW) and Stansted (STN), both served by more budget carriers, which can mean sometimes better deals. Two other London airports are smaller and don’t receive incoming flights from North America, but visitors from overseas should be aware of both London City (LCY) and London Luton (LTN) airports (we’ll get to the “why” in the next section).
When you’re looking for flights to London from your home airport, it would be time-consuming to have to do five separate flight searches in order to compare the prices for all of London’s airports — but thankfully, you don’t need to do that. Rather than doing individual searches for five different London airport codes, you can get results for all London airports by using the LON code. And in case you forget, Fly.com’s search tool automatically compares nearby airports to the one you search originally.
Look at Flying into a Different City than London
Planning a visit to London for the Olympics means you’ve got to fly to London, right? Not necessarily. There are several other major European hub airports in nearby cities, and by keeping your options open you could score a much better deal flying into a different city.
Assuming the London fares you’re seeing are making you cringe, other nearby airports to try include Amsterdam Schiphol (AMS), Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY), Dublin (DUB), Brussels (BRU), and even Frankfurt (FRA) or Manchester (MAN). From any of these hubs you’ll find an array of cheap one-way flights into one of London’s five airports (remember when we said those smaller London airports would be handy to know about?) on a budget carrier like easyJet, Ryanair, or any number of other low-cost airlines in Europe. (Editor’s Note: Baggage fee policies differ greatly on these budget carriers, so if this is the method you’re using, do some research and pack accordingly.)
Of course, depending where you land first in Europe, you might also consider hopping on a train to get to London. Both Paris and Brussels are connected to London via the Eurostar train, or you could take a ferry across the English Channel. Another option for the budget-conscious is to go long distance by coach with a company like Eurolines. Be aware that things like the Eurostar train aren’t cheap, however, so be sure to check the fares on all your transport options before assuming ground transportation is cheaper than flying.
Be Flexible with Your Travel Dates (on Both Ends of Your Trip)
While you can’t exactly plan your London trip for the October shoulder season when the Olympics are in July and August, you can still be flexible with the days of the week and times of day you plan to fly. Many passengers don’t realize how much they can save just by flying on a Wednesday instead of a Monday.
The cheapest day of the week to fly is typically Wednesday, with Tuesday and Saturday being other good options. The cheapest time of day to fly is first thing in the morning (yes, that means setting an alarm for 4 a.m.) or on overnight red-eye flights. You can use this information when you’re starting your airfare search, but it’s still a good idea to use the “my dates are flexible” option whenever possible so you’ll be alerted to cheaper flights that may be a few days before or after the date you originally chose. And remember that these rules apply to both your departure and return flights — flying home on a Wednesday is cheaper than flying home on a Friday, too.
Here’s hoping these tips will keep you from needing to melt down a gold medal to afford this trip of a lifetime. Let the games begin!