By Jane Young, CFP, EA
This is an excellent time to consider travel to Europe. You will experience fewer crowds than before the pandemic and most countries have relaxed COVID restrictions and requirements, making it easier to visit your favorite sites.
One of the biggest expenses associated with travel abroad is airfare. Using miles to purchase your airline ticket is a terrific way to save money on this expense. Consider signing up for one or two airline loyalty programs and credit cards that provide a sign-up bonus. For example, the American Airlines Aviator Master card issued by Barclays is currently providing 50,000 bonus miles and the United Airlines MileagePlus Visa Card issued by Chase provides 60,000 bonus miles, if you spend $3,000 within the first three months.
If you plan ahead, you can generally purchase a roundtrip ticket in economy or one way ticket in business class to Europe for 60,000 miles. You will continue to earn miles by using your airline card for on-going expenses. Just be sure to pay the entire balance at the end of the month.
The key to saving on travel is to be flexible with your dates and locations. You can save by flying during the shoulder season, between mid-April to early June and late August to early October. Flights to Europe are even cheaper as you move later into the fall and winter. The day of the week you book your flight does not really matter, but the cheapest days to fly are Tuesday, Wednesday, and Saturday. It is best to book your international flight about three to four months in advance.
However, due to the limited availability, tickets purchased with miles need to be secured much earlier. Major airlines such as American and United begin selling tickets about 330 days before a flight. To purchase a business class ticket for a reasonable number of miles and a decent itinerary you need to buy them as soon as they become available.
You can also save money or increase your chances of purchasing a good ticket with miles if your travel dates are flexible and you are flexible with your departure and arrival airports. It is generally cheaper to fly to Europe from a major international airport. Rather than booking a flight from a small regional airport, it may be cheaper to book a separate ticket on a commuter flight or drive to the nearest international airport and fly to Europe from there.Additionally, be flexible and search for the cheapest arrival city within Europe. It is easy and inexpensive to travel between cities in Europe by train or on discount airlines; Ryanair, EasyJet, and Wizz Air are a few low-cost options. For example, if you are going to Rome, it may be cheaper to book an international flight to London and take a separate flight on a discount carrier from London to Rome than flying directly into Rome.