Do you dream of traveling the world?
Me too. I grew up in a middle-class family in the wide open spaces of Utah, and have pretty much lived here all my life. It's a fantastic place to live and travel, but for international travel, it isn't close to anywhere. For years, I assumed that taking my family of four to Europe was financially out of our reach.
Then I joined the family travel blogging community and saw how many families are making it happen. My sister took her family of six to France, England, Italy, Morocco and China. They weren't working for an airline or travel hacking with credit card points. My husband and I decided, “If they can do it, so can we.”
Once you find an airfare you can afford, the rest of the vacation doesn't have to cost more than if you were traveling closer to home. So, finding affordable flights puts the world within our reach.
Five hundred dollars was our target fare. On my first search, I spotted a round-trip fare from Delta Airlines to Paris, France for $492 per person for two weeks during summer vacation. Right price, right dates, right destination. I called my husband at work, and we booked the flights an hour later. We returned from Paris a few weeks ago, and it was such a great trip! I'm so glad we were able to share that experience with our children.
Here's how I found our cheap flights to Paris, France.
Start with Google Flights at www.google.com/flights. The front page can be a good place to start your search, but if you really want to explore how far your dollar can take you, click the three lines in the top left corner and select “Explore Map.” You'll see your airport and a few suggested destinations with fares on the map.
Next, click in either date field and then select “Flexible dates.” Flexible dates is one of the best ways to find the price you want for a flight. This is tricky for us, since it's hard for my kids and husband, who is a principal, to skip any school days. June is generally a flexible month for my family, so I selected two weeks in June. Google Flights will let you search about six months out.
Here's where it gets fun. Google will allow you to see fares for an entire region or continent. Type in “Europe” to see all of Europe. Same with “South America” or “India.” You can see in the image that sub-regions like Southern Europe are also an option.
If there had been a better fare for London, Rome, Madrid, Copenhagen… or pretty much anywhere else in Europe, I'd be writing about that destination instead of Paris. When you're looking for deals, don't pick the destination first. Pick your price, and then go with the destination that matches it. You'll get an idea of what's a good price and what isn't when you check fares regularly.
Don't limit yourself to your home airport when shopping for flights. Though we live only 30 minutes from the Salt Lake International Airport, we drove eight hours each way to fly from Denver, Colorado. This saved us about $2,000.
Denver is a bigger hub than Salt Lake City, and fares were more than twice as much to fly from our home airport on the same dates. For my family of four, it was less expensive to drive to Denver than to fly – even with extra fuel, food and parking expenses – and we love a road trip.
Repeating this process, here are some sample fares from Denver to various European cities for two weeks in November 2018. You can see that I could book round trip fares to London for less than $500 and to Paris for under $550 if the dates fit my schedule.
Fares might be even lower, depending on where you live. When I try other airports, I find that it would cost me more to fly from Salt Lake City or Las Vegas, but I could get fares closer to $400 if I can get to LAX in Los Angeles. That's just today's search. Tomorrow I might find a screaming deal from my home airport, so it pays to shop regularly and try different variables to catch those deals when they happen.
Many frequent travelers browse airfares as a hobby. Start looking for deals well before your available dates and jump on them quickly. That fare may not be there tomorrow, or even in a few hours. I found our flights to Paris four months before our trip and booked within two hours.
Don't go into debt for travel, because interest is too expensive! We pay off our credit cards in full each month, and we only travel where we can afford to go. We are saving money now for our family's next international travel adventure, because we never know when the next great fare will land in our laps. We also purchase independent travel insurance when we book a big trip months in advance. Luck favors the prepared.
There are lots of great tricks and tools that can help you save on airfare, and Google Flights is the tool that got my family to Paris. To get other tips and examples for saving money on flights (like how we flew to Florida for $75 each), click the button to visit my Air Travel page.