It’s not just you, prices to travel to Europe are astronomically higher than 2019. CNBC found that round trip airfare to Europe right now is 20% higher than this time in 2019. This, in part, may be to surging demand to travel to Europe in 2023. Kayak found that searches for European travel are 77% higher than last year. You can still take that dream trip to Europe this summer with no extra planning – but, it’ll cost you. Or, you can spend more time planning that dream trip to Europe this year and find ways to save money on airfare, hotels and food.
Here are actionable ways to save money traveling to Europe this summer.
Create a Travel Budget
Before you start planning, create a total travel budget for the year. Then, set a budget by trip. With airline trips to Europe and European hotel prices so high, it’ll be a give and take. It is unlikely you’ll be able to get everything you want for the prices you want. Travel prices to Europe in summer 2023 are so high that simple tricks like packing food for the airport won’t make a material difference. As you start planning, it’s more than likely you’ll find you under budgeted for the trips you wanted to take. You’ll either have to increase your budget, or be flexible with your travel. At a certain point, you may have to drop a trip entirely.
Once you have an estimate per trip, build a bottoms up view. How much do you estimate spending on plane tickets to Europe? How many nights in the hotel and how much per night? How much to estimate for the transportation to/from the airports? Food cost per day. Shopping estimates. Activities. If the sum of the bottoms up view doesn’t match the total trip estimate move some money around, or lower the total you’re willing to spend on another trip.
Set Your Travel Priorities
With prices so high, it’s important to set your travel priorities. What trips are most important to you? If going to multiple cities, which city is your top priority? Is the destination or time of year most important? Can you combine any travel to reduce costs? Are you willing to take a connecting flight to save money?
Continue to Use the Basics To Save Money on Travel to Europe
While traveling to Europe this summer takes extra planning to reduce travel costs, it’s important to continue doing the basics to save money on travel. Even though you’ll need to do more than the basics this year, it’s always a good place to start.
Book Hotels Early
Book hotels as early as you can. It’s not necessarily the hotel changing their prices, it’s also that the cheapest rooms tend to book the fastest. Sometimes hotels also have special rates if you book early.
Travel in the Off Season
Hotels, and flights, are cheaper in the off season. Reducing these two expenses will help you stay within your travel budget the most. Traveling to Europe in October instead of August will save you more money than packing food for the airport as an example.
Set Alerts on Google Flights
When you find potential flights you want, set alerts through Google Flights so you get emails about changes in the fare. Truthfully, this hasn’t helped too much for planning trips this summer as most of the alerts are telling me my flight prices have increased.
Use Corporate Personal Travel Codes and Credit Card Travel Sites To Save Money
Do you work for a large corporation? Check out the internal website and see if they offer discount codes for personal travel. Sometimes the prices are the same, but you’ll get better cancellation policies. If you have a Chase card, or an AMEX, Chase Ultimate Rewards and AMEX FHR are two other sites to check out for hotel and flight deals. Sometimes these sites charge more for hotels and flights so pay close attention. Other times, these sites may have similar prices but have benefits that can help save you money like free upgrades if available, spa credit and more.
Sign Up For Credit Cards with Good Sign Up Points Bonuses
Sign up for new credit cards with good points bonuses. This will help you rack up points for travel not yet booked, or future travel.
Plan Ahead and Cut Transportation Costs
All of the other trip transportation costs add up too. Plan ahead to save money on transportation costs. If you Uber to the airport, book the Uber ahead of time to avoid surge pricing. In some places, booking a taxi ahead of time with your hotel is cheaper than getting a taxi at the airport. Learn about the local trains and buses. Many countries in Europe have a robust public transportation system. Using the local trains and buses will easily save several hundred dollars over the course of a week. Sometimes taking the train is faster than taking a taxi!
Plan the European Vacation You Want, Then Start Optimizing For Savings
You’re going to Europe, how exciting! Start planning the trip you want to take. Pick your ideal time of year, ideal location, ideal travel dates. If it’s a particular city in Europe, check out Google Flights and playing around with dates to get flight price estimates. Then, find a few hotels you’d like to stay at – your top choice and a backup. Book refundable rates on the hotels and put reminders in your calendar for when you can cancel until. It’s best to book the hotel ASAP, as long as it’s refundable, even if it’s not your desired price yet because hotels are selling out quickly. Don’t forget to create a list of all of the hotels you book and the dates you need to cancel by.
Forget Loyalty to Your Usual Airline and Hotel Brands
It’s always nice to rack up points and get free breakfast from your hotel status but with prices so high you will most likely be able to save several hundred dollars (possibly a night!) by being open to other hotels.
The same is true for airlines. For example, I usually fly American but some of the flights I’ve been watching are $1,000/ person cheaper on United for economy. This is for a one way ticket! Not to be confused with United being cheap, their airfare prices are still higher than 2019 prices! Even though my preference is American because of my status, it’s not worth $1,000 extra.
Drain Loyalty Point Balances
Usually, I’ll try to save loyalty points to get the best deal. For example, Marriott will give you the 5th night free when you redeem points for 5 nights or more. But, with many companies devaluing points the last few years, plus the high costs of hotels and flights, this year I’ve been booking with points to avoid the cash rates. Especially with brands I don’t use often. If you have points with a hotel chain or airline you rarely use, now is a good time to use those points.
Set Reminders to Check Hotel Prices At Least Once A Month
Hotel prices and availability fluctuate a lot. I was bummed that one hotel I wanted only had suites left for a vacation still months away! And, the suites were over $1,500 a night compared to $300 / night for a regular room. I set reminders to check once a week and sure enough, 2 weeks later one of the cheapest rooms became available.
Don’t forget to check multiple places for hotel prices too. Usually, booking directly with the hotel gives you the cheapest option. But, once you factor in the extra benefits AMEX FHR or Chase Ultimate Rewards may have a better deal.
Change Your Hotel Rates to Non-Refundable As The Trip Gets Closer
Non-refundable hotel rates are cheaper than the rates that allow cancellations. As your trip gets closer, consider changing your hotel room to the “non-refundable rate.” Even though this rate is likely higher than when you originally booked, the current non-refundable rate is still likely lower than the refundable rate you have. This trick ended up saving us almost $1,000 for our summer 2023 Europe vacation.
Remember to Be Flexible With Your Travel Plans
I mean, really be flexible. It’s not just being open to flying in a day earlier or later. Be open to entirely changing the month you’ll travel. Flying TAP Portugal with no status instead of the US airline you have status with. Stop in Istanbul or Iceland overnight to save money on flights by flying Turkish Airlines or Icelandair. Taking a train within Europe or flying Ryan Air to save several hundred dollars on flights. Staying in another part of the city and spending more on cabs or trains.
Book Backup Hotels – But Don’t Forget To Cancel Them
Do you want to be in Plaka in Athens but a hotel 10 minutes taxi away is over $100 cheaper / night? Oia in Santorini but Fira is hundreds of dollars cheaper a night? Book both options – refundable – and mark on your calendar a few days before the cancellation deadline to cancel one of them. That way, as the whole trip comes together and you have a better view of total costs you’ll be able to keep your top choice, or keep the cheaper backup hotel option.
Be Flexible What City You Enter or Exit Europe From
Flights to Europe from the United States are crazy expensive right now, and so far there really don’t seem like great options. Getting 2019 prices doesn’t look very likely, but if you’re flexible on what city you enter Europe in you may be able to save a few hundred dollars or fly for less points.
Use Excel and ChatGPT To Help With Your Planning
One of my priorities was to have a logistically easy trip. I wanted to fly direct, but I also was willing for one way to have an overnight stopover in another city. To narrow down options I told ChatGPT I would like to fly on X date, from X airport in the US to a city that also had direct flights to my ultimate destination. It ended up giving me 5 cities that had direct flights to both my home in the US and also my end destination. While one of the locations didn’t have a direct flight on the right day, the other 4 were correct and this helped save me time.
But, there were still factors to consider. How much was the connecting flight in Europe? How much was the overnight hotel? How much was the flight back to the US – and, using points, how much were the fees for each destination? Once I had the top 4 options I put all these options with points plus cash and travel time and asked ChatGPT to calculate which option was best. It converted the points to dollar value and gave me the top option.
Save Money on Food and Activities in Europe
The biggest opportunities to save money traveling to Europe are to reduce your airfare and hotel costs. But, there are still opportunities to drive down costs elsewhere.
Food prices have increased greatly the last few years too. Don’t feel the need to always eat at sit down restaurants. Many places in Europe have incredible food markets, great local markets and great outdoor spaces. It’s a great experience to have a picnic in a park, eat at an outdoor food market, grab an ice cream cone instead of ordering dessert with dinner. Some hotels also offer really hearty free breakfasts.
With travel demand so high, it’s best to book activities ahead of time before they sell out. Sometimes buying tickets or tours ahead of time online can save you money. To save even more money you can do a larger group tour instead of a smaller group tour. Some places also offer audio tours which are cheaper than paying for a local guide.
How to Save Money Traveling to Europe in 2023 Summary
In summary, traveling to Europe in 2023 is expensive, but there are still ways to reduce costs if you’re willing to be flexible and put in the extra effort. It’s unlikely you’ll get 2019 prices, but with extra planning you can shave off hundreds, if not thousands of dollars off your total trip.