My mother taught me many things that I am grateful for, but how to stretch a dollar is definitely one of the most useful. As such, I zoom for the clearance rack whenever I go clothes shopping, and make sure to research big purchases carefully. Plus, I just like to make my money work for me. Which is why I lurk about the frugal forum at Reddit regularly. The name of one airline kept surfacing: Norwegian Air. I didn’t have to browse around their site for long before I found out why.
I’ve been lucky enough to travel to Europe a few times in my life and if it’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that it is not exactly inexpensive. Some countries are worse than others (Great Britain, I love you, but you are pricey) but as with anything you really want in life, where there’s a will, there’s a way, even if you’re cash strapped. Airfare tops the list for costs associated with Europe, including walking the Camino de Santiago. If you have more time than money, though, there are ways to squeeze a buck until it screams. And I sure love to hear that sound!
The major cost in airfare is in flying from the US across the Atlantic Ocean. Airfares in general are less expensive to Europe from the East Coast. But bargains can be had from the West Coast, too, as I’ll demonstrate. Europe, like the US, has bargain airlines that you can fly once you are in Europe. So don’t be too picky about your initial destination. Here’s what I booked:
- Roundtrip airfare from LAX to Copenhagen for ~$400 on Norwegian Airlines (I also purchased travel insurance for $15 so the total is about $419). Norwegian Air has low costs, in general, to Norwegian destinations, namely, Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm. I chose Copenhagen because I’ve heard great things about it and I haven’t been there before. I’ll spend a day or so sightseeing before I continue on.
- One way trip from Copenhagen to Barcelona on Norwegian Airlines for $71. This gets me fairly close to Roncesvalles, which is where I’ll start my Camino. I will have to purchase a train fare from Barcelona to Roncesvalles, though. It’s around $70 as well. Once I’m there I’ll be ready to start my Camino, which ends in northwestern Spain, at Santiago de Compostela. Then, in order to get home, I booked:
- One way trip from Santiago de Compostela to London Stansted on Ryan Air for $63.
- One way trip from London Stansted to Copenhagen on EasyJet for $58.
- From Copenhagen, I’ll board a flight home on my initial roundtrip ticket.
Simple, right? Well, sort of. I’ll admit, it can be time-consuming to figure all this out. However, it can also be an enjoyable challenge, which is how I viewed it. My flights were more complicated than most due to the nature of the Camino, which involves a 500 mile difference from northeastern Spain to northwestern Spain, but also because I looked outside the box and tried different route combinations for the best fare, especially with my one way trips to Copenhagen.
Is it worth it? My airfares total about $600. Most other people’s airfares from the West Coast run between $1200-$1400. So, yes, I think so.
However, lest I paint too rosy a picture, be aware of these cautions and helpful tips.
- Be willing to devote some time to the search. It’s a heck of a lot faster – but potentially more expensive – to go through a travel agent or just open up Expedia and choose some flights. While you can get very lucky – especially with a travel agent – there’s no guarantee and if you devote some time to learning the costs associated with traveling you’ll also know a great deal when you see it.
- Be flexible with your dates. If you haven’t yet chosen a time to do your Camino, be sure to check out sample fares by choosing the “low fare calendar” option on Norwegian Air and other airlines. The “shoulder season” is the time of the year when fewer people are flying, so you can get a better deal. I’m doing my Camino in April and May of this year, as much because of the low airfare as of the weather (I avoid the summer heat whenever possible.)
- Be willing to purchase tickets in different routes/airlines.
- Don’t wait. Special fares and sales are fleeting – grab them while you can!
- Be aware of extra fees. Traveling on budget airlines isn’t always as cheap as it seems. For Norwegian Air, I decided not to pay the $42 fee for meals on my flights to and from Copenhagen. Since I’m backpacking I’m also not checking luggage, another extra fee. I’m also likely to get stuck in the middle seat because I’m not paying for reserved seats. Ryan Air is notorious for charging extra fees, and you would do well to learn the ins and outs of this airline before you fly it. See below for recommended links.
- Out of the way airports. One way that budget airlines keep costs down is to fly to out of the way airports in major markets. Be sure to check the airports out carefully beforehand. My last two one way flights take me in and out of London Stansted, which is 48 km northeast of London and nowhere near the other airports that serve this destination.
I hope my experience with booking low-cost flights has inspired you to try the same. Be sure to spend time checking out the below links and other advice before you dive in, though.
- The Thrifty Nomads give an excellent primer on how to get the cheapest possible flight. While there, check out their other helpful articles.
- Fees and Hacks for dealing with Ryan Air: Speaking-Denglish.com, Gospain.about.com, Dailymail.co.uk, Heelsfirsttravel.