Reader Emily recently asked me for advice on how to pull off a trip that hops all the way from one end of Europe to the other this Summer. On her trip, she wants to see Istanbul, Athens, Rome, Barcelona, Paris, London, Edinburgh and Dublin.
In the past, readers have mostly expressed interest in seeing just a handful of destinations on trips to Europe. However, long-time reader Chance astutely pointed out in a recent comment that we don’t often pay attention to Europe’s discount carriers like RyanAir and EasyJet.
That changes today! I’ll show you how to fly this route from one end of the continent to the other on cheap cash tickets and then show you how each and every one of these flights can be had for free.
Plotting A Route
Because Emily would be traveling from St. Louis, the first step would obviously be to get to Europe. Since she’s planning her trip for the Summer, taking advantage of American’s Off-Peak Saver Economy rates to Europe is unfortunately not possible. She could either convert Ultimate Rewards points to United or use United miles directly to book passage to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, though.
On the way back, she could use Avios to fly from Dublin to Boston and then use Southwest or JetBlue points or find a cheap cash flight to find her way home.
In any case, I’ve extensively covered getting to Europe in the past. All the same tricks will work for this flight. As such, we’ll assume she finds her way there on an award flight that makes starting in Istanbul and ending in Dublin no more difficult than the other way around.
From there, we simply hop from one destination to another based on which is closest in proximity. In reality, air travel pricing is rarely proportional to the actual distance flown, so zig-zagging the continent might result in even cheaper fares. However, I was pretty pleased with the deals that were to be had by simply traveling in as straight of a line as possible.
For each leg of the journey, I began my search by checking out the Wikipedia page for the departure airport. The Wikipedia community typically keeps airport pages up to date with good information on what destinations are serviced by the airport, and by which airlines.
Booking sites like Kayak and even powerful tools like ITA Matrix can fail to display fares from budget carriers that opt to exclusively host their ticketing on their own website. That’s certainly the case with budget European airlines like RyanAir and EasyJet, and is also true of Southwest in the United States. By checking for airport information first, it’s possible to discover the carriers that offer (at least direct) service to our next destination.
Let’s go segment by segment for a deeper look:
Istanbul to Athens
Our first flight is the most expensive of the bunch. Searching with Kayak, I found a flight on Aegean nonstop from Istanbul to Athens for $113.
As a Star Alliance partner, it’s possible to earn miles with United on this Aegean flight, or to work your way toward status in Aegean’s own program, one of the easiest in which to gain Star Alliance status quickly.
Athens to Rome
A number of carriers, including Aegean, Alitalia, EasyJet and Vueling make this nonstop flight from Athens to Rome. This is a rare case where EasyJet, at as low as $61 for the flight, gets beaten out in price.
The victor Vueling, a discount line associated with Iberia. In theory, it should be possible to use Avios to cover this flight, but at just $55, why would you?
Rome to Barcelona
Alitalia, RyanAir and Vueling offer service between these cities. Unsurprisingly, RyanAir offered the best overall deal at just $39:
Go ahead, check the conversion from Euros!
Barcelona to Paris
Air France, EasyJet and Vueling all offer service to Paris from Barcelona, but EasyJet takes the crown of most affordable at a paltry $48.07 per person.
Paris to London
Unsurprisingly, many options along this route exist. What was surprising is which route was cheapest. Rather than flying into Heathrow, British Airways subsidiary CityJet offers service much closer to the heart of London for just $64, which edges out flights elsewhere in London by Air France and EasyJet by a few dollars.
London to Edinburgh
Unsurprisingly, EasyJet offers the best fare along this route at just $50.44 on a number of days.
Edinburgh to Dublin
This last flight is the cheapest of them all, at a completely absurd $24.87 on RyanAir:
Honestly, £15? That’s just obscenely cheap.
Keeping Bags In Mind
These cheap fares can be an incredible value, but they’re so affordable that baggage fees can have a devastating effect on the price, even doubling the cost of a ticket. This can be avoided if you follow the rules for the free carry-on bag allowed by each carrier. Here are the size and weight rules for each carrier involved in this trip:
Aegean: 56x25x25cm in size, up to 8KG in weight.
CityJet: 115cm in total linear length (ex: 55x40x20cm), up to 12KG in weight.
EasyJet: 56x45x25cm in size, no weight restriction.
RyanAir: 55x40x20cm in size, up to 10KG in weight.
Vueling: 55x40x20cm in size, up to 10KG in weight.
The prices for checked bags varies from flight to flight, based on carrier and distance flown, but is typically around €20. So, if you want to truly travel Europe on the cheap, pack light! A personal bag is also allowed by all carriers, but don’t expect to get away with anything larger than a standard purse. Still, this can be good for carrying a few more items and pushing the on-board limits to the max.
All These Flights For Free
The total cost of all of our flights comes to just $394.38. Some of these operators charge an extra dollar or two to pay with a credit card, so figure in an extra $10-15 for that privilege and you have a way to lock in all of these flights for free!
We’ve spoken about the Barclaycard Arrival in the past as a great way to save money on travel expenses when points and miles otherwise fail. These kind of budget airfares are a perfect use of Arrival credit. Simply pay for fares using the card, then go to Arrival’s website and wipe them away using miles you’ve earned with the card.
Arrival has a sign-up bonus of 40,000 miles after $3,000 in spending within 90 days. At a penny per mile, that’s worth $400. Even better, the card offers a 10% Travel Redemption Bonus, so each time you use miles, 10% of them are immediately credited back to your account for future redemptions.
After factoring in miles earned meeting the minimum spend – the card offers 2x miles on all purchases, the card’s sign-up bonus is actually worth up to $510!
Even if you simply pay for all of these flights and earn on a card that offers 2x points for travel expenses, you’ll come out ahead, but the Arrival card offers the best value for this type of travel.
Barclaycard Arrival™ World MasterCard®
Card Sign-Up Bonus Offers
40,000 miles after $3,000+ in purchases within the first 3 months.
- Barclaycard miles have a value of 1¢ each. Spend money on travel through any eligible outlet (ie- airlines, hotels, cruise lines, sites like Expedia or Kayak, etc) and then call Barclaycard to request a statement credit based on the mileage in your account. For example, the 40,000 mile bonus is good towards $400 in travel expenses.
- 10% Travel Redemption Bonus on all awards. For example, you’ll receive 4,000 additional miles after using the 40,000 bonus miles.
- Free FICO Score Access
- Named ‘Best for Travel Rewards’ Money Magazine, October 2013
- 2 points per $1 on all purchases.
- No annual cap on earnings.
- No foreign transaction fees.
- $89 annual fee, waived for the first year.
- 0% introductory balance transfer fee.
- 5% cash advance fee.
- 0% foreign transaction fee.
- Up to $35 late payment fee.