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Fall study programs in Europe: Tips for saving on flights

Heading to Europe this fall for a study abroad program? If you’re looking to save on your overseas flights, student travel experts from STA Travel, StudentUniverse, and Travel CUTS say that to get the best deals, you’ll need to make travel plans and book airfare now before the cheap fall flights fill up.

Your travel dates and the cities you fly to and from will affect the price you pay for flights. Unless your program includes an organized group flight, you’ll have to do some investigation to find a flight that works with your plans and budget.

According to Bart Littlefield, senior vice president of StudentUniverse, the cost of your flight will depend largely on whether you depart before or after Labor Day?the date that many airlines use to mark the end of the high-priced peak season and the beginning of the lower-priced shoulder season. “For travel to Europe for fall semester study abroad, prices are lower for departures after the first of September or Labor Day; flights that depart before then are subject to high-season pricing,” said Littlefield.

To see how much prices varied for departures before and after Labor Day, we compared Europe fares from StudentUniverse and found that flights after Labor Day were significantly cheaper. In our first test, we compared round-trip fares from New York (JFK) to London (LHR) for departures on August 25 and September 8; both flights returned December 22. The earlier flight was $393 before taxes, while the flight after Labor Day was $243 before taxes?$150 cheaper. In our second test, we found similar results comparing round-trip fares from New York (JFK) to Madrid, using the same dates as the first test. The early departure cost $598 before taxes, while the later departure was $476 before taxes. Thus, if you want the best deal and your program doesn’t have an August start date, it’s a good idea to fly after Labor Day.

So, what happens if your program starts before Labor Day? STA Travel, StudentUniverse, and Travel CUTS representatives all said that it was possible to combine a more expensive peak-season fare for the inbound flight with a reduced-priced, low-season fare for the outbound flight, rather than using peak-season prices for the entire round-trip. While you’ll still pay more to fly before Labor Day than after, your ticket will cost hundreds less than a typical peak-season fare.

The city you fly to and the city you depart from can also affect price. Flying to and from the same airport may not be the best option if you plan to travel to other parts of Europe before or after your program. According to Travel CUTS Manager Liz Meggison, one way to potentially save money and get in some extra travel is to purchase an “open-jaw” ticket, a fare that allows you to fly into one city and depart from another. This type of fare works best if you are going to a city that is more expensive to fly to than others and flying home from a cheaper city. “For example, if your program is in Madrid and you want to travel around after it ends, buy an open-jaw ticket flying into Madrid and out of Paris [you make your own way to Paris while traveling]. You’ll save anywhere from $50 to $125,” said Meggison.

Making a booking

Because you’ll need a ticket that allows you to stay in Europe for a few months (the cheapest regular fares usually require that you return after a month) and your travel plans may be complicated, we’d suggest consulting a student travel agency to help you book the right flights. Try STA Travel (877-777-8717), StudentUniverse, or Travel CUTS (800-592-2887).

However, before you book with a travel agency, check for possible sale fares from the airlines. You may get lucky and find a cheap flight that allows a long maximum stay. Be sure to read the sale’s terms and restrictions to make sure the fares are good for the length of your stay.

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