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Booking a flight
skrait23
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If I’m planning a trip to Europe for Feb or March of 2008, when would be the best time to purchase a plane ticket?  I’ve been searching lately and am not finding the best deals but was wondering if other deals come about when the dates get closer?  Just curious about how long I should wait….or not wait.  Any advice would help, along with cheap airfare links….thanks!

Don
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From where? Do you qualify for student or youth (under 26) tickets? Have you tried our new users thread yet?

skrait23
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From Charlotte, NC or possibly Raleigh, NC….yes, i do qualify for under 26.  I’ll check out that new users thread right now since I have not already done so.

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In this case, I’d start with Farecompare’s “research cheapest fares” and “getaway maps” features. This will show you the cheapest for the upcoming 11 months, so you can see pricing trends. It also lists any recent price reductions, and advises you how good (or bad) the fare currently being offered is for your itinerary. Additionally, when you choose an itinerary and dates at Farecompare, it also shops it against unpublished (ie, “consolidator”) fares from several sources.

After you use Farecompare for fare history and what to expect for your departure window, see if the student agencies have something better.

Otherwise, for Feb or March outbound, staying 30 days or less, I’d probably wait as late as 3-4 weeks advance before booking, because in low season, fares are not likely to increase until you get inside 21 days before departure, and if Farecompare says something cheaper is likely, then it might be worth waiting.

From CLT or RDU to main hubs, I’d expect to pay $450-$500 roundtrip. If I found better than $400 before January, and it’s an itin I like, I’d probably go ahead and book. The days of $200 transatlantic flights are over. Fuel surcharges and ever-increasing airport fees and taxes mean the cheapest transatlantic currently, from New York, are only as low as $385 all in. From CLT or RDU, it’s going to be more, that’s why I say $450 is a good benchmark, and less would be booking-time, in my opinion.

skrait23
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Just one more question and I’ll leave you alone….would the fact that I’m staying more than 30 days matter much when booking?  I will def. follow your advice and check out farecompare just to get an idea for now. 

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It might. Most of the cheapest fares require you book return flight for return within 30 days of departure. Notable exceptions are UK destinations, and I don’t generally notice the 30 day fares as much as I used to. For more than 30 days, consolidators are usually your best bet, but it pays to shop both published (ie, regular and sale fares from airlines) as well as unpublished (ie, “consolidators”) to see who’s got the best ticket for your needs. The student agencies generally sell tickets allowing longer stays.

How long do you need to stay? Be aware that US passport holders have 90 days to play tourist in the combined Schengen border zone (180 UK, 90 Ireland, 90 Switzerland…).

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Quite often the cheapest published fares are for trips of 30 days or less. This is not always the case, moreover student fares typically don’t have that restriction.
Everything Don have said still applies, but you may expect to pay more for a longer trip. If you see a good (not great) price during October / November / December you may want to lock it, just to be safe.

skrait23
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I’m staying a little over 2 months so the passport restriction won’t be a burden, thank goodness.  Thank you so much for your advice…I checked out Farecompare as well as Statravel.com and found numerous flights that float in the $490-$540 range so I’ll keep searching to see if I can snag any that are lower.  I’m assuming that they’re a bit pricey because of my long stay, like you said.  Also, flying out of Charlotte really does up the price a bit but it’s the most convenient airport to fly out of.  Oh well…still won’t let it stop me!  Thanks again. 

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Also keep an eye on www.studentuniverse.com
Their prices are competitive with STA. In addition they have daily “Go Deals,” like for example today it’s $80 off to Munich. I’d say if you are lucky enough to see $80-$100 off a fare of $490-$540, that will be a good time to buy.