Finding airfare deals to Europe: The gateway city strategy

If you're planning a trip to Rome this summer, you're probably only pricing flights into Rome, and maybe flights to relatively close airports such as Naples, Florence, or Pisa. But did you know you could save hundreds of dollars by flying into another airport and taking an intra-Europe flight or train to Rome, or wherever your final destination may be? You might find a cheaper intercontinental flight, and you can also take advantage of cheap intra-Europe flights and rail tickets.

Of course, the strategy involves legwork on your part—pricing flights into several out-of-the-way airports and figuring out how to get from the airport to your final destination—but as airfares rise, it may be worth looking into before you book.

The cheapest gateways

According to data compiled by Farecast, London is typically your best bet for the cheapest flights to Europe, followed by Frankfurt and Amsterdam. This year, however, Frankfurt is actually cheaper than London for August departures, so be sure to look at both cities before booking a summer trip.

Historically, Rome and Paris are among the most expensive gateway cities, and so far this summer is no different.

Of course, these are general trends and may not apply to every departure city. Luckily, one of Farecast's features is an easy-to-use tool that will help you identify the cheapest gateway airports from major U.S. cities. From Farecast's homepage, select your departure city and destination city in the drop-down menu below "Graph Fares over 30 Days" and click "Go."

On the resulting page, you can add up to five cities, which makes it easy to find out which gateways are cheapest for your departure city in a given 30-day span.

Intra-Europe flights

Once you've determined which departure city is least expensive, head to WhichBudget.com, a handy tool for determining which airlines offer service to which airports. To use the site, first select the country you want to fly from and then click on the specific airport. WhichBudget will then provide you with a list of the airlines serving that airport from various cities.

Alternatively, you can select the country and airport you'd like to fly to, and work backwards to determine which airports and airlines you can choose from.

So, if you've found a cheap flight to Frankfurt in August, but you're planning to visit Rome, select "I want to fly from Germany" and then "Frankfurt am Main (FRA)." On the next page, select "Italy" from the drop-down menu, and you'll see that Air Berlin offers service from Frankfurt to Rome. If you don't mind transferring airports in Germany, Ryanair serves Rome from Frankfurt's Hahn airport (HHN), and frequently offers super-cheap fares, from ?0 (all you pay is taxes and fees).

Rail tickets

Although flying within Europe can be both quicker and cheaper than riding the rails, you may prefer to enjoy the scenery on a long train ride or save on a night's accommodations by taking an overnight trip. Rail Europe's search tool displays both train ticket prices and pass options for a given itinerary.

So, if you plan to take a train from Frankfurt to Rome, search "Frankfurt airport" to "Rome" on a particular date using Rail Europe's search tool, and you'll quickly see available train itineraries in up to four classes of service.

You may need to get creative in order to afford your Europe vacation this year, but a little legwork is often worth it if you can find big savings on airfare.

Editor's Note: It's important to note Europe's low-cost-carriers (LCCs) generally have very strict baggage restrictions. Since these restrictions for the number and weight of carry-on and checked bags are different than those of transatlantic carriers, be sure you're aware of all of the baggage restrictions before you fly. Baggage fees on the LCCs are also quite steep, so bringing excess baggage can raise the overall cost of your flight significantly.

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