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How to Fly to Europe on a Budget

The desire to fly is an idea handed down to us by our ancestors who looked enviously on the birds soaring freely through space on the infinite highway of the air.   

– Wilbur Wright

When we consider the thousands of daily flights around the world, aviation pioneer Wilbur Wright’s description of the sky as the ‘infinite highway of the air’ could be considered insightful, bordering on prophetic. 

While many Americans consider European travel to be prohibitively expensive, with proper research and some flexibility, flying to and around Europe is increasingly feasible on a budget — especially if you have points and miles to use. Travelers generally acquire these points and miles through airline loyalty and by making purchases using credit cards that accumulate travel miles.  

But even if you don’t have points and miles, you can still get to Europe, and even hop around a bit, while working with a limited budget. The single large ticket purchase will be getting across the pond, and even this expense is manageable with planning.

Of course, some destinations are cheaper to reach than others. So let’s take a look at how to fly to Europe on a budget.

Best things to do in Ireland Dingle fields

How to Fly to Europe on a Budget

Given our research, each of the following cities offers affordable options from the United States and can be used as a jumping off spot for further travel in Europe.

  • Reykjavik, Iceland (Keflavik International)
  • Dublin, Ireland (Dublin Airport)
  • London, UK (Heathrow Airport)
  • London, UK (Gatwick Airport)
  • Stockholm, Sweden (Arlanda Airport)
  • Copenhagen, Denmark (Kastrup Airport)  

For purposes of visiting multiple countries in one trip, we chose a selection of North Atlantic countries that are in close proximity to each other.

By investigating a sample transatlantic flight (starting in Washington, DC, researched three months before departure) and connecting flights to the other destination cities on our list, we can start to chart out an economical plan for visiting our favorite European cities without spending an arm and a leg on airfare.

Reykjavik, Iceland (Keflavik International)

The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik, Iceland
The Sun Voyager sculpture in Reykjavik

Starting in Europe’s far north west, our first European city to visit can be viewed as a destination in its own right and a stepping stone to the rest of Europe.  Keflavik International Airport in Reykjavik, Iceland is the main hub of Icelandair and a major nexus of transatlantic travel. 

While it may be tempting to use Keflavik as only a layover, Iceland offers many reasons to qualify as a legitimate piece of the itinerary.  From astonishing black beaches to decadent hot springs, this unique island nation is worth a jump across the puddle. It is also a very reasonable fare from the east coast of the United States, rivaling many domestic flights.

Just keep in mind that food, accommodations, etc. in Iceland isn’t cheap, so you will need to budget some of your flight savings on other things.

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: Icelandair
Route: Washington, DC (IAD) → Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF)
Cost: $379

If you want to continue on to the UK, Scandinavia, or Mainland Europe, it will cost a little more than from other destinations, because it is a further distance.

Reykjavik → Dublin = $204 (British Airways)
Reykjavik → London (LHR)= $131 (British Airways)
Reykjavik → London (LGW)= $76 (Wizz Air UK)

All in all, with a combined airfare of $450 – $650, a stop through Reykjavik on your way to another European city may be a great way to see some one-of-a-kind natural and cultural wonders.

Dublin, Ireland (Dublin Airport)

Temple Bar in Dublin
Temple Bar

Hopping one island closer to mainland Europe, we get to our next European city to visit: Dublin, Ireland.  Dublin is a relatively inexpensive city with a lot of history and close proximity to the coast and unrivaled pastoral beauty. 

While Aer Lingus is the flag carrier airline for the Emerald Isle, it is the second largest airline. The largest Irish airline, Ryanair, generally offers more competitive fares, as do several other international airlines based in the north Atlantic. 

For instance, Icelandair (the flag carrier from our last stop) wins the low-fare prize as our sample transatlantic flight:

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: Icelandair
Route: Washington, DC (IAD) → Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) →
Dublin, Ireland (DUB)
Cost: $472

However, we have found great deals to Dublin on Norwegian and Aer Lingus that rival this price for different dates.

Unlike Iceland, Dublin affords you the flexibility of taking the next part of your trip on land, via ferries, bridges and tunnels to the United Kingdom and then on to mainland Europe.  If you choose to stay in the air, Dublin has fantastically low-fare flights to some other European cities on our list:

Dublin → Stockholm = $52 (SAS)
Dublin → Copenhagen = $22 (Ryanair)
Dublin → London (LHR) = $26 (British Airways)
Dublin → London (LGW) = $19 (Ryanair)

While a solo trip into Dublin falls near the middle of our most economical European cities to visit using airline miles, combining this visit with a tour of the United Kingdom starts to look a lot thriftier per stop.

London, UK (Heathrow Airport)

Tower Bridge London

The world’s most connected airport, London’s Heathrow Airport is a mammoth transportation hub and therefore automatically one of the best European cities to visit using airline miles and you can usually find affordable flights as well. 

Besides the benefit of convenience, Heathrow Airport also puts you right next to one of the most coveted destinations in the world: London, England.

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: Finnair
Route: Washington, DC (IAD) → London, UK (LHR)
Cost: $608

We have also flown to London, through Dublin on Aer Lingus for under $500.

Like Dublin Airport, London’s Heathrow Airport is a relatively cheap origin airport to visit other European destinations on our list.  As British Airways accounts for over 50 percent of the departures, it’s no surprise that they run the board for intra-European travel out of Heathrow.

London (LHR) → Stockholm = $49 (British Airways)
London (LHR) → Copenhagen = $62 (British Airways)
London (LHR) → Dublin = $61 (British Airways)

All in all, while London’s Heathrow Airport may fit the bill for convenience, it may not be every traveler’s cup of Earl Grey.  Fortunately, London offers a more intimate alternative.

London, UK (Gatwick Airport)

Kensington Palace London Pass

The United Kingdom’s second largest and second busiest airport is also the eighth most trafficked airport in Europe.  While it technically has two runways, it can only operate one at a time, making its main runway one of the busiest in the world.

Gatwick’s status as baby brother to the much larger and well-known Heathrow airport has turned it into a popular choice for those looking for a more low-key entry into the United Kingdom or Europe.

Regarding our list of best European cities to visit on a budget, Gatwick popped up as an interesting choice, especially for tourists who don’t mind a few inconveniences to save a lot of money.  Check out our sample flight into Gatwick.

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: JetBlue → Norwegian Air
Route: Baltimore, MD (BWI) → Boston, MA (BOS) [Bag Recheck] →
London, UK (LGW)
Cost: $214
Flight Time: 22 hours (11 hour layover)

Don’t get me wrong, an 11 hour layover in Boston’s Logan Airport, involving a change in airlines and another trip through security isn’t my idea of a relaxing jaunt.  On the other hand, I’ve taken regional flights that cost twice as much. For extreme shoestring budget travel, you can’t go much lower. Now let’s look at the local fares:

London (LGW) → Stockholm = $57 (Norwegian)
London (LGW) → Reykjavik = $89 (easyJet)
London (LGW) → Copenhagen = $32 (easyJet)
London (LGW) → Dublin = $22 (Ryanair)

Just as Ryanair offers incredibly inexpensive flights from Dublin to Gatwick, the same is true in reverse.  You can see how one can start to put together a relatively inexpensive multi-city European vacation by combining research and flexibility. 

By factoring in the miles you can earn and spend using some of the best credit cards for international travel, even the most frugal traveler begins to discover economical European travel options.

Stockholm, Sweden (Arlanda Airport)

Colorful street in Stockholm

Now, let’s jump across the North Sea to our first Scandanaivian destination: Arlanda Airport in Stockholm, Sweden.  As a country with one of the world’s consistently highest population satisfaction ratings, Sweden isn’t a bad place to visit either (to put it lightly). 

From the Nobel Museum and other cultural icons to natural wonders such as the Northern Lights, Sweden is a true catalog of sites and sights. The downside is that it has a reputation for being prohibitively expensive.  Let’s return to our old friend Icelandair to see if we can get there on a budget:

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: Icelandair
Route: Washington, DC (IAD) → Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF) →
Stockholm, Sweden (ARN)
Cost: $529

While that isn’t the cheapest transatlantic flight on our list, landing in Stockholm situates you in a prime location to visit the rest of Scandinavia by plane, train, boat or automobile.  Our list of puddle jumps to other northern European destinations is pretty reasonable.

Stockholm → Copenhagen = $51 (Royal Wings) 
Stockholm → Dublin = $66 (SAS)
Stockholm → London (LHR) = $47 (British Airways)
Stockholm → London (LGW) = $46 (Norwegian)

With four countries and five airports under our collective seatbelt, we just have one more European city to visit.

Copenhagen, Denmark (Kastrup Airport)

Nyhavn Copenhagen
Copenhagen, Nyhavn

Located only 40 miles across the water from Sweden, Kastrup Airport in Copenhagen, Denmark is a true hub of Scandinavia and northern Europe. Known for cultural and architectural wonders like the centerpiece of government, Christiansborg Palace and the Tivoli Gardens, Copenhagen is a popular destination for both European and international travelers. 

With a layover through Lisbon on Tap Air Portugal, air travel there is also not prohibitively expensive from the US:

Sample Transatlantic Flight:
Airline: Tap Air Portugal
Route: Washington, DC (IAD) → Lisbon, Portugal (LIS) → CopenhagenDenmark (CPH)
Cost: $301

Copenhagen’s central location also makes in an ideal stop-over when visiting other northern European cities.  By car, it’s less than a day’s drive to Oslo, Norway (6 hours) Berlin, Germany (7 hours) or Amsterdam, Netherlands (9 hours). 

Buying a flight or using airline miles, it’s even more economical – less than $100 to every airport on our list except Reykjavik.

Copenhagen → Stockholm = $75 (Norwegian)
Copenhagen → Reykjavik = $149 (easyJet)
Copenhagen → Dublin = $22 (Ryanair)
Copenhagen → London (LHR) = $47 (British Airways)
Copenhagen → London (LGW) = $33 (easyJet)

Conclusion

Whether you’re an experienced jetsetter looking to get the most from your cache of airline miles or a novice traveler in search of a shoestring strategy for a European jaunt, some of the most iconic north Atlantic destinations are also some of the best European cities to fly to on a budget.

The keys to taking a big trip on a little budget are planning and flexibility. If you have the foresight to look for deals months ahead and compliancy to consider alternate dates, destinations and modes of travel, you can find some real economies. Wherever you go and however you get there, always be open to new experiences and always be learning. 

Just keep in mind that prices are always changing and the deals outlined above may not be available when you look — but it gives you an idea of where to start looking.

Guest author: This guest post was written by the Johnny Jet Editorial Team. The Johnny Jet Editorial team writes about airline miles, travel credit card reviews, and travel news.

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2 Comments on “How to Fly to Europe on a Budget

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  1. This list is exactly what I was looking for!

    Europe would be amazing, but it is so pricey to fly across the world!

    Thank you for the amazing tips!

    Here we come Europe!

    Such a great post! Always looking for ways to save on trips!
    Cheers, Jemma |

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