Find the right flight!

Securing the perfect villa for your desired dates is just one piece of the travel puzzle: Now you need to find a flight. Here’s part one of a two-part guide to help you book the right flight online:

Let’s start with basics. Is your priority cost or convenience? Here’s a scenario to consider: I’m renting a villa in the Chianti in June for two weeks with two small children. To minimize parental headaches, I’m flying direct. I’ve booked a Delta flight serviced by AlItalia from LAX to Rome’s Fiumicino. From there, I’ll rent a car and drive to Tuscany (3.5 hours).

Now let’s say the kids are staying home with grandma. In that case I might find a more competitive rate by flying a carrier such as Lufthansa into Munich, a large, user friendly international airport with complete services, and then booking a connecting flight to Rome on a local discount airline such as Meridiana, Air Italy, EasyJet, or Blu-Express. One note of caution here: Baggage restrictions on smaller airlines are often tighter than those on major carriers; be sure to check weight limits and/or baggage charges on individual carriers’ sites before you purchase! You may even want to think about traveling with just a carry on, if possible. For alternative transportation there’s the train—a convenient, relaxing, and certainly less expensive option. According to RailEurope I could take the City Night Line, for example: The train leaves Munich at 9:00 PM…and arrives in Rome at 9:00 AM the next morning. Not too shabby!

Before you get down to searching, here’s a few more helpful tips:

Should you pounce on tickets in February if, say, you’re not traveling until September? Depends. It might sound like a no-brainer, but it’s important to consider that the cheapest seats sell out first. Waiting until the last minute isn’t necessarily going to save money, especially in those last 2 weeks prior to your departure (when prices tend to be inflated). On the other hand, by buying far in advance you may miss eventual price drops. A good rule of thumb is to book 1-5 months in advance of your departure date for best price and selection. You’ll also find the best fares during business hours—when most people are online.

Is there a cheaper day of the week to fly? Yes. According to Rick Seaney, CEO of farecompare.com, traveling on weekdays to Europe is cheaper than weekends (FYI: Wednesday is your day to save if you’re flying domestic).

Consider the high and low European tourist seasons. Peak periods, such as summer (late May – late August) are generally more expensive. Late October to mid-March is considered the winter season and is typically more affordable; same goes for late March to mid-May (though Easter week may see some spikes). Fall (mid-September to late October) is also low season.

Flexibility is key! If you’ve got wiggle room on your dates or arrival/departure airport, you can find the best deals.

Photo courtesy of xlibber @ Flickr