NPR logo Rick Seaney on Inexpensive Fares

Rick Seaney on Inexpensive Fares

Rick Seaney.

Rick Seaney. Source: hide caption

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In the second hour of our show today, we'll talk to two travel experts, Rick Steves, author of sundry guidebooks, host of sundry travel shows; and Rick Seaney, the CEO of, about how to travel to Europe on the cheap. Or the sort-of-cheap (given the value of the dollar). Steves claims that it's still possible, and Seaney promises to help us navigate the confusing world of airline ticketing. The guru of cheap fares himself offered to blog for us this morning, which makes my job a whole lot easier. So, without further ado: Rick Seaney, ladies and gentlemen:

Sometimes I get the feeling that there's a whole group of people out there who believe in a mythical amendment to our Constitution — one that guarantees us the "Right to Cheap Airline Tickets." But anyone who's actually bought airline tickets in the past six months knows this in not an "inalienable right." The number one reason: the exploding cost of fuel (the price of jet fuel has nearly doubled since last year). The airlines are doing something about this. They are reducing seats and raising their prices. Steadily.

We consumers have two choices: complain (which is what folks did last year); or, adapt. I think the answer is "intelligent adapting"; you accomplish this by making smarter airfare purchasing decisions.

It's important to remember that an airline is in business to sell you a seat on a flight for as much money as possible. Airlines can and do change hundreds of thousands of airfare prices every day, and at different times of the day. They study your buying behavior and use this knowledge to charge you more.

With all this in mind, you're ready to start shopping (that's shopping, not buying — do some research and some comparisons first). Here' some handy tips to get you started (after the jump):

Be willing to gravel outside the typical weekend-to-weekend "box." Fly less-popular times of the day (6 a.m., noon, and late evening). Switch from your home airport, if you can get a better deal at a neighboring airport — even if it means driving an hour or two.

Airlines manage the cheapest seats in a four-month window before departure; any earlier, and you will be charged a mid-tier price. Waiting until the last minute used to mean you could find some great deals, but not anymore. Today, planes are packed, so airlines have no incentive to lure last-minute shoppers.

Wednesdays are usually the least-expensive days of the week to fly. The next best days are Tuesdays and Saturdays.

If you are in a small-ish city, it may pay to drive to the nearest big airport. Look for an "option" button that allows you to compare prices with "nearby airports."

When you see a good deal, be prepared to pull the trigger. Airlines are reducing capacity and planes are filling up faster than ever; know what a good price is. Check the price history of your route, and buy quickly when you see a good deal.

International travel has well-defined "seasons" that determine price points. If you know when these seasons begin and end, you can save hundreds of dollars by flying one day (say, at the end of a cheap season), as opposed to the person who travels the next day (at the start of a new, more-expensive season). European "Open Skies" launched on March 30, with numerous sales. Look for similar buzz-generating sales at any time new airlines or routes are introduced.



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When do prices go down for Fall travel?

Sent by Kathy Bonds | 3:17 PM | 4-1-2008

My fiancee and I are traveling to Croatia for our honeymoon at the end of June. We found decent prices by searching a few times a week (or day) and pouncing when the prices dropped. We're avoiding some of the weak dollar issues by going to Croatia (non-Euro currency) and enjoying the Adriatic from the East!

Sent by Jay Anderson | 3:27 PM | 4-1-2008

What do you know about "couch surfing" as a means of cheap or free accomodation? My daughter will be traveling through Finland, and apparently "crashing" on folk's couches! Should I be nervous?

Sent by Nina Tanti | 3:36 PM | 4-1-2008

One way tosave on lodgings is to stay in the dorm rooms of british and european universitites. I went to London years a go and stayed at the London School of Economics. I was near downtown and was staying for less than half the lower priced hotels and it included breakfast.

Sent by charles davidson | 3:37 PM | 4-1-2008

There is a website called couchsurfing. This is a way to travel by staying on the couches of locals all over the world. It may sound dangerous but with the verification process it is quite safe. I have hosted many travelers in Boston and stayed with great hosts all over the world. there is no better way to experience the culture when visiting a new place!

Sent by Michael | 3:39 PM | 4-1-2008


One of the ways I've made it to Europe is through the use of sky miles. It does take me a while to accumulate the necessary number, but in the long run it does pay. About 3 years ago I went on a Rick Steves' tour to Spain and Portugal for $32.50; this autumn I'm going on another R. Steves' tour to Turkey for 87.97. Thus the things I have to save for are the price of the tour itself and whatever "souvenirs" I may want to buy.

There are also survey programs ( and that help a person to earn miles.

Thank you.

Sent by Mary Lucero | 3:54 PM | 4-1-2008

Yes, you should be nervous about couch surfing. you should be nervous about your daughter traveling alone at all. My daughter almost died twice (a brutal rape and typhoid fever) on a round the world trip solo. Be nervous. Things have changed and a young woman should not be doing this alone.

Sent by Kathy | 11:18 PM | 4-2-2008