Alors… perhaps you’ve been thinking about traveling to France. Whether it’s for leisure or work, nevertheless you’re excited to be soon arriving in and living out your fantasy of la vie française. From the tempting smells of fresh baguettes to the easygoing, laissez faire lifestyle, you’re envisioning just how wonderful your time will be abroad, and of course, you’re counting the days until you’re off!
Not so fast, though: besides thinking about what you’ll bring and where to visit, there’s also the equally-tedious but very important affair of booking your flight to France. Unless you’re from the UK and can take a ferry over (pooh!), you’ll most likely have to make the journey with the metal bird itself.
That said, looking at flights can be stressful, especially if you’re broke (don’t worry, I feel you). Having worked in France these past two years (and returning this upcoming year), I’ve booked many flights to and from the United States and France. Through experience, I’ve learned to be financially savvy and have purchased flights for reasonably-good prices and quality. That said, I hope to share a few tips in this post that I found have worked for me. Perhaps they’ll serve as a guide for the rest of you who’ve yet to book a flight, so here they are!
*note* The points which I address below are reflective of my personal experiences flying from the United States to metropolitan France. This is by no means reflective of everyone’s experiences with booking flights, although I hope some of the tips will be helpful!
1. Start looking no later than six weeks in advance.
Being very specific on timing, but from my experience, it has worked. True, it’s ideal to look as early as you can, but things like family, work, and other duties cannot be foreseen ahead of time. Especially for people who plan to work abroad in programs like TAPIF or be a lecteur/lectrice, not knowing when your work contract will arrive or whether you can secure a VISA appointment (often fully booked in the summer) can make it difficult to gauge just when you can leave. While I can’t give an exact time of how early to book, I can say that waiting no later than six weeks before you would like to leave to do so.
During my first year working in France, I booked my flight in May, whereas my second year it was six weeks before I left (hence the tip). This time around, though, I booked just under a month in advance, which actually wasn’t very cheap (although there were other factors). I would say that there’s some flexibility in waiting to book, but it’s a matter of knowing just how late before prices start to increase.
2. Know what you want.
Granted, being on a budget often limits the choices you’ll have. However, there are ways to still find one which is reasonably-priced and of good quality, all the while conveniently getting you from point A to point B.
Depending where you’re flying from, the flight can be draining (e.g. from Los Angeles to Paris, it takes 10 to 11 hours). Being cooped up in the aircraft with stale airflow and sub-par sleeping conditions can get quite uncomfortable, no matter how good of a traveler you are. That said, it’s okay to be picky and choose a flight which will be relatively comfortable and smooth-cruising.
You’ll need to consider many factors, including whether you want a direct flight or layovers, round-trip or one-way, and so forth. Some people might want to get to France sans arrêt, whereas others might prefer layovers in other European countries (e.g. London, Reykjavik) to spend a few days or weeks before flying into Paris. Some might already know when they want to return home (during the Christmas holidays or after April), so they book round-trip. It’ll also depend when you would like to arrive in France: late September usually has the cheapest flight deals for what I’ve seen.
Personally, I don’t bode well on layover flights, so I prefer to look for direct flights; luckily, I live in Los Angeles, so there are handfuls of direct flights to Paris every day. I never had a layover flight in my two years of working abroad, and I made sure to book a direct one this time around. During my first year, I’d already secured a round-trip ticket which was quite expensive and rather limiting on how much time I could stay after the program ended to travel. I decided to book one-way my second year, then book my return later when I was in France, which ended up saving me hundreds of dollars. I booked a one-way for this year, too, and will also wait until later to purchase a return home.
3. Clear your Internet history.
I actually learned this travel-hack tip from other travelers not too long ago, and it really makes a difference! By clearing your Internet history, you’re essentially clearing out things which flight companies might track and cause to increase the ticket prices– so not fair! Taking the minute to clean your device can be worthwhile, especially if you can save anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds!
Besides that, going incognito is also helpful, so that flight companies can’t track you, either. In fact, both clearing your Internet history and going incognito are worth considering– anything for saving money!
4. Check multiple sites, compare prices.
Of course, I’m sure you’re resourceful and have already looked into several, if not dozens, of different websites for comparing flights and their prices. Here are some a few which I swear by:
CheapOAir— I’ve used this website for finding and booking flights overseas, usually for flying between Los Angeles and France. It shows the flights, their times, and how long between each layover, if applicable. You can also personalize your selections (e.g. alternate dates, number of layovers, etc.) on the side of the screen.
Skyscanner— A popular website, Skyscanner is great for travelers who are flexible with dates, as it offers price comparisons within and by months. They also direct you to the flight company’s website to book the flight, which avoids the cost of having to pay the third-party fee. I’ve primarily used Skyscanner for flights within Europe, as well as once for Morocco.
StudentUniverse— I just discovered this website this summer, after some assistant(e)s touted its merits for being not only budget-friendly, but also student-friendly. Even if you’re not a student, you can still get the discounts by being under 25. I used it for the first time to book my flight to France this year, and I do like how it’s geared for penny-pinching people like me!
5. Be careful of extra fees.
You found a good deal– sweet! However, not so fast…does it include a free, checked luggage or an included meal? Or do you have to pay extra for them? Especially for budget airlines, they get you by advertising for a very low-priced flight, only to tack on an extra $50 for a checked luggage, $25 for in-flight meals, and $10 for reserved seating. That’s why you need to be extra careful with extra fees, or else you’ll be set back by a hundred dollars over budget!
6. Save a copy of your flight details.
Even if you’ve finally paid for your flight, it’s not over yet. Print your flight details, screen-shot them on your phone, and otherwise make a copy showing proof that you have, indeed, paid for your flight. Maybe it’s just me who’s super-cautious, but I always print my flight details in case something goes wrong, which can happen. Also, flights can change times or even canceled, sometimes at the last minute, so it helps to check your flight close to your departure date to make sure that you don’t end up going the wrong day or, even worse, missing your flight!
7. Don’t forget to check in!
There are airlines which require you to check in up to 72 hours in advance for the flight. Some of them are pretty strict with only checking in online, so don’t make the mistake of forgetting to do it, or else you might run into trouble at the airport! After all, it takes only a minute to confirm your spot, so don’t let this tiny slip-up keep you from boarding on your way to France.
That’s about it for me! If anyone has tips on how they’ve booked flights on the cheap, I’d be glad to hear about them. Otherwise, bon voyage!