5/6/10

Traveling to France


Despite my need to log a thousand miles on the bike each month, cycling TO France wasn't very practical for a number of reasons. I started my search for plane tickets in the usual places - Expedia, Orbitz and the like. There are a number of consolidation services that will check a number of them at once which is pretty convenient.

Fares to France were pretty high for the month of July which, as it turns out, is the tourist season. I searched in vain for historic fare data to determine when the best time to buy was, but came up short. It's possible the best source of data was a travel forum on Google groups. I was shooting for the $1k/person range, preferably lower.

I found a website called FareCompare and registered for their alerts. I also read that you should not rely on your local airport for the best fares. While it's so much more convenient to leave from home, many times the best fares are from airports nearby. I changed my search to include Newport News/Williamsburg, Richmond Intl and Dulles airports. Newport News had next to nothing headed to France without first going to Charlottesville or Newark, NJ. These legs jacked the prices up. Richmond was very close to Norfolk rates. Dulles on the other hand, was downright cheap - and direct! It looked like our best bet would be to drive up to DC and depart from there.

Even with a 3.5 hour drive, fares were still relatively high, just not 'Norfolk to Paris' high. Another tip provided by FareCompare was to travel to less popular destinations and catch a cheap economy flight to the final destination. Flying into Dublin was a popular suggestion. From Dublin, you'd catch a RyanAir flight for $40 and wind up in France with money in your pocket.

Somehow I wound up on Wikipedia, researching discount airlines and stumbled upon airfare.com. With a name so simple, it seems this should have been a starting point. Airfare.com sells heavily discounted, non-refundable, non-exchangeable tickets on major airlines. This is where I was able to secure air transportation for the family at what is still the best rate I have seen. FareCompare continues to send me alerts about price changes and they've only been getting higher as we get closer to summer. While I did receive a few notices that fares had gone down, they never reached the prices I found on airfare.com.

So come July, we'll be boarding a British Airways flight from Dulles to Paris and doing so reasonably secure we did it for the least amount of money possible.

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