Traveling to Eastern Europe
There are many ways of getting to Eastern Europe. Exploring several different options can save you some money and provide you greater flexibility.
For the budget-oriented, it may be cheaper to fly to larger Western European hubs, such as London, Dublin, Frankfurt or Berlin, and then take a a low budget airline, train or bus to your final destination. This approach may also allow you greater flexibility if you are undecided about where you will end up. However, this route is most effective when your connecting train or bus ride is relatively short. (a flight will be hardly over 2 hours)
As Eastern European destinations have become more popular over the last several years, plane fares have dropped in price, while the number and frequency of flights have increased. This bodes well for those who want to fly directly to their country of choice without many layovers or transfers along the way. It may cost more initially to purchase a ticket to Prague, Bratislava, Budapest, or Warsaw, but it can save time and the hassle of figuring out the best and least expensive way of traveling over land from an airport in Western Europe to your final destination in Eastern Europe. But for the past decade or so, there has been a boom in the low budget airline industry, and the increasing competition is perfect for finding a cheap ticket. Only the currently rising price of fuel can be a possible setback in trying to save some money, with extra fees for carry on or checked in baggage now occurring more frequently.
Unrestricted Economy-class Tickets
If you want maximum flexibility and are not concerned about cost, check into unrestricted economy-class tickets. These tickets will allow you to change dates or destinations and even postpone your trip for up to one year.
If you plan to travel extensively for at least a year, a round-the-world ticket can be an inexpensive option. It's important to have an idea of where you're going to stop before you purchase this kind of ticket so that you can compare the price to what it would cost you to purchase individual tickets between each planned destination. Generally, you must travel in the same direction (i.e., east to west or west to east). Round-the-world tickets allow you to make unlimited stops using a combination of airlines for a set price.
If you are short on funds and don't mind packing lightly, you might consider flying as an air courier. As a courier, you are hired by a courier service to accompany packages to an overseas destination. Courier companies need people to accompany packages because unattended luggage is not allowed on international passenger flights. The courier service simply purchases a seat and sells it cheaply in exchange for luggage space. This is completely legal and in most cases you never even see the luggage. If you are heading to Eastern Europe for a stay of a month or more, you will obviously need to take more than you can fit in your carry-on bag (which is all you're allowed as a courier because your luggage allowance is taken by the courier service's package). In this case, you will have to pay an extra charge for any additional personal luggage you need to take. In most instances, though, the total price will be much less than a regular fare. To be eligible, you must be over eighteen years of age, and it helps to live in a big city, as most courier flights depart from hub cities, such as New York City or Chicago
For more information on courier flights, try The Courier Air Travel Handbook by Mark I. Field. This 160-page book is filled with information on the ins and outs of flying as an air courier (available for US$12.95 plus shipping from Perpetual Press, P.O. Box 3956, Seattle, WA 98124). To learn more, to go to our Travel Bookstore.
Consolidators and Discount Agencies
Consolidators contract with various airlines to offer discounted tickets to retail agents and individual customers. They typically offer international flights for twenty to thirty percent less than normal economy fares. Although this is an economical way to travel, be aware that refunds can be made only through the consolidator. Consolidator tickets can be obtained through your travel agency or directly from discount brokers. One important example is STA Travel, the student discount travel agency that offers flexible, changeable tickets for young travelers. Now that one-way tickets are generally not allowed for travel to the EU, purchasing a round trip ticket is not so bad, even if you don’t know your exact date of return—STA charges only $35 for the first date change, plus any fare difference. You can see a list of consolidators and discount agencies by visiting our Travel Center. Just click here.
Services such as Airhitch and Air-Tech, which hesitate to call themselves travel agents, discount agencies, or stand-by services, offer an inexpensive way to travel to Europe. One-way fares usually cost less than US$200 regardless of whether you travel from the East or West Coast. There is a catch, though. These services get you there cheaply, but they rarely allow you to plan in advance. Here's how it works:
- You give them a window of three to five days when you want to travel.
- You provide them with your top three desired destinations. You might, for example, select Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and London in order of your personal preference.
- They get you a ticket according to availability. You won't know which destination you'll get until a few days before your departure date.
- Air-Tech also offers courier flights and regular confirmed/reserved seats on all major airlines to destinations throughout the world.
Read up on customer reviews for these companies before you decide to go with them, and check out their listing with the Better Business Bureau for a current list of complaints. For more information, contact:
2319 N 45 Street, Suite 135
Seattle WA 98108
Phone: (800) 806-2610 or (206) 633-2753
584 Broadway, Suite 1007
New York, NY 10012
Phone: (800) 575-TECH or (212) 219-7000