We love shoulder season travel as a way to save on a trip abroad by traveling in off-peak times, but this year especially, you shouldn't rule out a winter trip to Europe.
Right now, flight prices to Europe are as low as we've seen them all year for the winter months. Fares began falling and have stayed steadily low for weeks now, giving travelers unique opportunities at roundtrip flights to Europe for less than $500 in many cases! Our Thrifty Traveler Premium subscribers know this better than anyone as we've sent dozens of Europe flight deals to their inboxes over the last few months.
If that's not reason enough to book your trip, I'd argue that visiting Europe in the winter is an exceptional travel experience that provides even more value to your already cheap trip. The warmer, summer months are certainly wonderful in Europe, but it will cost you more to get there, and you're going to encounter a more touristy vibe and swelling crowds at the most popular attractions. In winter, it will feel like you have your favorite European cities all to yourself.
There are some destinations in Europe that can be even better in the winter, too. From the mild weather in Spain, Portugal, and Italy, to the Scandinavian countries that embrace winter like no other, the continent is full of places that can be just as amazing in December, January, and February as they are in June, July, and August.
Sure, you'll have to bring a coat if you want to visit Europe this time of year. But you'll benefit from off-peak pricing almost everywhere and your flights across the pond are going to be half-off or more than peak season rates.
Here's your sign to plan a trip to Europe this winter while flights are still cheap, and where to consider going.
Iberian Peninsula: Portugal and Spain
While it's certainly colder in Portugal and Spain in January and February than it is in July, it's not like we're talking about boots and parkas here.
In Lisbon, Portugal, the usual temperatures are in the 50s during the winter months. The same goes for Barcelona, Spain. Where I'm from (an admittedly frigid tundra in the Upper Midwest), that's shorts weather! For most, level-headed North Americans, it means you need nothing more than a sweater.
Winter on the Iberian peninsula is pretty mild, and it gives you the run of these locales without the big summer crowds.
With airfare as cheap as that, I think you'll be more than willing to pack a sweater for Madrid (MAD) or Barcelona (BCN) this winter.
We loved this flight deal because of the sub-$500 and even sub-$400 roundtrip fares. These aren't flying budget airlines, either. Only the major carriers are featured in most of our deals.
On the eastern side of the peninsula is one of our favorite travel destinations on earth: Portugal. We love Lisbon and Porto and think both spots deserve a spot on your list.
These cheap flights aren't just for folks in Boston (BOS) and Atlanta (ATL), either. Even travelers flying from small airports like Bismarck, North Dakota (BIS) and Bangor, Maine (BGR) could take advantage of these low fares.
And if you want to make your way to Portugal in style, look no further than TAP Air Portugal's lovely lie-flat business class.
These big, comfy seats on the A330 and their sibling seats on the A321 would make for a super-comfy journey to Lisbon, Porto, or the city of Faro (FAO) down south.
Roundtrip business class fares for under $2,000 are not common, so don't wait to book them if you see something like this pop into your Thrifty Traveler Premium inbox.
The Alps: Switzerland and Austria
People love to complain about winter, but I have so little patience for it. If you put yourself in the way of some natural beauty, winter never feels so harsh.
And in my opinion, there's no place more beautiful in the wintertime than the Alps. With tiny idyllic towns fronting huge snowy mountains, the Alps are impossibly beautiful in the colder months.
While winter in the Alps is arguably the best time of the year to be there, flights to the Alps during the winter months still benefit from off-season pricing.
I had a blast putting together this nearly nationwide flight deal to the Austrian cities of Innsbruck (INN) and Salzburg (SZG) with availability during peak ski season in the Alps.
Next door to Austria is the equally stunning Swiss Alps, and Switzerland flight deals have been amazing this year, too. You can fly to Geneva (GVA) and take on the French ski town of Chamonix (one of our favorite European cities here at Thrifty Traveler), or fly to Zurich and take the train up into the mountains of Grindelwald, Murren, Zermatt, and more!
There is one exceptionally comfortable way to get yourself to the Alps, though. And that's flying the French, all-business class carrier La Compagnie. Doesn't that look nice?
La Compagnie flies from Newark (EWR) to Milan (MXP). And while Milan is decidedly not in the Alps, I consider it a sneaky backdoor into the Alps or the Dolomite mountains of Italy, too. The Alps are just a few hours by train away from Milan. And I'd stomach an extra hour of train time to sit in one of those seats on the way across the Atlantic!
Italy: All the Fun, None of the Crowds
Everyone wants to go to Italy. We get asked about it all the time. But the people who get good deals to fly to Italy are going in the winter – when you're not elbowing through crowds to see the best attractions, and when the food still tastes just as good as it does in June.
This year, the flights to Italy, especially for this coming winter, have been cheaper than ever.
Roundtrip fares to Italy in the $400s flying American, Delta, United, and their partners don't come around too often. And it didn't matter whether you lived near a major airport like Chicago (ORD) or New York (JFK, EWR) or were flying out of a smaller city like Boise, Idaho (BOI) or Appleton, Wisconsin (ATW), you could take advantage of this flight deal.
In the winter months, you're likely to experience temperatures in the 40s or 50s in Rome, which is a far cry from the sweltering heat of the summer.
But what if I told you that, in exchange for packing a light jacket, you could fly lie-flat, nonstop to Rome starting at just 75,000 points each way?
This ITA Airways deal included nonstops from Boston (BOS), Chicago (ORD), Miami (MIA), New York (JFK), and Washington, D.C. (IAD) to Rome (FCO). It also had a bonus JFK-Milan (MXP) route sprinkled in there, too!
All you needed was some Virgin Atlantic points to book, which you could easily get by transferring points from any of the major banks like American Express, Capital One, Chase, or Citi. What's stopping you?!
Don't Fear the North: Scandinavia and Iceland
You're not going to find many temperatures in the 50s and 60s in Denmark, Finland, Sweden, and Norway. They get winter up there – real winter. But when you get winter like they do, you learn how to live with it and embrace it.
I love traveling to the Nordic nations during the winter months because those people celebrate the winter like nobody else.
The winter fun starts with Christmas markets and moves on to light festivals, snow festivals, ice skating, dog sledding, and more. Not to mention it's the best season and region for viewing the Northern Lights, too.
Winter is dreamy up in Northern Europe, and so are the flight prices.
Why are flights to Northern Europe so cheap? Because of airlines like Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) and Icelandair. These carriers run massive sales like this one which drop prices flying to destinations all over the region.
This SAS sale could connect travelers from all of SAS's U.S. hubs to Scandinavia and even down into the European mainland for under $400 roundtrip. That's a tremendous deal!
Icelandair just ran a similar sale of its own, offering sub-$500 flights to Europe this winter.
But there's something special about Icelandair deals: Iceland stopovers.
With Icelandair, you can tack on a few in Iceland on your way to or from your final European destination for the same price as your roundtrip fare (or even less in some cases!) It's one of the best airline programs out there for savvy travelers.
Want to visit Copenhagen during the Copenhagen Lights Festival like I did last year? Amazing! Here's a $446 roundtrip fare, with three free days in Iceland tacked on to the end.
If you're OK dealing with a little darkness (or as I call it, perfect northern lights viewing weather!), consider the northernmost cities in Europe for your thrifty winter getaway.
London and Paris For Bougie Business Class Flights
Let's class the place up a little bit, huh? If you're going to plan a winter trip to London or Paris this year, you might as well make the trip in style, right?
When it comes to the busiest, most popular cities like London and Paris, finding lie-flat seats is easiest in the winter when travel demand is lower. That's the case for many airlines, including United.
Enter United Polaris Business Class and this sweet deal from just 45,000 miles each way from Chicago (ORD) to London (LHR).
Your journey will start in the outstanding United Polaris Lounge at ORD and end in a Christmas-clad London this holiday season. Did we forget to mention all of the Christmas and New Year's availability on this deal?
London's not alone here, though. You can also fly in Air France Business Class to get to Paris (CDG) this winter, too. Air France recently announced new service to Raleigh (RDU), and thanks to those new, empty planes, there are a ton of great lie-flat seats available to travelers with just a few Air France Flying Blue points!
Anywhere At All!
You can take my suggestions for wonderful winter locales in Europe, or you can just pick for yourself, because the truth is, flights are cheap almost continent-wide in Europe for travel this winter if you get to booking right now.
Here's the best example: Earlier this month, we sent out this doozy of a deal rounding up all of the cheap fares to Europe from all over the U.S. It resulted in possibly the most widespread deal we've ever written, both in terms of destinations and departure cities.
I can't even fit all of the European cities on this deal in the screenshot. The heavy hitters like Amsterdam (AMS), Athens (ATH), Paris (CDG), and Rome (FCO) were all included, but so were less popular but equally incredible destinations like Bologna (BLQ), Cork (ORK), Luxembourg (LUX), and Marseille (MRS).
You don't have to be picky about your European destination in 2024. So long as you're willing to travel in the winter, you're on the right path toward a great deal.
With cheaper lodging and fewer to no crowds at even the most popular destinations, winter is not so secretly a great time to travel to Europe. But it's also the single best time of year to find cheap flights to the continent.
This coming winter of 2024 might be the best example of this we've had in years, with airlines offering massive bargains on airfare to fill all those empty seats after everyone took their European vacations over the summer.
Thrifty Traveler Premium members have been getting these flight deal alerts for winter 2024 travel for months now, and it's almost time to pack your bags!