How You Can Fly From San Francisco to Europe for $165 Roundtrip

I know what you’re thinking.

Fly to Europe for $165 roundtrip? Pff, that’s impossible.

But I’m here to tell you, my friend, that you’re about to unlock the beauty of travel hacking.

Earlier this year, I booked a flight from San Francisco to Copenhagen for only $5.60 with only one month’s notice. My returning flight was $159.60. How did I do it? By following these steps:

Use Travel Credit Cards

I don’t encourage anyone to get a credit card unless they’re able to fully pay off their debt every month and they’re comfortable with the decision to open an account. However, if you are confident with both of these things, there are a number of travel cards that offer great airline rewards.

For this trip, I used the United MileagePlus Chase credit card. Signing up for this card generally offers you 50,000 bonus points after you spend $3,000 in your first three months. I won’t go in-depth about manufactured spend in this post, but if you’re not able to meet the minimum spend, check out these resources:

When I decided to purchase my tickets, I hadn’t used any of my card’s bonus points and I’d accumulated over 60k in rewards.

The United MileagePlus website is pretty straight forward when it comes to booking trips with your reward miles, but there are a few ways you can stretch your points to make them last.

For starters, be flexible with your arrival city. If you’re traveling from the United States to somewhere in Europe or Asia, remember that once you get to your destination, transportation is going to be a lot cheaper. So if you want to fly into Paris, but the ticket price on your United MileagePlus account is over $50 in addition to your reward miles, try looking into cities nearby like Brussels or London and take RyanAir or MegaBus from that city to Paris. You’ll get to see more cities this way and still have extra reward points leftover.

 This search for flights from SFO to CDG in Paris shows how big the differences in pricing can be when booking with United MileagePlus reward points.

This search for flights from SFO to CDG in Paris shows how big the differences in pricing can be when booking with United MileagePlus reward points.

 

After I searched around for cities in the proximity of my destination in Europe, I came across a deal to Copenhagen for 30,000 miles and $5.60. I was originally thinking of flying into Brussels, but the price difference between Brussels and Copenhagen was about $50money that I could spend instead on hostels and food. Prices will vary with season, so if you’re flying during a busy season be prepared to book early or risk paying more.

I was flying in early April during off season. If you want to fly closer to big travel seasons in the winter or summer, consider booking at the end of May/early June or the first week of December. Accommodations tend to be cheaper during these times before the big rush of travelers come in for the holidays.

After I bought my ticket to Copenhagen, I didn’t have enough points on my United card to purchase a return ticket unless I wanted to pay $500+ to buy extra reward miles.

Fortunately, there are some airlines in the United States that are starting to offer low cost flights to Europe.

Queue Norwegian Air

One of these low cost airlines is Norwegian Air. If you live near San Francisco or New York, here’s a free travel secret: Norwegian Air offers one-way flights for $150 to and from Stockholm (and occasionally other major European cities like London).

I’ve monitored Norwegian Air’s flight schedule throughout the year and this $150 deal definitely comes and goes. My recommendation for trying to snag this price would be to book at least 2 to 3 months in advance. Also, if you’re planning to book a trip on Norwegian try to buy your tickets on a Tuesday or Wednesdaythese tend to be the days when prices are cheapest.

A lot of travel sites track your computer’s cookies, so clear your cache before you go to any airline’s website to purchase tickets. You can follow this guide if you’re not sure how to clear your browser.

I purchased my Norwegian Air ticket from Stockholm to San Francisco for $159.60 with taxes. Another way I avoided extra fees was by bringing carry-on luggage instead of checking my bag ($65), waiving my seat selection ($45) and skipping in-flight meals ($45).

If you don’t live in close proximity to an airport that offers Norwegian Air flights then WOW Airlines is another good option. WOW occasionally offers one-way flights to Reykjavik, Iceland for $99 to $130. So if you can manage to snag another cheap flight from Iceland to Europe you can still probably keep your trip costs low.

Don’t Let Airline Prices Deter You

The first price you see is not the price you have to pay when it comes to air travel. Shop around for the best prices before making a decision and don't let the price of a ticket stop you from planning a trip. 

If you have an upcoming trip and you need help with travel planning, feel free to reach out for travel hacking tips.