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I will have a long summer vacation in Europe, and wish to visit different places by saving the flight costs. My strategy is to find cheap last-minute flights, as my destination is flexible (I can change it based on available special offer).

Is this strategy workable in Europe? I mean do the European airlines have such special offers for last-minute purchases?

If yes, where should I check for these special offers? websites (please name), travel agencies, airline offices. Which airlines better fit with this strategy? My guess is that small inter-European airlines should have more special offers for last-minute booking comparing to large international airlines.

To re-phrase my question: if you want to buy cheap last-minute flight within Europe, where do you buy the ticket?

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Flying in Europe is expensive. Take the train instead. –  Greg Hewgill Jun 25 at 1:51
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If saving money is your concern, use the train and bus lines. –  Flimzy Jun 25 at 3:15
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Train/busses cheap? Really? –  andra Jun 25 at 8:15
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@flimzy brussels might be a special case given it being homebase to eu and nato. However, try securing a bus ticket to Barcelona, Praque, or Stockholm, you most prob get better deals on plane tickets. Not that you should 't take the train, its great but not cheap. –  andra Jun 25 at 15:27
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@andra: Bus from London to Barcelona, £74.50. Train from London just to Paris is £73 or more. –  Flimzy Jun 25 at 16:19
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2 Answers 2

You won't find many last minute offers for naked flights in Europe. There are last minutes package deals for resorts in Spain, North Africa, Turkey and beyond, possibly also some city trips with flight, hotel and transfer but it does not seem to be what you are looking for.

Prices for flights almost always go up with time, there is no point waiting or hoping for last minutes deals. If you want to visit many places, the best is to plan ahead and buy the cheapest flight you can find right away. Low-cost airlines like Ryanair, Easyjet, Transavia, Vueling, Wizz Air, Germanwings, etc. can be quite cheap if you book in advance but legacy carriers like Swiss or KLM are competitive on some links.

Finally, train might be an alternative. It's not always cheaper in Western Europe (although it can be) but I think the fares usually don't go up quite as much if you book at the last minute. If you value flexibility, you could also look at rail passes like Eurail (if you reside outside Europe) or InterRail. Long-distance busses are usually less expensive than train (but not dramatically so, and prices also go up over time).

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I don’t often fly with budget airlines but I have noticed the flights I have taken over the last decade or so seem to be more fully occupied than before. I have even been bounced off flights with ‘confirmed’ reservations (though only by Air France). Those budget airlines I have looked at seem to increase their prices as takeoff time approaches – and I can see why.

I think your best bet therefore would be “bucket shops” in the sense of airline ticket consolidators. Agencies that buy in bulk (very cheaply) and rely of being able to sell their stock at just enough below ‘regular’ prices to be attractive to travellers while still profitable for themselves.

This is the so-called ‘opaque’ market and the ‘best deals’ can be highly unreliable. For example I have experience of booking and paying for a ticket months in advance that was not available when the time came and a later flight was only made available for enough additional payment that the overall cost, in addition to frayed nerves, was little less than a ‘standard’ fare.

Consolidators may have spare seats they would not expect to sell at very short notice and be prepared to offload these even below cost – some revenue being better than none for a ticket expiring imminently. So with flexibility about where and very short notice good deals seem possible. Obviously on-line has to be considered but regular travel agents may well have details of ‘special offers’. The one place I would not expect much joy is the airlines themselves.

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It seems possible but do you have any actual examples or names to offer? –  Relaxed Jun 25 at 7:58
    
@Relaxed If you mean examples of actual prices, no. For on-line merchants two are mentioned in the .pdf link (Priceline.com and Hotwire.com). I would not recommend any consolidator without a significant on-line presence (for reasons as intimated above). For travel agents I would have recommended any mid-sized agency where OP happens to be with a preference for those specialising in the required destination but since the destination is flexible that just means any. –  pnuts Jun 25 at 8:28
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