So you are planning to fly to Ireland? Generally speaking, catching a flight to Ireland, be it from Boston, Berlin, or Beijing, should be no major problem. Not always a direct flight, mind you, but airlines will get you there, most into either Belfast International, Dublin, or Shannon. On the other hand, let's be honest - the state of air travel today is nothing short of bewildering. While flying to Ireland has never been cheaper, price differences are still enormous.
Just check with any of the several travel portals (and your travel agent), and your eyes will be opened. And the prices do not always reflect the level of service you get. Indeed some flights advertised as "budget" with a no-frills airline will leave you more out of pocket than a regular economy flight. And that is even before you take the first sip of on-board coffee. So here's a look at the world of air travel from an Irish point of view.
Long-Haul Flights to Ireland - Pick and Mix
If you are flying into Ireland from the USA or Canada, your choice of direct routes is severely limited. If you are heading for Ireland on a long-haul flight from anywhere else in the world, the United Arab Emirates excepted, your choice is non-existent. Unless you opt for a stop-over somewhere east of the Irish shores.
The fact is that Ireland has no major air travel hub of a true international scale - the nearest major airports are around London or in continental Europe.
Thus the choice of direct long-haul flights to Ireland is fairly limited, and most travelers not starting at a few airports in the USA, Canada, or the Emirates will have to change planes to reach the Emerald Isle.
But you might turn this perceived negative into an advantage for yourself. By simply planning a decent stop-over and including one of Europe's major cities in your itinerary.
Travelers from South America might head for Ireland via Spain, from all other continents the hubs of Paris, Frankfurt, Rome, Amsterdam or indeed London cry out for a day or two of additional travel experiences. So why not choose a flight to Ireland connecting from a major European hub? Very often you may even get freebies thrown in (Turkish Airlines, now a major player on Asian routes from Dublin via Istanbul, offers free city tours on longer stop-overs).
Short-Haul Flights to Ireland - The World is Your Oyster
Deregulation of European air traffic and the ever-growing European Community (EU) have led to a veritable bonanza of flights for seemingly ever-decreasing prices. Net flight charges of € 20 are becoming the norm, with some flights across Europe being charged as low as € 0.01 (yes, one Eurocent). Yes, we never had it so good
The downside - you will have to know which airlines actually fly to Ireland at the time you want to travel. Routes tend to change frequently, airport slots are re-allocated to more profitable routes and many (if not most) flights never show up in conventional booking engines. Many budget airlines aim to cut out the middle man, i.e. the travel agent.
Myths and Misconceptions - The Truth About "Budget Airlines"
Mentioning budget airlines ...
never take this claim at face value. The fact that airlines do offer budget flights at extremely low prices does not mean that all flights are actually cheap. It all depends when you book what route and under which promotion. Irish airlines Ryanair and Aer Lingus are a good example - while generally you may get a cheaper flight with Ryanair, it may not be as convenient. And if you mess up your booking (or leave it too late) you may end up paying more than on Aer Lingus.
Instead of "budget" I prefer the term "no frills". This describes the situation far better and reflects the motto "You get the service you pay for". No-frills airlines strip down their planes to maximize passenger capacity and minimize weight. At the same time charges may be incurred for things many air travelers take for granted.
Starting with check-in luggage and ending with your cup of in-flight coffee. See for a list of those "hidden extras" below. Anyway - you get what you pay for.
Ads and Bargains - Wool Over Your Eyes?
Boldly advertised "Free Flights!" rank alongside free lunches for me - there generally is no such thing. The same realization hits most people once they are actually charged quite more than nothing for their free flights.
The problem lies with the legality to put the net flight price into ads, a practice that confuses passengers to no end. You have to be aware that most airlines do not quote the price you effectively pay for your flight. There are nearly always hidden extras ...
Those Hidden Extras - Adding up the Whole Price
Net prices shown in airline ads are exactly the price you pay to the airline for flying you from A to B. Which is far less than your flight will cost you. Confused?
Before you take off the government will lighten your purse with assorted taxes. Then the airport will ask you for a contribution to their running costs. All this easily works out at € 20 per flight. The cost of the flight advertised for € 10 already has trebled.
But airlines themselves also like to dig into your pocket. You have luggage that does not fit into the cabin? Do you really need "Priority Boarding", now that seats are allocated? Using a credit card? Direct debit? In-flight meals or drinks? All this will cost you extra! And then they try to sell you costly travel insurance you might already have ...
The only advice:
Check and double-check the final price including all extras before committing yourself!
DIY or Full Service - Where to Book Your Flight to Ireland
If you are reading this, you should be computer-literate enough to book your own flight on the web - cutting out travel agents and their fees and/or preferences. But be prepared to put in some works and do a bit of math – or even open a spreadsheet that includes all the things you have to factor in (from the basic flight price, plus luggage, to the cost of in-flight meals and/or drinks, if needed).
Easy Money - Take Time to Shop Around
I generally find that by booking early you save - a few months in advance is good. The problem being that the longer you wait for a special bargain to surface the higher your chances of actually paying more are.
Once you have identified your preferred time of travel, hit the web with a vengeance. I personally find it helpful to enter all possible dates and prices (including all extras you need) into a spreadsheet and then weigh the pros and cons of the offers. It also helps to define a financial threshold for yourself to sort the chaff from the wheat. Then simply pick the offer with maximum convenience at minimum price ...
Finally - Avoid the "It Could Have Been Cheaper"-Blues
Once you have booked your flight, sit back, relax and think no more about it. There is no use in crying over spilled milk - and even less use in lamenting that had you just waited another eight days you would have saved another € 10. It might be true, but why torture yourself? Cancelling one flight and booking another one will almost certainly work out more expensive than keeping the original flight. And remember: You were OK with the price, weren't you?
Myself, I simply stop looking at airline websites the minute my flights are confirmed.