Old World Autumn

Taking advantage of off-season Europe starts with seat selection

To an American mind, Thanksgiving can be a cultural touchstone. It’s the Rockwellian dinner table. It’s the lesbian Tofurky banquet. It’s reunions of family and chosen family, road trips and crowded airports.

If you’re willing to dump all that, however, autumn – particularly Thanksgiving – is a great time to visit Europe.

Berlin

Berlin

”So few want to fly on Thanksgiving Day,” confirms Ben Mutzabaugh, editor of USA Today‘s ”Today in the Sky” blog, and a gay resident of D.C. ”It’s not a popular time to go to Europe for a lot of Americans.”

But with airlines engaged in a never-ending battle to trim the fat – and seats – Mutzabaugh advises that flexibility wins the day. So much so that a savvy autumn globetrotter might even keep her eye out for seats in the premium cabins.

”If you check frequently, every few days, one day for no reason you’ll see business class drop,” he says. ”I’ve seen it as low as $1,600. It might have some weird routing, but I would go through Copenhagen or Rome for that, if that’s all it took. Especially in the fall, there are some deals to be had.”

Virgin Atlantic

Virgin Atlantic

Aside from price, there are other variables in play for the metro-Washingtonian considering a European jaunt. In recent years, those fat-cutting efforts have, for example, prompted some carriers to charge for services – in-flight cocktail? – once included in the ticket price. Without even considering the nickels and dimes, there may also be a world of difference between flying in a regular economy cabin and premium economy cabin, or in an older narrow-body plane versus a spanking-new behemoth.

A quick Orbitz search for a flight from Washington to Paris in economy class over the Thanksgiving weekend shows a range of economy tickets from about $815 to nearly $2,000. Beyond the range of prices, there is a range of airlines, airline alliances (of utmost importance to travelers collecting miles), aircraft, amenities and routes. You might be using any of the metro area’s three airports, connecting through Iceland or Canada or Britain, a number of other countries, or even nonstop. You could be crossing the Atlantic in Air France’s new and gigantic Airbus 380 double-decker, or in Icelandair’s narrow Boeing 757 – or a few other Airbus and Boeing variants.

Follow Will O'Bryan on Twitter @wobryan.

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