I have been to Bulgaria three times and Europe a total of six times (after this adoption the numbers will change to five and eight!) I have picked up some getting-there skills that I thought I would pass along. Fare hunting has become somewhat of a hobby of mine, and since it’s second nature now, I often don’t think of it as a skill….until I hear what other people pay! Avoid my horror and dismay by following some easy steps.
In regards to adoption airfare agencies … Yes, this is a thing. If you are here because you are also adopting there are adoption travel agencies that get humanitarian rates on some flights. What will this do for you? They often come with extra flexibility around their change policy and typically include more luggage. What does this mean for trip one of a Bulgarian adoption? Absolutely nothing. You can and will find better rates yourself. They only work with certain airlines, and your fare may include the perks I mentioned, but you really shouldn’t need a bunch of luggage on trip 1 and your dates are set, so changing them is highly unlikely. Therefore, don’t pay more for something you don’t need. I do ALWAYS purchase cancellation insurance. You can most definitely still get a quote in the off-chance it’s better, but don’t assume!
So why would you use them at all? On trip two these agencies are imperative for getting your child home for a reasonable rate. Most airlines will charge the average person almost the same, or sometimes MORE, for a one-way fare than for a return trip. You also won’t be able to book their return trip online, because your tickets will be return tickets starting in your home country, so their fare will error out as an unaccompanied minor.
The two big agencies are Adoption Airfare and Golden Rule. We found Golden Rule to be more responsive and had better rates, but may as well check both! What we did on trip two was book our own return tickets and asked Golden Rule to get our daughter on the same flights. I am undecided if I would do that again because there is always a risk they won’t be able to get on the exact flights. Probably a better idea to screenshot your preferred flights including the rate!
Use Google Flights. I am always surprised when people haven’t heard of Google Flights! What used to be a travel agent software has been re-vamped and un-secreted by Google and now anybody can use it. Even your Grandma could use it, it is seriously so simple!
The obvious features are all there, choose destination, dates, number of people, etc. When you’re just fooling around for the best fare you can leave it at one passenger, but when you decide to click through to book, make sure you change it to the correct number of passengers because the website you are redirected to will not usually let you change it.
Here is what an initial search looks like for a full week in Bulgaria. Make sure you allow time to get to your destination if that is not Sofia. We live in Western Canada so the flight will always arrive almost a day later (with time change.)
You can see that Google will give tips for better rates if you have flexible dates. Sometimes it can be worth it to stay for an extra day or two because the hotels and meals in Bulgaria may not be as much as what you will save by waiting. Google prioritizes cheapest, shortest flights, at the top of the search for you.
More helpful than the Google tips are viewing the calendar and price graph. You can get there by clicking to change your dates.
Then click where it says “price graph.”
Now you can see if the rates are better by trip duration too, by changing the length in the bar. You will see that in this case a 9-day trip costs less than a 7-day trip and more than a 10-day trip. The shortest days in the bar graph are of course the cheapest.
If you’re flexible on your trip you can save a lot of money. We will say that we are only flexible to add a couple days because that’s probably the reality of an adoption trip. You HAVE to be there for the assigned days.
So lets see if we can do better than the $2263 listed above, by changing our dates but staying Monday-Friday on the week we need to.
You can see above the cheapest dates are for a 12 or 13 day trip. On the 13 day trip we managed to save $600. When you find something promising, click “done” at the bottom of the page to see what the layovers and travel time are like for that $1616 result. It’s a bit of trial and error, because they may not be flights you’re happy with, but the next best results could be a similar price with fewer stops.
These particular flights had two layovers but they seemed perfectly acceptable for $600 savings. Of course you will need to spend 4 extra days in Bulgaria, but prioritizing that is up to you!
Even better is to shop around different locations. My best tip is to search for a flight to London and book a connection separately. Once you are in Europe (or the UK) you now have access to loads of budget airlines. Google Flights only shows you flights that you can book together, it won’t automatically tack a low-cost flight onto your long one. Make sure you allow yourself ample time for layovers because the airline won’t help you if you miss a connection that you booked yourself on a different airline.
Here is how the same troubleshooting looks to London:
Our best flight is $1164 for 10 days. You can see the Google tip is also workable. If you are taking three people you will save $175 on airfare if you stay two more days. Up to you again! I think 10 days is more economical, especially if you are missing work.
Now we are left with the difference of $1616 less $1164, to make it to Sofia low cost. That’s $452 per person. Keep your arrival/departure times in mind!
This one will work with our other flights and the Friday departure time is late enough to work with orphanage visits. Even if you drove across the country you can still do your visit on Friday morning and drive back to Sofia.
Sneaky things to note about Ryan Air and other low cost airlines. They are ZERO frills. The price does not even include checked baggage. There are a couple ways around jacking up the price with bags. Take only carry on, bearing in mind there is a good chance you will have to gate check it if you are not one of the first on the plane. Gate-checking, is of course free. Make sure your carry on fits their guide. They are usually stingier than other airlines but the size limits are easy to find online. The other option is to pay for only one of you to have the bag. This is the best option in my opinion. As soon as you travel with kids, the junk and liquids abound so you will want to check a bag. You pre-pay based on weight, so make sure you are in the right weight range when you pack. If not, you can always shift some weight to carry on bags for that one flight. Totally worth it. With paying for that one bag, this flight, x 3 people comes to $819. You will remember we had $1356 savings to play with, so these flights still save over $500 for three people.
This method will save more money at different times of the year. High season is not great for deals period. Booking travel ahead of time will save even more.
Typically I also try the following.
Change departure city. We live only 2.5 hours from another major airport. Sometimes it saves money to book there instead. For only a tank of gas it can be very worth it! I have also done this before to get a similar priced fare on my ideal airline. It’s also worth considering because often flights from my city will connect through the other airport anyways, and on the way home, trust me I would rather drive for a couple hours than wait out my layover so close to home.
Reverse from your destination to find other ports that save. Exactly like the London tip, use a search from your destination to “Europe” and then click the map. You can see now which hubs are cheapest in relation to your destination.
Milan and Berlin are other affordable options. Now try exactly what we did with London and see if you can build a better flight yourself. You can also try “Multi-City” and search from “Your Location” to “Cheap Secondary Location”, second flight from “Cheap Secondary” to “Sofia”, and finally from “Sofia” back to “Your Location.” Sometimes this works properly and saves you some time. Sometimes it doesn’t.
Finally, follow some airport deals pages. There are blogs called YYC Deals, YEG Deals, etc. You can sign up for their alerts for flight deals. Before you book your flights, it’s a good idea to check those quickly because there may be a super-sale destination that you can use to get to your destination.
Things to note! Cheaper is most definitely NOT always better. I am obviously a cheapskate, but for my long flights I am willing to pay a little more for an airline I know is fantastic. I will also pay slightly more if it makes my layover better (shorter is not necessarily better, see below.) I will never fly Transat again, they are the worst. Make sure for any long flights you pick an airline with free snacks and drinks (not just meals) and that the legroom is not less than average. (Google should give you legroom details if they are notable on the flight listing.)
Use layovers to your advantage. At the bottom of all the flight listings there is an arrow to “Show longer or more expensive flights.” It is worth your time to peruse a few of the really long ones that are similar prices to the most affordable option. This is how you can add 24 hours or more in a city you would like to explore. We have also used this option to get a good night’s sleep near the airport before we carried on.
I think that’s it! I just did a quick search through Milan and kept clicking on the Google tips until it had found cheaper flights in nearby Zurich, with 17 hours in Vienna on the way home. Those flights were only $1736 and added a place I haven’t been (Zurich,) and a place I LOVE (Vienna.) Plus they weren’t on discount airlines, so again, priorities.