When booking your flights to Ireland you have a few things to keep in mind.
Travel dates, flight costs, layovers, arrival & departure airports, and even your planned itinerary influence the flights you will choose.
5 Ireland Flight Booking Tips
Tip 1: Be Flexible
Back in podcast episode 125 I talked about when to visit Ireland, so if you're booking flights you probably have your dates set, but maintaining a bit of flexibility in your travel dates can sometimes save you money.
Many flight search engines, including Kayak, Google Flights, and even airline websites, allow you to check flight prices for a few days before and after the date you have chosen. Be sure to check those! You may find that a small shift in your plans can save a few hundred dollars!
Another option that could save money is using an airport that isn't your local. For example, tickets to Dublin from my ‘international' airport are at least $500 higher than flights from Chicago O'Hare. After figuring in drive time and parking I may decide that is a good deal if I am traveling solo. But if I am traveling with my family you can bet we're driving to Chicago because it will save at least $1000.
Tip 2: Finding the Best Flight Deals to Ireland Online
I want to preface this by saying that I am not a ‘flight hacker'. I don't collect credit card points nor do I cobble together flights to get the best price. My goal is to arrive in Ireland on the best flight for me at a fair price and (hopefully) well rested. No offense to people who enjoy flight hacking, it's just not my game.
I always begin searching for tickets to Ireland in Kayak. I set airfare alerts for any route I am considering. Then I watch the rates. Kayak has ‘when to buy' advice and while it isn't always right, I really begin to pay attention to it about 4 months prior to my trip if my flights aren't booked.
I also sign up for fare alerts with AirfareWatchdog. You can set alerts from your chosen airports to any airport in Ireland. One downside to AirfareWatchdog is that you can not set multi-city routes, so if you want to arrive in Dublin and depart from Shannon this site isn't much help. You also can't set travel dates in AirfareWatchdog so it will send alerts every time it finds a good deal. That said, it is a good resource for monitoring prices and knowing when sales happen.
If Aer Lingus, Ireland's national carrier, flies from an airport near you be sure to create a profile to receive their promotions and offers.
Google Flights works much the same as Kayak, offering a date grid and price graph, as well as price trends. Just be aware that Aer Lingus does not currently appear in Google Flight searches.
You can also do quick fare searches for ‘fly to Ireland from (your airport)' from your favorite search engine to get an idea of Ireland flight prices.
Tip 3: Beware Cheap Flights to Ireland
Before you book that ‘can't believe it's so cheap' ticket check a couple things!
How many layovers will you have – and are they long enough, or too long? Generally speaking you need a 2 hour layover before boarding an international flight. So if the layover before your connection flight is less you may want to rethink it.
Understand the seating class. Know what your ticket includes- and what it doesn't. Often basic economy seats don't include the ability to select your seat or checked baggage. They are also usually 100% nonrefundable.
Tip 4: Choosing Your Ireland Airport
Ireland has multiple airports you can arrive into, but only two have direct flights from the US & Canada: Dublin Airport and Shannon Airport. Dublin and Shannon also allow US travelers (with direct flights to the US) to complete customs in Ireland as opposed to doing it on arrival in the United States.
Dublin has the most US flight arrivals and departures, which means it also has the best prices. It is also the busiest airport in the country and not as large as you might imagine, so you can expect crowds, long queues, and waiting at security, especially during the busy travel seasons.
If your trip begins or ends in Dublin, or you just want a great deal, this is the airport to choose.
Shannon Airport is directly across the country from Dublin in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way. A much smaller airport with far fewer US flights, Shannon is an easy airport to arrive into and depart from. Smaller planes and fewer flights mean waits are short.
If your trip is mainly along Ireland's western coast be sure to check flights into Shannon.
Cork Airport in Ireland's ‘sunny southeast' is a busier airport than Shannon, highly utilized by people arriving from mainland Europe and the UK. There are currently no direct flights into Cork Airport from the US or Canada.
If your Ireland itinerary does not include Dublin but does include the counties of Cork, Kerry & Clare, this airport may be a great choice for you.
Cork Airport does not offer US customs clearance, so that would need to be completed in the US.
Belfast has two airports, Belfast International Airport and George Best Belfast City Airport.
Belfast City airport is best described as a regional airport with flights mainly into the UK and Scotland.
Belfast International Airport offers only one direct US flight, seasonally, to Orlando, Florida.
You might consider an airport in Belfast if your Ireland itinerary is mainly in Ulster (the 6 counties of Northern Ireland + Donegal).
Airports in Belfast do not offer US customs clearance.
Ireland West Knock, Donegal, and Kerry Airports
These small, regional airports offer quick hops to and from Dublin, as well as direct flights to popular vacation destinations.
Visitors to Ireland usually arrive into these airports from Dublin as a quick way to reach the area.
Tip 5: Flights to Ireland are Overnight
Love it or hate it, you're taking a ‘red eye' flight. Take this into account as you plan your itinerary, knowing that your flight will leave in the evening and often arrive early in the morning.