At a Loss for Ideas This Valentine's Day? Give the Gift of Travel

Completely stumped for gift ideas this Valentine's Day? Please step away from the roses and the waxy boxed chocolates. Instead, how about surprising your special someone with the promise of a trip?

It doesn't have to cost a lot. In fact, if you've been contemplating a trip overseas, 2018 is shaping up to be the year to do it. The recent influx of budget carriers operating between the U.S. and Europe has increased competition and brought fares way down.

So where will you and your sweet babe travel this year? Here are a few possibilities:

A Romantic Trip to Paris? Groundbreaking.

Love-struck couples have always flocked to Paris. Now it's easier and cheaper to make the trip as more low cost airlines have added service in the last few years—XL Airways, Level, WOW, and Norwegian just to name a few. This spring, look for Primera Air to begin flights from both Newark and Boston to Paris, with previous sale fares available for as low as $99 one-way.

Even from the West Coast, it's easy to snag a flight for under $400 round-trip. For fares from other departure cities, peruse our most recent finds to Paris Charles De Gaulle and Paris Orly.

Another option for those willing to splurge on the good seats, all-biz-class La Compagnie operates between Newark and Paris and regularly offers two-for-one companion fares. Standard sale prices fluctuate between just under $900 and $1,600. These sale rates have been known to appear even in the summer months. That's often lower than what you'd find even for peak summer economy on other carriers!

Italy on the Cheap

Also high on everyone's bucket list of romantic destinations, Italy suddenly seems doable. Norwegian began service to Rome from Newark and Los Angeles last fall, and more recently from Oakland, with fares often under $400 round-trip. Fares like this to Rome would have been unheard of just a few short years ago.

Plus, both Norwegian and WOW air offer service to Milan, and Italian budget carrier Meridiana will soon begin flights to Milan from Miami, with connecting service elsewhere in Italy, including Palermo.

And in recent years, Emirates has created a bit of a headache for legacy carriers with its cheap nonstop flights and superior service between New York and Milan. Fares currently aren't as low as they once were (sometimes dipping below $400), but Emirates does have frequent companion deals along this route.

Here's a look at what's currently available from the U.S. to Milan and Rome.

New Ways to Spain

Level, the low cost offshoot of British Airways, Iberia, and Aer Lingus, began service last year to Barcelona from Oakland and has since added Los Angeles and Boston. When on sale, fares can typically be booked for under $300 round-trip. You'll find similarly priced seats from other budget carriers like WOW air and Norwegian.

Have a look at our current fares to Barcelona and Madrid.

Our Neighbor to the South

Always affordable and only a short hop form most of the U.S., Mexico has also seen an uptick in budget service over the last few years. Mexico's second-largest airline, Volaris has expanded pretty rapidly and now includes over 60 routes from the U.S., with service to Cancun, Acapulco, Ixtapa, Puerto Vallarta, Los Cabos, Colima, and other popular coastal spots. Interjet isn't far behind with service to 33 cities in Mexico.

Cofounded by the same folks behind Ryanair, VivaAerobus is yet another possibility, though they seem to discontinue routes as quickly as they add them.

All three carriers frequently discount fares well below what's offered by AeroMexico. For a quick look at fares to Mexico, see our listings for Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cabo, and Ixtapa.

A Consistent Value

About as far away as you can get for spending so little money, fares to Southeast Asia are reliably inexpensive from both coasts. This is mostly due to Chinese carriers like Hainan, China Southern, China Eastern, China Airlines, and Xiamen Airlines. Service on some of these carriers is less than stellar, and sometimes these bargain fares come with lengthy layovers in Shanghai or Beijing, which you either view as an inconvenience or a chance to explore a second city on the way.
Of these airlines, some are very well reviewed. Hainan, for example, is a 5-star airline. China Southern also scores well with flyers, earning 4.5 out of 5 stars on Skytrax.

Fares regularly dip below $500 round-trip to cities like Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Bangkok, and Cebu.

Just today, we found seats from D.C. to Ho Chi Minh City for $593 round-trip on United/ANA, via Tokyo. That may not sound wildly cheap, but you'll spend far less on food and lodging in Vietnam than, say, a week in Paris.

Preliminary Planning

With over 58% of Americans without a passport, there's a good chance your significant other (or you) are among them, If that's the case, Valentine's presents an opportunity to do something about it. Make a cute lunch date with planned stops for a passport pic (you can usually do this at FedEx or in the photo departments of drugstores like Walgreens, etc.) followed by a trip to the post office to submit the application. With the application fee at $110, plus a $25 execution fee, you'll still probably spend less than you would on roses and a bourgie champagne dinner. Pro tip: print those forms in advance!