The Reason Why Flights in Europe Are So Expensive This Summer

Why are flights in Europe on flagship carriers like Air France or British Airways so expensive this summer? It’s a question that’s on the mind of a lot of travellers – myself included.

At first sight these high flight prices might seem a bit odd, but there are perfectly logical reasons behind it why they are so expensive.

air france airbus a350 paris cdg expensive summer flights europe
Air France Airbus A350 taxiing at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. ©Paliparan

Sky-high flight prices

Both occasional leisure travellers, who fly once a year during their summer holidays, as well as frequent flyers face the issue of exorbitant flight prices.

I’ve heard from leisure travellers that they have never paid as much for their flights as they have this summer.

The same is true for frequent flyers, as I only have to look at my own flying patterns and compare the prices of flights this summer with those I took in the spring to see the massive increase.

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A KLM Boeing 737-800 at Vienna Airport. ©Paliparan

Example: Air France/KLM

As a frequent flyer with Flying Blue platinum status, the majority of my flights are on Air France and KLM, and I can personally witness the exorbitant prices of European itineraries this summer.

When booking flights one to two months in advance, it used to be quite easy to find return economy class tickets within Europe for €150-200, with the cheapest business class tickets priced at around €450-500.

However, this summer, the prices of such flights appear to have doubled.

When I try to search for a return ticket from Bucharest to Dublin via Paris in economy class for a 3 to 4-night stay, I cannot find any tickets cheaper than €458 for the entire month of August.

For prices like this I could easily buy a return ticket with Air France to Panama just three years or so ago!

It’s the exact same situation when it comes to business class flights.

Let’s try to find a business class return ticket in September from Bucharest to Porto with Air France, which I managed to book for €460 euro three years ago.

The cheapest price for the same itinerary in September 2023? €961!

It’s not that these flights are suddenly booked in a more expensive business class fare – it’s just the case that Air France/KLM has raised the base fare of each and every business class fare bucket.

Mind you, the high prices are not unique to Air France/KLM, as I’ve seen similar price increases with flights on airlines like Austrian and heard the same complaints from British Airways frequent flyers.

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Flight prices for an economy class return ticket from Bucharest to Dublin in August with Air France. ©Screenshot ITA Matric
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A cheap business class ticket from Bucharest to Porto in September? Forget about it! ©Screenshot ITA Matric

Low-cost vs full-service airlines

So what is causing these huge price increases on intra-European flights?

You can get a first clue as to why flights on flagship carriers such as Air France, KLM, and British Airways are so expensive when you compare them to low-cost options.

Certainly, many low-cost airlines have also increased their prices to account for inflation, although the magnitude of the increase is nowhere near as drastic as with flagship carriers.

Indeed, there are still some great deals to be found with low-cost airlines like Wizz Air and Ryanair, even when searching for high-season flights to popular holiday destinations like Barcelona.

A one-way flight from London to Barcelona for 55 GBP is readily available in August, while Stockholm to Alicante in the same month can be found for just 376.50 SEK (€33).

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Low-cost flights on Ryanair are still affordable. ©Screenshot Ryanair
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Stockholm to Alicante for 33 euro is certainly cheap too. ©Screenshot Ryanair

Rebound of transatlantic travel

So why are flagship carriers suddenly so expensive while low-cost airlines still manage to retain more or less normal prices?

The main reason for the expensive summer flights in Europe is the resurgence of intercontinental travel, particularly transatlantic flights from the United States.

It has all to do with revenue management.

If you are Air France and you have a seat available on your Paris-Porto flight, to which passenger you would rather sell it?

Would you prioritise selling the seat to a passenger in Europe booking it as part of a journey like Bucharest-Paris-Porto or Berlin-Paris-Porto, or to an American passenger booking it as part of a Los Angeles-Paris-Porto trip?

Of course, the answer is the passenger originating from Los Angeles!

As the Paris-Porto leg is now included in an intercontinental journey, Air France has the opportunity to generate significantly higher revenue compared to a passenger starting his trip somewhere in Europe.

Due to their extensive network and reliance on revenue from passengers with connecting flights in Europe, flagship carriers like Air France, KLM, and British Airways are significantly more expensive this summer compared to low-cost airlines, which continue to offer affordable options.

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Economy class seats on the Air France Boeing 787. ©Paliparan

Revenue management

Ideally, the major European airlines prioritise selling their tickets to passengers originating from the Americas or Asia, as fares from these continents tend to be higher from the outset.

Due to market variations and the willingness of American passengers to accept and pay higher fares, a return ticket from from the United States to Europe and back is typically much more expensive than a roundtrip ticket from Europe to the United States.

While it is possible to find a Berlin-Paris-Atlanta ticket for €500, a return ticket from Atlanta-Paris-Berlin can start at a much higher price of $1,200 or more.

You can easily see where the big profits are!

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British Airways and Iberia planes at Madrid Airport. ©Paliparan

Successful strategy

On the recent feeder flights I took to major European hubs like Paris or Vienna, the majority of passengers appeared to be Americans and Asians traveling to Europe or Europeans heading to the United States.

However, there were still a considerable number of travellers on intra-European itineraries who appeared to be willing to pay the high prices.

With healthy passenger loads and many flights reaching full capacity at departure, it appears that the strategy of European flagship carriers is paying off.

While we may not appreciate the high airfares (and I certainly don’t!), the reality is that as long as there are passengers willing to pay these prices, flights in Europe are likely to remain expensive during the summer.

After all, when the demand is high and flights are often fully booked, the airlines have no incentive to lower prices, at least not until the demand falls.

It is likely that we will only see affordable prices for intra-European flights again in the autumn when the low-season begins and transatlantic leisure travel slows down.

air france planes paris charles de gaulle airport expensive summer flights europe
Air France planes at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. ©Paliparan


Flights in Europe on flagship carriers like Air France, KLM and British Airways are crazily expensive this summer.

The high prices of intra-European flights can be attributed to the resurgence of intercontinental leisure travel, as airlines can generate higher revenue from connecting passengers from countries like the United States compared to passengers traveling solely within Europe.

Given that flights are often fully booked, it appears that this strategy does pay off for the airlines, even though we might not like it as European consumers!

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Koen works as a freelance journalist covering south-eastern Europe and is the founding father and editor-in-chief of Paliparan. As a contributor to some major Fleet Street newspapers and some lesser known publications in the Balkans, he travels thousands of miles each year for work as well as on his personal holidays. Whether it is horse riding in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan mountains, exploring the backstreets of Bogotá, or sipping a glass of moschofilero in a Greek beachside taverna, Koen loves to immerse himself into the local culture, explore new places and eat and drink himself around the world.

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