Before we start I must mention that this is not a guest or sponsored post trying to sneakily lure you into buying something. Despite the offers, I don’t and never will accept a company paying me to publish their hyper-descriptive, hyperbole-ridden drivel. This post, as with everything I write, is borne out of my own experience and offers tips that will hopefully benefit other travellers.
So with that out the way (all clear?), let me show you the ins and outs of booking a flight to the highlight of the third millenium so far: the FIFA World Cup in Brazil next year.
Tip 1. Pick your flight destination wisely.
500,000 people from across the world will visit Brazil for the World Cup. Most, but not all, will fly into the country’s two largest cities: Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. The former has three airports, the latter has two but both cities will be heaving under the strain of dealing with so many arrivals. The main worry over this World Cup (and there have been many) is that Brazil does not have the airport capacity to hold an event this size. There is the option of flying direct to Recife and Salvador from Europe and if you have tickets for games in the north it is probably advisable that you do this. Recife and Salvador are over 24 hours on a bus from Rio and with internal flights sky high it is wise to get as close as you can with your transatlantic flight.
So how much is a flight?
As Salvador and Recife are closer to Europe than Sao Paulo and Rio, fares are comparable although there are fewer flights and airlines to choose from.
I have been researching all flights from Europe to Brazil in June 2014 for the best part of a month and, although prices change daily, I have found that it is possible to snag a bargain.
Various internet travel agents such as Emailflights have been sporadically offering flights from London Gatwick to Salvador via a short stop in Madrid for under £500. These started at around £410 but are now circa £480. Anything short of a paper airplane heading to Brazil for under 500 quid is pretty good. Be careful though of dodgy internet travel sites. Research them thoroughly on review sites before booking. Generally, if it’s too good to be true, it usually is.
Flights sub 500 from London are possible for Recife as well but there’s no point changing your schedule by more than three days to accommodate for the cheaper flight – if you arrive more than three days before you planned to you’ll just spend the difference!
The problem with these destinations is that cheap flights don’t happen every day, far from it.
But don’t just look at the UK. The European country with the cheapest flights to Recife and Salvador is Germany, thanks to low-cost airline Condor. From Frankfurt Main only they fly twice a week to Brazil for as little as £310. You just need to get to Frankfurt first!
2. You will most likely fly into Rio or Sao Paulo, but be careful who you fly with.
Even if you book a flight from Europe to Brasilia, Manaus or even Salvador, chances are that you will change in SP or Rio. And if you’re going to spend over 500 quid to go to Brazil you’re certainly going to want to visit both of these huge cities.
The cheapest one way flights to these cities hover around the £500 mark, around £100 more than they usually are when the World Cup isn’t going on. If you go on to Skyscanner and search for these flights then you will see one airline’s name crop up a lot. Alitalia would appear to have every cheap flight from the UK to Brazil this summer. Around £500 every day and a choice of either SP or Rio. However, there is a catch, and it’s not just the obligatory stop over in Rome. Alitalia are an airline who repeatedly flirt with bankruptcy and reportedly lose €1.5 million a day. They were saved from their latest collapse in October this year by the Italian postal service but their future is still precarious. Bear in mind that these flights are sold by travel agents and not Alitalia themselves – one reason to have good flight protection insurance. This is another reason why doing your research is important. Having an airline ground its planes before you fly could mean that you never get to Brazil at all. The airline isn’t steady and staff could strike over the money saving cut backs it has to make.
I chose not to risk it. Not worth it.
The alternatives are more expensive but safer.
TAP of Portugal offer very regular flights but are always pretty pricy. I haven’t seen any of their flights to Brazil under £600. Their flights usually make a stop in Lisbon before flying across the Atlantic. TAM Linhas are Brazilian but offer much the same rates as TAP, just less regular. They do a lot of internal Brazil flights though so might be best for combining a flight to Rio then onwards to Manaus, for example.
Another name that crops up a fair bit and that will surprise you is Ethiopian Airways. The airline doesn’t have a bad reputation and will get you to Brazil for under £550 on select days. Now, I see this as a bonus but others may disagree, but all Ethiopian flights from London to Rio are routed via Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. If you don’t mind a five hour visit to Ethiopia (the airport isn’t far from the city so possible to get out and explore a little) then book away! However, three continents in 24 hours may put you off so best just to stick to a straight Europe to South America job.
Apart from these it’s only ludicrously expensive fares on carriers like BA or Air France that will get you to Brazil, unless you find a travel agent doing a very good deal.
3. When to travel
Now that you’re clued up on destinations and airlines, it’s time to look at when you want to fly. Some may want to get to Brazil before the first ball is kicked, but others, like me, can only get out there during the tournament. It’s expensive before and during the World Cup but surprisingly you can find better fares before it starts.
Air Europa can get you to Sao Paulo for £515 on the 6th June with stops from Gatwick in Madrid and Salvador. A week later and you’re looking at £690 on TAP. TAP in general seems to be cheaper before the tournament but really there’s no rhyme or rhythm to when it is less expensive to fly. One day it’s £500, the next it’s £700.
What is perhaps more important is choosing a flight with good take off and landing times. Arriving into Salvador at 4am is not going to be pleasant. Neither is taking off from Heathrow at 6am. Ideally you want an overnight plane so that you avoid missing any of the football, but these are rarer than you would think. BA’s daily direct flight to Rio leaves at 1315 and arrives about 2100. TAM flies direct overnight on this route but you still arrive in Rio before sunrise. Other airlines fly overnight with stopovers, but it’s not unusual to see a 10 hour or 15 hour wait for the connecting flight.
In short, there’s no perfect way to travel to Rio. Whether you have to sleep in the airport or wait 12 hours in Amsterdam (there are worse things…), Brazil and the World Cup will be worth it.
But what about flying when you’re in Brazil. Well, unless you got lucky and all your games are in the south or the north, you’re going to have to.
4. Internal flights
Brazil is huge and she knows it. That’s why there are a lot of internal flights. A lot of cities and towns have airports and there are plenty of routes between the World Cup host cities. However, it isn’t cheap. Kayak.com is better than Skyscanner for researching this.
Your main airlines are…
Unless you really dislike buses, there is no need to fly between Brasilia, Belo Horizonte, Rio, Sao Paulo and Curitibia. The same with Fortaleza, Natal and Recife. Porto Alegre and Salvador are fairly far from the other cities but can be done if you bear a long journey. For Cuiaba and Manaus you have to fly. One’s near the Pantanal and the border with Bolivia, and the other, as England fans now know, is in the middle of the Amazon. Buses are possible though…
Just like the international flights there are options, although none of them are ever perfect. If it’s cheap then it’s at a bad time of day and will involve stops in cities that aren’t even on the way. You can easily spend 12 hours on a plane and in various airports on a flight between the north and the south. Nothing is cheap either. Ryanair hasn’t made it to Brazil, yet. Expect to pay upwards of £150 for a flight between Rio or Sao Paulo to a northern city like Recife. And, as it’s ‘cheap’, expect to spend the afternoon in Brasilia.
The solution, as always, is thorough research. Consider the buses but sometimes a flight is unavoidable.
That’s it for now. Any questions please comment below and I will try to get back to you. I’ll do another post on booking buses and accommodation when I get round to those.