ABOARD DELTA FLIGHT 163—I love my family. I also ditched them this Thanksgiving.

Travel-deals gurus regularly trumpet bargain fares to Europe over the holidays, a time when most U.S. travelers stay closer to home and domestic flight prices soar. So I booked a last-minute flight to Amsterdam to size up the pros and cons of an offseason trip.

And to help you figure out whether you should leave your family behind next year.

The trans-Atlantic trip started with turkey and canned cranberry sauce on Thanksgiving Day in the Delta Sky Club. It ended late Monday after nearly 24 hours in transit, including nine hours in seat 56B: the place on the plane where they run out of meal choices before they get to you, and people congregate to stretch their legs or wait for the bathroom.

The price was more than right. I paid $552 for a round-trip basic economy ticket from Phoenix on Delta 10 days before Thanksgiving. That is less than half the price I paid to visit Paris in the spring. Airlines were charging the same price for flights to Miami or Austin, Texas, from Phoenix on the same dates.

Amsterdam was far from my only choice. Lisbon, Prague and Oslo flights cost the same as mine. A Dublin flight cost $522.

Chelle and Josh Cameron found flights to Amsterdam for Thanksgiving cheaper than their flights from Atlanta to Minnesota this weekend for an early family Christmas. They used points to fly from Atlanta to Seattle, then booked premium seats from Seattle to Amsterdam in hopes of an upgrade to the fancy Delta One suites. It worked.

Chelle Cameron says she fell in love with holiday trips to Europe when she and her daughters were trying to meet up somewhere for Thanksgiving five years ago. “It was cheaper for us to meet in Paris,” she says.

As for me, I loved the adventure far from Black Friday madness—even with flight delays in Minneapolis on Monday and a freezing flight home from there. Know, though, that you get what you pay for a bit when it comes to the weather and what you can actually see once you arrive.

For those hoping to jet off to Europe on the cheap this offseason or looking ahead for new family traditions, here are the half-dozen lessons I learned from my brief Amsterdam experiment.

1) Prepare to pounce.

My $552 deal, for travel departing Thanksgiving Day and returning late Monday, disappeared 24 hours after I booked. The new price for the same dates: $1,250. Part of that was because Thanksgiving was drawing closer.

2) Be flexible with travel dates.

Returning home from Europe on Sunday would have bumped my basic economy ticket to more than $1,000—no bargain in the winter.

3) Research must-see attractions before you book.

There were no tickets for the Anne Frank House or Van Gogh Museum by the time I snagged my flight. They book up weeks or months in advance. The concierge at my hotel told me she doesn’t even try to get last-minute tickets to the Anne Frank House.

I checked the Van Gogh Museum website daily for last-minute availability before and during my trip. The only date that popped up was Monday, my departure day. (The Camerons booked their flights in October and ended up scoring tickets to Van Gogh, a highlight of their trip.)

I was willing to wing it on this trip because I’d visited the Anne Frank House and Rijksmuseum in college. A friend and I wandered the city by foot, boat and bus, squeezing in day and night canal tours and a long walk through Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s Central Park, and a short stroll through the Red Light District. I recovered from a 24-hour stomach bug in time for frites with mayo and a couple of stroopwafels.

4) The offseason doesn’t mean empty flights.

The word is definitely out about the cheap flights to Europe. Nearly every seat on the four legs of my five-day journey was filled.

This was true despite Delta’s adding 11% more seats to Europe this November compared with this time in 2022. It is the carrier’s response to surging international demand since travel roared back. The airline operated 110 daily flights to and from Europe over this Thanksgiving period. It is no wonder Delta President Glen Hauenstein said recently that the doldrums for travel to Europe has shrunk to six to eight weeks post-New Year’s.

5) But the holiday could mean mellower lounges and airports.

Veteran fliers are used to seeing lines out the Sky Club doors of people waiting to get in. But I didn’t wait in line to get into Delta’s lounges on Thanksgiving.

The Sky Clubs I visited in Phoenix and Atlanta were hardly empty, though. Thanksgiving Day travelers were treated to turkey, stuffing, Brussels sprouts, sweet potato casserole, cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie.

Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport has been synonymous with travel chaos the past two summers, but I found the late-November crowds were more than manageable. And you can’t beat the quick, cheap train to and from the city center.

6) Make peace with offseason weather.

The weather in Amsterdam was less than ideal, which I knew going in. That still put a damper on things. Temperatures were generally in the 40s during my visit, it rained parts of every day and the winds could get nasty. The weather app on my phone worked overtime, alerting me every time rain was due to stop or start.

The alerts kept coming Tuesday at home. This one I could embrace for a winter getaway: “Snow at Amsterdam will start in about 20 minutes.”

The cool, wet climate didn’t bother Chelle Cameron, but her husband says he will not return to Northern Europe this time of year.

“No way, no how,” he says.

—Sign up for the WSJ Travel newsletter for more tips and insights from Dawn Gilbertson and the rest of the Journal’s travel team.

Write to Dawn Gilbertson at [email protected]

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