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The Secret to Cheaper Airfares? Take a Connecting Flight

The short answer to that question: Yes, they often are.

Over the years, airlines have often priced connecting flights below rates of nonstops. On a recent check on Kayak of a few routes for travel in late May, the lowest round-trip fare from Denver to Frankfurt was $976 on one-stop itineraries, and $1,311 on nonstops. The lowest fare from Dallas to London was $977 on one-stops, and $1,121 on nonstops. The lowest fare from Los Angeles to Philadelphia was $292 one one-stop itineraries, and $330 on nonstops. I could find hundreds of similar examples.

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But, naturally, there's a catch. Connecting flights take longer—a minimum of two additional hours even for a very tight connection. And the time penalty is often greater than that.

On our Denver-to-Frankfurt test, the cheapest eastbound trip option took 22 hours, compared with less than nine hours for a nonstop. Also, travelers taking flights with stops invariably risk missing a connection and loss or delay of baggage. Plus, they must schlep on and off planes and endure longer confinement in a cattle-car seat that's too small to accommodate anyone comfortably.

The airline's cost of carrying a passenger on two or more flights is higher than carrying that passenger on a nonstop. But two factors override the cost:

First, airlines set those prices based on convenience and value to you as a traveler, not cost to the carrier. Many passengers are willing to pay more to avoid the time, hassles, and risks of connecting flights, so airlines ask them to pay more for the superior product.

Second, airlines offering cheap connections are often poaching travelers from competitors' nonstops. A longstanding axiom in the airline business is, "You don't want to foul your own nest,” meaning carriers don't want to cut prices on prime routes. But airlines are perfectly willing to cut prices on connecting routes to lure customers. This leads to such anomalous situations as New York-to-London fares on Air France via a Paris connection that are lower than New York-to-Paris nonstops. Over the years, Canadian airlines have often undercut competitors' nonstop transatlantic fares with connections through Toronto, Calgary, or Vancouver.

The upshot: If you're looking to pay bottom dollar, a one-stop itinerary is often your best choice. But that option involves more hassle, risk, and inconvenience. You decide.

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(Photo: Shutterstock/Adam Gregor)

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