What's the difference between nonstop and direct flights?

Airfare Question of the Month
by , SmarterTravel Staff
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Editor's Note: This story was originally published on April 13, 2006. To see the most recent SmarterTravel articles on related topics, please click on any of the following links: airfare, Airfare Question of the Month, Jessica Labrencis.

Dear Editor,

Is there a difference between nonstop and direct flights? If so, which is cheaper?


Dear Reader,

Many people think nonstop and direct flights are interchangeable terms, but there are differences between the two. A nonstop flight does as its name suggests: flies from one airport to another without stopping. A direct flight, on the other hand, makes stops along the way. Often, passengers traveling on direct flights make a stop at a midpoint airport and remain seated on the plane while some passengers exit and others board.


Additionally, an itinerary with connecting flights requires passengers to change planes at a midpoint airport, which may be in a different terminal or on a different airline.

A nonstop flight is generally the quickest way to get from Point A to Point B, but the major airlines may charge a premium for the convenience. Flights that connect through a carrier's hub cities are often less expensive, and flights on low-fare carriers like Southwest often require at least one connection. Note that while connecting flights may be less expensive, you'll have to pay additional airport charges (Passenger Facility Charges or PFCs) for each airport you stop at, which can raise the overall price by up to $18.

Depending on the circumstances of your trip, the convenience of a nonstop flight may be worth the price imposed by the airlines. But, if you're not in a hurry to arrive, you may be able to save by booking a direct or connecting flight. Compare prices for each type of flight to be sure.

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