New air routes by low-fare airlines promise great deals for budget-minded travelers across the globe this year. Here are the 11 most-exciting air routes low-fare lines are launching in the U.S., Europe, and Asia.
West Coast to Hawaii: Southwest
Arguably the most eagerly anticipated new routes of 2018 might not fly until early 2019, but you’ll be able to buy tickets in 2018: Southwest airlines’ new flights to Hawaii. Although Southwest hasn’t yet announced specific cities, experts surmise the first flights will be from either Oakland or San Jose to Honolulu.
Service could expand quickly to West Coast cities, other Hawaiian cities, and possibly island-hopping flights. The Southwest Effect could lower fares on other airlines, and Southwest’s policy of two free checked bags would be especially welcome on these routes.
Seattle to Chicago O’Hare: Spirit
Spirit will add a dozen new air routes from Detroit, Orlando, Seattle, and Tampa this year. Chicago-Seattle service will use the airline’s biggest plane, the A321, on a highly competitive route. But as usual with Spirit, you can expect the usual fees tacked onto everything from baggage and seat selection.
Chicago to London Gatwick: Norwegian
Norwegian Air will continue its aggressive expansion in the U.S., adding two new nonstop U.S. origin cities for London flights: Austin and Chicago. Norwegian will use 787s on both air routes, so these flights will offer premium economy as well as the usual base product. Daily service will begin from Chicago, and three weekly flights from Austin will launch in late March. Other Norwegian Air routes will see increased frequencies.
But it isn’t all rosy on Norwegian. The line announced it dropped flights to Edinburgh from Hartford, Connecticut, citing the fact that Scotland didn’t follow through on its announced plan to reduce or eliminate the onerous British air passenger duty that adds about $100 to the cost of each outbound flight.
New York to Dusseldorf: Eurowings
Starting April 28, Eurowings will operate nonstop flights from New York to Dusseldorf six days a week. Eurowings, Lufthansa’s low-fare subsidiary, is taking over many of the routes formerly flown by now-defunct Air Berlin. Eurowings will also fly from Fort Myers and Miami to Dusseldorf, and from Las Vegas and Seattle to Cologne. Eurowings’ long-haul planes are A330s, with standard economy seats plus a few premium-economy seats.
Boston to Birmingham: Primera Air
Primera is yet another transatlantic low-fare hopeful, starting out this spring with flights from Boston and Newark to Birmingham, London, and Paris. Flights start in April and will use new A321 planes with conventional economy, stretch-economy, and premium-economy options. As is usual, initial fare displays will be “bare bones” only, with fees for just about everything, along with a few bundled fare options. Primera is a somewhat unique operation, with headquarters in both Latvia and Denmark—but it’s been around for over a decade now.
Los Angeles to Barcelona: Level
Level, the new Spanish low-fare affiliate of IAG (British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia) added Boston and Los Angeles to last year’s initial Barcelona route from Oakland, California. Level will also add flights to busy low-fare routes from Montreal and Newark to Paris later this year. The A330s will offer regular and premium economy, with the by-now-usual fare structure of a low-ball fare with almost nothing extra, plus a series of bundled options.
Miami to Brasilia: GOL
South America’s largest low-cost airline will begin flying daily on four nonstop routes from the U.S. this fall: Miami to Brasilia, Miami to Fortaleza, Orlando to Brasilia, and Orlando to Fortaleza. Flights start in November, using GOL’s new longer-range 737 MAX planes, with regular and premium economy. Why not Rio or Sao Paulo? Probably because those 737s still can’t quite make the range.
Kansas City to Keflavik: Icelandair
Iceland’s original low-fare line will fly from Kansas City for the first time this year, with three weekly flights May through September. As far as I can tell, these are the first ever nonstops from Kansas City to Europe. Icelandair is also returning to Baltimore and San Francisco for the summer, and WOW will be adding more U.S. destinations. Look for insanely low basic fares and very stiff fees for checked bags, food service, and seat selection.
Honolulu to Singapore: Scoot
Flights started in December 2017, but this is really a 2018 story: The second service offering from Honolulu to Asia on a low-fare airline follows last year’s introduction of AirAsia flights to Kuala Lumpur. Flights on Scoot, which is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines, operate to Honolulu, Osaka, and Singapore four times weekly in 787s with regular economy and a premium economy called Scoot Biz. Both Air Asia and Scoot have traffic rights at Osaka, so both lines can get you to Japan from Hawaii. So far, neither touches the U.S. mainland—but California might not be far behind.
Des Moines to San Francisco: Frontier
Partner lines Frontier and Spirit have taken over the role of low-price leaders in domestic U.S. flights, and both lines have announced dozens of new air routes this year. By summertime Frontier will add 37 new routes, with three or more each flying from Austin, Colorado Springs, Denver, Islip (Long Island), and San Jose. Most cover routes with existing service on other lines; a few, including Des Moines to San Francisco, provide the only non-stop air routes.
Minneapolis to Harlingen (and Beyond): Sun Country
Sun Country, once a charter specialist in Minnesota, announced last year that it was switching its business model from niche-full-service to low-fare. Not just an ordinary low-fare, though: Sun Country plans to chase demand wherever it takes them—including Harlingen, Texas—entering and exiting routes in as little as a 12-week period.
That sort of operation hasn’t worked before, but its CEO says that Sun Country, with its long history of charter operations, possesses the necessary flexibility. Either way, you’re likely to see Sun Country crop up lots of unexpected places later this year: I expect it to start its new model from its current primary hub of Minneapolis.
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Consumer advocate Ed Perkins has been writing about travel for more than three decades. The founding editor of the Consumer Reports Travel Letter, he continues to inform travelers and fight consumer abuses every day at SmarterTravel.
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