“It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble; it’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.” That old saying, variously attributed to Mark Twain or Will Rogers, has never been more appropriate than when you’re trying to find cheap transatlantic airline tickets. Over the last year or so, competitive developments have rendered much of the old conventional wisdom obsolete. Icelandair undersells everyone? No longer. Low-fare airlines undercut major carriers? Sometimes, sometimes not. The big airlines raise and lower fares in lockstep? Not always.
But while comparing airfares to Europe on both giant airlines and their low-fare competitors, I found one key truth: You can knock anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars off the transatlantic airfare if you’re willing to take a stop and make a connection.
Specifically, I checked for midsummer round-trips, leaving on July 15 and returning on July 29. These results might well be quite different for mid-June, mid-August, or some other time you plan to travel, but the conclusions seem valid. For example:
- New York-London. Cheapest nonstop: $1,270 on Norwegian; cheapest trip: $884 with a connection in Kiev on Ukrainian International
- New York-Berlin. Cheapest nonstop: $1,248 on Air Berlin; cheapest trip: $847 on Transaero with a long layover connection in Moscow
- New York-Paris. Cheapest nonstop: $1,092 on American; cheapest trip: $1,088 on SAS with a long layover connection in Oslo
- Los Angeles-London. Cheapest nonstop: $1,503 on Norwegian; cheapest trip: $1,302 on Aeroflot with a long layover and an airport change in Moscow
- San Francisco-Paris. Cheapest nonstop, $1,479 on XL; cheapest trip: $1,385 on American with a connection in Charlotte
- Orlando-Frankfurt. Cheapest nonstop, $1,422 on Lufthansa; cheapest trip, $1,069 on JetBlue and Singapore with a New York connection
In addition to those very cheap connections with long layovers, we found connections on other airlines that still undercut the nonstop fares by up to hundreds of dollars.
Related: Best Airlines for Free Stopovers
Currently, Eastern European airlines including Russia’s Aeroflot and Transaero, along with Ukrainian International, are active in the marketplace for travel on popular routes: no surprise given the economic and military problems in their home countries. They’re offering big price cuts for connecting flights through their Moscow and Kiev hubs—often several hundred dollars less than nonstops. But those flights typically double flight time or more and often involve layovers that are long enough to be extremely tiring but not long enough for actually stopping over a day or so.
Air Canada has been active in cut-price one-stop transatlantic markets for a long time. Most itineraries feature connections in Toronto or Montreal, but West Coast trips may go through Calgary or Edmonton.
Although Aer Lingus didn’t turn up as the cheapest alternative on any of our tests, its fares via Dublin connections always hover around the lowest marks. Connecting flight times are usually good, and on returning flights, travelers can enjoy pre-clearance at Dublin.
We didn’t observe a single case where Icelandair or Wow Air connections through Reykjavik undercut the lowest connecting fares on other airlines. But their fares are relatively good, and the Iceland stopover is still one of the great deals in all of aviation.
A few airlines based in Asia have flight authority to carry travelers from New York/JFK to Western Europe on flights headed to their home countries: London on Kuwait Airlines, Frankfurt on Singapore, and Milan on Emirates. Occasionally, as for Orlando-Frankfurt, they offer good deals.
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