The Internet knows few national boundaries, and I often receive questions from overseas readers asking about trips from their home country to the U.S., or even from their home country to a third country. For example, one reader recently asked, “I want a cheap ticket from Vietnam to India. How much is it?” The short answer is that I can’t respond to that question. SmarterTravel.com is fundamentally a U.S.-Canadian resource, with limited capabilities for dealing with travel that originates somewhere else—and limited non-English language capability, as well.
That doesn’t mean, however, that I have no ideas at all. Here are the basics of dealing with tickets for trips that start outside the U.S.
The official rules
When you buy an airline ticket at a published (official) fare, you almost always have to deal with the rules established by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). And a fundamental IATA rule is that air tickets be priced at the levels established for the country in which the trip originates. When you buy a ticket from London to Boston, whether one-way or round-trip, you pay the local British price; a ticket from Boston to London is priced at the U.S. rate. Thus, when you buy a ticket from Vietnam to India, you pay the price established for Vietnam.
In many of the world’s countries, the local price you pay is established in local currency. Thus, the ticket from London to Boston is in pounds and the ticket from Boston to London is in U.S. dollars. In some countries, however, official prices are established in hard currency rather than local. Thus, you see “official” fares in some countries published in U.S. dollars, euros, or sterling rather than local currencies.
You don’t have to be in a country to buy a ticket for a trip that originates there—or even buy from an agency located there. U.S. and Canadian agencies can sell tickets for trips originating outside those countries. But they have to charge the price established in the country where the trip starts; if that price is in some currency other than U.S. or Canadian dollars, the agencies convert it to U.S. or Canadian dollars at the going exchange rates. The GDS (global distribution systems) used by most travel agencies make those conversions automatically.
In each country, airline price levels are based on (1) general pricing strategy and (2) what airlines think will sell in the local market. That means prices from one country to a second country are usually different from prices for trips on the same route but in the opposite direction. Those differences are usually small, and often due to short-term currency fluctuations.
But directional imbalances are sometimes quite large. When I last checked, for example, Star Alliance round-the-world (RTW) tickets sold in Thailand were as much as 40 percent less than the prices in the U.S or Western Europe. And even for flights between such developed countries as the U.S. and the U.K., imbalances of 10 percent or so are not uncommon. You find imbalances in discounted consolidator fares as well as in published fares.
Clearly, if you’re buying tickets that don’t require round-trip purchase, in any class, you should always check on the price in both directions. If the fare from your destination country back to the U.S. is less than the fare from the U.S., buy your return ticket at your destination country’s price. Most consumers, however, use round-trip tickets, and you’re almost always better off buying a round-trip, even when you start from a high-price country, than buying two one-way tickets.
Find a local discounter
Wherever you’re starting your trip, your best bet is often to find a local ticket discounter in that country. And outside the U.S. and Canada, SmarterTravel.com can’t help you much in that search, because our search systems are pretty much confined to agencies based here. I happen to know of a handful of discount agencies in London and one or two in Thailand, but that’s as far as it goes.
In most of the world, you search out the local discount outlets in the same ways. Look for “cheap tickets” or “low airfares” advertisements in local newspapers—either a travel section, if available, or in classified sections. And, of course, ask your friends and co-workers for recommendations.
Also, you might try ETN. That website is an outgrowth of a large Amsterdam discount ticket agency, and it maintains worldwide networks of other discount agencies. You log onto the site, enter your trip needs, and ETN circulates that request among its long list of agencies. Presumably, several of them will respond with bids that you can then explore individually.
U.S. discounters with worldwide sources
If you prefer to deal with an agency based in the U.S., check with one or more of the sites that specialize in RTW tickets. Those agencies construct their multi-stop RTW itineraries by stringing together a bunch of separate one-way tickets, so they’re familiar with ticket markets around most of the world. Among the agencies to check: