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Where can I find cheap first-class flights to Europe?

SmarterTravel

Dear Editor,

I want to go back to Europe but am on a limited budget. My cardiologist says I need to fly first class or I shouldn’t go. Your help is appreciated.

E.S.

Dear Reader,

Unless you’ve been hoarding frequent flyer miles and can afford to upgrade, forget about finding “affordable” first-class fares on transatlantic flights with any of the big U.S. or European airlines. A quick check on Travelocity for New York to London flights showed fares starting at $11,822 round-trip on American and $13,334 round-trip on British Airways, for both peak-season and low-season travel.

You’re not totally out of luck, however, as two new all-premium-class airlines—EOS Airlines and Maxjet—recently started flying between the East Coast and London, with fares starting at less than $2,000 round-trip before taxes and fees.

EOS is probably your best bet. Its seats are about as big as other airlines’ first-class seats, with a pitch of 78 inches (the measure of the front-to-rear spacing between rows) and a width of 21 inches. Its fleet of 757s is configured for 48 passengers, whereas most 757s carry about 200. Each passenger gets 21 square feet of space, including a seat that reclines out into a 78-inch bed, a guest chair, “lumbar” pillows designed for back support, and an oversized dining table where your five-course meal will be laid out. At the moment, EOS only offers twice-daily flights (once per day on Saturdays) from New York’s JFK airport to London’s Stansted airport. Checking the fares on the EOS website, I found off-peak December fares starting at $2,099 and peak June fares starting at $3,352. Those prices include taxes and fees.

The all-business-class carrier Maxjet has more affordable fares, but its seats are smaller, with only a 60-inch pitch and a 19.25-inch width. That’s certainly better than most airlines’ coach seats, which tend to have 31 to 32 inches of pitch and widths of about 17 to 18.5 inches. Maxjet flies once per day, six days a week (excluding Saturdays), from JFK to London Stansted and once per day on Sundays, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from Washington Dulles. When I priced round-trip New York to London fares on the Maxjet website, I found off-peak December fares starting at $1,754 and peak June fares starting at $1,929, including taxes. I did see fares advertised as low as $694 each way, but those tickets were sold out.

If you’re open to flying business class, you may be able to beat Maxjet prices in some cases. For example, for off-peak December flights, I was able to find a business-class fare on American from New York to London for $1,592 round-trip, including taxes. Business-class seats on American’s 777s (which are commonly used for transatlantic flights) have a pitch of 60 inches and a width of 20 inches.

Air India also has reasonably priced first-class tickets for travel from New York to London. I found first-class fares priced at $3,496 round-trip, including taxes, for both peak and off-peak travel dates. Air India recently renovated its first-class seating, allowing for only 12 travelers in the entire seating area. Its new “sleeperette” seats have a 78-inch pitch and 21-inch width and fold out 180 degrees into a flat bed.

For your reference, I’ve noted the seat width and pitch of the airlines mentioned above and the prices I found online in my fare comparisons.

Airline Seat pitch Seat width Off-peak fare Peak fare
Maxjet 60 inches 19.25 inches $1,754 $1,929
EOS Airlines 78 inches 21 inches $2,099 $3,252
Air India (business class) 47 inches 19.3 inches $2,551 $2,551
Air India (first class) 78 inches 21 inches $3,496 $3,496
British Airways (business class) 73 inches 20 inches $3,548 $3,227
British Airways (first class) 78 inches 21 inches $13,334 $13,334
American (business class) 60 inches 20 inches $1,592 $3,227
American (first class) 92 inches 21 inches $11,822 $11,822

To find the lowest fares, travel off-peak and book well in advance.

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