If you have recently sought to buy tickets for a transatlantic flight—let's say, to London or Paris or Rome—you are probably still reeling from the impact of the news you received. The cost of flying to Europe has zoomed upward. Even in an off-season period like late October, ticket prices are hundreds of dollars more than they used to be. The various leading airlines—Delta, United, Virgin Atlantic, British Airways, American Airlines, AirFrance, Alitalia, Lufthansa—are apparently filling their flights with passengers willing to pay $1,200 per round-trip flight (including taxes and fees), even for a lowly economy seat with scant legroom. To gain an additional three inches of legroom (for "premium economy"), you pay at least $200 more.
How about paying for your tickets with frequent flier points? Lots of luck. Unless you have made these arrangements several months in advance (or conversely, in the final week before departure), you are usually told that such "awards" are no longer available for the dates you request. Note that last-minute awards are often available, but who wishes to play Russian roulette with your vacation, by waiting that long to make arrangements?
Another more effective method for saving money on such trips is to add several hours and inconvenience to your Atlantic crossing by agreeing to go to your destination via a one-stop flight, and a change of planes, in another city. Lufthansa, Iberia and AerLingus are notorious for cutting the cost if you will agree to stop in Frankfurt, Madrid or Dublin on your way to London or Paris. That, admittedly, is almost a surefire way to reduce the otherwise-hefty expense of flying to Europe.
And then there's Icelandair and WOW Airlines (another Iceland-based carrier), who both offer savings on the Atlantic crossing, provided you're willing to change planes in Reykjavik on the way. And there are various internet sites that will occasionally uncover a particular date when the standard airlines have empty seats and are willing to reduce the price in to fill them. Spend a couple of hours at your computer, navigating the sometimes complex procedures of the"aggregators or airfare search engines, and you will occasionally strike gold.
But perhaps the best method of crossing the Atlantic on a budget is to use the services of the cut-rate carrier called Norwegian Air (or Norwegian Air Shuttle, www.norwegian.com/us/, 800/357-4159). It will take you to Europe for as little, round-trip, as $700, but usually for a bit more. And it will do so, apparently, in a standard airplane with an efficient and talented staff. Though Norwegian is fairly new to an American audience, it has flown successfully within Europe for several years, and fills its planes to such an extent that it is one of the most heavily used budget airlines on the continent.
Bear in mind that there are several extra charges that must be added to the low Norwegian fare. On, let's say, a $700 round-trip between New York and London, each passenger will pay an additional $42 to $50 for a suitcase checked aboard the flight, each way (bringing the round-trip cost to $800 for most passengers who will obviously bring at least one suitcase apiece to Europe). And there is no free food service in the course of the flight; you pay extra to be served a meal, even a sandwich. Other minor fees (such as for use of a credit card to make payment) will also be encountered.
Still, there are savings to be had by flying Norwegian, especially if you book them for a flight to a Scandinavian capital. And there are also considerable savings to flying Norwegian from the initial stop in Europe (such as London Gatwick) to a further European destination. Let's all give thanks for Norwegian; may they create such competitive challenges to the other airlines that the latter will also reduce their fares.
Photo credit: Norwegian