I’m generally one to play games with my air travel adventures. Random airlines, obscure routes and silly sidetrips are more the norm than the exception. But I also pay a bit of attention to the costs. And so, while putting together a pair of trips to Europe for this winter, I did as I normally do and started exploring the silly, crazy and fun options. Much to my surprise, they didn’t work out nearly as well as they have in the past. In prior years on similar trips I’ve had the pleasure of flying Ryanair, Air Baltic, Adria Airways, Luxair and a few random international train routes. I was truly looking forward to similar adventures this time around.
My travel needs are relatively simple: I have a trip to London planned for November and another to Eastern Europe in January. I could just buy them as two return tickets from NYC to Europe but that isn’t especially cost-effective. And it definitely isn’t creative. I wanted more and so I spent most of the day yesterday trying to find something which would work.
There are some cheap(ish) fares right now to the USA originating in Europe, however, so I’m looking at options to nest the two itineraries together. Starting in Amsterdam is rather less expensive than starting in London (especially if upgraded as no extra APD fee!) so I’m intrigued by that option. Except that I have to get from London to Amsterdam. Surely the train will provide me a reasonable and inexpensive option, right? Nope. Trains are not especially cheap and definitely not quick. But the BA flights from City Airport to Amsterdam are no more expensive and much faster. Plus my conference is in that part of town. That’s a no-brainer.
So, the train is off the table but what about LCCs? Out of London I’d be trekking to Stansted or Gatwick and paying only marginally less. No savings on that end so British Airways will get my business.
On the return half of the trip where I’m venturing in to Eastern Europe things get a bit more convoluted. The flight from Houston to Amsterdam has upgrade inventory available right now and the premium to up-fare into W from the lowest available (K class) fare is only about $100. And I have a GPU left to use. So that’s a no-brainer for me. But I need to get beyond Amsterdam to my final destination. No love from EasyJet as they don’t really fly far enough east from Amsterdam.
Or maybe Ryanair??
Ryanair could get me into Poland, which is a nice option, but they fly from Eindhoven, not Amsterdam. Still, I was considering that as an option. The one way fare would be about 45 euro including all the fees (including exit row seats) so that’s not horrible. But then add another 20+ euro to get from AMS to Eindhoven and the lost time and it isn’t all that great.
Yet another option is a random Polish carrier I’d never heard of before – Eurolot – who flies a lot of Bombardier Q400s mostly within Poland but also to a few foreign destinations, including Amsterdam. But that one-way fare is way more expensive than the alternatives, unlike my AirBaltic tickets for a similar adventure last year.
The simple solution
Or I could just extend the United ticket, adding on segments on partners into Eastern Europe. Turns out that I can still force the itinerary on the IAH-AMS route where I can confirm the upgrades at booking (always a great feeling) and then just connect onward from there, either with LOT or Lufthansa into Poland. Yes, it is more expensive than booking just to AMS but it turns out that the extra segments are cheaper this way than via the LCCs. The only drawback to this version is that I cannot pay using my travel credits as it has partner segments in the itinerary. But I’ve got plenty of other trips to book with those funds.
Yes, I’m going to be paying more than may AMS-US-AMS round trip would have cost. But I needed to get beyond Amsterdam so that was inevitable. And this way my itinerary is protected in case of delays. Plus, when adding in all the additional bits it actually makes sense to just buy the one ticket. Especially when considering I can confirm in business class both directions for around $1200 all-in. That’s a bargain I’m really going to miss next year when I no longer have GPUs to play with.
So, yeah, LCCs are cheaper than the full service carriers. But that doesn’t mean they’re always worth booking. Then again, there have been times flying Ryanair does make sense. It is all about looking at the bigger picture.
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