Which would you fly: Transatlantic travel


It is time for another round of “Which would you fly?” where I take a look at a few options available for an upcoming trip and try to pick the best flight for me. Of course, “best” is nearly impossible to define. And what is best for me might not really work for you. But it is what I’m dealing with. Here are the parameters for this particular trip:

  • Travel is from Hamburg, Germany to DFW.
  • Travel must be on 17 April 2015; I have zero flexibility on that date.
  • I will quite likely be out partying on the night of the 16th such that early morning flights are less desirable.
  • I need to get to DFW in the late afternoon if at all possible rather than arriving after dinner.
  • I want the best combination of seat comfort, short travel time and total travel price.
  • This is likely to be an award ticket based on one-way fares being ridiculous.

So I started looking at award options. United Airlines and American Airlines are the two I’m mostly considering given that they allow one-way awards at “normal” prices. FlyingBlue is an option as well, thanks to being an AmEx Membership Rewards transfer partner. And I know I’m going to have at least one connection en route; I’d like to keep it at just one if at all possible, both for the sake of total travel time and likelihood of getting where I need to be. So, what are the contenders today?

United Airlines

United has a nonstop flight from Hamburg to Newark on a 757-200. It leaves Hamburg at the relatively reasonable time of 9am and gets me to Dallas at 4:21pm. I can get Economy Plus seats on both segments and the layover in Newark isn’t so bad. United prices at 30,000 for a one-way TATL award these days and this particular trip comes with taxes of $95.

ham-dfw-ua

Some like to hate on the 752 for TATL travel but I don’t mind it at all. Especially if it saves me total travel time. And I’ve done it so often (including this particular route) that I’m mostly used to it by now.

American Airlines

American Airlines has the awesomeness which is off-peak awards to and from Europe. And the season on those lasts until May 15th for 2015 which means I can get the discounted award. Only 20,000 miles is a good thing. Alas, the available flight from Hamburg to London lands at City airport which means I’ve got to transfer to Heathrow on my own. I’ve done it before and even have an Oyster Card with some credit so I could make the trip work this time as well. And flying on a Dornier 328 is not something I get to do every day.

There are two flight options arriving an hour apart:

ham-dfw-ba-aaham-dfw-ba-ba

The AA option is showing as a 777 right now rather than the 77W which, as an economy class passenger, I think is a good thing. I’m very much not a fan of American’s 77W in the main cabin. But I’m not so sure that schedule is going to hold. The company has been trying to get the new planes to LHR more than not because of the upgraded premium cabins. Also, the British Airways flight gets me in to Dallas a bit earlier which is a good thing. Sure, I’d have to be at the airport rather earlier for this itinerary, but the 7:50am departure time isn’t completely unreasonable, just slightly.

So, why not take one of these two options? There’s a catch. The taxes & fees for transiting London are MUCH higher. To the tune of $100 more if I take the AA connection and $300 more ($400ish total) if I take the BA connection which is really the one I’d prefer to be on. And I’m pretty sure it is smarter to pay the 10,000 extra points versus the $300 extra dollars. Even more so when I get an extra hour of sleep.

Lufthansa

The United Airlines website won’t show the Lufthansa non-stop flight from Frankfurt to Dallas as part of a connecting itinerary for some reason. it won’t even price as a multi-city online. But I know I can force the routing to work via the call center. It roughly matches the price of the United award (~$30 more in taxes/fees) but saves 90 minutes in travel time.

ham-dfw-LH

It also means an 11 hour TATL westbound flight on a Lufthansa A430-300 in economy with roughly zero chance of extra legroom seating. That’s hurting a bit on the comfort factor, though it does win for total travel time and reasonable arrival time in Dallas. Also, the FRA-DFW route is a new one for me. Then again, so is LHR-DFW.

Air France

I almost hesitate to mention this because of the flight timing, but I’ve got a stash of AmEx points and moving them to FlyingBlue is pretty easy for award redemptions. And they price at 25k one-way which is cheaper than the United awards, though taxes are a bit higher.

ham-dfw-af

The added connection in Atlanta plus the higher total cost and not arriving into Dallas until well after dinner mostly has this one nixed from consideration, though the 10:50am start in Hamburg is nice from a partying the night before perspective.

Decision time

So, which is the “best” choice here? I have my views, naturally, but I’m curious which one y’all think is best. Make a solid argument for one of the options and convince me. I’m truly curious which way you’d fly.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

21 Comments

  1. For me, it’s a toss-up between LH and UA, depending on which airport you want to transit through.

    LH: Plus for US clearance in DFW, which is better IMO. Plus for LH Senator Lounge access in FRA.

    Minus for miles and miles of walking in FRA.

    UA: 1.5 hour transit through EWR and TSA security subsequent to the flight makes it a minus, which might be moot with Global Entry. Although E+ is not bad, and the entertainment options are better than LH. sCO crew can be hit and miss.

    Big no to BA/AA and AF/DL options. The transfer between LCY and LHR is a deal breaker for me. 3 flights are always worse than 2 flights, unless you need the miles (which in this case is moot).

  2. I vote for Luftansa- personally like their economy across the pond better than American although flying on the Scan Sun Air would be fun. Great thing is.. none of them look bad (except maybe Flying Blue due to the extra connection in ATL).

  3. Why zero chance for a better seat on LH? You could purchase an exit row for ~70 EUR, or maybe try and bid for an Y+ seat if available on the route.

    2-4-2 seating on the Airbuses is quite nice too. And free booze.

  4. I don’t know much about the LCY -> LHR transfer but that doesn’t sound like a lot of fun. I’d probably go with LH for the FRA lounge and ICE clearance at DFW. 1:35 is way too short at EWR and if you get a big head wind or a delay from HAM to EWR you are screwed. I vote LH.

    1. Train from Hamburg to Frankfurt is 3.5-4 hours and the AA flight leaves at 9:20am. That’s not happening.

      And there’s also there part where “get to FRA somehow” inevitably means spending more time and money than the listed options. Is the AA 763 going to treat me better than the LH 343 in Y? I’m betting not, at least not enough to matter.

  5. What kind of options are available through KLM? The only reason I ask is that in terms of airport experience in Europe, I find Schiphol to be just about the easiest. Everything is clearly marked, the facilities are clean and on the newer side. There are plenty of food options (to get something fatty to eat to soak up all that booze), passport control is a breeze… The worst part about the airport is those long halls, but they have moving walkways. If you’re not SkyTeam Elite+, the Priority Pass lounge there isn’t bad either. Nothing special, but comfortable and quiet.

  6. My thoughts:

    1) AF is out. It’s too much travel time compared to your other options.
    2) LH is out. You cannot safely book a 60 minute connection from domestic to international at Frankfurt. In my opinion you will (more often than not) miss that connection, and it won’t even be close.
    3) UA through EWR looks very promising. It’s a very straightforward itinerary. The total travel time is low. The 752 is a comfortable aircraft in economy for you. The 95 minute connection could be iffy for a large hub like EWR, but I suspect it’s enough time. And if you mis-connect, there’s a later flight to DFW. This is my #2 choice for you.
    4) My #1 choice is the D38 connecting to the BA 777. You can easily get from LCY to LHR, as you’re well aware, in 60 to 90 minutes. You get a new aircraft and new line. BA’s product is very consistent – you know what you’re getting. You have no chance of a mis-connect, and you do customs at DFW (your final destination).

  7. Jeez! You represent yourself as a travel guru, but you can’t figure out an acceptable itinerary? If this was a contest with a reward I’d present an itinerary for consideration, but as of now I can think only DUH! Oh, I don’t have much experience, granted, but the last FF program I joined was AA in 1/84, still a few thou from million miler while that level is ancient history with UA & DL. C’mon’, try a little harder.

    1. Sorry, Fred. You seem to have missed the part where I said I have my views on what’s best for me. I’ve actually booked the flight already. But it is an award so it is flexible/refundable and I’m curious to hear if any readers have a compelling reason I should change my mind.

      I’m a bit surprised to hear some claim that 60 minutes in FRA is impossible while others say it is the sure thing, for example. Some thing the London airport switch is a piece of cake while others point out the challenges of making that work in only 3 hours.

      Quite frankly, I love reading the different views that y’all have. I certainly have never claimed to know everything. Especially not when it comes to combining a variety of subjective qualities. Nothing so far has compelled me to change my plans, but I’m teetering ever closer.

  8. If you didn’t have to switch airports in London, I might lean AA. But, given that issue, if you can guarantee yourself extra legroom I think UA makes sense.

  9. When in doubt do not fly through LHR. The AF option is very poor. I think I would go with United through EWR. You have global entry, so the connection is easy, and let us face it, in economy, USA carriers are providing an above market hard product (I cannot believe I just typed that).

  10. I would probably just go with United. E+ and reasonable flight times. I assume you have a small shot a domestic upgrade as well.

  11. I’d check Flying Blue options when they come out. Economy comfort sounds pretty decent. The big party area in Hamburg is called St. Pauli. They have a beer named after it, that’s popular here in the U.S., called St. Pauli Girl. The slogan is “you never forget your first girl”.

  12. Does AA actually have “PlanAAhead” availability across the pond? I’ve had lots of trouble finding any AA availability. (But AA “AAnytime” is only 45,000 miles off-peak; that might be a reasonable option to consider for optimizing your schedule.)

  13. IME, 60 minutes at FRA can be done… but you could be hustling. That makes any improvement in lounge at FRA immaterial, as you wouldn’t even have the time to grab a beer for the walk.

    I love neither the UA itinerary nor clearing customs in EWR, but it’s probably the one I would take.

  14. I would reluctantly choose the United option for comfort and less hassle.

    I say reluctantly because I would stew about United’s lack of reliability and whether the flights are on-time enough to make your connection.

  15. Logically speaking, air France is out the window.. The late arrival discounts it as an option, plus additional connections aren’t exactly a plus..

    BA and AA are out, higher fuel surcharges.. Unless of course, you play the points game, then blow avoidable expenses when there are better options 🙂 and I’ve done the Gatwick-Heathrow connection.. for the fun of it.. when I wasn’t pressed.. In your case, its a -ve for comfort and travel distance.. -on this particular trip anyway.

    That leaves united and Lufthansa..

    In your shoes, I’d do Lufthansa 🙂 but I’m not in your shoes :))))) and with 30 bucks(ish) extra for less comfy seats… lol, I’ll bet my hat you favor comfort and price over saving 90 mins :))) (unless of course the 90 mins makes you late – which it doesn’t..)

    So, we’re left with (trump) economy plus united seats, all the way… the best price overall, meets your late afternoon criteria, let’s you chill in a lounge (and blog about it later :p), and you can do the trip with your eyes closed… :))) (and not have to worry about additional logistics – switching airports / living through multiple connections)

    Its a no-brainer really lol

    but, you tell me.. how did I do..? 🙂

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