Flying is Cheaper Than Ever Before – at the Cost of Comfort: Why airlines are cutting legroom, food, and more

There is perhaps nothing in the world that is simultaneously admired yet scorned as the experience of flying.

Excuse my romanticism here for a minute, but I think it’s worth recounting just how exceptional flight is. The fact that we have an invention which can weigh over a million pounds, travel near the speed of sound, and have the endurance to travel halfway around the world is remarkable. Trips that once took weeks, even months, can now be conquered in a number of hours – though that number is greatly variable, as Austin is closer to Boston than Australia, for example. Even so, this is astonishing.

In past decades, flying was a luxury. Comfortable seats and high-class meals were the tenets of an exclusive experience. Of course, the price tag on a plane ticket made it something that could only be afforded by the wealthy – but for those who had the means, the end was worth it.

How the Times Change

Fast-forward to the early 2000s. From TWA to Trump Shuttle (yes, a real carrier), airlines had come and gone over the century before. As the 2000s came along, people were much more likely to be ranting about the perception of being treated poorly going through security checkpoints, at the gate, or on the plane. And while September 11th certainly had a significant, negative impact on airlines, one that took years to overcome, the cost-cutting had already started: for the most part, airlines were no longer serving meals, and the era of ancillary revenue (fees for things that would have been standard 50 years ago) had started.

Who knew olives were so expensive?

There are certain carriers that are synonymous with charging for the majority of amenities. I’ve joked that Spirit Airlines, for example, charges for everything except oxygen, as it even charges those who want an in-flight bottle of water. Norwegian Air Shuttle, meanwhile, has become known for charging for meals – something once unthinkable for those traveling on transatlantic flights. Regardless of whether these actions have precedent or not, these carriers have begun to develop reputations for being extremely stingy with what they provide to customers in their respective markets.

To be fair, it’s not just the “budget” carriers that are cutting costs – the legacies are equally culpable, especially in the United States. A famous tale about carriers “penny pinching”: former American Airlines CEO Robert “Bob” Crandall found that he could save the airline in excess of $100,000 per year by removing olives from the salads served in coach (predictably, he kept the olives in the first-class salads).

That’s an extreme example, of course, but carriers are always finding ways to cut costs. Generally, it’s the people flying coach that have to bear the brunt of the reductions in service. For decades, no American carrier served complimentary meals in economy class on domestic flights, and – despite that trend being bucked by American and Delta earlier this year – currently the only way to get a complimentary economy meal is to be on certain transcontinental flights. Ultimately, if you’re lucky enough to be served a free meal on one of those flights, you’re in the minority – the majority of passengers flying domestic economy within the U.S. will not get a free meal (for the time being).

A Rock and a Hard Place

I have no problem admitting that I’m a British Airways fan. From the Union Jack tail and Speedmarque to the majestic combination of the two on the carrier’s Boeing 747-400, I can name numerous reasons that I like the flag carrier of the United Kingdom. I even had yet another excellent experience flying BOS-LHR-BOS on BA back in April.

However, I am not afraid to say that, in my view, the carrier has made a number of mis-steps in its effort to cut costs. The decision to start charging for food (albeit food from Marks and Spencer, a high-quality brand) on intra-Europe flights was, at best, a slight reduction in service to cut costs. At worst, it was the first step of a long-respected carrier losing its reputation as a customer service darling.

More than Meals

It’s not just the food that has passengers questioning the quality of Britain’s flag carrier. Since CEO Alex Cruz, the former head of Spanish low-cost carrier Vueling, took over in 2016, many have alleged that Cruz – along with Willie Walsh (CEO of parent company IAG and former BA CEO) – is trying to turn the carrier into a low-cost carrier of sorts, as a litany of “customer-unfriendly” changes are in the works in both the premium and economy classes. In addition to removing the second meal on westbound long-haul flights, he sounded out the possibility of charging for meals on long-haul flights in the future – a possibility that BA adamantly denied was on the cards at the time, but nevertheless one that upset passengers.

I’ve certainly been critical of Cruz since he’s come in. Additionally, I don’t think that running a low-cost carrier like Vueling is necessarily great preparation for running one of the world’s most venerable brands.

At the same time, I can somewhat understand why he’s making these (admittedly undesirable) changes. After all, new, low-cost carriers like Norwegian and WOW Air have begun putting pressure on transatlantic carriers to cut their prices in order to stay competitive. For example, when Norwegian can sell a JFK-LGW ticket for $300, it certainly makes one think twice about shelling out $600+ to fly JFK-LHR on one of the legacies, even if it means paying for checked bags or eating at the airport restaurant to save some money.

It certainly doesn’t provide the same allure as flying Emirates, but, as of this writing, British Airways is still listed as a SKYTRAX four-star airline – one star better than any of the American legacy carriers in American, Delta, and United. Yet amidst a number of recent complaints about the experiences in both the premium and economy classes, many would say that BA is not making it easy to justify paying extra for an allegedly less-than-stellar experience. The challenge for BA will be to balance its cost-cutting measures with improvements in passenger experience – improvements that will enable passengers to justify paying a premium to fly “the World’s Favourite Airline.”

Consumers Drive the Market

Food and amenities aren’t the only thing that airlines are cutting. Aside from staffing reductions, perhaps the most controversial cuts in the airline industry have been to something that directly impacts the comfort of (most) passengers: legroom.

That’s right: carriers – including American Airlines – are reconfiguring planes to hold more seats, which ultimately reduces the amount of legroom that each passenger is entitled to. In fact, Spirit of all carriers is giving American a run for its money. Just to underline how notable this is, Spirit is the same carrier whose planes are so crammed that its seats can’t be reclined (the carrier calls them “pre-reclined” – which, however disingenuous, is a brilliant turn of phrase, I must say).

Why would American do this to itself? United President Scott Kirby – who formerly held the same role at American – put it simply:

“Seat pitch has come down…because that’s what customers voted with their wallets that they wanted. … [E]very time airlines put more seat pitch on, customers choose the lowest price. Customers have to be willing to pay if they want more seat pitch. And the evidence is that they aren’t willing to.”

I have to say that I have some reservations about Kirby’s oversimplified supply-and-demand equation, as I don’t believe that load factors would suffer as much as he might claim if ticket prices were raised as a result of more legroom. Yet as much as we might hate to admit it, he is (mostly) right. These days, it’s all about finding the lowest price – although those low prices are more due to low oil prices and increasingly fuel-efficient aircraft rather than the benevolence of airlines.

Even so, I am as guilty of this as any: I almost always go for the cheapest ticket, as it is much easier to justify spending a sub-$100 amount to fly somewhere for a weekend versus shelling out $200+ but having more legroom. The unfortunate reality is that the current trend will likely continue: as we continue to demand cheaper prices, airlines will continue to shrink legroom to stay competitive.

On a lighter note, there is one thing you can do to combat experiencing ever-shrinking legroom: fly on my favorite American carrier – jetBlue!

What’s Cooking With British Airways? BA Eliminating Complimentary Food in Coach on European Flights

As documented in the press recently, British Airways has been taking some heat for launching its buy-on-board program for – previously free – food and drink on domestic and European flights.

In America, many of us are too young to remember the days when the quality of airline food was akin that of a catered meal. In fact, this Forbes article outlines that finding ways to create new revenue streams has been a “sport” that airlines have engaged in for decades, as former American Airlines CEO Robert “Bob” Crandall found that he could save $100,000 annually by removing olives from the salads that the carrier served. Perhaps that decision, made in the 1980s, heralded the beginning of the end of luxurious airline service in coach.

Back to the subject at hand: while I was initially disgusted at the prospect of a Skytrax four-star airline charging for food, I’ve come to realize that BA is in a predicament which not many other European carriers find themselves in. This is because Norwegian Air Shuttle has been selling extremely low fares on transatlantic routes between a major U.K. airport – London Gatwick – and a variety of U.S. cities, including Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Los Angeles, New York JFK, Oakland, and Orlando.

Even so, BA will still likely remain preferred by the majority of business and first class passengers, as BA Chief Executive Alex Cruz claims Norwegian’s low fares “create new demand,” thereby implying that the majority of Norwegian travelers are tourists who might not have had the desire to travel without such low fares. Yet through offering fares that are markedly lower than anything BA had offered up to this point, Norwegian is – by proxy – threatening BA’s superiority at not just Gatwick but also Heathrow, as some British passengers may choose to bypass the busier Heathrow for Gatwick in favor of lower fares and a smaller airport.

Perhaps I’m being too general in saying this, but I believe that the majority of foreign airlines have better on-board service and offerings than American carriers, particularly on long-haul flights, but also on short-haul flights. Even China Eastern Airlines – a carrier which is majority-owned by the Chinese government – serves meals in economy class on its domestic flights between Beijing and Shanghai, something that American Airlines doesn’t even do for its transcontinental routes. So when BA announced this decision, I have to say I had to evaluate whether it was in danger of letting its reputation dwindle to the standard which we see in America – the “Big 3” American carriers (American, Delta, and United) are labeled three-star airlines by Skytrax; BA is a four-star carrier.

Despite my fear, which may well be premature, BA’s need to lower prices is evident. With that in mind, the most effective way to lower prices while still maintaining a healthy profit margin is to trim expenses. In addition to doing this through eliminating economy class meal service on European flights, BA has started to make changes on its long-haul flights, too, as it eliminated the second of two meals served on westbound transatlantic flights. Of course, this still puts it a cut above Norwegian in that respect, as the latter doesn’t offer any complimentary food or drink on its long-haul flights, but it’s a notable reduction nonetheless.

BA will likely be judged upon whether it can maintain its quality reputation in the face of reducing its offerings. Whether that is attainable remains to be seen.

The Basics of United’s Basic Economy

When I first heard that United was unveiling a Basic Economy product comparable to the experience of an ultra-low cost carrier (ULCC), I wasn’t sure what exactly to expect. On the one hand, I have flown on an ULCC – Spirit Airlines – and have not been overly impressed with anything except for the cost of my ticket. However, I am a big believer in making flying as accessible as possible, and while I do think that even the legacy carriers have decreased their airfares across the board, there are certain amenities that certain people simply don’t feel that they need on a short domestic flight: food, drink, etc.

What are the differences?

To the average traveler, the two main things that differentiate Basic Economy from United’s normal Economy product are:

  1. The traveler cannot bring a carry-on bag on board the aircraft. Personal items are allowed, however.
  2. You cannot choose your seat when you purchase your ticket. Seats are assigned at check-in.

Another component of Basic Economy – one that is perhaps less pertinent to people who don’t fly frequently – is that frequent flyers cannot earn elite qualifying miles (EQMs) with Basic Economy fares. They will earn redeemable “award miles” that can be used towards redeeming flights in the future, but these miles will not count towards the earning of elite status. (If you want to learn more about the difference between award miles and EQMs, check out this comprehensive explanation from The Points Guy).

United isn’t the first airline to go with a form of “assigning” seats. In fact, Southwest Airlines’ unique policy gives every traveler a boarding classification consisting of a letter (A-C) and number (1-60) based on when they check in, albeit Southwest elite members are assigned a better boarding position (usually A1-A15), hence allowing them a better chance at their preferential seat. Southwest claims that this makes boarding far more efficient, and as someone who has flown on Southwest I can’t disagree: both boardings were extremely quick. However, I personally like to know that I’m getting a window seat, so – for that reason – this wouldn’t be something that I would choose. With Southwest, you can get in a solid boarding position by checking in early: I got window seat 3F from position B6, which was in the second full boarding group. With United, however, you’re relying on the luck of the draw. Additionally, passengers sitting Basic Economy seats are relegated to the last boarding group. Not a huge deal, but some might not enjoy having to wait to board and – likely – disembark.

I can’t say that I’m super upset about less carry-ons, though. As someone who often sees people either struggling to fit their (too large) carry-on into the overhead compartment, I personally think that a lot of people try to push the limit with carry-ons. A personal item, however, is much more restrictive, and the consequences of not being able to fit said item under the seat are, I think, more likely to deter people from making poorly-advised decisions regarding how large their personal item is.

What don’t people like about ULCCs?

There are a number of reasons, but I’ll outline my own reason for avoiding ULCCs.

I’ve only flown twice on an ULCC, both times with Spirit. And while my sample size of ULCC experiences is admittedly small, my issue with ULCCs has been the sheer lack of reliability that I’ve experienced. Both times I’ve flown Spirit, the way out has been on time, but the way back has been delayed by at least an hour; in the second case (a return flight from BWI), it was 2 1/2 hours. And while Spirit did provide a $50 voucher for that delay, that was enough for me to decide that enough is enough. Delay me once, shame on me; delay me twice, shame on you.

Additionally, the difference in price between a ULCC and your average low-cost carrier (LCC) is usually negligible. In fact, jetBlue, which is my favorite domestic airline, is a low-cost carrier, and I’ve found its prices to be cheaper than or comparable to those of Spirit on many occasions. Why would I pay $10 less for vastly inferior comfort, service, and reliability?

Moreover, the top two U.S. airlines in terms of customer satisfaction ratings – jetBlue and Southwest – are both LCCs. Ultimately, LCCs have proven that there is no inherent need to sacrifice neither the hard product (materials/physical amenities/etc.) nor the soft product (service/food/drink/etc.) for savings. Given their inferior customer satisfaction scores, it appears that some U.S.-based ULCCs still haven’t comprehended that.

What’s the difference between Basic Economy and a ULCC?

Simply put, United’s hard product is significantly superior to that of Spirit and other ULCCs. While those airlines charge for basically everything except breathing and using the bathroom, United passengers will be able to enjoy in-flight entertainment (where available), Wi-Fi (for purchase), and a normal Economy seat (even if it’s in a less-than-desirable location),. Conversely, most Spirit planes have tiny tray tables, no Wi-Fi, and the seats make me feel like I’m in a sardine can. Of course, United’s economy isn’t comparable to a day at the spa, but it’s far more comfortable than anything comparable that you’ll find on a ULCC.

Is Basic Economy worth it?

Given my desire to know that I’m getting a window seat, I probably would not choose a Basic Economy seat, although I am an admittedly rare case. Besides, the routes which United flies out of my home airport are usually pretty affordable anyway – I’ve flown both BOS-ORD and BOS-EWR for less than $100 round trip – so the cost savings don’t justify the concession I’d have to make in terms of predictability.

However, for the average person who travels light and just wants to get on the plane, then I’d say it’s absolutely worth it: you’ll get a reasonably comfortable seat, a hard product that is far better than the ULCCs, and will even get complementary food and drinks. And, most importantly, you’ll get a very good deal.

 

Calling All Bostonians: 9 non stops for less than $99 round trip

There was plenty of evidence in yesterday’s edition of Hump Day Fare Hacks that flights to Europe are staggeringly cheap right now. Equally exciting is that there are a (comparatively speaking) large number of Boston-originating domestic flights that are going for far less than usual. The craziest part of that is that – while low-cost carriers are present on this spontaneously-created list – they make up less than half of the options, meaning that legacy carriers (namely American) are offering flights for cheaper than ever before. If that’s any sign of what’s to come, that’s good news for us travelers!

Note 1: All of these fares were found through Google Flights. There are even more sub-$100 destinations if you are fine with layovers, including Ft. Lauderdale and Orlando.

Note 2: I hesitated listing Spirit Airlines flights, as – in addition to charging for pretty much everything except a seat and personal item – my plane has been delayed coming back both times I’ve flown them. However, they do offer some exceptional deals, and if you know what you’re getting into, the low price may well be worth it, although I will say that I consider jetBlue to have similarly low prices and far superior service.

 

Baltimore – Southwest Airlines – $82

Chicago (O’Hare) – American Airlines and United Airlines – $87

Cleveland – Spirit Airlines – $69

Dallas-Ft. Worth – American Airlines – $87

Detroit – Spirit Airlines – $79

New York JFK – American Airlines – $69

New York LaGuardia – American Airlines and jetBlue – $97

Washington (National) – American Airlines – $69

West Palm Beach – Spirit Airlines $89

 

Hump Day Fare Hacks: September 28, 2016

Norwegian Index for September 28, 2016 (measured in dollars): 294.2.

The changes seen in this past week have been pretty significant – in a good way (for travelers). In addition to the always-low Norwegian prices, American is selling – and I don’t believe this is a fare sale – sub-$600 British Airways round trips on BOS-LHR and JFK-LHR. That’s by far the lowest I’ve seen prices on those routes, period, and I haven’t looked at the prices of any other LHR-USA routes. Moreover, BOS-SNN (Aer Lingus), JFK-MUC (Lufthansa) and EWR-MUC (United) are all going for less than $500 round trip, and with a pretty exceptional selection of dates. All told, eight of 10 flights profiled this week are selling for less than $500, and all 10 are priced at less than $600. That is astounding.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • October 11, 18 (return October 20, 27)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $305

Thoughts: $1 over last week. Still time to break the $300 barrier.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • November 30
  • December 4, 5, 7
  • January (2016) 9, 11, 13, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 6

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $335

Thoughts: The price increased $17 over last week, but the expansion of dates make this worth it. And given what we’ve seen from this route price-wise, I would expect it to stay relatively consistent – I’d be very surprised if it surpassed $350.

 

Boston – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • October 26-28, 31
  • November 1-17, 19, 21-25, 27-30
  • December 1-8, 11-13, 17, 18

Carrier: British Airways
Price: $509

Thoughts: If you read “Heathrow Hacks,” you’ll understand why British Airways/Delta/Virgin are more expensive than flying Norwegian to Gatwick. Regardless, this is an exceptional price – especially considering it’s BA and not an American-based carrier. (These fares still need to be booked through American, as they are alliance partners, but you would still fly on BA).

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on: October 17 (return October 25)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $270

Thoughts: I wouldn’t be surprised to see this deal disappear for the season, but I don’t need to further explain that $270 for a transatlantic flight is an exceptional price.

 

Boston – Shannon

Leave on:

  • October 29-31
  • January (2017) 14, 16, 25, 28, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 12, 13

Carrier: Aer Lingus
Price: $496

Thoughts: There are similarly cheap flights on BOS-DUB, but this one takes the cake, no doubt. A pretty exceptional deal whatever way you look at it.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK and Newark – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11-31
  • Any date in February
  • Any date in March

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), KLM (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $439

Thoughts: Same date range. Same price. Same great deal.

 

New York JFK – London Heathrow

Leave on:

  • October 31
  • November 1-17, 19, 26
  • December 3, 17, 24, 31
  • January (2017) 14, 21, 28
  • February (2017) 4, 11, 18, 25
  • March (2017) 4, 11, 18, 25

Carriers: Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic Airways
Price: $593

Thoughts: I’m surprised to see that BOS-LHR is beating out JFK-LHR in terms of which has the lower price. Either way, this is the lowest I can remember seeing this route going for – maybe this is signaling a change in the median price of the JFK-LHR (and perhaps U.S. to LHR) market(s)?

 

New York JFK and Newark – Munich

Leave on:

  • January 11-31
  • Any date in February
  • Any date in March

Carriers: Lufthansa (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $491

Thoughts: I should also note that there are a few dates when the $491 fare applies on Lufthansa’s EWR-MUC route as well. And while I’m too lazy to go back and distinguish between carriers and dates, you definitely should if you’re interested – this is an excellent price for this route.

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 13, 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 31
  • February (2017) 3, 5, 7, 16

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $283

Thoughts: $3 up on last week, but still well below $300. (For what it’s worth, SAS is offering EWR-OSL round trips for $478 several days this winter, as well).

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 18, 20, 25, 27
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 6, 8

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $278

Thoughts: I’d be surprised if the range of dates at this price doesn’t expand soon – especially as winter approaches and demand for traveling to Sweden is affected by people becoming reacquainted with the cold.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: September 14, 2016

Norwegian Index for September 14, 2016 (measured in dollars): 292.0.

As you can tell, the Norwegian Index (defined in last week’s post) fell by 2.0. What’s more, though, is that’s not even the most impressive development for this week. Instead, I think the craziest thing is the fact that there are three routes without low-cost carriers that are showing sub-$500 round trips between New York and Europe. If I had to pick one for myself, I’d choose JFK-MUC on Lufthansa for $490, but you really can’t go wrong with any of them.

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • September 27 (return October 6)
  • October 11, 18 (return October 20, 27)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $306

Thoughts: Just waiting for this one to go below $300 (it won’t, but that would be impressive).

 

Boston – Lisbon

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 9, 11-13, 15, 16, 18-20, 22, 23, 25-27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1-3, 5, 6, 8-10, 12, 13, 15, 19, 20, 22-24, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1-3, 5, 6, 8, 9, 12, 13, 15-17, 19, 20, 22-24, 26-29

Carrier: TAP Portugal
Price: $585

Thoughts: Combined with Lufthsana’s increase to $597 for BOS-FRA, TAP and BOS-LIS come back into the picture for the exceptionally low price, variety of dates, and the fact that many of said dates fall during the coldest part of winter – an idea time to venture to Portugal.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • December 5
  • January (2017) 9, 11, 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13, 15, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27
  • March (2017) 1, 6, 13

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $338

Thoughts: Up $8 on last week but with new dates available. Really don’t know what to make of the fact that there are direct flights to London for less than $400 round trip.

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on: October 14, 21 (return October 22, 29)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $286

Thoughts: Norway is cold, but this fare is hot. And with Norwegian going out-of-season at the end of October on the BOS-OSL route, now’s the time to book.

 

Boston – Tel Aviv

Leave on:

  • November 20, 24

Carrier: El Al
Price: $650

Thoughts: Have family in Israel? Want to visit them over Thanksgiving? Book this flight.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK and Newark – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • December 13-19
  • January (2017) 11-31
  • Any date in February (2017)
  • Any date in March (2017)

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), KLM (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $439

Thoughts: Much like last week, my recommendation would be KLM and its Boeing 747 or 777 over the Delta 767 or United 757, but you can’t go wrong with this price and the extensive range of dates.

 

New York JFK – Brussels

Leave on: December 13, 14, 16

Carriers: Brussels Airlines
Price: $443

Thoughts: In addition to the fare listed, there are a number of different dates in 2017 where a sub-$500 fare is available, so your options may be far more extensive than I’ve listed here.

 

New York JFK – Munich

Leave on:

  • December 13

Carriers: Lufthansa
Price: $490

Thoughts: Just one departure date available, sure, but this is crazy stupid low. Never thought I’d see a Lufthansa long-haul flight going for less than $500.

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 27, 31
  • February (2017) 2, 3, 5, 7

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $261

Thoughts: A dollar off last week. Stockholm, eat your heart out.

 

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 15, 22

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $269

Thoughts: A very commendable second place in the unofficial Norwegian competition for lowest fare of the week on Hump Day Fare Hacks.

Hump Day Fare Hacks: September 7, 2016

This week, I’m introducing a new measurement called the “Norwegian Index.” Before you accuse me of turning a user-friendly blog into pure airline jargon, I should say that the Norwegian Index is simply the average of all Norwegian Air Shuttle flights profiled by Hump Day Fare Hacks in a given week. I think this is a solid way of seeing what an average “low-cost” (e.g. non-legacy carrier) transatlantic fare is at a given time, and, as such, will provide a basis of comparison for the cost progression or regression, depending on how the market behaves. And while a more comprehensive version would perhaps be weighted by the number of available days for each route, I simply don’t have the time or interest to take that on. If you’d like to undertake that task, be my guest – I’ll be sure that you get the appropriate recognition.

Norwegian Index for September 7, 2016 (measured in dollars): 294.0.

Just to be clear – this does not mean that I’ll be profiling more or less Norwegian flights in order to generate a more favorable Index. The average will be computed after I choose the deals to be profiled in a given week, ensuring that the Index is calculated objectively.

Moving on – Lufthansa is the airline to watch this week, offering a range of flights for less than $510 on BOS-FRA, JFK-MUC, and EWR-MUC. The German flag carrier usually charges significantly more on transatlantic flights, so this is something to take advantage of if you have the desire to travel to Bavaria or Hesse. Additionally, Hainan is offering exceptionally low fares on BOS-PEK for a number of September dates – prices which seem unthinkable at first glance given that the closest one is just six days away.  Two different countries; two carriers synonymous with quality; four great deals. Can’t beat it. (Maybe they can, but I don’t see it happening).

Note: All routes profiled are based on a 7-day round trip (departing and arriving the same day a week apart), unless otherwise noted. That said, I strongly encourage you to play with a variety of dates and trip lengths and see what you can find.

 

BOSTON

 

Boston – Beijing

Leave on:

  • September 13, 14, 21, 26, 27

Carrier: Hainan Airlines
Price: $638

Thoughts: It may well be too short of notice to plan a trip to China, but if you’ve got a week and $638 to burn, I can’t think of a better investment. I’m kidding, of course – however, the fact that this fare is available for a transpacific flight less than a week away is almost unthinkable.

 

Boston – Copenhagen

Leave on:

  • October 11 (return October 20)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $305

Thoughts: Just one date left. Either way, an exceptional deal, even if not as cheap as BOS-OSL.

 

Boston – Frankfurt

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 11, 13-16, 18, 20-23, 25, 27-30
  • February (2017) 1, 3-6, 8, 10-13, 15, 16, 18-28
  • March (2017) 1-23, 27-31

Carrier: Lufthansa
Price: $507

Thoughts: If a $1 decrease wasn’t enough, the fact that the number of available dates drastically increased makes this deal a very attractive proposition. Anything transatlantic trip for less than $600 on Lufthansa is an exceptional fare.

 

Boston – London Gatwick

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, 30
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 5, 6, 8, 10, 12, 13

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $330

Thoughts: A $3 increase with 2 more days of availability. Business as usual for Norwegian.

 

Boston – Oslo

Leave on:

  • September 30 (return October 8)
  • October 17, 21 (return October 25, 20)

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $269

Thoughts: This is the second week that this fare and these dates are available. If you haven’t bought your ticket already and you have even the slightest of desire to do so, you probably should.

 

NEW YORK

 

New York JFK and Newark – Amsterdam

Leave on:

  • December 6-20
  • January (2017) 11-31
  • Any date in February (2017)
  • Any date in March (2017)

Carriers: Delta Air Lines (JFK), KLM (JFK), United Airlines (EWR)
Price: $439

Thoughts: This smells of an over saturation of capacity in the market – one that could well be rectified in the coming months. Either way, this is a fantastic deal to take advantage of – personally, I’d recommend KLM and its Boeing 747 or 777 over the Delta 767 or United 757, but you can’t go wrong with this price and the extensive range of dates.

 

New York JFK and Newark – Munich

Leave on:

  • December 6, 7, 12, 13

Carriers: Lufthansa, United Airlines
Price: $505

Thoughts: A pretty exceptional fare for Munich, and made even better by the fact that you have the option between two airports and two carriers. I personally would choose Lufthansa over United, but that’s just me – you can’t go wrong with this price.

 

New York JFK – Oslo

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 15, 17, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 31
  • February (2017) 2, 3, 5, 7, 21, 23
  • March (2017) 2

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $262

Thoughts: Don’t know how Norway in the winter is – I imagine it’s probably cold. What I do know, however, is that this is an exceptional price.

 

New York JFK – Paris

Leave on:

  • December 8
  • January (2017) 19, 24, 26, 31
  • February (2017) 28

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $328

Thoughts: $1 more than last week. Guess this isn’t a good deal anymore (sarcasm).

 

New York JFK – Stockholm

Leave on:

  • January (2017) 18, 20, 21, 23, 25, 27, 28
  • February (2017) 1, 3, 4, 6, 8, 15, 22, 27

Carrier: Norwegian Air Shuttle
Price: $270

Thoughts: I’d be curious to see what flights between New York and Miami are going for during the winter. I bet this price would be competitive with those fares.