While perusing Google Flights the other day, I put in “BOS” and “LHR.” Though non stop flights between the two airports have dramatically decreased in price from the $952 round trip (that was the base fare: total cost of $1,034, as choosing window seats ahead of time was $41 each way) when I went to England in the Fall of 2014, they still run generally between $750 and $990.
With all that in mind, you can imagine my surprise when I saw a non stop flight from Boston to London Heathrow that was priced at $512 round trip. Yes, $512. And this wasn’t just one flight that was priced so low: I looked further and found a number of dates in November and December in which round trips of varying lengths – everything from a few days to a week and perhaps even more – are priced significantly lower than normal.
You might’ve noticed that the links next to the buttons say “Book with American.” The reason for this is that these fares are being sold through American – British Airways’ price is significantly higher. The reason that AA can sell BA flights is because – given that both are members of the oneworld alliance – they have a codeshare, which allows them to sell each other’s flights. This is usually helpful when a neither a direct flight nor multiple flights on the same airline are available between a given origin and destination, so – instead of booking multiple tickets on multiple airlines – the customer only has to buy one ticket that will work on all segments of the route. Even so, that begs an interesting question: why can American sell the fare cheaper than BA?
Great question, and I wish I knew the exact answer. It’s possible that this is an example of a “mistake fare,” where the price is set incorrectly. However, I’m not sure that this is the case, as a mistake fare is often priced at significantly less than 50% of the normal fare (e.g. a $1,200 Emirates flight going for $150).
Moreover, these fares are being offered in a particularly slow time of year for international travel: the period between the end of fall and the Christmas holidays. For example – although I myself did – not many people travel to the U.K. for Thanksgiving, which perhaps drives the prices of flights between the U.S. and the U.K. down. Of course, this is an unconfirmed hypothesis – I’d have to check a number of other fares to see how prevalent it is – but I can very much see it being the case, and I’d be willing to guess that such is the case here.
But what about Norwegian?
If you’ve read Hump Day Fare Hacks, you’ll know that Norwegian Air Shuttle tends to offer super low ($300-$400) fares on the Boston to London Gatwick route. So why is this – at $100+ more expensive – such a good deal?
First off, BA is what is called a “full-service” airline. This means that – at the very least – you get a checked bag, a meal, drinks, and refreshments included with your fare. Meanwhile, as a low-cost carrier, Norwegian charges for each of those things. If you simply want to get from A to B, Norwegian is undoubtedly cheaper. However, should you want the same amenities on Norwegian that you’d get on BA, you’ll likely end up spending an amount comparable to the price of the BA ticket.
Second, BA has four daily flights each way between Boston and London. Going over, there’s a morning flight BA238, an early evening flight BA212, and two night flights, BA214 and BA202. Coming back, there’s a late-morning flight, BA213, two late afternoon flights, BA203 and BA215, and one night flight, BA239. Norwegian, meanwhile, has just one each way – DY7148 going over, DY7147 coming back – and it operates four times per week. Moreover – and this may only matter to avgeeks like myself – BA will operate three different types of aircraft on the route – the Boeing 787, 777, and 747 – each with its own layout and perks. Norwegian, meanwhile only flies the 787, although I must say that Norwegian’s 787s are extremely comfortable based on my trip to Oslo. All other things equal, BA gives travelers a significantly larger number of options than Norwegian does.
Third, Gatwick, located in the county of West Sussex, is a bit further from the heart of London than is Heathrow, which is located in London proper. However, this is negligible, as while a train from Heathrow is quicker, it’s not by much – the Gatwick express is almost as fast.
Finally, some prefer the fact that Gatwick is smaller and easier to get around than Heathrow. Think of Gatwick being like Newark compared to New York JFK being like Heathrow: Newark does have its own issues, and JFK will give you more options, but Newark is – in my opinion – much easier to get in and out of than JFK. The same could be said for Gatwick compared to Heathrow.
Bottom Line: Do what works for you!
Personally, I’m a BA loyalist, although Norwegian’s prices are certainly tempting. That said, I can definitely understand why many would prefer to fly for significantly cheaper on the latter, even if Norwegian doesn’t have as many flight options or amenities as BA boasts. I myself flew Norwegian from Boston to Oslo this past April, and I thought they did a fantastic job, especially for the price. And though I’ve likely firmed up my travel plans for the fall, leaving me with no room to plan a spontaneous trip to England, I encourage any Boston-based travelers thinking of a trip to the U.K. to consider this deal – although I don’t believe it will last!