For Big Deals on Airfare, Try Small Detours

With some airlines, strategic routes can save money without sacrificing comfort. Photo: Getty Images

By Steve Dinnen

It’s a 12 1/2-hour flight from Amman, Jordan, to Chicago, so I wanted something comfortable – maybe with a stretched-out bed? – as I returned from a brief visit to the Middle East. Royal Jordanian Airlines fit that bill, and offered good food, in its business class but wanted $3,257 one way. Then I chanced upon a little routing tweak that slashed an amazing 68% off that fare.

If you dig around for specials, stay flexible and throw in a little luck, you can ride in comfort without breaking the bank on your summer trip to Europe or beyond.

First off, it helps to understand that airline economics make no sense. A few years back I was shopping for a flight to Athens. I started searching well in advance (I use Google Flights), but for days the fare stuck at $4,500 – until it suddenly dropped to $2,200. I jumped on the phone, called the airline and locked in the fare. By the time I rang off, the fare was back to $4,500. A “flash sale,” they call it.

I started my Middle East trip by first flying to Frankfurt. I’d noticed that Singapore Air, perhaps the world’s best airline, was offering business seats for $1,500 from New York JFK. That’s just 60% of what German carrier Lufthansa charges, so I flew to New York and got on a Singapore Air double-decker A-380 jumbo jet (a wonderful plane, in my opinion, with the best service and food you’ll find in the skies).

Plan A involved flying to Cairo and visiting the pyramids before a short hop to Amman to see Jordan’s famous archaeological site at Petra. But for $3,257? No, thanks. Instead I figured out Plan B: Fly to Jordan first, see Petra, spend $120 to fly to Cairo, and then return to the United States. Now the fare was $1,050 – on the same airline, with a stop in Amman.

These aren’t flash sales; they’re just fares that are good until the airlines change their mind. An airline called La Compagnie, which carries only business class passengers, offers a nearly permanent discount on flights from Newark to Paris.

Icelandair is also pretty aggressive with business fares to Europe – like $2,592 for Newark-Paris, versus $3,766 with United. But take note: Icelandair operates narrow-bodied planes with business seats that are basically the same as first-class seats on U.S. carriers’ similar sized planes.

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