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Questions on Flights to the UK-first time international travelers

Hi!
My husband and I will be traveling to the UK for the first time May of 2016 (1st-19th, or around then).We plan to fly into England and out of Scotland. I am researching flights and I have to admit that for someone who has never bought an international flight, I am feeling overwhelmed. My questions are:
-When do I buy? Is now to early? Some things I have read say buy as soon as you can, some say wait. I have watched ticket prices slowly climb in the last few months which makes me want to buy them now, but I also hate to jump the gun.
-Buy through a travel site (Kayak is where I have been looking most) or direct? the flights I have been looking at through British airways are about 200 dollars cheaper per ticket to book through Kayak than to book directly through ba.com, so even though my first inclination is to book direct, the savings through Kayak would be enough to pay for our rental car.

I appreciate any insights and tips you all have on this subject! Thank you!

Posted by
8441 posts

I would book directly thru the airline. If you have any issues it is easier to deal directly with the airline.

I think when you buy depends on where you are flying from. I fly from a very small airport in Idaho and connect to an international flight in either Seattle or Salt Lake City. My flight choices are limited. When I first started looking about a year ago for flights this last Sept the prices were high. They dropped after Christmas and stayed the same for several months. I think I finally bought them in about February for September. Others will have different experiences especially if you are flying from a market where there is more competition.

Someone else may be able to tell you if the Kayak rate you are seeing is an actual rate or not.

Posted by
351 posts

I generally start watching airfares around 6 months in advance but wait a little while before buying.

I tend to book flights directly with the airline. It makes changes and snafus much easier to deal with, IMO. If you really prefer to book with a site like kayak, make sure the savings isn't an illusion. I've seen fares on aggregator sites end up close to booking direct once you start going through the checkout process, as taxes and fees get added on. Some aggregators don't include taxes and fees in your initial search results.

There's no such thing as a truly cheap flight to the UK, as far as I can tell, but I take some of the stress out of the process by doing the following.

1) I decide on the maximum I am willing to pay. E.g. between Boston and London I might set a cap on coach class airfare at $1200 per person. If the fare never drops to or below my max I don't buy - I wait to take the trip another time.

2) I decide my ideal per person cost. E.g. between Boston and London I might decide an ideal coach class price is $550 per person.

3) I set price alerts on different sites, like on Hipmunk, Bing Travel, and I make sure I am ready to buy immediately if the fare drops to at or near my ideal fare.

4) I give myself a time limit in which to watch prices. E.g. By 4 months before departure date I am anxious enough I will just go ahead and buy if the price is below my max.

5) Once I've bought my tickets I STOP WATCHING PRICES. I'll otherwise only drive myself crazy looking at "what might have been."

HTH

Posted by
4664 posts

Hi, to you, as well. I agree with Pam that you should book directly with whatever airline you choose. The only time we didn't, we ran into a number of snags at the airports. Our tickets were valid, but the verification numbers were different from those of the airlines. In every case the clerk had to look us up to verify our seats; we almost missed our flight out of Schipol because of the extra time it took.

We do use Kayak, AAA, or another service to research flights, and there has never been a price difference - except when the tickets were actually cheaper from the airlines' site. Make sure whatever service you are using is including all fees in the posted price.

And finally, haunt this forum! Several of us found cheap fares to London on BA because one of our members posted news of a sale. Happy travels!

Posted by
11271 posts

If you tell us where you're flying from, we can give more specific tips. Sometimes using a different departure airport can make a huge difference in cost. For instance, living in New York I can use JFK or Newark, and sometimes there can be hundreds of dollars' difference between them; other times, they're equal. Of course, you have to take all factors into account. If you have to drive four more hours to get to a "cheaper" airport, is it really worth it to you?

And on the same subject, which airport in Scotland were you looking at departing from? For unclear reasons, it may be much cheaper to use Glasgow instead of Edinburgh on your dates, for instance - or it may not be. And would Manchester work for you (it even has some nonstops back to the US)? The only way to know is to try ALL viable options.

Tell us which site is giving you the better price than British Air - is it Kayak itself, or something else? Some of them I've used with no trouble. I agree it's best, if possible, to use the airlines themselves, but at least once I had to use Orbitz (the airlines themselves could not give me the ticket I wanted, for unclear reasons) and it worked fine, that time.

Posted by
22 posts

We live in South East Idaho, so we will most likely fly out of Salt Lake City, Utah. It is about a 4 hour drive for us to use this airport, but it is the nearest international to our location.
We have been looking at lots of different options for where to fly into/out of the UK, what we have seen is that Flying into London and out of Glasgow seems to be the most cost effective and works best for what we want to do, but we are very open to other options if there a significant price difference.
As far as I can tell, it is Kayak.com that is offering the cheapest British Airways flight, but I find it odd that there is such a big difference in price between Kayak.com and BA.com on the same flights.

Thank you all for the info!

Posted by
918 posts

I would say that it depends entirely on your budget and how you feel about long-distance travel on airplanes. I don't know where you are traveling from, but WOW airlines has some really low fares if you don't mind flying round trip through Iceland. For example, they have flights on May 1 from Boston to London and return on May 19 the same route for around $1,400 for 2 passengers. They don't serve free food/beverages and you have to pay for baggage and other items, but that's pretty low airfare if price is your main driver. You can also check other airlines (Norwegian, Iceland) for cheap fares to Europe and then connect to your final destination through a low cost European carrier using skyscanner.net.

i have read that the optimal time for international flights is 3-6 months ahead of time. I prefer to get the flights closer to 6 months just so I can have that part of the trip locked down and I can then start making all of my hotel / travel reservations.

As for purchasing through Kayak vs. BA, make sure you know the policies for each in case of travel changes. For example, what if you book through Kayak (on BA flights) and BA changes the flight schedule and you miss a connection? What obligation does Kayak have? What about BA? I don't know the answer to these questions - just food for thought.

One more tip - use flights.google.com to search for flights. You can use multi-city option or search one way tickets. Good luck!

Posted by
8441 posts

Did you also know that Delta will start a direct flight from SLC to LHR next Spring? If you are flying out of one of the regional airports such as IF or Pocatello, your prices may not be as good as someone flying from the East Coast where there is a lot of competition.

I fly out of Lewiston and there are never any deals. Even if you see a sale advertised, somehow after you get the Lewiston flight added in it is the same.

If you are ever in the Moscow area on the 3rd Sat of the month (except December) you are invited to the Rick Steves Travel meet-up we have!

Posted by
11271 posts

I see from Googling that Yellowstone airport is about 90 minutes from Rexburg, ID and has flights to Salt Lake City. See what it costs to fly out of Yellowstone vs. Salt Lake City; sometimes adding the connecting flight makes it cheaper, and sometimes more expensive.

When it comes to airline prices, the rule is that there are no rules, and the only consistent principle is inconsistency.

Posted by
3559 posts

It typically costs us in the west a significant amount more to fly to Europe than those folks who live in the east. I've been doing a lot of price comparisons and found some shocking differences for my 6-week trip May 1 - June 12, like +/- 40% price differences between cities. I think the reasons have to do with competition, or lack thereof.

I just did some looking for your dates and itinerary and the prices were not that different between RT Salt Lake City (SLC) to London Heathrow (LHR) and multi-city. You can take the new SLC-LHR non-stop on May 1 and get a 1-stop back from Edinburgh (EDI) via Paris (CDG) for almost the same price.

Delta starts that non-stop service from SLC to LHR on May 1st. Flying RT would cost you $1474. Flying multi-city would cost you $1480. RT Seattle (SEA) to LHR is $988. Multi-city SEA-LHR and EDI-SEA is $1269. That 1-stop return flight goes though JFK. And, of course you have to get to and from Seattle.

All these options were through Google Flights. I've tried many other online resources and find it the best. Personally, I'd never buy a ticket through any organization other than the airline itself. It is truly not worth the potential surprises and hassles.

Take a little time to play with your options on Google Flights. Please be aware that there will be some cheaper flight options, BUT they all seem to have at least one stop and take much longer than the 9-10 non-stop hours from SEA or SLC to London or the 14 hour 1-stop flight EDI to SLC. When you see a $400-$500 lower price, note that you could have 2 stops and be spending 30 hours to get to your destination. Definitely not worth it.

However, you might see some cheaper options using different dates that would be acceptable. You might consider a hop from Boise (Pocatello and Twin Falls are way too expensive) to Seattle. Delta has one, operated by Skywest (you might have my son as your captain) for $206 RT on your dates.

Oh, one thing I almost forgot. You can save your potential itineraries on Google Flights and check to see if prices are changing. Also, when you click on the date box to put in your dates, you can choose Flexible Dates. That will display a departure and return grid with prices where the dates intersect. If you are flexible, this is a good way to see some different days to fly on for cost savings...or not.

Posted by
1133 posts

We always fly out on a Tuesday and rarely are most carriers more than half to 2/3 full. That means you can likely get a row of seats to yourself to stretch out and sleep on the trip over or even upgrade to business class since that is rarely full on those days. We fly back on either Tuesday or Wednesday if possible and the planes are again mostly not full flights. We fly to London from Tulsa mostly on AA but last September we used United. We always book directly with the airlines although we have scanned flights on some of the consolidators like Kayak. You might check Air Berlin or some of the airlines from other countries which are often cheaper than direct American carriers.

Posted by
8441 posts

Lo! I have the utmost respect for the SkyWest pilots that fly in to Lewiston ID! I hope I've had your son as they are all wonderful.

From Rexburg it would be easier for OP to drive to SLC over Boise.

Posted by
2164 posts

I usually buy a good 6 months in advance, and then I don't look back. I use Expedia or direct with the airlines I prefer--United and Lufthansa. I was recently in the pondering stage for next May's trip, priced a direct flight from SF to Paris with return flight from Budapest and within 1 day the price went from $1475 to $1065 so I snapped it up. My 2 hr flight from Paris to Budapest is $90 and now I'm set and can move on to the more fun parts of researching and planning my trip.

Posted by
22 posts

Okay, an update to our question. We have been looking at flying into and out of Dublin instead of England and Scotland , and then just using little commuter flights from aerlingus and Ryanair to get to and from where we want to go. Does anyone have any experience with this? From what we are looking at, the savings are significant.

Posted by
8441 posts

What would the route be? SLC -> some city on the East Coast -> Dublin then -> London? Every time you change planes you increase your chances of having something go wrong such as a delayed or missed flight and having to spend money either on an unplanned hotel night or losing time on the ground at your destination.

Frankly, unless you plan to stay in Dublin, then I would not fly there then have to fly on to your destination. How much would you save?

Also, if you are not planning to spend time in Dublin, you would want to book your full flight under one booking. That way if you get delayed the airline is responsible for getting you to your destination. If something goes awry and you are on separate ticketing then you will have to pay full fare to get your last segment/s in.

Posted by
22 posts

We were thinking of staying in Dublin for a day if we did go with that option, its about a $500 savings.

Posted by
2716 posts

A $500 savings MAY disappear as you start finding better prices on flights from the U.S. into England or Scotland. If you keep searching a couple of times a week, you will eventually find better fares.

On your other thread, you said, "My husband and I are planning a trip to England and Scotland May of 2016 (about 20 days)."

I would urge you to stick to your original plan. You already have only 10 days for England, and 10 for Scotland. Unless you choose to divide it up differently. In my opinion, throwing in another destination, just to save $500, is throwing a wrench in the works. The extra destination will complicate your travel plans, and take valuable time away from your intended destinations. Besides, after you save $500, you will have to pay out of that for the flights from Dublin to somewhere in England. So maybe you will only save $250 after that. Not a huge savings for the inconvenience it will cost you. And for the time you've lost from your England/Scotland trip--a loss of two to three days.

You may want to fly "open jaw", that is, fly into one city and out of another. In order to avoid backtracking, you may wish to fly into London and back to the U.S. out of Edinburgh, Scotland. That way, you can hit the spots around England you wish to see, go to Scotland, see some sights, and turn in your rental car at Edinburgh Airport.

I agree with everything Pam wrote; good advice on her post.

Posted by
22 posts

Thank you guys! After doing some more research we have found an itinerary through United that allows us to go into London and leave from Edinburgh for a price that we feel comfortable with. You guys have given some really great advice and helped a lot with the process, we really appreciate it!

Posted by
8441 posts

Oh, that is wonderful! I think you will be well-pleased with that routing for your first UK trip.

Now, even though this is pretty far out, make it a habit to check your reservations (and seat assignments) about once a month to make sure times have not changed. Once you are a couple of months out, I bump up to every other week, then weekly for the last month. The airlines always say they will notify you but I have not had that experience. It is a wonder to me that I can get email every single day from Delta with ads but they do not notify me if there is a time change for one of the flight segments.

Posted by
2716 posts

Excellent! I don't know if you have actually purchased your tickets, or just found something online, looked at it, and left the airline website. Whenever you see a great price for your trip, it's always best to book right then. Don't come back the next day or in a week to book. I made a big mistake several years ago. Found off-season round trip fare to London for about $500-$550. I thought "That's great! I'll book that tomorrow!" Shut computer off, went to bed. Next day, returned to airline website, and the deal was nowhere to be found! Not ever again! So, I learned to book that great price immediately when it's found. I hope you have booked your flight you found. Have a great trip!