Point-to-point discount airlines: Cheap flight strategies for complicated itineraries
If you are a tech/computer person then there's a good chance that you are also the tech support team for a big group of your family and friends. In much the same way, some of us who are travel geeks end up being the travel agent or at least travel coach for many of our friends as well. Recently a good friend was faced with outrageous airfare choices for an unusual itinerary and I was able to save her almost 75% off that by finding a combination of point-to-point flights to the same place.
And it occurred to me that this strategy probably isn't widely known, even though it can save people a lot on many itineraries. On the other hand, there are risks involved, which I learned the hard way not long ago, so we'll discuss all of this below.
Many, if not most, of the world's largest discount airlines operate on a point-to-point basis, which means that each flight segment must be booked separately. Practically speaking, this means that even if you do book and take consecutive flights on the same discount airline, you'll often have to re-check your luggage onto the second flight.
The main reason some airlines do this is because they don't have to hold an outbound flight because one or more inbound flights are coming in late. They also don't have to worry about transferring luggage or putting up passengers in a hotel if they are stuck at a transfer airport.
This is extremely common in Europe and Asia, but not common in the United States. This means that an unusual itinerary may be far cheaper than it seems in the Eastern Hemisphere, so we'll go over a few examles and provide tips below.
Large point-to-point airlines and their major hubs
- EasyJet: London, Basel, Berlin, Bristol, Madrid, Dortmund, Edinburgh, Geneva, Paris
- RyanAir: Barcelona, Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Madrid, Oslo, Rome, Stockholm (and about 32 more)
- WizzAir: Bucharest, Budapest, Prague, Sofia, Warsaw (and about 10 more)
- BmiBaby: Birmingham, Cardiff, East Midlands, Manchester
- Transavia: Amsterdam, Paris-Orly, Eindhoven, Rotterdam
- Air Asia: Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok
Examples of how this works
In the case of my friend, she wanted to fly from New Zealand one-way to Sri Lanka, and all searches on even meta sites like Kayak or Momondo were showing $1100 and up. I found the same thing for just over $300 using Air Asia and buying tickets separately.
Christchurch, NZ to Columbo, Sri Lanka
- Cheapest connected flight: US$1,150
- Cheapest using P-to-P (Air Asia): US$327
Reykjavik, Iceland to Casablanca, Morocco
- Cheapest connected flight: US$1,794 (stopping in Munich then Lisbon)
- Cheapest using P-to-P (Iceland Express, Iberia): US$394
Above are two dramatic examples of unusual city pairs where buying two tickets is FAR cheaper than buying one connecting ticket. In most cases the savings will be minimal, but it's definitely worth looking into if your fare quotes are frighteningly high.
Finding airlines for these point-to-point bargains
The first thing to do is to use a meta-search site to check what the combined fare will be. On this site we have an excellent airfare search tool that allows you to compare multiple sites at once, only inputing your details once.
If your connected fare is higher than you think it should be then next go to a site that lists all the discount airlines between any two cities. I prefer whichbudget.com and have been using them for years.
If they don't show a single discount airline that connects the cities then the next step is to Google each airport's Wikipedia page. You may not realize it, but each of these pages has a complete list of all airlines and destinations that fly into that airport. Look for discount airlines that go to hubs as close to your destination city as possible. If you don't find an obvious one that way then look at the departure airport's Wikipedia page and look for a discount airline that goes to a hub as close as possible.
Risks and downsides of using the point-to-point strategy
The most obvious risk is that if your first flight is late or canceled then you might be screwed for the connecting flight. In some cases you can contact the airline with the next flight and rebook, but this won't always work. It's best to restrict this to cities and times of year when weather usually doesn't cause flight problems.
Immigration issues might also be problematic. I wanted to fly from Chiang Mai to Kathmandu and I found much cheaper individual flights connecting in Delhi, but I couldn't get an Indian visa when I wanted and they wouldn't let me on the first flight. Had I booked on a single airline with only a layover in Delhi (as I actually did eventually) then you don't need to worry about immigration rules at all.
Lastly, the cheap flight combos might connect through different airports in the same city. Europe's discount airlines are famous for using obscure airports on the edge of town, so you'll have to allow for the time and transportation costs. Also, often the flights will require that you spend a night in the connecting city, due to scheduling issues. You might have to camp out at the airport overnight, or you might turn the stay into a mini holiday of 2 or more days in the connecting city.