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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Two small airlines offer cheap Europe fares


This year the most frequently asked question to numerous travel editors is, Where can I get inexpensive trans-Atlantic airfare for a summer vacation in Europe?

Would-be travelers recoil in amazement at the peak-season prices quoted by most standard airfare search engines — a minimum of $1,200 to $1,500 round-trip to London or Paris.

I've suggested, on a previous occasion, that XL Airways of France finally might get its act together and offer relatively low fares to Paris on some summer days, but it remains to be seen whether that European upstart ever will create an English-language website enabling people to buy those fares on trips that originate in the United States. So far, it hasn't.

And yet, would you believe that some airfare search engines are offering to confirm low-cost flights across the Atlantic on XL Airways? If you'll go to www.vayama.com (as a friend of mine did several weeks ago, and as I did more recently), you'll find that an XL Airways flight scheduled to depart on May 23 (when its service is supposed to commence) and returning a week later, can be booked on that site for $747 (including all taxes and fees).

The closest other rate is about $900 for an awkward one-stop flight to Paris on Iberia Airlines, going there via Madrid, and then all the other airlines are cited as charging $1,100 all the way up to $1,500 for the nonstop itinerary to Paris.

So there it is. If you'll believe Vayama.com (and there's no reason not to do so), you can fly the Atlantic this summer for far less than others will be charging. Though XL Airways has massively botched its introduction to the American public (in my view), it apparently will be flying trans-Atlantic several times a week this coming summer, and offers a chance to reduce the cost substantially. Just know that you'll be on a plane that's mainly filled with privileged French travelers, to whom XL Airways apparently does offer a convenient means of booking these low fares.

Which leaves Iceland Express — operating primarily from New York to London and a few other European cities (via Reykjavik, Iceland) —as the sole remaining safety valve. Although the Iceland-based upstart will no longer be offering round-trip fares in the $400s and $500s, as they did last year, it is possible on some dates — I stress the word "some" — to fly trans-Atlantic this summer on Iceland Express for as little as $785 round-trip, including all government taxes and fees. And that occasional price probably will save you about $360.

A recent test booking on British Airways for a round-trip flight between New York and London on Mondays in June resulted in a total price of $1,146 per person, including all taxes and fees. The same dates on Iceland Express result in a total price of $785 — but that, of course, requires a one-stop flight via Reykjavik.

Keep in mind that on other dates, Iceland Express sometimes quotes rates as high as $905 (including tax and fees) round-trip between New York and London. But that quote still produces a savings of at least $241. To come up with a price of only $785 round-trip on Iceland Express will sometimes require that you shift the dates of your flights away from what you wanted to choose. But careful analysis will permit some travelers to cross the ocean for less than $800.

Arthur Frommer is the pioneering founder of the Frommer's Travel Guide book series. He co-hosts the radio program, The Travel Show, with his travel correspondent daughter Pauline Frommer. Find more destinations online and read Arthur Frommer's blog at frommers.com.

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