Just recently I had to travel to the west coast of the US at short notice. Me being me, I made an Excel file to codify my flight searches. I share my findings here in the hope that they’re useful to others…
First – what’s the cheapest origin and destination between Ireland and the northwest coast of the US? I can fly with equal ease from Dublin or Shannon; it didn’t really matter to me if I flew into Seattle or Portland.
Some friends had recommended Skyscanner as an online travel search tool (thank you, Mary and Lindsay), so I used that to compare the price of flying from Dublin or Shannon, to Seattle or Portland. Turns out
the cheapest combination from Ireland to the northwest coast of the US was Shannon to Portland at €873
(the cheapest flight from Dublin to Seattle was €1249. There was no route from Shannon to Seattle at the time.). Hence,
Lesson 1: It pays to explore alternative, smaller airports.
I was about to buy my ticket when I had a chat with my pal Bogna, a diving globetrotter. She was surprised I’d used Skyscanner – in her experience, Vayama was better value for long-haul. I searched for Shannon-Portland flights on Vayama, and bingo – I got a shorter flight (17 hours, rather than 21 hours) for €819. It was great to shave 5 hours off my travel time and save €54 while doing so. So Vayama was slightly cheaper for a transatlantic flight on this occasion … but upon a quick comparison today, Skyscanner fares beat Vayama on an intra-European flight (albeit by a tiny margin of €1.58). So, in my limited experience,
Lesson 2: Travel agents vary in competitiveness according to the region you’re travelling to.
A few weeks later, I had to go back to the west coast, but this time I had more time to research flights, and a few weeks’ notice before the departure date. I wanted to visit some friends on the route back, and as such, it was going to be a multi-city trip.
My travel buddy and I researched flying with the following airlines: American Airlines – Delta – United – Aer Lingus
… the following online travel agents: Vayama – Expedia – Orbitz – Kiwi
… and the following meta-search sites (a site that searches multiple online travel agents): Momondo – Skyscanner – Kayak
Through direct price comparison, we figured out the cheapest route for us on this trip would be Dublin to Seattle, Seattle to Ithaca, and Newark to Dublin. Aer Lingus was reasonable but understandably doesn’t offer domestic US flights. If we chose to fly Aer Lingus and then flew domestically (Seattle to Ithaca) with a different airline, the overall cost wasn’t competitive.
Lesson 3: Overall cost of a US transatlantic multi-city trip was cheaper when bought with one provider, rather than with multiple providers.
As such only online travel agents and American-based air companies were an option for us on this trip.
So let’s get to the good stuff. Drum-roll, please… here are the fares offered by the various companies for the multi-city trip, in order of their cheapest flight price:
Lesson 4: Momondo is BRILLIANT.
It took me 7 hours to design an itinerary and research prices for my 3rd flight. But with a price-difference of €2053 between the lowest and highest quotes, it was worth it…
my research was worth €293/hour.
Lesson 5: Do your research.
Conclusion: I have since found this excellent index of third-party booking sites, and next time I fly, would love to compare each one. But right now, my experience advocates…
a) If flying domestically within the the US, first get a quote from SouthWest Airlines.
b) If flying anywhere else in Europe or US, then get a quote from these meta-search sites / online travel agents, in this order:
(if flying to/within the US, check United)
So here’s hoping this is useful to you, next time you research flights! I feel extremely lucky to live in a world where, 39 hours after hearing a loved one was seriously ill, I could cross the world to visit them. Let’s pass on that goodness…!