The sad state of summer airfares to Europe

Onboard British Airways's new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

Onboard British Airways’s new A380 (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

If you are planning to buzz over the pond this summer, I hope you’ve already made your reservations. Whether you’re flying at the front or the back of the plane, it’s going to be painful. But there is some light at the end of the tunnel summer…and some bright spots when it comes to business class…

Let’s take a look at three key markets (New York, Atlanta and San Francisco) to get a picture of what’s going on nationally…

First stop: the hyper-competitive New York to London nonstop market. According to Google’s phenomenal ITA Software airfare search tool, the cheapest nonstop round trips for June and July are already at $1,600 and climbing. The good news is that fares start to tumble on around August 24, with roundtrip nonstops in the $1,100 range. Business class fares start out steep—around $6,000 in June, but tumble to just $3,500 in July and August when biz travelers are on vacation (and not on the company dime!)

It gets worse.

Atlanta to London is less competitive, and prices reflect that. June nonstops ATL-LHR are already at a rather shocking $2,100 round trip in economy. Ouch! But if you can travel after August 23 and into September, that coach fare comes down to a more manageable $1,300. Business class nonstops ATL-LHR are running at about $6,200 round trip all summer long. Flights to smaller European cities from ATL are a bit cheaper; for example, I found a few nonstops to Dublin or Barcelona in the $1,700 range. One of the better biz class bargains out of Atlanta this summer is on Lufthansa to Frankfurt, now selling for just $3,300 roundtrip throughout July and August. Delta’s matching fare is $3,700.

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A business class seat in full recline on an SAS A340 SFO-CPH (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

A $3,028 business class seat in full recline on an SAS A340 SFO-CPH. (Photo: Chris McGinnis)

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Moving west, there’s something interesting going on. San Francisco to London nonstops are just over $2,000 in mid-June, then decline to around $1,700 in early July. By August 25, they nosedive to $1,150, which is not bad. Business class roundtrips on SFO-London are a stiff $7,800+ through June but in July (when biz travelers tend to stay home) prices drop to about $4,500 round trip. Norwegian Air is offering sub $1,000 roundtrip fares on a handful of its new Oakland-Stockholm or Oslo nonstops. The best summer business class deal to Europe from SFO is on SAS— fares on its SFO-Copenhagen nonstops are currently running just $3,028 roundtrip all summer long, then pop back up to $4,700 when business travelers go back to work in September. (I flew SAS to from SFO to Copenhagen last winter. Here’s my trip report) United and Lufthansa have business class roundtrips SFO-FRA at about $3,700 throughout much of the summer.

Are you or someone you know hoping to head to Europe this summer? How much did you pay for your ticket? Or how many miles did you redeem?

(NOTE: Nonstop fares searched on Thursday June 5 and subject to change.)

Chris McGinnis

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  • Chris M

    I just returned from Oslo and Bodø, Norway. I paid US$560 RT on United from SFO-OSL and back. I had to leave SF by 5/15 to get the cheap price. Then I took Norwegian Air from Oslo to Bodø and back. That was US$109 ea. way.

  • R. D. Finch

    What has happened to the price of airfares between the USA-Europe? I know the price of fuel has risen a lot in the last decades, but these prices are outlandish. The first time I flew LAX-London in ’82 I paid $877 on TWA for a summer round-trip. In ’89 I paid $300 in late May (with 3 days free car rental) for SJC-London. If I’d waited a week, the fare would have been $200! In spring ’98 I paid $328 on British Airways for a spring flight SFO-London, and year later about $100 more. The current airfares have taken travel to Europe out of my plans. The new Norwegian service OAK-Oslo/Stockholm does offer some hope.

  • david22

    Even when there are extremely good international business class sales from many US cities, SFO seems to get little or nothing. Is SFO / the Bay Area just very non-competitive when it comes to that?

  • TrixieSF

    Way back in Jan I booked a business class award flight to Oslo (via FRA) in late june for 125K miles OW. Doesn’t seem so bad now.

    My only complaint about SAS was last time I flew to Stockholm (in econ), they offered only one meal choice, and it was beef. Didn’t even occur to me to ask for a “special” meal ahead of time, but the FA took pity on me and found some fish somewhere.

  • Retired Something

    I guess my rant got lost. In short, the (air) travel thing has become so miserable that I I just won’t do it for recreational purposes anymore. Even with excellent shopping skills, that $3500 – $5000 pond crossing (at least on U.S. flag carriers) is little better than the cattle class of the 80s. The PAX service systems – IFE, WiFi, restrooms, even the meals, usually do not work. Agents and in-flight staff don’t much care and dismiss even simple bottled water requests with their credit card readers. (I do not drink alcohol before or during any flight, so perhaps they are pissed because I do not generate any commission income for them.) For at least the last ten years, if I must go, I do my very best to fly the cross-pond leg on foreign metal. Code shares are fine, but I read the fine print and insist on good, non-U.S. metal as often as possible. Most of them get it, where the U.S. carrier do not – and do not seem to care. Double that for the soft products. Hell yes! I really would prefer to stay home or to DRIVE within 1000 miles of home as often as is possible. That fuel stop corn dog is usually better than the fare on U.S. carrier’s international flights. Yes, I’m pissed and I guess my own (substantial) travel dollars will go to oil companies and Mom & Pop hotels and Diners. To hell with the airlines!

  • Kirk

    Thanks Chris!

  • Chris McGinnis

    Hey Kirk: flights have been running at about 52 minutes behind schedule every day since May 17 according to FAA website. I’ve not heard of any dramatic delays, only typical summer fog type delays. I’ll check on it with airport and update soon. — chris

  • UAGold

    Not only does SAS have reasonable fares for business class they also have a real economy plus cabin with wider seats with leg rests, a 105 degree recline, 38 pitch, lounge access, etc. for about the same price as United’s inferior economy plus product.

  • Olesya

    JFK-svo round trip June $672 economy

  • Kirk

    Chris, do you have an update on the first few weeks of runway construction at SFO? Is it utter chaos or business as usual? Have my first few SFO flights coming up in a week

  • sfomsp

    Fortunately I got in on the $1,500 business class fares United and Delta posted in April.