American’s New Dirt-Cheap Euro Fares Come With a Big, Fat Asterisk

In flying as in most things, you get what you pay for

September 5, 2017 9:00 am

Fact: You can fly to Europe, tomorrow, from the East Coast for under $300, thanks to new (and newish) low-cost carriers like Wow (based in Reykjavik) and Norwegian (Oslo). In the former case, you’ll need to stop in Iceland (Blue Lagoon, anyone?) In the latter, you can fly non-stop to Euro capitals like London and Paris. 

Seriously, we just priced out a flight from J.F.K. to Heathrow for around $300 this week. That’s with basically no advance purchase, in the shoulder-y-iest of shoulder season (read: the weather’s still fine.) Sure, you’re gonna get charged if you want to travel with more than a dopp kit or you want a meal. But hey — now’s as good a time as any to try this whole fasting thing. 

For the record, American’s best fare from New York to London over the next seven days is … $2709. You’d have to 

So what’s a major carrier — like American, United, and Delta — to do? 

If you are, in fact, American, you’ll begin offering your worst seats — classed as basic economy — to your international customers. What does that mean? It means no bags, no seat reservations, no meals. Domestic basic economy fares aren’t just non-refundable (like many economy fares) — they’re not changeable, even with a fee, so if you need to change your itinerary — you can’t. 

Our take: It’s NBD to fly basic economy from New York to Boston, when the experience is roughly equivalent to taking a bus and maybe slightly worse — depending on the day — than Amtrak. But seven or more hours to Europe — on, presumably, a longer trip, maybe necessitating checked bags? We find that the unavoidable extra fees on a transoceanic usually end up around the same as a traditional carrier.

On the other hand, if this means the major carriers will have more flexibility in offering a competing product for short-notice flights — eh, those seats will still suck. But they’ll suck about the same as other low-cost carriers’. 


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