CONVENTIONAL WISDOM maintains that if you haven’t booked your summer vacation by May 1, you’ll either need to pay a fortune for flights or invest in an inflatable pool for the backyard. But thrifty procrastinators, take heart: This is no normal year. With new players duking it out over the Atlantic, air deals to some of Europe’s most popular destinations are still lurking, just not in the usual places.
“Fares for summer travel are some of the cheapest we’ve seen in years, especially along trans-Atlantic routes,” said Tracy Stewart, content editor for the airfare deal site, Airfarewatchdog.com, crediting the trend to increased competition. Newcomers such as Air Italy and Primera Air are teasing bargain fares from the U.S. to Milan and London, respectively; good-value budget airlines are expanding their reach; and while a few big carriers are testing the threshold of your pain with ultra-no-frills “Basic Economy” tickets (no seat assignments or checked bags), smaller rivals like La Compagnie are talking up their creature comforts. Here, some new and less painful ways to hop the pond:
French line La Compagnie, which offers an all-premium class service on its sole route, Newark-Paris Orly, touts a “family fare” deal that is the same or even lower than flying coach on many airlines—$ 1,500 round-trip for an adult and $ 1,300 for an accompanying child. Plus, you get a nearly lie-flat seat. If you’re on the West Coast, newbie French Bee flies Paris Orly three times a week from San Francisco, at an introductory fare of $ 189 one way; flights are aboard new Airbus A350-900 jets, with state-of-art cabin climate controls that promise to make that 10-plus-hour flight a more comfortable ride. lacompagnie.com; frenchbee.com
Scandinavian startup Primera Air burst on to the scene this spring with daily flights from Boston and New York to London Stansted, with a teaser $ 99 one-way fare. As of Aug. 22, it’ll add Washington, D.C.- London service at $ 199 round-trip. Coach cabins are Spartan but for about $ 400 extra you can upgrade to a better seat and a few frills. Too good to be true? Perhaps. Reports of recent airport delays suggest growing pains. For a known quantity, Virgin Atlantic now sells “economy light” fares—for example, from around $ 900 round-trip from New York to London in July—for fliers without checked bags. primeraair.com; virginatlantic.com
Milan-based Air Italy launched earlier this year with substantial backing—and a few roomy A330s—from Qatar Airways. Seemingly eager to compete with Alitalia, the company ordered 50 new airplanes, including a number of Boeing Dreamliners, and has grand plans to expand over the next four years. Meanwhile, Air Italy starts flying direct to and from the U.S. next month, with four flights a week to Miami and daily service to New York’s John F. Kennedy; round-trip prices start at $ 773. From its hub in northern Italy, it will connect fliers to Rome, Naples and Sicily. airitaly.com
Lufthansa ’s low-cost offshoot Eurowings is Germany’s answer to Norwegian Air but with more value for the buck. Unlike with its Nordic counterpart, Eurowings’ fares can include checked bags, meals and other niceties. After quietly rolling out flights to U.S. cities like Seattle and Miami, it is hitting New York this season with six flights a week between John F. Kennedy Airport and Düsseldorf Airport at economy-class fares beginning around $ 470. Düsseldorf not at the top of your summer bucket list? Keep in mind that it is a gateway for Rhine river trips and an easy drive to Cologne and the Netherlands. eurowings.com