One hidden secret to getting cheaper business class flights to Europe

 

With the U.S. dollar surging against the euro, international business class travel is now more affordable for Americans than it has been in years. This year, the euro fell below 1.10 against the dollar for the first time since 2003. Although a U.S. flight out might carry a hefty fee, there is a trick to making business class trips to Europe more affordable.

United Airlines

The secret is to base your trips out of Europe.

By deploying a strategy that travel professionals call “offshore originations”, savvy international travelers from the U.S. can take advantage of lower business class fares with relaxed penalties by starting a pattern of round-trip flights that originate in Europe, instead of in the United States. This tactic saves money in the long run because business class fares between, for example, Rome and Los Angeles are currently more than 50 percent less expensive compared to business class fares with the same airline originating in Los Angeles.

Here’s how it works: first, travelers arrange a one-way “positioning trip” using money or miles from their home city to Europe. Then, they purchase round trip business class travel from Europe to their home city. After the initial positioning trip, travelers will have a spare return flight to Europe that will be ready to use for their next trip overseas. This can take some advanced planning, but with a little research or the help of travel intelligence companies, the savings on your next international business class flight can be substantial.

For example, at the time of writing on 15th May, United Airlines showed business class fares originating from Los Angeles (LAX) and going to Rome (FCO) starting at $4,619 for round-trip business class travel between July 10 and July 24. Now look at the drastic price difference for the same trip, but originating out of Rome’s RCA to Los Angeles. Business class fares on United between Rome and Los Angeles start at just $2,067 for round trip travel on the exact same dates. That’s a savings of more than 50 percent!

Business class

As an added bonus, business class tickets starting in Europe also have more relaxed cancellation and change policies compared to flights originating in the U.S. For example, the higher $4,619 round trip fare from Los Angeles to Rome carries United Airlines’ most restrictive cancellation penalty. This particular round trip United flight – like many other international United Airlines flights originating from the U.S. – is non-refundable and carries a $450 penalty for any changes.

The lower $2,067 round trip business class fare originating in Rome, on the other hand, is refundable after a €400 ($447.62) penalty, and changes incur a €240 ($268.57) fee – which is just a slight inconvenience considering the tremendous cost savings found on the flight to begin with. So no matter when you decide to venture out on your next trip to Europe, you will have your ticket ready at a substantially lower price than what everyone else is paying for the same ticket.

As you can see, significant savings can be achieved by deftly positioning the originating country of your flight, but this tactic can be tricky. Several travel companies now offer research and insights into this offsite origination strategy to leverage these lower fares for their customers. If you decide to go the DIY route, it is important to test out several different airlines – perhaps even at different times – for the ultimate cost savings.

While it can take some flexibility and a little planning to achieve the maximum value on your next international trip for premium cabin ticket purchases, the cost savings that is possible is tremendous. It’s all about capitalizing on the right fare at the right time – and from the right city.

Images: Shutterstock

Lars Condor is the Managing Director of Passport Premiere.

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Comments (18)

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  1. John Huels says:

    Lars, you’ve done it again.When it comes to business class travel, LARS you are “THE MAN”. This post came up in my Twitter feed today. Very nice and very good to see. Only problem is that United is a pain in the neck to deal with. From the Passport Premiere intelligence reports I receive, it seems that One World & American may be even lower

  2. Paul says:

    Your article does not make sense. if I bought the cheaper ticket originating from Rome, how do I get to Rome in the first place? I cannot use the return segment before the outbound & a no-show on the outbound would cancel the return segment. Stupid.

  3. Getting cheaper business class flights to Europe has become really easier because of the current U.S. dollar surging against the euro. The tip you shared is really helpful…. it is really a great idea…

  4. Paul says:

    @ Tajirul Haque : yes it would be a great idea if it worked. A return flight from Rome to LA s not the same as a return flight from LA to Rome. Did you read the article, or just post a comment for self promotion?

  5. No-doz says:

    Paul: you are simply a troll. The concept of a positioning flight is fully explained in the article. Since I began basing my trips between the U.S. and Europe on tickets originating in Athens and Dublin, I’ve saved a bundle. Just in April I did DUB-EWR on UA for $1100 round-trip in biz.

  6. liz says:

    Thank you for the info, I knew there had to be a way around it!
    @Paul, you need to read the article again, it makes perfect sense. Or maybe have your friend or wife explain it to you.

  7. Paul Johnson says:

    Paul (the other Paul, not me!) said: “Did you read the article…”

    With all due respect, it is you who needs to read the article more carefully, Paul. Had you done so, you wouldn’t be asking “how do I get to Rome in the first place?” since this is very clearly explained.

  8. Anda says:

    I think I need a little clarification here. So first I buy a ‘positioning’ ticket, which I will use to go to Rome, right? Then I buy a round trip ticket and I will use only the return from Rome part, right? How can I cancel the first part of a round trip ticket? I never knew that was possible. Please explain.

  9. Lara says:

    Great article! Last year we used AlaskaAir points to fly first class one way on emirates to Istanbul via Dubai. The return in business from Istanbul was significantly cheaper to book round trip vs. one way back to the states via Alitalia. The difference between one way and round trip was significant so we booked the round trip with the leg we wanted in business and the leg we didn’t care about in economy. It was worth it for us to do it that way…. . Also, using points to fly to South Africa via Air France in a few months but purchased a business class fare from emirates from Cape Town via Dubai (3 days) to LAX on the return for $1900 per person! Trying to fly from LAX via Dubai to Cape Town on Emirates is around $9,000 or more…

  10. Maureen Fant says:

    Thank you for this article, but one question: What Rome airport are you talking about? My quick search for RCA produced only Rapid City. Rome’s main international airport, Leonardo da Vinci or Fiumicino, is FCO.

  11. Paul Johnson says:

    I assume RCA is meant to refer to Rome Ciampino Airport. The IATA code for that airport is actually CIA.

  12. Maureen Fant says:

    The author definitely meant FCO. CIA is all low-cost. Any discoveries to the contrary would have merited special mention.

  13. Bob Merrick says:

    What a great idea! The only high cost is the original purchase from US to Europe one way. After that, it gets really cheap. A great plan for those that wish to travel from US to Europe often. My one concern would be that the airlines catch on after a while and do something to close this loophole. If so, I sure hope it takes a while before they do; until then, we can take advantage of this idea.

  14. Lars Condor says:

    Bob…There was once a rule that made purchasing tickets originating in Italy, or any country, at the local fare much more difficult unless you were actually in the country. This was known as the POINT OF SALE (also known as the HIP..highest intermediary point). In 2005, IATA abolished this rule making the fare from Italy available to anyone in the world with Internet access. At the time, the Euro/Dollar was 1.20+ and then surged as high as 1.58. When the rule was abolished, IATA never saw the Euro reaching parity with the dollar. They could bring the rule back but it would contradict the reason they gave for removing it, which was “free access to fares regardless of where the traveler resides.”. The only other way to close the hole is the raise fares from Italy, but that makes travel for those earning and living in Italy more expensive and a very unlikely move.

    I think it’s here for a while. Enjoy it

  15. Kerwin says:

    I don’t get this at all Lars, sorry man. I read it a few times, just wondering why I would do this.

    First, please correct the airport code for Rome-Fiumicino, it is FCO, not RCA (that’s Ellsworth Air Force Base in Rapid City, IA in the U.S.). No worries that happens airport codes are pretty complex :-). But it threw me off as I’m an airline geek :-). And looks like it threw off a few of the commenters as well.

    Second, a one-way business class fare from LAX to FCO is pretty expensive; even an Economy class one-way fare is quite pricey. And plus at the end of your proposed itinerary, you still have a one way business class ticket to use form LAX to FCO and then you have to return to LAX from FCO. I’m just wondering why would I do this? Seems like a lot of hassle to fly Business class.

    Yes, if I have two trips to make to Europe starting in the U.S. it would make sense to do this based on your above data, i.e. buy a Round trip ticket LAX to FCO and then buy another round trip ticket FCO to LAX, use ticket 2 inside of ticket 1. The combined cost of the two tickets is cheaper than buying two separate tickets originating in LAX to FCO and return.

    But for a regular traveler who just wants to cross the Atlantic in style, not so sure. Just wait for a business class fare sale which occurs quite often or travel during the low seasons before summer and after summer. The fares are lower as the planes are empty as not many travelers are going anywhere.

    As a note, airline pricing is different from other countries to the U.S. to help frequent fliers who do not live in the U.S. and have access to the carrier’s local network in order to gain elite status. So that leaves the frequent fliers who do not live in the U.S. at a disadvantage to their counterparts in the U.S. to earn elite status. As a result, the fares are priced accordingly. The fares are also competitive with other airlines flying the same routings since consumers are so price sensitive. A difference of just $5 may/will cause a shift in choice. People say one thing, but do another when they go to book tickets.

    Also the taxes are quite different as each government has different taxes and fees. Tourism is very big business and a huge revenue generator for many countries. Airline pricing is pretty complex. There are a lot of variables and a lot of very smart people behind the scenes.

  16. Lars Condor says:

    Kerwin

    This strategy is designed for frequent trans Atlantic flyers. Flyers need at least 2 trips annually for the strategy to pay off for the next several years, but flyers even with just one trip a year will still find value. It’s best used by travelers who know they will be traveling to Europe again, but just not sure when. It provides price stability & flexibility. In the Rome-Los Angeles example, business class fares between Rome & Los Angeles start at $1,120 + taxes (as featured in the post)and typically top out at $4,677 + taxes for a no advance ticket. By comparison, business fares from Los Angeles TO Rome START at $3,592 + taxes and top out at $12,992.

    So for the traveler that may need to fly with less than a 28, 21 or 14 day advance purchase, having a ticket returning to Europe at their disposal and on their terms is an asset. The ticket is based on a Euro origination so the maximum amount that could be charged for a last minute change to a flight with just one seat left is 65% less when originating in Europe (maximum fare from Italy is $4,677 vs $12,992 from Los Angeles)

    You are correct that business class fare premiums contract during the summer months and around the holidays (Thanksgiving & Christmas). However, this is only 3 months out of the year. Planning around holidays does not work for all flyers. Euro business class tickets are a hedge for U.S. based travelers to project against the wild price swings when travel starts in the U.S. or for trips purchased less than 30 days from the travel date

  17. Paul Johnson says:

    The author has contacted me to confirm that the article should have stated the code FCO and not RCA. Thank you to those of you who pointed this out – it has now been corrected.

  18. Jay Byrd says:

    Had to read it twice. Then did dummy bookings on airline website. Got it. LOL
    Mos’ def some significant savings. The first leg is the trick; use mileage points for that leg, and should be off and running.
    I thank you, sir.

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