Travel Tips

Travel Tip #3: Airfare/Layover Ratio

Barry napping during an 8-hour layover in Philly, which gets our vote for world’s worst airport.

We are budget travelers to the core. That’s a nice way of saying I’m a cheapskate, but it’s okay — I’m proud of it. It hurts my heart to know that I could be getting something for less money. I can’t stand spending extra dollars on a hotel room I’m barely going to spend time in, or paying extra to sit for a quick meal when I can stand at the bar. Airfare, though, presents a quandary: do we pay the extra money for less layovers, or do we [shudder] embrace the waiting?

The answer: it just depends. I know that’s not the hard and fast rule you might have been hoping for, but it’s the truth.It depends on your tolerance for flying (and for airport personnel), the amount of money you have at your disposal and the time you need to arrive. It also depends on the reliability of the airline you’re traveling with and a million other factors.

Example: In 2008, we had an amazing trip to Portugal & Spain and had scored really low airfare to boot. However, our joy in planning the trip and getting such a great deal overshadowed the amount of layovers that came with this great price: three on the way out and FIVE on the way back. Yes, five. Hindsight being the gift that it is, I don’t know how we could have ignored that, but the savings was significant, and so off we went. It was not a pleasant trip home, and it made us set a new traveling rule for ourselves: no matter how good the price is, no more than two layovers (tops) each way.

It’s still difficult to remember that, though, when you see a superbly-priced ticket. What to do, what to do?

While I can’t solve the problem for you, I can offer you some pointers to consider that can help you to make the decision.

1) How much money will you save? While $100 sounds like a lot of money (and it is!), it’s not enough to convince me to go past our new two layover limit. Layovers aren’t just switching planes — they mean lugging baggage, stress, junky and expensive airport food, and worse: wasted time. Unless the savings is very significant, always remember that your time and experience are worth more (easier said than done when you’re on a limited budget, I know).

2)  What’s your natural stress level? I idle pretty high, while Barry runs a little cooler. I can’t relax until we’re on the final leg of the journey carrying us from the States to Europe … once I’m on the continent, I know I can get to my destination by plane, train, bus or car. I cannot, unfortunately, paddle a boat from New York to Portugal, which is why I get nervous with lots of layovers. More stops = more potential delays = more opportunities to miss a flight. It’s the snowball effect, and I hate it.

3) How many flights leave daily for your specific destination? Knowing that I’m not scheduled for the last flight to, say, Krakow, makes me more amenable to layovers because delay problems can be solved. That’s not a perfect science, of course, but it can help. There’s no guarantee these days that the next flight would have room to fit you on board, but it’s better than going in knowing that there are no feasible alternatives if the many legs of your flight get delayed.

4) Which “end” of the trip are the most layovers scheduled? This matters because your mood will be significantly different coming and going. We tend to handle layovers better on the way to our destination because the anticipation is great and we know there’s a payoff at the end of all the headaches. On the way home, we’re tired, a little depressed and probably moody. There’s also nothing waiting for us on the other end of the trip but work and the normal everyday grind, so we’re more apt to react poorly to stress, delays and disgruntled airport employees/fellow travelers.

5) What airline are you flying? I can handle a lot of layovers if I’m treated well throughout my journey. I have no particular allegiance to any major U.S. airline, but most of the European carriers treat their passengers a little better, offering perks like free drinks, extra snacks and better movie selections. If I can fully relax and be comfortable on the long-haul portion of a trip, I’m more inclined to suck it up for multiple stops along the way.

NOTE: Consider the airports you’ll be flying into as well. Some are treasure troves of cool shops, trendy bars and people-watching … others are dim, smelly and boring. Do a little research and find out about the ones you’ll be going through. If you can pass the time, it doesn’t feel so long and you can enjoy the break from being on a cramped airplane.


4 thoughts on “Travel Tip #3: Airfare/Layover Ratio

  1. We learn towards American. You might be thinking – well, aren’t they in a mess now? Yes. But it hasn’t affected our trips yet. We have flown to Europe and Hawaii (and some through their coordinated European lines), and they’ve been nothing but nice. Plus, sometimes we’ve negotiated a pass to the Admiral’s Club (long time ago) because “we have to wait for 6 hours.” They did! Always dress nice. That matters (not that you don’t, but you tend to get better perks and treatment). If we want the free tickets, we’ll volunteer, then say in a hotel on their voucher and hit the hot tub and bar. Again, I realize this is the US, but just throwing out some ideas. 🙂

  2. Nice tips on a topic not covered enough! Being a college student, I’m always in the frugal flyer camp, making up for low budget with very high tolerance. But sometimes the layover, especially one that is longer, can be an experience in itself: I remember making an six-hour stop in Hong Kong one time and using that time to enjoy some authentic dimsum, or another time while waiting in Tokyo I tried a Starbucks with green tea jelly in it (I never found that offered anywhere else after that, but that’s probably for a reason). I’m stopping at Narita again this winter – and for 19 hours – so the extensive layover will also dub as my first travel in Japan without really booking a trip there. (if you have any tips for super short trips, I’ll be more than happy to hear!)

    So as you said, it all depends. You can always try to enjoy yourself while knowing that at least you saved money!

    • Tran, what an exciting trip! That sounds great. For super short layover trips, I’d probably stick with one or two major sites and public transportation, but if you had a little extra pocket money, a quick tour with a local guide would probably give you the most bang for your bucks.

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