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Thoughts on Air Travel
David Barry once summed up our views on flying (“the reason birds never look truly relaxed”). And purchasing the ticket is the most aggravating part of an all-too-aggravating process.
We do not generally sell intra-European air tickets, because that would be dumb.
Editorial regarding short-distance air travel (code for “you may skip this”): we prefer the train, even when it theoretically takes longer to make the trip, costs more, or both. There are several reasons, starting with the fact that one or both of those postulates are generally false if connecting terminal times and ground costs are considered. It rarely actually ends up taking longer or costing more to travel by train than by plane. Trains actually go where they say they are going (as opposed to some airport 2 hours distant). They get there when they say they will. They are comfortable, and don’t eat (or charge for) your luggage. They don’t leave a carbon footprint the size of King Kong’s; instead, they pass through pretty scenery which they don’t destroy. And, speaking of King Kong, have you ever seen him swat at a train?
Indeed, the whole premise of short-distance flight is dishonest, and we don’t want you to blame us for the Kurtzian horror. 50% of the costs of flying are hidden outside the ticket, when it’s not 80%: taxes, baggage charges, “issuing fees,” credit card “usage charges” (just how were you were supposed to buy that ticket only available on-line?).... Not to mention delays whose costs are borne by the passenger, like travel to and from airports, or the medical treatment of the plague you contracted when the guy 11 rows away sneezed into the ventilation duct. And 80% of your “flight time” is spent on the ground, waiting in environments with the charm of a prison cafeteria. Pity the fool who says “it’s a one-hour flight.”
Nor do we sell tickets between Europe and Asia, Africa or Oceania, where we have no particular market expertise.
We do offer tickets across the North Atlantic, between the U.S. / Canada and Europe. Our services in this domain are discussed below.
To Where Should You Fly?
If you are on one of our organized trips, follow this link to a list of start and end towns for each trip. Then click on the town’s name for a discussion of the closest airport or airports, and of travel between those airport cities and your trip.
Another editorial comment (more stuff you don’t need to read): many of our trip start / end points are closer to local airports with only domestic (or interior European) service, than to the closest intercontinental airports. If you are arriving from another continent, you would thus need to make an additional plane change to reach them. This comes naturally to New Worlders, who are used to flying to places like Peoria or Rockhampton, where ground transportation is relatively slow and distances can be long.
But a warning is in order, one that comes from bitter experience. Changing planes within Europe is more trouble than it is worth. Instead, get as close as possible with a non-stop flight, and then continue the rest of the way on the ground.
This is especially true if, even after a connecting flight, you would still have the hassle of a train trip, even a short one, to reach your destination. Skip the extra flight, and make a longer train trip. The connecting flight implies a loss in comfort, reliability, and especially baggage. It is rarely compensated by any significant temporal or financial savings. You can show up hours or even days late, the result of a missed connection. Bummer.
Our extreme case (to date, but it would be folly to imagine this as the final word on the topic) was in 2008: Austin, Texas to Paris, France, via Chicago and London, on American Airlines + British Air. We had advised a 4-hour Kerrville Trailways bus ride to Houston, and a non-stop flight on Air France to Paris. The flight cost was the same, the travel time via Houston was slightly faster, even with the bus added in... but the bus ticket was additional, and, frankly, it was 4 hours on a bus. So our rider took his own council. Drum roll, please.
American Airlines missed the connection in Chicage (“weather-related,” though both take-off and landing were calm and sunny). No later flight was available to London, and there was no space available the next day. After 2 days in Chicago, he got to London, and on to Paris. But his luggage did not. Since it was supposedly in London, coming on the “next flight,” he waited for it... but the next day it had still not arrived. He reached his 6-day trip 3 days late, had to pay us to ship his bike to the middle of nowhere so it would be there for him to ride, and had to buy new clothes. Ouch.
In an average year, about 5% of our incoming passengers arrive without their luggage (it used to be as high as 10%, but the high cost of checking luggage has reduced the number of pieces checked, and so fewer are lost). The vast majority of those made air connections. Being without your baggage is a hassle, especially on a bike trip. How does your luggage get to you, since you are moving every night? Where do you buy replacement bike clothes on a Sunday? How do you cycle in penny loafers? Bottom line: avoid changing planes when you can. A train connection is safer.
Buying Trans-Atlantic Air Tickets Through Us
Why You Might Want To
Trans-Atlantic flights are irritatingly expensive, especially during the summer months. Finding the lowest available fare, always a lot of labor-intensive work, has more importance at peak travel times, when the difference can be significant.
We know the “bottom of the market,” and can get close to it for you if you have trouble (or don’t have the time to hunt around). If you have a day to kill, and can spread that “day” across a few weeks (checking multiple sources several times during that span), you may be able to save 5% over our expert-but-sloppy attempt. By having us do it for you, you save time, and avoid the greater risk (and more common occurance) of paying 30% more than you need to for your ticket.
Editorial (yes, you can skip this, too)
Selling plane tickets is not a profitable activity for us. Nor, as far as we can tell, for anyone, including the airlines. It is a ton of work: it typically takes longer to identify and purchase the ticket than it takes to actually make the trip. And, through the magic of the internet, these hours of pre-purchase work have been transferred from travel agents, whom the airlines used to pay, to you, their customers. Great!
But we have invested a certain amount in understanding the market for trans-Atlantic flight, and are willing to help. We charge what we need to to cover the cost of the work, and do it well.
How To Buy Your Ticket Through Us
If you would like us to find a trans-Atlantic air ticket for you, please...
- ... fill out our Air Ticket Questionnaire to tell us your travel preferences, and return it to us.
- Send us a $900 (US) or $1,100 (C) air fare deposit, per ticket requested.
This is not the same as the trip deposit. The airfare deposit is necessary so that we have funds on hand to grab don’t worry, only with your advance approval sometimes ephemeral discount seats.
Once we have both your questionnaire and your deposit, we’ll start hunting.
Our service fee is $60 (US or C) for a single ticket on a given route, $40 for each additional ticket on the same plane(s).
If you don’t like what we find at the price we quote, we return to you (or apply to your trip, at your discretion) all but our service fee. In other words, you pay for our research even if you decide not to use it... unless you find something objectively better, in which case you pay nothing at all (see “Service Guarantee,” next term).
Our Service Guarantee
If you wind up buying an alternate ticket that...
- ...corresponds to the choices you gave us...
- ...costs at least $25 / ticket less than the one we proposed, and...
- ...is bought within 48 hours of our proposition...
...we refund our research fee.
Just send us your itinerary, and a link to the site where you bought the ticket. We have never had to make good on this promise, a testimony to our reliability. But the market is so volatile that we are sure it will come up some day.
If You Prefer to Buy Your Own Ticket, we encourage you to do so!
This is not a profit center for us: it is a ton of work, and no fun. We do it only because we are trying to help you to go on one of our trips. Our fee is an attempt to not have the job of finding the air ticket be taken for granted.
please don’t ask us to “validate” your choice. As in, “I've found this, how does it compare?” With its unspoken subtext, “can you do better?” We don’t know until we research the flight, and that is precisely the work we charge for. A serious answer to your question will take a couple of hours of someone’s time.
A non-serious answer (“yeah, sure, sounds good”) would diminish our credibility when you discover that the guy sitting next to you on the plane paid $200 less.
Moreover, even if we suspect that there are probably better tickets on your route, why would you want to hear it in such a vague way? Experience suggests that you’ll just be conflicted. Either you’ll buy the ticket you’ve found anyway (since it took you 20 hours to find it), and then feel bad that you might have spent too much. Or you’ll tell us to look for you (after wasting all that time). And if we just come back with your same fare, indeed the best available, and charge you for our work, you’ll be cross. Or you’ll spend another 20 hours, and find a ticket only $15 cheaper... None of those are good outcomes. If you find your own ticket, please, do your best to be serene and happy with the result, and not to worry about what could'a been....
Award Travel (tickets “bought” with frequent flyer miles)
We cannot help with award travel. If you wish to get a ticket on points, you must contact your airline directly.
So (especially if you think you are priced out of the market), give us a shot. We issue the tickets for about 9/10ths of the people who ask us to hunt for them, and most of the rest buy tickets we find for them on line, with our coaching, paying us the research fee. Indeed, we even offer a guarantee....
Our Airfare Guarantee, 2017 edition
Interested in a trip, but afraid that the best high-season airfare you’ll be able to find will be stratospheric? Sign up for our air fare guarantee (available to all participants in our regularly-scheduled group trips of 4 or more nights), which will cap the price you pay at an affordable maximum.
These guaranteed maximum round-trip prices include the checking of one bag, an on-board meal, all taxes, fees, and agency charges. They are valid to any European city with non-stop service from anywhere in North America, offered by at least two airlines.
This effectively includes every European capital, and many smaller European cities, like Geneva, Munich...
- $1,250 US or the equivalent in $C from the “coastal” northeast (Montréal, Boston, New York, Philadelphia or Washington).
- $1,400 US or the equivalent in $C from other eastern gateways: Toronto, Detroit, Chicago, Atlanta, Orlando or Miami.
- $1,550 US or the equivalent in $C from Texas and the West Coast: Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, or Vancouver.
Add $50 to the appropriate geographical zone for less-well-served gateways, or for cities without intercontinental flights. Here are the zones in which these cities fall.
- Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and upstate New York fall in the “Coastal Northeast” zone.
- Cleveland and mid-western and south-eastern U.S. cities, including those on the Mississippi (St. Louis and Minneapolis / St. Paul) fall in the “Other Eastern Gateways” zone.
- Cities west of the Mississipi (including Denver), are attached to “Texas and the West Coast” for the purposes of fare calculation.
Add $50 to fly to a European city without intercontinental service.
Shoulder season and sale fares are generally lower, and we will always offer the lowest fare we find we have absolutely no reason to do otherwise, as we receive no commission on the tickets we sell to you. These are simply the guaranteed maximum prices: a promise that you won't spend more.
Quality of our “Guaranteed Flight”
- We guarantee that you will have to change planes at most once more than the best service on the route.
Example: if the route is served by at least one non-stop flight, we guarantee that you will have to connect no more than once to benefit from our fare guarentee.
- We guarantee that no connection will be overnight or longer than 5 hours (unless you prefer such a service over an alternate which meets our service standard).
- We guarantee that all connections of under 3 hours will be guaranteed by “interline” agreements, making the airlines responsible for missed connections.
What We Provide / What You Must Be Willing to Accept (the fine print)
To benefit from our Airfare Guarantee, you must...
- ...provide us with at least one alternate date for each flight, if your primary date is a Friday (eastbound) or a Sunday (westbound).
We will make every effort to respect your first choice dates, and we almost always can. Of course, the more flexibility you have, the lower the fare we are likely to find.
If we need to retreat to a 2nd choice date to respect the price guarantee, we will also offer you the lowest-priced flight that we can find on your first choice date(s), even if it does not meet the guaranteed price. You may then choose between them: it is up to you to decide whether you wish to spend the extra funds to travel on your preferred date. Or you may reject both: you only lose our research fee, and not even that if you find something better, as defined above.
- Send your air fare deposit and Air Ticket Questionnaire within two weeks of sending your trip application (or 4 months in advance of your trip, whichever is less constraining for you). Both must be sent simultaneously with trip sign-up if you are signing up within 45 days of your trip start.
While we can help you with airfare at any time, our Air Fare Guarantee only applies if you respect these conditions.
- Accept a flight on any North American or European airline.
If you prefer to fly with a particular airline (or frequent flyer alliance), we will try to honor your request. If we cannot find a flight that respects our guaranteed price and your carrier choice, we will offer a flight respecting our guarantee, and also offer you the best flight which respects your carrier choice, even if it that flight does not meet our guaranteed price. You may then choose between them. Or you may reject both: you only lose our research fee, and not even that if you find something objectively better, as defined above.
- Accept a flight which does not qualify for frequent flyer mile accumulation.
Some promotional rate tickets qualify for no or for reduced miles. This is far too complicated for us to get involved with. If you need a ticket that allows you to accumulate a full compliment of frequent flyer miles, we can search for one for you. But you must forward to us your carrier’s rules (which fare classes allow for mile accumulation), and we do not offer an Air Fare Guarantee in this case....
- Accept a ticket validity of 30 days (all travel must be completed within 30 days), or of 8 days longer than your cycle trip, whichever is longer.
In other words, return flight must take place within 30 days of the outbound flight, unless your cycle trip with us is 23 days or longer. In that case, ticket validity will be at least the trip length plus 8 days (45 or 60 days, as appropriate).
- ...find your flight, no later than 14 days prior to your first choice departure date.
We will try to offer you a flight soon after you tell us you want one, but for peak travel periods our ability to honor our guarantee depends on our ability to shop until close to your actual departure. Thus it is that you may find yourself without a flight until 2 weeks before your trip. Don’t worry! Our guarantee is just that: a guarantee. We will get you a flight.
Of course, if this just makes you too nervous, you may cut your best deal at any time, either by buying a higher-priced ticket through us, or by buying a ticket elsewhere. In this latter case, we will will refund your airfare deposit less our research charge, or apply it to your trip, at your discretion.
If you wait it out, your patience will be rewarded with a flight at no more than our guaranteed price, even if we have to pay for part of your fare.
You must accept our offer within 24 hours. If you do not, we will continue to help you, but the terms of our guarantee will have been met. We are not obligated to find you an alternate flight that meets the guaranteed price.
Want Us to Get You a Ticket?
Follow this link to our Air Ticket Questionnaire.