New York to Tahiti (or Laos or Nairobi) Without Spending a Fortune

In searching for flights, leisure travelers value affordability above all other variables, including schedules, routes and airline seat comfort, according to the trade group Airlines for America. Search engines like Skyscanner, Kayak and Google Flights are great starters for finding those low fares.

But many mainstream sites don’t list low-cost carriers or link transoceanic flights to regionally based carriers that can provide less expensive options. For that, you need a bigger tool kit, including consolidators and alternatives for finding airlines that aren’t listed on Kayak and the like. (Hint: search by destination airport at FlightsFrom.com or on the open-source site OpenFlights.org.)

To find affordable airfares on tricky routes, I spent a week earlier this month digging into the following four trips. Fares, of course, are a snapshot in time and are subject to change. Bear in mind, too, that fares quoted here are the lowest and may not include checked bags and, in the case of many low-cost carriers, meals.

Given the distance, a $783 Lufthansa flight to Nairobi from Newark via Frankfurt, and returning on a two-stop flight through Addis Ababa and Frankfurt for travel in late June is not a bad deal.

The key to finding that fare amid a sea of $1,200 to $1,400 fares, was indicating my dates were flexible, which many search engines allow. In this case, Kayak’s search page sent me to Priceline, its sibling online travel agency, to complete the booking.

Could I do better? Kayak’s own search page offers comparisons to other search engines with the click of a mouse. The best fares listed there were from consolidators, which buy blocks of tickets at discount prices and resell them. Wowfare, for example, listed fares from $587. But when I talked to a Wowfare representative over the phone (which was required to complete the booking), I found out $587 was a promotional fare good only for dates in November (by comparison, Google Flights had fares from $707 in November). In June, Wowfare offered a Delta Air Lines itinerary for $1,033, including meals and a checked bag. Not exactly the bargain I was looking for.

Priceline was the winner here, but consolidators can offer great buys, particularly if your dates are flexible and you don’t have an airline preference. Bear in mind that some tickets are nonrefundable and nontransferable, meaning if you miss your flight you may be stuck buying another ticket.

Getting from New York to Asia is a long trip. But on a search for tickets to Luang Prabang in northern Laos, a Unesco World Heritage site popular for its Buddhist shrines, I learned that China Eastern Airlines makes it longer. Kayak’s cheapest fare of $952 round trip on China Eastern from John F. Kennedy International Airport in June required three intermediate stops — Shanghai, Changsha and Kunmin — before arriving after 59 hours and 30 minutes (that’s five days of travel round trip for an American who on average takes 17 days off a year, according to the U.S. Travel Association). The quickest route was $2,490, a nearly 24-hour trip on Aeroflot from Kennedy to Moscow and Bangkok Airways on to Luang Prabang.

To get better results, I worked backward. Having flown it from Bangkok to Yangon, I knew that Air Asia X, sibling to Air Asia out of Malaysia, is a popular low-cost carrier in Asia (you will also find it by searching SkyTrax World Airline Awards list of best low-cost carriers at worldairlineawards.com). It connects its hubs, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, with 31 cities, including Honolulu. Searching on airasia.com, I found one-way, 90-minute flights from Bangkok to Luang Prabang on Air Asia X that started at $44.

Getting to Bangkok from New York City was more of a challenge. One-stop flights in June started at $991. Knowing that the airfare prediction app Hopper found that the lowest international fares fall within a two- to three-month advance booking window, I pushed the dates back to mid-August, or about three months out, and found the sweet spot. Rates dropped to $528 on a United flight stopping in Tokyo en route to Bangkok using Google Flights’ calendar showing the Wednesday-to-Wednesday deal, which bore out the advice I’d seen on FareCompare.com that midweek travel is cheaper than weekends.

Putting the two together came to $616 round trip — $336 less than the China Eastern flight (and far fewer hours spent traveling), and roughly $1,300 less than Aeroflot.

Legacy carriers like Lufthansa and British Airways may offer more perks, including meals, but other carriers are making big inroads on their routes. JetBlue recently announced it will begin service to London in 2021. Norwegian Air will introduce new New York-to-Athens and Chicago-to-Barcelona routes this summer.

Once fliers get to Europe, there are low-cost carriers with large networks, such as Ireland’s Ryanair and England’s easyJet and Flybe, that often don’t appear in searches.

To test the strategy of connecting to low-cost carriers abroad, I made my destination Zadar, a coastal town in central Croatia that offers a lovely old town and Adriatic beaches, and has a fraction of Dubrovnik’s crowds. A baseline search on Expedia came to $1,284 on a two-stop flight through Amsterdam and Zagreb in August, and $1,612 on a one-stop flight through Vienna.

From London, easyJet has $220 round-trips in August for the two-and-a-half-hour flight to Zadar from London Luton Airport. Google Flights turned up a $543 nonstop from Newark to London Heathrow on United, putting the baseline airfare at $743. Factoring in bus fare between the airports (National Express has buses from 15 pounds one way, or about $20), the round-trip comes to $783, a savings of at least $500. But the flight schedules don’t align on the outbound trip, meaning you would have to spend a night in London, which would likely eat up some of the savings.

Going the Dublin route, Norwegian Air had a $467 round trip from Stewart International Airport on a Tuesday in August, landing at 8:20 a.m. on Wednesday. Connecting to Ryanair’s early morning flight to Zadar for $259 round trip would mean spending the night in Dublin, with a similar scheduling problem on the way back, requiring another overnight. Before transfers and hotels, the fare comes to $726, a savings of at least $562. Both low-cost alternatives require overnighting at an additional cost, but may be appealing to those seeking to visit London or Dublin.

The news hasn’t been great for low-cost carriers like Wow Air, which folded in late March, but that hasn’t stopped other start-ups. In Asia, Japan Airlines, for example, has announced its first offshoot, Zipair, which is set to launch in time for the Tokyo Olympics in summer 2020.

Getting to the South Pacific, a relatively remote location, is never going to be cheap. But at least one new airline, French bee, based in Paris, is chipping away at the business. Last year it launched flights to Papeete, Tahiti, from San Francisco.

For mid-August travel, Orbitz offers the lowest fare from Newark to Papeete at $1,600 on United, stopping in San Francisco.

Using French bee would require finding a flight to San Francisco from New York City and making sure the flight schedules linked up comfortably, to allow for customs and immigration clearance on the return before connecting to a domestic flight home. Google Flights came up with a $282 nonstop between Newark and San Francisco on United for the appropriately timed trip, and French bee offers its round trip at $831. The trip would total $1,113, a nearly $500 savings compared to the Orbitz itinerary.

Flights on small airlines carry their own unique risks. For instance, travelers may be stranded on carriers that don’t have backup planes and flights to take up overflow when weather strikes or mechanicals fail. Also, since the flights aren’t linked, the second airline may not honor your ticket if you miss a flight because of a delay by the other, and you can’t check bags through to your final destination. In this case, it’s a $487 gamble.


  • When looking for international fares, start shopping early and buy around three months before departure.

  • No one search engine is consistently lowest. To get the best deal, check many.

  • Work backward from your destination, looking for low-cost carriers that fly there and then shopping for flights to their hubs.

  • Be flexible with dates to get the best rates.

  • Be careful when using different carriers on international flights to allow yourself enough time to get through customs and immigration before connecting, generally no less than three hours, and longer if you are changing airports.


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