How to save big by starting your journey from mainland Europe


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One of the many great benefits of living in the U.K. is the incredible travel flexibility you have. Even now, as we continue to be in a pandemic that has made overseas travel stressful, you can fly direct to almost anywhere in the world. From London Heathrow (LHR) alone, you can fly nonstop to 180 cities in 90 countries. Of course, those options can also come at a steep price.

Long-haul fares from the U.K. — especially in premium cabins — can be very expensive. Especially when compared to the cost of flying to the same destinations from nearby European cities.

Here are some sample return business class prices to Bangkok, Thailand (BKK) for travel in March, when departing from London (LHR) — the lowest being £1,785 return with one stop:

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

The prices for the same dates departing from Stockholm (ARN) are significantly cheaper. The least expensive price we saw was a £1,132 return with one stop:

(Screenshot courtesy of Google Flights)

Why is it sometimes more expensive to fly from the UK and how can I make it cheaper?

Why the price difference? Well, there are numerous factors that impact airline pricing. One of the big reasons that London typically commands higher ticket prices than some of our European neighbours is because the demand for premium travel is higher.

So if you are located in the UK but want cheaper fares, particularly for premium class seats, what can you do? Don’t resign yourself to paying more. Instead, consider booking a flight from continental Europe rather than the UK, where it may be significantly cheaper. We call this an ‘ex-EU fare’.

What is ‘positioning’ and how can i use points and miles to make things cheaper still?

The downside of this little trick is that you need to get to that starting point in Europe, which involves both more time and more cost. Even if your cheap itinerary from, say Amsterdam, went via London to Bangkok, you have to take each flight. You can’t just try and hop on the second London to Bangkok leg because you are based in the UK, or your entire itinerary will be cancelled.

You will need to book separate transportation to the city you are commencing your cheap flight from. This is known as ‘positioning’. There are a few key factors to keep in mind when positioning for your ‘ex-EU’ flight:

  • The cost, time and inconvenience of positioning should not be more than the value you are obtaining from doing so.
  • Your positioning flights will be separate from your ‘ex-EU’ flight, so you will not be protected if a delay in your first flight causes you to miss your second.
  • Because of the lack of protection, you need to build in a buffer between non-connecting flights to factor in any delays or other hassles.

Using the Bangkok example above, you could have saved more than £600 by departing from Stockholm rather than London. So, you would want to ensure you spend far less than this positioning to and from Stockholm. This is where it can make great sense to use Avios.

A return British Airways flight from London to Stockholm using a Reward Flight Saver is just 15,500 Avios in Euro Traveller or 27,000 in Club Europe. Based on TPG UK’s valuation of Avios, you are coming out well in front even if you choose to position in Club Europe.

Given the short flight time, I would personally just travel in Euro Traveller for the positioning flights, remembering Club Europe is not a substantially different experience from Economy.

British Airways Club Europe (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy)
British Airways Club Europe. (Photo by Nicky Kelvin / The Points Guy.)

what else should I know to make ‘positioning’ even easier?

In terms of time buffers, Stockholm is a pretty easy airport to use, so I’d be looking at building in about a four- to five-hour buffer in Stockholm both ways just in case there are any delays. Remember that in the colder months, there may be more adverse weather that could affect the reliability of your journey.

You may also wish to stay overnight for a stress-free experience, but obviously, the cost of accommodation will need to be factored into the saving you are obtaining by booking the cheaper fare from Europe.

This approach will obviously work best if you are not checking in luggage, as it makes changing flights in separate itineraries easier if you don’t have to recheck your bags. Also be aware of any testing requirements for the European destination you will be starting your trip from, as you may have to comply with these to transfer on separate tickets, especially if you have luggage to check.

Which European cities are worth checking for ‘ex-EU’ flight deals?

We think there’s huge value in these ‘ex-EU’ fares — especially in premium classes, which can be well worth the extra cost and hassle of positioning. We will be covering particular fare deals from Europe we think are especially good. They come up all the time from all sorts of European cities, however, I chose the Bangkok example above not because it was an unusually special deal, but because certain cities are known for having these special deals on an almost permanent basis.

Use these cities to start searching for a great ex-EU deal:

  • Copenhagen
  • Stockholm
  • Oslo
  • Amsterdam
  • Helsinki
  • Budapest
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KLM’s world business class seating on its Boeing 787-9. (Photo by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy.)

This strategy won’t be for everyone, and it won’t work for every destination or date. But it can be an amazing way to fly in business or even first-class from Europe for what might be a similar price to economy or premium economy from London.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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